Wiesenthal Center condemns comments by Latvian Defense Minister

Take note – story published 4 years ago

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem has written to Latvia's ambassador in Israel to express its "shock and indignation" at comments made by Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.

The letter was sent October 7 to Latvian Ambassador Ms. Elita Gavele, and drew attention to what it said was "the praise heaped by Minister Pabriks upon his countrymen who joined forces with those of the Third Reich, describing those men as 'the pride of the Latvian people and state'."

On September 27, Pabriks took part in a commemoration ceremony at a military cemetery to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle of More in which members of the Latvian Legion - combat units of the Waffen SS - held up the Red Army's advance to Rīga, and prevented the encirclement of German forces.

At the event, Pabriks was quoted in a press release issued by his ministry as saying: "It is our duty to honor these Latvian patriots from the depths of our soul. Let us remember that, unfortunately, with each passing year, there are fewer and fewer legionnaires in our ranks, at present there are just over 30 in the ranks of the Latvian National Soldiers' Association. Latvian legionnaires are the pride of the Latvian people and the state.”

"Our memory of our legionnaires, heroes, is vivid and eternal," said Pabriks.

The comments caused outrage in Israel.

"Given the fact that the Legion fought for a victory of the Third Reich, the most genocidal regime in history, and that among those serving in it were active participants in the mass murder of Latvian Jewry, as well as of German and Austrian Jews deported by the Nazis to Riga, such comments are incomprehensible, let alone deeply offensive, coming from a senior minister of a country with full membership in the European Union and NATO," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff in response.

Zuroff has also been a consistent critic of an unofficial event each March 16 in Rīga to honor the Latvian Legion, as previously reported by LSM. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prepared explanatory material about the complex history of the Latvian Legion. Around 115,000 Latvians fought in the Latvian Legion, with around 100,000 on the opposing side in the Red Army after Latvian independence was crushed in 1940 and the country was subjected to both Soviet and Nazi occupation.

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