Thursday, April 4, 2013

DAS IST NICHT GUT! Latvian Nostalgia for the Waffen-SS Death Machine

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like Nazis very much. Call me crazy, but all that Judenhass, genocide, invading other people’s countries, war and Thousand Year Reich stuff- it’s just not for me. It’s kind of, you know- evil.

Now Latvians on the other hand, they’re a different kettle of fish. They’re totally nuts for Nazis! No, really! It’s incredible! Is it the black leather and the skulls? The uniforms? The cool salute? The goose stepping? The death camps? It’s difficult to say, but one thing’s for sure, in Latvia the Swastika never goes out of style!

You think I’m joking, that this is an unpardonable slur on the fine nation that gave us Henrijs Stolovs the famous…er… stamp dealer? Well, perhaps it is, in that not all Latvians love Nazis. I’m quite certain that many if not most of them realize that Hitler= bad man. But there are quite a few who still think that fighting for Hitler= totally groovy. And every now and then they like to come out in the street and celebrate.

Consider what happened last Friday in Bauska, a town in Southern Latvia that for many years was home to a thriving Jewish population- until they were all murdered, in 1941. Local lawmakers and officials gathered for the official unveiling of a monument dedicated not to these murdered Jews but rather the members of Latvia’s Waffen SS legion.

Yes, that’s right the SS- you know, Heinrich Himmler’s pals, the ones with the death’s heads on their uniforms! They weren’t even subtle about their evil. If you look at photographs from the unveiling it’s quite remarkable- there’s even a clergyman with a giant cross round his neck, marching along with flowers in his hands. And behind him: a bunch of SS-lovers. Somebody will have to remind me in which of the gospels Jesus instructs us to revere fascists because I’ve forgotten.  

This isn’t the first time a bunch of Latvians have gathered to weep over their fallen Nazi brethren. This March they had a nice little do in Riga to commemorate the awesomeness of the SS. They do it every year. It’s a nice day out, if you dig Nazis.

“But wait, wait,” say these SS lovers. “The Latvian SS weren’t Nazis, they were, er, freedom fighters!” The argument, such as it is, goes like this: these soldiers were brave patriots who fought not for Hitler’s evil war machine but rather to free their country from Stalin’s monstrous regime. The problem with this line of reasoning is as follows: they were fighting for Hitler’s evil war machine. Some of them were conscripts but at least 30% jumped right in there- they couldn’t wait to get stuck in! Didn’t they notice the little skulls on their uniforms? Didn’t they listen to all the stuff about untermenshcen? What? Were they so naive that they thought Hitler would grant them independence once the war was over?

“But wait!” say the apologists. “These SS guys, they were non-racist SS guys! They didn’t kill any Jews! Hell, they probably loved bagels!” But that’s because 90% of Latvia’s Jews were murdered two years before the SS units were formed. And naturally the Waffen SS recruited heavily from the Latvian Security Police units that had massacred those Jews, and which had also done a spot of bonus Jew-killing in Belarus too, thank you very much. Unsurprisingly these unlovely chaps were very quick to sign up for Uncle Adolph’s marching annihilation band. 

All very appalling, then. To me, however, perhaps the most shocking thing about Latvian Nazi-nostalgia is the almost total lack of outrage it provokes among other member nations of the EU. When the Freedom Party- which included a rather unpleasant racist named Jorg Haider in its ranks- joined Austria’s government the EU placed weird pseudo-sanctions on the country. I’d like to point out that even Jorg Haider NEVER LAID FLOWERS AT A MONUMENT TO SS KILLERS.

Meanwhile if a solitary skinhead is caught in Chemnitz leafing through a copy of Mein Kampf in the street and mumbling to himself, “Ja, ja! Ich liebe es!” then the international media will be all over the terrifying rise in neo-Nazi feeling in Germany.

But if a crowd of Latvian politicians, clergymen and ACTUAL SS MEN whoop it up in front of a statue dedicated to Nazi troops, then it’s, eh- who cares?

Why is this? Well, largely because Latvia is a small and not very important country that nobody much cares about. Even so, given all the stuff about human rights and solidarity and equality that flows out of Brussels you’d think somebody in Europe might say- Hang on, all this love for the SS … it’s a bit off.

Let’s be clear here- the Latvians faced a terrible choice in World War II. It was basically fight for the devil or… fight for the devil. To be caught between two variants of Satan is an unenviable fate. It’s a tragedy, in fact. And to pretend otherwise, to treat Nazi collaborators as heroes, is to take that tragedy and render it a travesty.