18 March 2010
Accompanied by 1,000 riot police, around 350 Latvians who fought in the Nazi German ‘Waffen SS’ during World War II have marched through the Latvian capital, Riga, carrying Latvian flags and singing wartime military songs. They were accompanied by around 1,000 supporters, many of them from the extreme right. An attempt by Jewish groups and local authorities to have the march banned was rejected by a court.
Nils Usakovs, Riga's mayor, said the annual march of the ‘Waffen SS’ veterans was disastrous for Riga’s international image. He added: "It is a bit difficult to claim to be a hero if you were fighting for the Nazis."
Ephraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was a ''sad day for Holocaust memory'': ''From my perspective, the worst part of this is to see young Latvians holding the flag of democratic, independent Latvia in honor of people who fought for Nazi Germany.” He added: "With all my sympathy for the victims of Communism, the crimes of Communism are simply not the same as the Holocaust. Part of this is fueled by a desire to deflect attention away from the extensive collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War. They thought they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of these men's service and bravery was Nazi Germany."
An estimated 146,000 Latvians fought in the ‘Waffen SS’, an elite military force of Hitler's Germany, during World War II. In 1941, German troops invaded Latvia, which had been annexed by the Soviet Union two years prior to that. Latvian lawmakers declared 16 March a national memorial day in 1998, but canceled it two years later following international criticism. However, many veterans still rally on the date.
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