Nazi hunter blasts Latvian march honoring SS unit

Wiesenthal Center: March part of Latvian efforts to equate Nazi and Soviet crimes.

simon wiesenthal 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
simon wiesenthal 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
The chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday blasted an annual Latvian march to honor countrymen who fought in a German combat unit during World War II, calling it part of Latvian efforts to equate Nazi and Soviet crimes. The annual march, which was held through the streets of downtown Riga on Sunday, is a misguided attempt to create a false symmetry between Nazi and Communist crimes that will help minimize Latvians' guilt in the crimes of the Holocaust, said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the organization's Israel Director. "By permitting a march to honor those who fought alongside the Nazis for a victory of the Third Reich during World War II, the Latvian authorities are sending a deeply flawed message which distorts the historical events," Zuroff said. "By honoring all the Latvian SS Legion veterans, even though among them are many who were active participants in the mass murder of Jews in Latvia and Belarus, the organizers of the march are insulting the victims of these murderers and reinforcing the myth that Latvians bear no responsibility whatsoever for the annihilation of Latvian Jewry, a fabrication which has no connection to reality," he said. Soviet forces occupied the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in June 1940, but were driven out by the Germans a year later. The Red Army retook the Baltics in 1944, and reincorporated them into the Soviet Union. About 250,000 Latvians ended up fighting alongside either the Germans or the Soviets in World War II - and some 150,000 Latvians died in the fighting. Nearly 80,000 Jews in Latvia - 90 percent of the prewar Jewish population - were killed during the Nazi occupation. AP contributed to this report.