Exactly 75 years ago on March 20, 1943, the commanders of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS (declared by the Nuremberg Tribunal criminal group) — General Rudolf bangerskis and Colonel Arthur Silgailis brought a solemn oath. This day is considered the date of Foundation of the voluntary Legion, but the procession in the centre of Riga the former legionaries, their descendants and supporters organize on March 16 — the day of the baptism of fire of the Legion. In the EU look askance on these marches, and the Latvian Parliament refuses to recognize this day the official date. Meanwhile, for Latvian companies this page of history, it seems, is still not inverted. “Ribbon.ru” understood the place of the Legion in the historical memory of Latvians and what was the fate of those who were in its ranks.
the date of March 16 does not accidentally become a landmark for the veterans of the Legion and their supporters. On this day in 1944, two divisions of the Legion for the first time engaged in battle with Soviet troops. But the history of this unit began somewhat earlier. Before Bangerskis and Silgailis swore allegiance to the Fuhrer of greater Germany.
When in 1941 the Germans occupied Latvia, they found the locals enough supporters. The Soviet government lasted only a year, but during that time the Communists managed to alienate the population, practicing executions and the deportation of unreliable. Not surprisingly, by 1943, when it became clear that the war drags on and the German forces are significant losses, Latvians from the civil administration proposed to establish national military units — assuming that Berlin will provide Latvia at least partial sovereignty. The Germans at first rejected this proposal, but later changed his mind. 10 February 1943 Hitler ordered the formation of the Latvian volunteer Legion Waffen SS. Partly it has completed the previously formed Latvian volunteer battalions, but the whole set was carried out, that is, on a voluntary-compulsory basis. For evasion from mobilization threatened the death penalty — which, however, did not prevent many deserting at the first opportunity.
In principle, the new recruits had a choice: you can either go to the Legion or in the service part of the German forces, either for the erection of fortifications. However, the Legionnaires had the advantage in food and financial support, which not least affected the choice. “After Stalingrad, we realized that the war is lost, and we — the supporters of the losers. But what could I do, when in 1941 it was hoped that the Germans would give us independence or give any kind of autonomy?” — recalled decades later, the former legionary Visvaldis Latsis.
during the second world war in the territory of Latvia was formed two Grenadier division of the Waffen SS — 15-I and 19-I’m a total population of more than 29 thousand people. During the war years through the Legion were 110 550 — 87 550 in combat, 23 000 in subsidiary pieces. 16 March 1944 both divisions participated in the fighting against advancing Soviet troops near the Velikaya river. Later, the Legionnaires fought on the territory of Pskov, Novgorod and Leningrad regions, along with the German troops retreated to the West and in so-called “Courland cauldron”, which lasted virtually until the end of hostilities. Some, however, managed to break through to Germany and participate in the battle for Berlin.
overall, the morale of the Latvian troops was not too high. The Visvaldis Latsis, in his book “Latvian Legion in the light of truth” writes about the report of the chief of the 7th Department of the political Department of the red Army Bizeva member of the Communist party’she, which he wrote in September 1942, after the interrogation of Latvian prisoners of war. “In any case, indifferent to how the Latvians were in the 19th and 21st battalions, however, it is doubtful that they went there voluntarily, writes Bigcow. The Latvians know that the Germans look down on them”.
They are really not wanted in Latvia was ruled by the Communists, but to die for a great Germany wanted even less. “When the 2nd border regiment announced his inclusion in the 15-th division of the Waffen SS, six hundred men fled, — wrote in the reports to the head of the Latvian Communist Kalnberzina Lieutenant Kolegayev. Soldiers fired in the air and shouted: “We are not volunteers! We will not go! We do not want in a foreign land to fight for the Germans”; “Latvians are ready to fight against the Russians and against the Germans””.
in Total, the fighting killed more than 40 thousand legionaries and 50 thousand were in Soviet captivity. Of destiny appeared in the USSR developed in different ways. So, the teacher Yanina Gekisha describes the fate of his relative modest Alekhno, who were mobilized in the fall of ‘ 43, ended up in the Courland cauldron, managed to cross into Sweden, and later in the 146 number of legionaries were issued by the Soviet Union. In January 1946, the ship “Beloostrov”, which carried the ex-legionaries, arrived in Liepaja, where they were put in the car.
“the Train went to Lithuania, then started flickering Belarusian landscapes — writes Gekisha. — It became clear that the Balts will not see his home, and his road will be long. After a few weeks of modest Alehno and his companions arrived in Khabarovsk region, where they had heavy work in the woods. Latvia modest Alekhno returned in September 1953. All you need to start from scratch. The farm father has destroyed the collective power. Modest with Any wife, whom he married in the far East, went to the Ogre, he worked as a driver, raised three children. He died 25 Jan 1996”.
unlike Alekhno, the fate of the above-mentioned Visvaldis Latsis has developed quite well. In the Legion he was drafted at age 19, served in the 44th regiment of the 19th division. In battle he was twice wounded and after the war passed through the filtration system, but escaped persecution. In the 1950s he studied at one of Moscow universities, successfully survived to the independence of Latvia and entered politics. Participated in the activities of the right-wing party “All — Latvia”, was twice elected member of Parliament. Now, remembering the years of his youth, he is confident that the establishment of the Latvian Legion was a crime against the population. “The first called for the colors of the Latvian people, boys from nineteen to twenty five years, says it. — Understand how to destroy people!”
Latsis recalled that the attempt to create a similar Legion in Lithuania failed, as the Lithuanians demanded guarantees of independence. “Of course, it was necessary to avoid [create Legion], he writes. — Why die in vain? We have always fought in other people’s uniforms… I wrote that in both world wars killed so many Latvians, the young boys and men that their ashes could cover the whole Latvian land. But this ash is barren, he gave us nothing. We escaped and shed their blood in vain.” Lacis believes that in the future Latvia should fight only under its own banner and in their own interests. Therefore, for example, he disapproved of sending Latvian troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO troops.
Now the main subject of dispute of historians regarding the Latvian Legion is the question of his participation in war crimes. The official position of the Latvian historians is clear: the Latvian soldiers did not take part in punitive operations and other criminal activities against the civilian population, but only fought at the front. Not a single Latvian Legionnaire in any court was not accused of war crimes as part of the Legion.
“the Legion was created about a year after the last big killing of the Jews in Latvia, writes doctor of historical Sciences Inesis Feldmanis. — If at the end of the war to the Legion and hit the face of SD, i.e. the Nazi party and the structures, subordinated to the security service of the SS that committed war crimes, it does not make the entire Legion a criminal. Already the verdict of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was delivered on 1 October 1946, is quite clearly defined the circle of persons who are involved in the criminal SS organization, mentioning as an exception mobilized involuntarily (in the case of the Latvians are the majority), if they have not committed war crimes”.
In the Latvian Ministry of foreign Affairs version of the non-participation of the legionaries to war crimes confirm the decisions by the military authorities of the allies: “After the surrender of Germany about 30 thousand Latvian soldiers became POWs of the Western allies. Documentation provided by Latvian organizations, convinced the allies that the Latvian Legion should be viewed as citizens of independent Latvia, illegally called up for military service. So, despite the protests of the Soviets, they were released and later received permission to emigrate to the UK, USA and other Western countries”.
However, even Latvian historians recognize that in the ranks of the Legion were including persons who worked unspeakable cruelty against the Jews and other civilians, for example, the members of the infamous team of Viktor Arajs, guilty in the death of at least 80 thousand prisoners of war and civilians, mostly Jews. Many other researchers, mainly Russian, argue that the Legion was involved in war crimes.
as evidence, given the facts of massacres of prisoners of war, the participation of foreign players in punitive operations against Soviet citizens on the territories of Leningrad and Novgorod regions in Belarus and Latvia. So, in special report head of SMERSH counterintelligence of the 2nd Baltic front dated 18 August 1944, told about the abuse suffered 43 wounded Soviet prisoners of war, captured near the village of Borrini (Latvian SSR) — they were stabbed, gouged out his eyes, cut on forehead star and knocks boots with his teeth.
“None of the wounded, captured by the Germans and the fascists of the Latvians, did not escape torture and painful humiliation. According to reports, the brutal massacre of wounded Soviet soldiers and officers were made officers and soldiers of a battalion of the 43rd infantry regiment, 19th Latvian SS division,” says the report SMERSH. In addition, documented the fact of a massacre, which, on 31 January 1945 the Latvian legionaries made over 32 prisoners of war from the Polish army. Polish prisoners near the village of Pidhai first tortured and then burned alive.
Disputes about who was the Latvian legionaries — a war criminals or fighters for independence of Latvia, being the first year, and no end in sight. But if in Russia they are considered at least accomplices of the Nazis in Latvia ready to elevate to the status of national heroes. Since the early 1990s every year on March 16 in the center of Riga there is a procession of former legionaries. Themselves, for obvious reasons, is getting smaller, but their places are taken by their descendants and young supporters of the national radical organizations.
In 1998, the date March 16 officially made memorial day, but in 2000, when Latvia was preparing to join NATO and the EU, this day was removed from the official calendar. In Europe, any expression of sympathy for the ideology, structures and leaders of the Third Reich, and people are very acute. Therefore, the day of memory of veterans of the SS troops in official calendar is not added to the country’s chances of joining the European family.
Later, the influential leader of the National bloc Raivis Dzintars has repeatedly offered to resolve historical injustice and said that “one cannot be ashamed to honor the freedom fighters of the country.” Recently, the national bloc introduced a bill on recognition of March 16, the official “memorial Day of Latvian warriors”. However, the Parliament by a majority of votes this idea rejected. The Chairman of the faction of Premier-presidential Union “green” and peasants August Brigmanis expressed concerns that such a step will not understand the international community, including allies of Latvia in NATO.
the procession on 16 March this year is unusually quiet — no noisy scandals and scuffles, as has happened before. Police temporarily detained for drawing up the Protocol of the foreigner, who stood with a poster “They killed Jews” and shouting loudly in English about freedom of speech, — that was all. Perhaps the Latvian society finally reconciled with its historic past.