Latvian POWsStill imprisoned by fabrications of history

Some 91,000 Latvian soldiers and civilians wound up in Soviet "filtration" and prison camps.[1] Latvians were considered Soviet citizens, those who fought against the Soviet re-invasion and defectors, whether military or civilian, were traitors. In the West, Latvian POWs were gathered in Zedelgem, Belgium—where they were shot for target practice because they were "Nazis."

For more on the Latvian Legion Waffen-SS—its formation, combat action, and the U.S. Department of Justice's misguided post-war pursuit of Legion members as Nazi war criminals, visit the LATVIANLEGION.ORG web site.

However, the characterization of Latvians fighting against the Soviets as fascists and all Legionnaires being war criminals convicted at Nuremberg, prevalent in today's official Russian position branding any commemoration of the Legion as "glorification of Nazism," is a post-Soviet construct. That Latvians fought against the Red Army was totally missing from Soviet history taught in schools.[2]

This only underscores that the role of the Latvian Legion, conscripted as the Waffen-SS, has become the object of political, not historical, interpretation. U.S. politicians travel to Latvia to protest against Nazi glorification and then return to publish blatant lies about the Latvian Legion and "resurgent" Latvian Nazism, viz. Richard Brodsky's account[3] of 2013:

The killing fields of Rumbula and Salispils [sic.] seem peaceful, under a blanket of snow, with a blinding sun and biting cold. How many murdered? Fifty thousand? Five hundred thousand? One is more than enough.

March 16, 2013. Riga, Latvia. Americans, me among them, go as witnesses to a celebration, a parade, a flower-laying in praise and remembrance of the Waffen-SS, which was responsible for those murders, mostly of Jews.

There's the death head insignia and veterans of the death squads. A criminal organization, said the Nuremburg [sic.] tribunal. In uniform, ancient surviving members of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS have come out, proud and happy. Young people join them, carrying swastika-like insignia with their flowers. ...

We suspect Brodsky's misspellings of Salaspils and Nuremberg are simply that and not connected to his misconceptions regarding the Latvian Legion units of the Waffen-SS:

  1. the Latvian Waffen-SS did not exist during the Holocaust and were not involved—no one has ever been accused of a war crime while in the service of the Legion;
  2. Hitler's elite SS and original Waffen SS organization as constituted at the beginning of WWII were, indeed, convicted at Nuremberg; however, the Latvian Waffen-SS were stationed at Nuremberg as Allied guards.
Yet, Brodsky asks, rhetorically, how many the Latvians murdered. "Fifty thousand? Five hundred thousand?" We mourn and honor the tens upon tens of thousands who fell victim to the German Holocaust on Latvian soil. But there is no excuse for Brodsky's egregious hyperbole heaping insult upon gross misinformation.

A "swastika-like" symbol,
from page 10 of a child's
Latvian ornaments primer

Regarding "swastika-like" insignia, the pērkonkrusts was a symbol steeped in Latvian mythology long before Hitler perverted it. It represents one of the oldest and most powerful of Latvian deities; and no culture on earth has a richer legacy of seemingly infinite variations on the swastika ornamental theme. On the same basis, one would expect Brodsky to brand Hindus using their ancient swastika symbols as neo-Nazis.

The Soviet show trial and USSR are long dead, but Latvians continue to be vilified in the kangaroo court of political expediency and ambition—victims of a lie so big that it must be true. Ironic, indeed, that the most vociferous critics alleging "Latvian Nazism" employ a propaganda technique invented by no less than Hitler himself. We wrote to Brodsky to point out his errors. His response? "I have repeatedly acknowledged that some members of the Latvian Legion were conscripted, some volunteered, and some were former members of the Arajs Commandos. All took an oath of personal loyalty to Hitler, some participated in atrocities..."

These are hardly acknowledgements:

  • The Arajs Commando numbered 300-500 at the time it collaborated in the Nazi-managed Holocaust; the Commando numbered about 1,500 during later anti-Soviet partisan actions.
  • The Latvian Legion was formed in 1943, after the Holocaust. The Latvian Legion were conscripted. It was that or dig ditches on the front or be shot. Those that volunteered did so only to fight against the Soviet re-invasion. Only the first 300 conscripts were forced to take the SS oath. That oath caused such outrage that all subsequent conscripts swore an oath to Hitler as Brodsky states—but only as military commander in the fight against Bolshevism. There was no personal oath to Hitler supporting Nazi policies or genocide, as Brodsky implicitly alleges.
  • Brodsky's use of "some" speaks to the core of the issue. Brodsky uses the crimes of the few prior to the Legion's existence to denounce the entire Legion, numbering 57,000 at its peak, as murderers.

The Latvian Legion find themselves POWs once again—in a new information war where words are the weapons, the web the delivery vehicle, and fact-checking proven empirically irrelevant. After all, everyone knows "Latvians are Nazis."[4]

So, why do such reports of "Latvian Nazis" persist?

