Fallen legionnaires remembered at Lestene cemetery

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Around 700 people attended the memorial ceremony on Monday at the fraternal cemetery in Lestene for the Latvian Waffen SS Legion, who were the Latvian soldiers that fought on the side of German forces in World War II.

Edgars Skreija, board chairman of the Society of National Soldiers, told BNS that the commemorative ceremony had gone as planned without any incidents.

Saeima speaker Inara Murniece, a member of the ruling national conservative National Alliance, addressed those assembled at the historic graveyard. Members of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion who fell during the world war, are interred at the fraternal cemetery in Lestene.

Latvia remembers fallen Latvian Legionnaires on March 16 every year, but the date’s status of an official commemoration day was annulled in 2000. The Latvian Foreign Ministry recently issued a statement about the government’s position on March 16, reiterating that it was not an official remembrance day and that Cabinet members and senior government officials were not to attend any memorial events at the Freedom Monument that day. But the ban does not extend to the ceremony in Lestene which receives less publicity than the procession in Riga.

“Nazi Germany formed the Latvian Legion in 1943, thus breaching the Hague Convention of 1907 which prohibits occupying powers from drafting inhabitants of the occupied territories for military service. The conscripts were labeled ‘volunteers’ to circumvent the Convention. Those who attempted to avoid conscription into the Legion risked imprisonment and later – the death penalty.  The Latvian Legion was a frontline unit, and one-third of its soldiers died on the battlefield. No member of the Legion was ever convicted of war crimes as a member of the Legion,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement explaining the history of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion.

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