Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Waffen-SS as Freedom Fighters

January 31, 2012 12:58 pm 4 comments

Waffen SS fighters. Photo: wiki commons.

Despised and ostracized, the Swedish community of Waffen-SS volunteers long gathered in secrecy on “The Day of the Fallen,” for obscure ritualistic annual gatherings at a cemetery in a Stockholm suburb.

Since the 1990s, the rituals have not needed to be clandestine: the few, now very elderly survivors now head to Sinimäe, Estonia, where they feel they are now getting the honor to which they are entitled. Here, Swedish, Norwegian, Austrian, German and other Waffen-SS veterans from Western Europe meet up with their Estonian comrades. The annual gatherings include those who volunteered for ideological reasons, and who are today actively passing on the experiences to a new generation of neo-Nazis.

In previous years, Mart Laar, the Estonian minister of defense sent official greeting to the veterans. Estonian government endorsement of these events means in effect that an EU member state is underwriting the Waffen-SS veterans’ own claims that they constituted a pan-European force, who were moreover pioneers of European unification.

According to the Tageszeitung, this March the Estonian parliament will consider a law, which would formally designate the Estonian Waffen-SS veterans as “Freedom Fighters.” The law, promoted by Mart Laar’s right-wing nationalist Isamaa party, represents a fourth attempt by the Isamaa to pass such a law. Previous efforts were made in 2005, 2006, and 2010. Last winter the Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip sent the Estonian Waffen-SS veterans a letter, in which he thanked them for their service to the Estonian people.

In doing so, Estonia would confirm its leading role in rehabilitating the Waffen-SS. Across Europe, Waffen-SS veterans and their admirers are following the developments in Estonia and Latvia. Nowhere in Europe have these veterans been recognized by governments . The Estonians and Latvians were (and are) breaking a taboo, setting a precedent for others to follow.

This is all therefore not some internal Estonian affair. It should be recognized that the developments have been treated rather sloppily, even in  a sensationalist way by the media. The terms Waffen-SS and Nazis have been used interchangeably, and the actual history is often confused. Certainly, being a veteran in the Estonian Waffen-SS does not equate to being a Nazi. Admirers of the Estonian and Latvian Waffen-SS usually emphasize that most of their members were conscripted, i.e. its members had no choice. For how many of its members this is correct, we do not know.

The 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) was established on the orders of Heinrich Himmler in May 1944. It was established through expanding, by conscription, the 3rd Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade, formed in May 1943. This unit consisted of Estonians who voluntarily pledged their lives to Adolf Hitler. The issue of whether the members of the Waffen-SS volunteered or not is important. The Nuremburg Tribunal ruled that the Waffen-SS was a criminal organization, but did not extend this designation to those forcibly conscripted into the Waffen-SS.

Admirers of the Estonian Waffen-SS veterans typically refer to them as generic “Freedom Fighters,” without much of a discussion of the nature of the freedom they fought for. This is also typical for the apologetic narrative. The bad guys were always someone else. This is strictly about honor and pride, never about ideology. We recognize this from other parts of Europe. In Austria, well into the 1980s, the Germans were the bad guys. In Germany, the apologist argument went, the Wehrmacht was clean, the Waffen-SS were the bad guys. Maintaining their innocence, the Hilsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Angehörigen der ehemaligen Waffen-SS (HIAG), the society of the Waffen-SS veterans in Germany, presenting its activities as “apolitical” claimed they were clean, that the true criminals were the Allgemeine SS.

Like their Scandinavian comrades, the German Waffen-SS veterans perceive themselves as a victimized and misunderstood group, second class citizens, victims of victors’ justice. They have generally not been entitled to state pensions for veterans.

Outside of Europe, Waffen-SS veterans have been more successful in gaining acceptance for their own narrative. In Canada, government authorities, in the name of multiculturalism have agreed to share the construction cost for monuments with the association of the Ukrainian veterans of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Ukrainian), better known at the Waffen-SS Galizien. Public institutions of higher education institute endowments in the honor of Ukrainian Waffen-SS volunteers.

To the disappointment of the extreme right, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (in office 2005-2010) did not follow up his rehabilitation of the most important interwar Ukrainian fascist organization, the OUN, with a rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS Galizien. To the Ukrainian  far right, Latvia and Estonia have become a source of inspiration and an example to emulate. Much like the current Estonian prime minister, Andrus Ansip, the leading Ukrainian ultra-nationalist party, the All Ukrainian Association Svoboda, which dominates local politics in several Western Ukrainian cities, denies that honoring Waffen-SS veterans has anything to do with neo-Nazi ideology.

In April 2011 Svoboda celebrated the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the Waffen-SS Galizien. Lviv was decorated with billboards referring to the veterans of the Waffen-SS Galizien as “the treasure of the nation,” accompanied by the slogan “They defended Ukraine.” The far right marched through Lviv with cries like “Galicia – Division of heroes!,” and “One race, one nation, one Fatherland!” In time for the Euro 2012, a Waffen-SS Galizien taxi company was established.

