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March 18, 2012 11:01 am

Latvia Still Honors the Biggest Jew-Killing Machine in World History

avatar by Denis MacShane

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Monica Lowenberg in front of Freedom Memorial with flag bearers from the National Alliance Party.

On March 16 2012, a 47-year-old British woman, Monica Lowenberg, placed a wreath at the foot of the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia. She was dressed in the ghetto garb the Nazis forced Riga’s Jews to wear. Many of her family died at the hands of Germans and their Latvian collaborators.

She stood in silent witness as marchers arrived to celebrate the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, the biggest Jew-killing machine in world history. Latvians pushed Ms Lowenberg to one side to place their own large insignia of the Latvian Waffen-SS in front of the Freedom Monument.

Below is an open letter that Ms Lowenberg wrote to the government and parliament of Latvia to explain why in 2012 she believes, rightly, that no EU member state should be honoring members of the Waffen-SS in an open public ceremony in a European capital city.

Denis MacShane

Open letter to the government and parliament of Latvia on the eve of the Waffen-SS commemoration

My name is Monica Lowenberg and I am the only child and daughter of Ernest Lowenberg, a German Jewish refugee who managed to leave Nazi Germany five days before the outbreak of war in 1939. He was 16. His mother, my grandmother Marianne Loewenberg (née Peiser), born in Leipzig, a violinist and opera singer, managed with the help of the Hinrichsens, owners of the music publishing firm C F Peters, to leave Germany in April 1939 on a domestic’s visa.

Tragically, the rest of the immediate Peiser and Loewenberg family did not manage to escape in time and were brutally murdered in the various camps or shot. My grandfather David Loewenberg or Levenbergs, born in 1877 in Libau in Latvia, was one of eight children, as I discovered only last year in the Latvian Historical State Archives in Riga. His two elder twin brothers also left Latvia, like himself, Moishe for Paris (his children worked in the French Resistance and were murdered by the Gestapo) and Abraham for Tehran. My grandfather was, from what I could gather, the only Levenberg who went to university and studied in Dresden, later making a life for himself in Berlin. He was an engineer and an inventor whose factory was taken away from him by the Nazis in 1935, forcing him to place his two sons in an orphanage.

His other brother and three sisters stayed with their parents, Minna and Lazzers (Lazzers had been a soldier), in Libau and most likely helped them out in their furniture shop. From what I have read, I must conclude that my Levenberg family who stayed in Libau were all murdered by Latvian Arajs commandos and auxiliary police in the Libau massacres of 1941.

After many years of searching for family members and even devoting ten years of my life to studying the Holocaust formally at MA and then DPhil level, working at Sussex university and the Wiener Library as an academic and education officer, I decided to go to Riga for the first time last year and try to establish what had happened to my uncle Paul, my father’s brother born in Halle, Germany, 20 January 1922.

Paul, who was a year older than my father, had not managed to get out of Nazi Germany and therefore found himself trying to leave for Palestine with the help of a Jewish youth movement. He worked first of all on a farm in Denmark before going to Riga to work in 1940. The last letter my grandmother received from him was dated 8 September 1940. In the Riga archives, I discovered that Paul had been sent to the Riga ghetto on 4 October 1941. There are no records of what happened to him. I must assume that he was killed, aged 19. In 1941 and 1942, 90 per cent of Latvia’s pre-war 62,000 Jews were killed, Latvian commandos and auxiliary police taking a leading role in their extermination.

As I am sure you can appreciate, discovering these facts has been exceptionally distressing. However, it was equally distressing to discover that the men actively involved in the mass murders of Latvia’s Jews joined the 15th and 19th Divisions of the Latvian SS in 1943. The 15th Division was the most decorated out of all Himmler’s SS divisions. In an EU country, these men are today held as “heroes” by many Latvians.

The current Latvian prime minister feels we should “bow” our heads to these Waffen-SS killers. I also find it of deep concern that British Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament work with the Latvian MEP Roberts Zile and have made an unholy alliance with the party to which he is connected.