The long answer is that blaming the Eastern Europeans for the Holocaust served the purposes of both the Germans and Soviets, back to falsifying war-time field reports and archives. But that is far too complicated a topic for this discussion. The short answer is that there is more money to be made and more good will to be garnered from perpetuating Nazi and Soviet lies than in defending the falsely accused.

As Stalin reminds, us, history serves politics. Is there more we can tell from this latest spate of allegations? Continuing with Brodsky, witness what he wrote before travelling to Latvia:

On March 16, in Riga, Latvia, I will join other Americans and Europeans to witness an annual march and wreath-laying to honor the Latvians who served in the Waffen-SS, including numbers of men who participated in the murder of Jews and others massacred by the German killing machine. It is a breathtaking symbol of the resurgence of Nazi movements across the world, and a moment to reflect on our moral and political condition.[5]

It turns out that Brodsky is bedfellows with World Without Nazism.[6] Мир без нацизма (МБН) is an "international organization" created and run by Putin insider Boris Spiegel, an organization whose "anti-Nazism" campaign includes a full court press to paint any anti-Sovietism as Nazism. Brodsky joins them—going to Latvia and attending the protest as their guest—in flogging "Nazi" Latvia, complete with his personal photos: one features the Latvian flag, another by its context purports to show Latvian Nazis leaving flowers to honor their Nazi dead (our emphasis):

"It's been an article of faith that we beat the Nazis in WWII, once and forever; but take a look at the two photos I took in Riga. They're back."

In the end, one could clearly dismiss Brodsky's desecration of Latvians who died fighting only to save their homeland as little more than verbatim parroting of Russia's inflame not inform anti-Latvia propaganda.[7]

But that is not the end. Latvians have written to us that until they read our website, they were too ashamed to admit they were Latvian—one mother keeping it secret even from her own family. We'd be ashamed, too, if Brodsky's account were in any way factual. But it is not. That someone of Brodsky's experience and standing falls into league with Russian authorities hijacking a moral cause and perverting it to proselytize lies for their own agenda demonstrates the enormity of the disinformation challenge facing Latvia—and every Latvian—today.

Updated: June, 2017


[1]The Case for Latvia: Disinformation Campaigns Against a Small Nation, Lukka Rislakki, p.233.
[2]Overcoming the Legacy of History for Ethnic Integration in Latvia, Ieva Gundare, The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, (1940-1941).
[3]Brodsky: Latvia's second coming— The world can't afford to ignore a resurgent Nazi movement, by Richard Brodsky, Saturday, March 23, 2013, retrieved at http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Brodsky-Latvia-s-second-coming-4379690.php
[4]Peters heard Elizabeth Holtzmann say these exact words in person in her presence.
[5]Nazis? Again? Really? posted March 13, 2013, retrieved at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-brodsky/nazis-again-really_b_2866984.html
[6]Anti-Nazis Come to Washington posted May, 28, 2013, retrieved at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-brodsky/anti-nazis-come-to-washin_b_3356369.html
[7]viz. Russian Federation propaganda filed at the United Nations denouncing the Waffen-SS as convicted war criminals: Involvement of the Lettish SS Legion in War Crimes in 1941–1945 and the Attempts to Revise the Verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal in Latvia, accessed 2 December 2005

Additional reading

  • The Holocaust in Latvia, Holocaust scholar Andrew Ezergailis' examination of the subject. Essential reading to understand the Nazi engineering of genocide including portraying it as "Germanless." That there were, tragically, true collaborators across the Baltics and Eastern Europe should not be used to falsely paint the Baltic and Eastern Europe peoples as a cauldron of anti-Semitism just waiting for someone like Hitler to ignite genocide. Today there is an entire cottage industry devoted to "exposing" that neighbors bludgeoned neighbors to death. A "truth" rooted more in in Nazi creation and Soviet exploitation than in the meme that centuries of peaceful cohabitation was merely a ruse masking virulent, murderous, anti-Semitism. Allegations are made against Eastern Europeans—and given credence—which would be dismissed as impossible if made against Western Europeans, even Germans, the creators and executors of the Holocaust.
  • We also recommend S. Paul Zumbakis' Soviet Evidence in North American Courts for an examination of evidence manufactured and gifted by the KGB to American and Canadian authorities, targeting their most troublesome anti-Soviet activist nationalities abroad: Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians. Soviet show trials are recognized for what they were except when convicting Latvians et al. in absentia, in at least one case publishing Lithuanian court transcripts before the trial in question took place.
  • Last but not least journalist's Lukka Rislakki's The Case for Latvia: Disinformation Campaigns Against a Small Nation, which deals systematically with nearly all the historical myths being circulated today regarding Latvia and the Latvians.

Site contents copyright © 2017, S.A. and P. Vecrumba. All Rights Reserved. Wikipedia™, external site and Google Translate™ links are provided for convenience and do not constitute endorsement of, affiliation with, or responsibility for such content.

We use cookies to assist in context-sensitive navigation. By accessing our site, you agree to the placement if this type of cookie on your computer or mobile device. We do not share user information with third parties.

Please Email us at contact@latvians.com with comments or questions. We look forward to your feedback.

Center for Baltic Heritage is a LATVIANS.COM project.