Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

A Different Kind of Holocaust Remembrance (INTERVIEW)

March 25, 2013 3:08 am 6 comments

Latvia's "Legion Day," commemorating the Nazi Waffen-SS, in 2008. Photo: Dezidor/Wikimedia Commons.

“Legion Day” isn’t the type of Holocaust remembrance ceremony that the Jewish community is used to.

Every year on March 16, Latvia hosts a ceremony and march in the country’s capital, Riga, to commemorate Latvian veterans who fought in the Nazi Waffen-SS in a failed 1944 battle against the Soviet Red Army.

Latvian Legionnaires (Waffen-SS veterans) and other Latvian nationalist groups maintain that they have the right to recognize the 1944 battle, but international and Jewish groups have criticized the annual “Legion Day” for honoring the Nazi army. During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered about 70,000 Jews in Latvia, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Twenty-five thousand Jews alone were executed in the Rumbula Forest near Riga in 1941 while the Nazis liquidated the Riga ghetto.

Former New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who just returned from leading a U.S. delegation to Latvia to protest this year’s march, shared his impressions on the march with JNS.org as well as his thoughts on emerging ultra-nationalist movements in Europe–not only those in Latvia, but also the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, among others.

JNS.org: As a U.S. lawmaker, how and why did you become involved in the issue of European ultra-nationalism?

Richard Brodsky: “I’ve been active in this kind of thing for over 30 years. I helped arrange delegation of diverse U.S. public officials to protest President Ronald Reagan’s visit to the Kolmeshohe Cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, the burial site of many Waffen-SS soldiers. German President Helmut Kohl asked President Reagan to visit these graves, and it was such an outrage that we flew over and stood in silent protest.

“Frankly this issue is often not taken seriously in America. We picture Nazis as bumbling fools, like in Hogan’s Heroes, or fringe crazy people like George Lincoln Rockwell.  That’s dangerous. I’m part of a group, World Without Nazism, that has members from all over the world and monitors Nazi incidents and organizations all over the world.  We’ll probably go to Washington D.C. this summer to extend the discussion.”

Why did you travel to Latvia to attend the Waffen-SS rally March 16?

“At least 50,000 Jews, Gypsies, mentally ill and political prisoners were murdered, mostly shot, during the war. Members of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS swore personal loyalty to Hitler and had members who were part of death squads.  We focused on the Waffen-SS march in Riga because it was so clearly unacceptable. It was originally an official event but was removed from that status in 2001 after an international outcry. Last week the Latvian Parliament, the Saemia, rejected an attempt to reinstate it. We wanted to thank the Latvian Parliament but also witness for ourselves the resurgence of old and new Nazi efforts. If you speak to Americans, many simply don’t understand that there are genuine, resurgent Nazi movements around the world. Going to see it has been part of an effort to make sure the American public takes it seriously.”

What struck you the most at the rally?

“The large numbers of people honoring the Waffen-SS, including many, many young people, the surviving members of the Waffen-SS wearing their original uniforms, the anger and violence in their faces, the aggressive actions of Members of the Latvian Parliament from political parties that raise up the Waffen-SS, the ability to buy Nazi memorabilia in stores, there are many lasting images. At the same time, we acknowledged that the Seimia had refused to make the march a national holiday, and there are many, many Latvians appalled by the re-emergence of Nazi sympathizers. But the reasonable conclusion from the march is that it is not some weird, bizarre fringe thing; it’s happening all over the word and no one is paying attention.”

The Latvian Waffen-SS Legion marching on Latvian Independence Day, 1943. Photo: German Federal Archives.

Many Latvians who defend this annual event say that because the Latvian Waffen-SS unit was formed in 1943, several years after the Rumbula Massacre, they cannot be blamed. How do you respond to this argument?

“There is a reasonable historical argument about the Latvian Legion. Some were motivated by a desire to oppose Soviet troops; some volunteered; some were drafted; some did nothing wrong that we know of; some were murderers; all swore a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler. The killings of the Jews went on for a long time, some members of the Latvian SS had been members of death squads. But it does not matter to me whether the people I saw helped kill one person or 50,000. One is enough. More importantly, this historical argument has nothing to do with holding a public ceremony to honor the Waffen-SS. Every society has its fringes and we understand that, but these movements are moving to the mainstream. That’s why World Without Nazism has a role to play.”