Last year two Latvian politicians, Dzintars Rasnacs and Raivis Dzintars, participated in the march to honour the Waffen-SS, the greatest Jew-killing machine in world history. Raivis Dzintars belongs to the national association “All For Latvia!” and was a member of the ultranationalist For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party, to which Mr Zile is still linked.

I must also add that another party comrade of Mr Zile told the Latvian parliament that LNNK has always been against the trial of Konrads Kalejs and other Latvians accused of Nazi crimes. Kalejs was a close assistant of Viktors Arajs, chief of the bloody Arajs Commando, responsible for guarding and finishing off those Jews who were still alive in the ditches into they fell after mass shootings. Some survived and tried to escape but the Latvians were on hand to kill them.

To raise concern about these Latvian politicians and the Waffen-SS, I launched a petition, started on the anniversary of my uncle’s birthday – 20 January 2012 – 70 years to the day of the Wannsee conference when the Final Solution of exterminating the Jews was planned. The petition was called “Stop the 16 March Marches in Riga and Latvians Revising History”, as I sincerely believe glorification of pro-Nazi armed forces during the Second World War has no place in a country that is a member of the European Union, Nato, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

In little over a month, the petition has gained over 5,500 votes from around the world, indicating that I am not alone in believing that such glorification is terribly wrong. One should add that the ECRI, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, had already in 2008 explicitly stated: “All attempts to commemorate persons who fought in the Waffen-SS and collaborate with the Nazis should be condemned. Any gathering or march legitimizing in any way Nazism should be banned.” The ECRI reiterated the same in its most recent report about Latvia, dated 21 February 2012.

The Latvian apologists and their friends in British politics who refuse to dissociate themselves from Mr Zile should consider the following:

1. Many of the worst Latvian killers served in the Latvian Security Police prior to joining the SS Legion. Honoring such persons would be a travesty of justice and a whitewash of their heinous crimes.

2. The Legion fought under the Nazi high command for victory of the Third Reich. They do not deserve to be honored for fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in human history. Ironically, such a victory would have been a disaster for Latvia because the Nazis had no intention or plan to grant Latvia independence.

3. About one-third of those who served in the Legion were volunteers (two-thirds were drafted) and many of them had served in Latvian Security Police units that actively participated in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia and in Belarus, such as the infamous Arajs Commando squad.

4. When Latvian SS killed Soviet soldiers, they allowed Nazis on the western front to kill British and American soldiers in turn and thus made it possible for Auschwitz and other concentration camps to continue their heinous crimes against humanity.

5. Democratic Latvia should not glorify those willing to give up their lives for victory of the Third Reich. The Latvian Righteous Gentiles would make much better role models.

6. The ultranationalists who support the march are the ones who are seeking to rewrite the accepted narrative of the Holocaust in Latvia. Their efforts will help hide the crimes of local Nazi collaborators and promote the canard of equivalency between communist and Nazi crimes.

7. Ceremonies in churches and cemeteries are also forms of honoring the deceased (whether they deserve it or not). Witness the masses held in Zagreb and Split, Croatia, last December in honor of the Croatian mass murderer and leader of the Ustashe Ante Pavelic.

As these men march from the main Latvian Lutheran Church towards the symbol of Latvian independence – Freedom Monument in Riga’s central square on 16 March – will any of these men and politicians spare a thought for their Latvian murdered compatriots who happened to be Jewish? Will they remember how 25,000 of them, in the autumn of 1941, over two weekends, were marched down Riga’s streets from the ghetto to Rumbula, shot and thrown into pits using the “sardine method”? Will they say a prayer for them?

With kind regards,

Monica Lowenberg

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe Minister

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  • Jake Riches

    Running into the arms of a regime who back stabs members and minorities of their own nation; running into the arms of a regime obsessed with ‘lebensraum’, who attacks their neighboring countries in order to get more land for themselves. What can have made Latvia – or anybody with a brain – think such a regime would ever consider allowing them to become liberated? No, something is very wrong with this picture and I can’t buy the story about all who joined the Nazis did it unknowing of the evils they committed. As unhappy it must make anybody feel to admit, many of the collaborators knew exactly what they were joining but they did it anyway because they had been convinced by the hype and the Nazi propaganda machine.