These processes are interlinked. The Estonian and Latvian governments’ partial recognition granted their presumably heroic Waffen-SS veterans is part of a larger narrative of apologetics and obfuscation.

The handling of the Soviet bronze soldier saga in Tallinn provides an illuminating illustration of double standards. This author has a certain understanding about why a monument to Soviet soldiers, which turned into a rallying point for victory celebrations by Soviet veterans and parts of the Russian-speaking community in Tallinn would be regarded as problematic. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Estonia, and its democratically elected government is within its full rights to organize its own public space, which means determining what sort of public memorials should decorate its capital city. The removal of the bronze soldier and the relocation of the graves of Soviet solider was motivated partly by references to its ideological significance. There is no denying the horrendous crimes carried out by the Soviet authorities, particularly between 1940-1941, and 1944-1949.

Unfortunately, much of the criticism of the Waffen-SS cult in Estonia comes not only from Russian-speakers in Estonia, but also from Russian authorities who have instrumentalized this critique to political ends. These would be well advised to acknowledge Stalinist atrocities against Estonians, which those who objected to the presence of the bronze soldier in the center of Tallinn saw the statue of symbol for. By the same token, it difficult to see how official designation of Waffen-SS veterans by a EU member country would not an ideological act.

In fact, a Nazi victory, for which the Waffen-SS was employed, would have meant the permanent disappearance of Estonia, the population of which was earmarked for destruction by the Generalplan Ost, which stipulated that only 50% of Estonians could be Germanized. That discussion would have thereby precluded this discussion in the first place.

Thus, that government that has itself profiled from an elaborate victimization narrative making Estonia a European center of gravity for Waffen-SS nostalgists is deeply ironic.

Unlike most plants, these sort of cults grow in the shade. The Estonian government does not want international exposure on this. Yet, that is exactly what is needed.

The nostalgia for the Waffen-SS “freedom fighters” is not merely an Estonian concern  It is a European concern. It is an international concern.

Per Anders Rudling is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of History, Lund University, Sweden. This article originally appeared on


  • After Poland’s occupation (partition) by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939, new invasions and occupations by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (Russian Communist Empire) followed in Europe divided between the dictatorial regimes of Hitler and Stalin.

    Were not both of those regimes responsible for the outbreak and extreme horrors of the Second World War as both regimes sought world conquest and domination?

  • Do not forget that in all European countries occupied by Nazi Germany, especially in countries that officially were allies of Nazi Germany, local collaboration with Nazi German forces took place. Extensive research is needed to establish true data on this issue for each country.

    The biggest crimes of the 20th century in Europe were committed by both the Soviet communist and Nazi Germany regimes that sought world conquest and domination (dozens of millions of people of many nationalities were exterminated).

    On the basis of preliminary secret agreement in August 1939 to divide Europe between Nazi Germany and the Russian Communist Empire (USSR) and by invading Poland the Second World War was launched jointly by imperialist Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939 and by the imperialist Soviet Union on September 17, 1939.

    I’ve discovered some new information on the Internet that Soviet dictator Stalin planned a war against Germany for early July 1941 and stationed a huge amount of Soviet troops and armaments at the USSR’s Western border. I hope access to secret archives will reveal true facts. A well-known fact is that Hitler’s regime was first to attack the Soviet Union.

    Communist crimes worldwide greatly surpass Nazi German crimes and crimes of their allies and collaborators.
    Communist crimes committed worldwide must also be prosecuted and punished as Nazi crimes have been. Truth and real justice (punishment for all crimes) must prevail.

    The issue of financial and material compensations for communist crimes especially by Russia as the birthplace of communist power must also be resolved as Germany paid compensations for Nazi German crimes to many nations including Jews for the Holocaust.

  • History written by the victors is not true history but a false truth. What about the atorcities committed by Russians, Jewish fredom fighters and ordinary allied soldiers during and after WW2. Thousand if not Millions of German prisoners were starved to death after WW2 in allied prison camps for no other crime than fighting for their country.

  • Interesting article but I feel needs to be supplemmented. We have to remember that history is writen by the victorius armies, BUT if you want to know the truth you have to talk with the defeated ones!
    Normally politicians are accomodating people that go with the wind, BUT what matters is what the average citizen thinks about the Waffen SS. In this respect with the help of Internet we’ve been able to access new sources of knowledge to counteract all the poured desinformation that we have had in the TV, newspapers, movies, etc. since the end of WWII until today.
    Because of this we know about the Forest Brothers, the Charlemagne Division, the Blue Legion etc..which offered their lives for a cause that the believed was absolutely right, to the extent that even today we have “The Day of the Fallen” where former comrades get together, and this is amazing and admirable.
    I believe that some territories stolen by the soviets to Germany, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania will be returned to its original owners, it’s a matter of time and investment. The interesting aspect of today events, is that the reasons used during the Nürenberg Trials or Dachau trials to murder German politicians and Waffen SS POW’s, are not good enough to judge american, french and british politicians. I call that hypocrisy!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →