Mara Lazda (Bronx Community College of the City University of New York)
More than fifty years after the end of World War II, the memory of the Latvian SS Voluntary Legion remains a controversial part of Latvia’s past under the Nazi occupation, both within Latvia and globally. In particular, the annual commemoration ceremony on March 16 elicits protests and press coverage. The unresolved memory—and insufficiently written history—continue to shape European politics in the twenty-first century. In March 2006, the Latvian Foreign Minister was called on to respond to concerns voiced in the European parliament about “Nazi tendencies in Latvian governmental institutions.”
This paper examines the politics and history of the Latvian Legion through an analysis of Latvian memoirs, oral history interviews, and the Latvian and international press. Many Latvians saw, and continue to see, the Legion as the only opportunity to participate in the battle against the Soviet Union—and saw a fight against Germany as the next step that would free Latvia. Outside observers, however, including both the Western and Russian press, raise concerns that the Legion commemoration is a sign of the rise of the extreme right. Furthermore, extremists on opposite sides of the political spectrum—extreme Latvian nationalists on one hand and Russian nationalists on the other—manipulate the commemoration to serve as a platform for their organizations.