    This: People tend to be convinced when they watch a majority being apparently stronger, more successful, and winning.

    People didn’t think ‘right’ in those days, and nor was it the first time in the history of man that attempts were made to exterminate the Jewish nation (often along with other minorities, ethnic and otherwise). Even today there are quite a few people who sadly are allowing themselves to fall under that evil old spell once again. Governments vowed to educate the people, but several have failed to do so, some powerful members of governments have even been encouraging this fall-back to the ways and mindsets which always have and always will result in the darkest periods in known history.

    The Nazi murderers of WWII may be old men at the end of their lives, but they, and the very fact that they have been allowed to live in freedom since that time, have been “inspiring” people of the generations that came after them. If you are unaware of present day antisemitism you have a lot to learn.

    I do appreciate that at least you have kept yourself neutral and not merely jumped the bandwagon. I thank you for that.

  • Dr Irvine Zysensky

    I have been told by a very reliable contact in Latvia that there are people digging mass graves of Jewish people murdered by the Nazis. They are looking for gold, diamonds & other precious items, ingested by the Jewish people.
    I believe the Latvian authorities are aware of this disgusting practise but choose to ignore it.

  • Martin

    Such a BS. everyone crying about nonsense, first of all we are not memorating SS soldiers, but Latvian Legionnaires. They were created to protect the country not to kill jews. Secondly why everyone speaks about Nazi atrocities but no one mentions Russian atrocities against jews. Russians have long history towards Jew genocide in Russia and also in Latvia. My grandfather’s neighbours where jews and they have been shoot by Russians and not Nazis. I could tell more about Russian involvement in killing jews, but there are too many smart people whos “experience and knowledge” are so one sided.

    • Flatty

      1) Yes you idiot. Those soldiers were part of the Waffen SS , which was Hitlers killing machine (not only killing Jews, but also Gypsies, Poles, Russian civilians etc)
      2) Many of them were previously members of the Arajs commando which DID murder Jews

  • Ange KRUMINS

    Latvian men ran from the red Army ! Where did they run too. Straight into the hands of Hitler and the Nazie regime. They did this with the hope that Nazie Germany would liberate and give back latvia her independence. Was that the wrong choice. Where else were they supposed to run. They Hated Stalin.Stalin killed many Latvian men. All the Latvian guy who refused to join the red army.. Did Latvian menkill Jews.? YES THEY DID ! The facts are written in history. Latvian jew’s where exterminated in Latvia at many sites across Latvian land. Many more Jews were brought to Latvia from across Europe to be slaughtered! All orchestrated by Nazie generals with Hitlers blessing. Many Latvian men were involved in the movement of Jews to certain site where the Nazies exterminated them. And buried them in mass graves. This is all written in history ! And that’s where it belongs. In history. Lots Latvian men joined the waffen Ss. And ended up operating and joining forces with the German Ss. Again this is all documented in historic archives! Should these Latvian men be remembered like all war dead. ? I am nuteral on this matter. However I am half Latvian! This is a subject I find difficult to grasp ! But to me any culling of people on a mass scale is pretty much disgusting, and against all of my beliefs! Fact is this atrocity happened. And all those who took part in assisting in this are either dead and buried, or are very very old men probably at the end of their lives.

    • karen egle-gaber

      Yes, my father was conscripted by the Nazis to serve on the Russian front. He told me, at the end of his life, that he never wanted to return to Latvia because of what was done to the Jews in Latvia and yes many,not all, Latvians participated.I went to Latvia in 2007 and I asked my uncle why the people hated the Jews so much and he told me he did not know but they all did hate them. I researched the history and it seems after WORLD WAR ONE there was no middle class in Europe, only rich and poor. The Jews were rich and an example is Anne Frank’s aunt, her father’s sister, being the 1st woman in Germany to own and drive a car. Jealousy breeds hatred. I have to say that my father was gravely injured in the battle for Minsk, transferred to a military hospital in Riga and then to another near Nuremberg Germany where he remained until the end of the war.When I researched his German military records I was surprised that they were all in tact and I found some in Latvia and also the rest in Bremen, Germany.. Seems my father had been elevated to Lieutenant in the Waffen SS. He was not aware of this and due to all his injuries (including loss of his fingers)he was due a military pension and burial expenses. I hired a German Lawyer to recover his benefits and the case went up to the high German court. I even wrote to Gerhard Schroader, Chancellor in the 1990’s, and received letters from all denying him any benefits at all. Quite an insult considering he served in their army and they had all his records. A German doctor even gave him a physical at the German consulate in Boston, Ma.and said he was 50% disabled. I did more research and found out there were conscripts from other Baltic countries that were receiving German pensions and their service was spent in concentration camps as guards.I guess if you killed Jews you were rewarded for your service. They say Germany has a new generation and should not be blamed for their past BUT I wonder…when they refused my father’s request when he was dying and my mother could not receive any veteran’s benefits here in the US because he served Germany well I wonder if they REALLY have changed. Action speaks louder than words.I do not think Germany will ever live-down what they did to the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and political prisoners. Their history will always have a STAIN that they were the perpetrators of the biggest mass murder in history. They are trying to live it down by taking in the Syrians BUT if I were Syrian I would worry about the same thing happening to me in the future.My father is gone but he died knowing that history will live on.

  • Bruh

    A great example of false reporting.

    • Andrew Walker

      Not false reporting. You’re honouring people who died fighting FOR THE NAZI CAUSE and who MURDERED defenceless Jewish civilians.

      • julia sharon

        how can one honor those who killed innocent women and children? In the honor of my relatives who were killed because they were jewish and in honor of my dear father – NEVER AGAIN

    • Chaz

      Oh, I guess the fact they were RABID members of the Waffen SS in inconsequential. I would agree with you but for one thing; they ENJOYED killing Jews. As in Lithuania, your “heroes” started killing Jews before the Nazi’s took hold.
      And let me add (because I can just hear your mind begin to call me a “dirty Jew), I am a Catholic of both Polish and Italian decent, two countries who also enjoyed killing people… Yes, PEOPLE. I know you do not think Jews are people but what then does that make you?
      It us best to embrace your history, even the ugly parts in order to heal.
      Instead you wish to hold on to hatred a fester in that misery.
      What type of person would praise the Waffen SS? I find Stalin to be one of the ugliest Devils that ever walked the eart… If Russia can admit to the crimes of Stalin why can you not admit to the crimes of your “patriots” who RELISHED their storm trooper boots?
      Your fellow countrymen were motivated by GREED. There is nothing like an Eastern Europeans grubby little hands clinging on a few krona or two… As I said I am part Polish so I know from whence I speak.
      You’d kill your grandmother to get those krona… Oh, in this case it was Jews, Christ killers as I am sure you see them, so I guess that is Ok.
      Go to confession and throw away that picture of Hitler I am sure you have on your wall…

  • Janis Rojany

    I am the daughter of Hazzan Allan Michelson, born Abrams Michelsons, on Dec.17, 1919 in Libau, Latvia. My father was the only member of his family, his mother Rochel Schottenstein Michelsons; his father Rebbi Michael Lieb Michelsons; and his brother Jonas Michelsons, who escaped the mass murders of the Jews of Liepaja, Latvia, coming to the U.S. in Nov. of 1938.
    I cannot believe nor excuse the fact that nothing has changed in history aside from the date. Anti-Semitism thrived during WWII and before, and continues today. In order for the Latvian Government to make statements against honoring those Latvians who participated in the killing of Jews during WWII, he as well as the government would have to have a conscience. Obviously, most of the Ten Commandments have become irrelevant.

    • Dear Janis Rojany,

      I am the daughter of Zigurds Janis Michelsons who was born in Riga 1927. Zigurds was the son of Peters Michelsons, the son of Captain Janis Michelsons. As far as I know, our family began spelling its last name Michelsons around 1889, year that Peters Voldemars Michelsons was born to Captain Janis Mikelsons and his wife Anna (Henrichson) Mikelsons. Spelling of the name in the 19th century included Mikkelson, Mikelson, and variant spellings in German, Russian, Swedish, and Latvian. Peters Michelsons married the youngest daughter of successful Latvian merchant, Jekabs Caspari-Casperlauter. (Sometimes spelled Kaspari). Jekabs spoke fluent Yiddish, though he is said not to have been Jewish. I am curious about my Michelsons family background. If you think our Latvian Michelsons families may be somehow related, I would appreciate it if you would write – mossy @ riseup .net

      Thank you!

    • karen egle-gaber

      When visiting Latvia in 2007 I sensed that most Latvians do not like foreigners and seemed very Nationalistic. My relatives seemed shocked when I told them I was voting for Barak Obama, afterall he was a black man!.They wanted to know why my father never returned to Latvia, even for a visit. I told them he hated what was done to the Jews and had no desire to ever return there. He was conscripted into the Waffen SS serving on the Russian where he was badly injured. He had terrible memories and only when he was dying did he ever speak of the war. He never would have marched on behalf of the Waffen SS, as he was ashamed to have been part of it. There were good people during the war, who helped the Jews, rightous Gentiles, many lost their lives. I am proud to be an American and as it goes, I doubt I will ever visit Latvia again, no great loss to me . When my father was dying his words to me were that the happiest day of his life was when he arrived in America on the USS Sturgis in 1949-he never looked back.

  • Kathryn

    I am surprised this woman has her D.Phil, for her letter was so poorly written as to be incomprehensible in some places. It was as if she wrote it whilst inebriated. How sad that higher education allows such atrocious sentence structure and lack of clarity.

    Not to mention the pathetic attempt to vilify the Latvian people who were merely commemorating their dead, not glorifying the Waffen-SS.

    • me

      it is clear you are a Latvian

      Only Latvians would put form ahead of matter.

      Nazi’s were doing so too….

    • Bill

      You stupid and insensitive woman. You consider that sentence structure is more important than lives? I cannot believe than any human being could be so worthless. Shame on you.

    • Roman Melnychuk

      I agree with you, Kathryn. We Ukrainians also mourn our dead, and yet the Jews call it SS heros.

    • Andrew Walker

      Don’t see anything incomprehensible. For someone that lost so many family members in awful circumstances, the letter is remarkably polite.

      • I am neither Jewish nor Latvian but in no civilized country are murderers honored either before or after they died. The statement “we are honoring the dead” isn’t even a half truth; if it is corrected to read “we are honoring the dead murderers and we are honoring them for having been murderers” its vacuity would become clear.

  • There is no evidence that 6 million Jews were killed under Stalin. This is just ridiculous anti-communist rubbish. Jews, far too many, did die but not because they were Jews but because Stalin murdered many people he saw as opponents.

    In fact at least 1.5 million Jews escaped extermination in the wake of Operation Barbarossa because the USSR moved them further inland. But for Stalin’s stupidity and counter revolutionary politics, which mean that partisan groups were not set up before the invasion in Belorrussia with secret arms dumps, not doubt many more would have survived.

    But to swallow this anti-communist bilge is to play Robert Zile’s game.

  • HK

    were there more than one family “Loewenberg” or “Löwenberg” in Libau ah 1890?

  • James Staley

    When Latvians honor the Latvian Legion they are not honoring Nazism or racism. They are mourning their war dead and honoring those boys who fought against re-occupation of their country by the Soviets. There is no sign of Nazi nostalgia or glorification of the SS in these ceremonies or in today’s Latvian society. This kind of article is very bad for Jews because it promotes the idea that the Holocaust mentality is just lying beneath the surface, ready to leap forth again. Mr Denis McShane clearly has not done his homework. He should be ashamed to write such nonsense. I see in Wikipedia that he has a long record of misrepresentations of various sorts. This is very bad mischief in this case. I am an American, living in Latvia and would never wish to be here if it were the sort of place that would celebrate the SS or the Holocaust. This article is shameful slander.

    • Dmitry S.

      Watch how Latvian Nazi’s destroy a wreath in memory of Nazis’ victims:

    • Yidan R.

      Thanks for brining that to our attention. This reporter really has a bad record.

      This really does hurt Jews as it opens wounds that should not be opened. The Russians and reporters like this are the real schmucks here.

    • Andrew Walker

      You are spouting the typical revisionist “they weren’t all that bad” line. Yes, Stalin was justly hated, but the vast majority of Latvian Jews contrary to popular myth did not participate in communism. The lowlifes of the Arajs commando and Latvian Legion murdered Jews and Soviet POWs (read up a little more about the Riga ghetto or Salaspils). Forest Brothers who fought directly against Soviet occupation are one thing , but its a disgrace to glorify the Waffen SS who were the indoctrinated shock troops of the Third Reich.

  • Yidan R.

    Facts from Wikipedia:

    – “only 15-20% of the soldiers serving in the legion were actual volunteers.”

    – “The Latvian Legion was not directly involved in the Holocaust, since it was conscripted more than a year after Latvian Jews were executed or sent to concentration camps.”

    – “Soldiers serving in the Legion did not share Nazi ideology and upon conscription were not required to swear loyalty to Germany or Hitler.”

    – “Legionnaires hoped to fight off the Soviet Union … then turn its arms against Nazi Germany”- “Latvians … believed that Western powers … would come to their aid as they had in 1918-1920. They were unaware that Churchill and FDR had consigned the Baltics to Stalin.”

    – “during the Soviet period it was generally acknowledged that Latvian Legion soldiers were neither Nazis nor war criminals, which sharply contrasts with the current stance of Russia”

  • Signe

    Well, then I as an inhabitant of Latvia which formerly was a part of USSR, would really request you to stop celebrating the end of WW2 as for Latvia and some other countries this meant the beginning of horrible 50 years. Many people were sent to Siberia, many died there, many were killed there. Why doesn’t anyone listen to that? I really understand that many Jews were killed by SS people and that really is horrible, but for these few old men this event actually means celebration for fighting for the freedom of Latvia (and, yes, they happened to be on the wrong side for doing that, because there was no “Latvian national side” as the country was all the time occupied by one or the other fighting side – commiting horrible crimes against Latvians. BUT DO YOU CARE TO WRITE ABOUT THAT???). And besides – the victory of WW2 for Stalin meant that he could kill millions of Ukrainians (starve them to death by selling their crops to West – yes, to you, my dears), but still the end of WW2 is a celebration. What the hell?

    • JohnAnon

      Hm… well, for us Jews living in Russia and satellite countries, the end of WWII signaled the end of one era of genocide, and the beginning of another. Stalin killed another 6 million Jews.. However, the end of the war was cause for celebration b/c Siberia wasn’t as bad as Auschwitz, and 6 million killed in 12 years isn’t as bad as 6.

      • Signe

        Oh my – you are counting killed humans mathematically. What’s wrong with you? One killed child is better that two? IT IS STILL HORRIBLE.

    • Chaz

      Blah blah blah….
      You forget to mention that your anti-Stalin “heroes” ENJOYED killing Jews and that killing (of Jews) started, like in Lithuania, started BEFORE the Nazi’s took hold.
      Since you “deem” to mention that many Jews where killed in Latvia, and that is horrible, I say to you “fight back at you.”! Many Latvians were sent to Siberia and that is horrible.
      I think it GREAT that you celebrate the end of WWII and honor your dead but, why do you also have to celebrate the Waffen-SS. Can’t you leave Hitler’s murder machine OUT of the celebration.
      I guess you are aware that you are a hypocrite? You’ll go to your grave DEFENDING the Waffen-SS; you just can not disassociate your “heroes” from the Nazi’s because you ADMIRE the Nazi’s.
      Give back your EU Membership; the only reason you joined was to get a krona or two in your pocket… Like the gold teeth I’m sure your “heroes” took out if the mouth of Jews…