Why should Americans, and the American Jewish community especially, be concerned with this issue?

“If ‘never again’ means something, it means vigilance and truth telling. These movements are real and growing, and it’s time that the American government addressed this phenomenon. Now is the time for the US to begin to acknowledge these movements, and then to be heard in a responsible but vigilant manner about them. It would be a mistake to make too much of what’s happening, but it would be a bigger mistake to pretend it’s not happening.”

6 Comments

  • Do you have any video of that? I’d care to find out some additional
    information.

  • Impressive the demostration of loyalty the Latvians showed to us on March 16.
    Indeed that the true of what really happened before, during and after WWII is coming out, slowly but steady.

  • Peters Andris

    “Commemorating Nazis” in Latvia is illegal and those that do are arrested. Of course this almost never happens at this parade because it is not in commemoration of the Nazi army. Certain elements wish this were true but they have zero evidence ( no skinheads or other obvious nazi symbols are seen in any photos or videos). The organizers of this event have stated on numerous occasions that this march has nothing to do with Nazis. I agree with the “Latvian”. Some will do anything to make this tiny peace loving nation look bad.

  • This made my day, thanks. I laughed out loud several times while reading the interview.

    Either this guy is the most deluded person I’ve ever come across or he’s a Kremlin stooge who’s being paid to participate in an anti-Latvian smear campaign.

    The Legionnaires day is a mainstream event. It has always been a mainstream event and it will remain a mainstream event despite all these Russian PR campaigns.

    Most Latvians support the commemoration of Latvian veterans and ss long as Latvia is an independent country with basic political freedoms, we will remember our heroes. Just like you do in Israel, the US or Germany.

    All the stuff about Nazis and Holocaust is 100% factually incorrect.

    We hate the Nazis just as much as we hate the Communists, as evidenced by the dozens of anti-Nazi and anti-Stalin placards and posters and signs carried by the participants of the procession.

    • another latvian

      About 3000 people commemorating Nazis in a city of 650,000 – NOT a mainstream.
      US, Israel or Germany do not commemorate troops that swore their loyalties to Hitler.
      The so called “Latvian heroes” did not fight for their independence. Germans never promised Latvians any independence, they just let them be Nazis if they kill enough communists.
      And just for good measure, Peteris Stuchka – the founding father of the judicial system of USSR and its leader for many years as well as Jekabs Peters a second-in-command of so called Cheka behind Dzerzhinsky that preceded KGB, and was responsible for the “red terror” – are both Latvians. Seems like historically Latvians don’t discriminate for which empire and who to kill.

      • First of all, I highly doubt you’re Latvian. Every educated Latvian knows that the Legionnaires weren’t Nazis.

        Sure, some Nazi criminals were a part of the up to 140,000 strong Latvian Waffen-SS units at a distribution not higher than the average number of murderers per capita in any modern society. Extrapolating that the whole generation of Latvians (every single able-bodied, available Latvian male in the given age group) that was drafted into these units was Nazi is EXACTLY like saying that all Americans are child murderers, because there have been several school shootings in the US in the recent years. That’s beyond ludicrous and bordering on the racist.

        Second, yes, it is mainstream, according to opinion polls. Just look it up in Latvian.

        And, yes, they did fight for Latvian independence. Open a history book, read some of their memoirs.

        Your last paragraph pretty much crosses the boundary between what would generally be considered incitement to ethnic hatred in most countries. If the algemeiner servers would be hosted in Latvia, I would file a complaint in the Latvian security police.

        Libel and uninformed opinions are one thing, but calling an entire ethnic group ‘murderers’ is even lower than most other Russian imperialists would go.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Relationships Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Millionaire entrepreneur Yossi Vardi credited his success in start-ups to his Jewish mother continuously pushing him to do better, Daily Mail reported on Thursday. “Jewish mothers are never satisfied and nothing is ever good enough,” he said, adding that his mother, who died 15 years ago, used to compare him with his cousins and say he was “an idiot.” “For most of my life I have been trying to show her I’m not,” he continued. “I keep on trying even now.” Vardi, […]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →