Nazism and Latvia

Allegations that

  • Aizsargi were fascists;
  • Aizsargi collaborated in the Holocaust;
  • Aizsargi independently murdered Jews on their own initiative, before and during the Nazi occupation;

appear to require no sources, being repeated as if common knowledge: echoes of the meme that "Latvians are Nazis[1]."

Bibliography for the history of Jews in Latvia, Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) at Geschichte in Chronologie.

Similar to the Latvian Legion, which today is rhetorically accused of murdering tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews[2], accusations against the Aizsargi of fascism, Nazi sympathies, spontaneous anti-Jewish pogroms have nothing to do with history. They are, in fact, the product of Nazi Germany portraying the "Germanless Holocaust" and the USSR using the Holocaust as a propaganda tool against their most troublesome post-WWII anti-Soviet exiled nationalities: the Baltic nations, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; and Ukraine. Reputable scholarly sources such as the Encyclopaedia Judaica, even the renowned Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg, have fallen victim to the Soviet disinformation campaign, using and citing the Soviet propagandistic booklet Daugavas Vanagi, Who Are They? (1963) as a source. As Prof. Andrew Ezergailis, the pre-eminent scholar on the Holocaust in Latvia writes regarding Daugavas Vanagi:

The most interesting aspect of the booklet is that much of the logic and collective accusation against the Latvians is based in large part on three statements that Gen. Friedrich Jeckeln allegedly made at his trial in Riga in 1946. "Truth No. 1" is the assertion that Latvians killed a large, indeterminable number of Jews before the Germans arrived in Latvia. The second is that the Latvians had more nerve for killing Jews than did the Germans. And the third is that Jews from the West were brought to Latvia "because the Latvians had created the proper conditions for it." The unravelling of these three statements is more than just a matter of passing importance. In Western works treating the subject of the Holocaust they are the most frequently cited "truths" about the Latvian involvement.... But we no longer have to rely on the KGB-filtered information [of Jeckeln's trial] to assess the truth about Jeckeln's statements. By now in the West we have a considerable amount of his interrogation records available, and of Dr. Indulis Ronis, the Historical Institute of Latvia, saw the full file in Moscow. Now we can say with full assurance that Jeckeln did not dodge (or the Soviet prosecutors did not allow him to) his responsibility; neither did he try to prevaricate about his crimes. Latvia was a peripheral issue since the prosecutory toe of questioning was much more focused on connections with Berlin: Himmler and Goring. The Soviet courts, from the point of view of a historian, were narrowly channelled to prove one thing and only one—the criminality of the Nazi regime. In none of Jeckeln's testimonies did he touch upon Latvian responsibility for killing Jews. None of the three statements attributed to Jeckeln is found in the official record.[3]

Key to the portrayal of the Aizsargi as fascists is an alleged continuum of Latvian fascism and Nazism which exists to this day. This account alleges a continuity of pre-WWII and post-Soviet era fascism in Latvia and that the Aizsargi not only aided the Germans, but perpetrated the Holocaust independent of the Nazis:

   Farther up the Baltic coast, German ultrarightists were flexing their muscle in Latvia. Joachim Siegerist, a German national who became a Latvian citizen by virtue of his father's Latvian heritage, formed a political party (For Latvia) in his adopted country that won 15 percent of the vote in October 1995. With this tally, Siegerist emerged as a potential political power broker in Latvia, even though he had been sentenced to an eighteen-month prison term in Germany for violating a law against inflammatory racist speech. A veteran of the Free Rudolf Hess campaign, Siegerist benefited from his extensive connections to the far Right in Germany, which supported his foray into Latvian politics.

   Siegerist's success[4] was indicative of a dramatic shift to the Right in post-Cold War Latvia, where Holocaust-denial and the white-washing of war criminals were encouraged by the government.[5]. Latvian youth enlisted in a resurrected version of the Aizsargi, the fascist militia that collaborated with Nazi Germany and conducted anti-Jewish pogroms of its own during World War II[6]. Dressed in the same type of uniform as before, these political extremists patrolled the streets of Riga, Latvia's capital, as if Hitler had prevailed. The Latvian government also formed a 15,000-member paramilitary organization called the Zemisargi (Home Guard)[7], which included two honorary units composed of Waffen SS veterans.[8] In April 1993, the Latvian parliament observed a minute of silence in commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the Latvian SS Legion.[9][10]


[1]Eyewitness statement attributed to Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman. Holtzman was instrumental in establishing the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigation (OSI), which made wide use of materials supplied by the Soviet KGB in its pursuit of alleged Nazi collaborators among diaspora ethnic groups the Soviet government identified as the most strongly anti-Soviet: Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians. These materials included depositions accusing anti-Soviet nationalists who were children at the time of being Nazi war criminals and testimony submitted by persons known to be dead, viz. Zumbakis, P. Soviet Evidence in North American Courts.
[2]viz. Richard Brodsky at Brodsky: Latvia's second coming—The world can't afford to ignore a resurgent Nazi movement. Saturday, March 23, 2013, at www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Brodsky-Latvia-s-second-coming-4379690.php, retrieved 15-March-2014.
[3]Andrew Ezergailis. The Holocaust in Latvia, Introduction, at lpra.vip.lv/ezerg_intr.html, retrieved 15-March-2014.
[4] Joachim Siegerist was convicted in Germany for defamatory statements such as “Gypsies are a complete pack of criminals” and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Following his release, Siegerist relocated to Latvia to restart his career in politics, co-founding the Popular Movement "For Latvia" (''Tautas Kustība "Latvijai"'', or TKL), colloquially called the Zīgerist party. The TKL captured 14.9% of the vote and 18 seats in parliament based on populist appeal. A number of other parties, including the TKL, campaigned on an anti-elite platform. The TKL’s message was clear: the dismal state of government and the economy were the products of half a century of Soviet moral and ethical turpitude: "Komunistiskās diktatūras gadi Latvijā ir iznīcinājuši visus veselīgas sabiedrības, valsts un saimniecības funkcionēšanai nepieciešamos morāli ētiskos pamatus." ("The era of communist dictatorship in Latvia has wiped out all of the moral ethical foundation essential to the functioning of robust organizations, the state, and the economy.")
  Together with this anti-establishment message, the TKL was one of two parties which promised to raise wages in the woefully underpaid public sector wages. Moreover, the TKL promised a "path to prosperity" for all. To put the power of this message in context, the inflation rates in Latvia since independence had been:
  • 1992 – 951.2 percent, more than a ten-fold multiplication of prices
  • 1993 – 109.2 percent, more than double
  • 1994 – 35.9 percent, up by more than a third
  • 1995 – 25.0 percent, up by a quarter
That is, during the three full years prior to the 1995 election, the cost of living had multiplied by a factor of over thirty-seven. Siegerist owed his initial success purely to economics. By the time of the elections in the fall of 1995, the equivalent of one dollar at the end of 1991 was worth less than three cents in purchasing power. The full picture was even more grim. Devaluation from the Soviet ruble to Latvian ruble to the lat, introduced in 1993, had turned 5,000 rubles—someone’s life savings, more than enough for a very comfortable retirement—into 25 lats (about forty dollars). What once had been a substantial middle class with hopes and dreams—regardless of the Soviet regime were in 1995 panicked voters desperate for change after two years of subsistence living blamed squarely on the government and its currency reform. One only had to walk by the appliance stores on Brīvības iela (Freedom Street) for a sign of the times, the price of independence: Lithuanian-manufactured refrigerators, the cheapest available, for sale on a five year instalment plan.
  Siegerist was a practised polemicist leading a populist political party catering to an inexperienced electorate in only the second parliamentary election after independence. It was wholly unremarkable that the TKL fared well in its initial outing; moreover, when it failed to deliver on its economic promises, it lost all its seats in the subsequent parliamentary election (1998, the year prior to the initial publication of this source), with only with only 16,647 votes. The author fails to mention any of this, preferring to imply Siegerist owed his initial—and by omission, taken to be continuing—wide appeal among Latvian voters to their finding a kindred spirit in his racist extremism.
[5] The author fails to mention that in 1998 (again, the year prior to initial publication), the President of Latvia established a historical commission to examine crimes against humanity under the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Published works have included examining the Holocaust in Latvia's towns in the summer and fall of 1941, one of the first such research projects in Europe, viz. Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research in Latvia. The charge that the Latvian government has encouraged Holocaust denial and white-washing of war crimes is fabrication.
[6] The Aizsargi organization had ceased to exist a year earlier. There is no reference for the statement the Aizsargi participated in the Holocaust. Moreover, there is no historical basis for the contention that the Aizsargi, or the Latvian ''Sicherheitsdienst'' (SD) units who did, in fact, actively collaborate (Viktors Arajs et al.), perpetrated the Holocaust in Latvia independent of the German ''Einsatzgruppen''. Even SD unit collaborators could only carry arms while under direct German supervision—arms were issued when checking in for duty and turned in when checking out. Violating this arms curfew risked being shot.
[7] The correct name is ''Zemessardze'', properly translated as the National Guard—similar in function as, for example, the National Guard of the United States. For more information, refer to National Guard, Republic of Latvia.
[8] The author uses juxtaposition and implied association ("...also...") to allege that the Latvian government and the National Guard harbor and honor Nazis and are neo-Nazis of the same persuasion as the post-Soviet neo-Nazi self-named "Aizsargi" extremists who bear no relation to the WWI-WWII organization of the same name. Such implications are groundless.
[9] The author presents the fact of commemoration of the Waffen SS and leaves it to the reader to infer the Latvian parliament glorifies Nazis. The Latvian Waffen SS, better known as the Latvian Legion (not Latvian "SS" Legion), held out in the Courland pocket until the end of the war, even as Stalin sent in division after division of Red Army to their slaughter in his bid to eradicate the Latvian state. Ironically, it was the end of the war and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's earlier laughing assurances to Stalin that the U.S. would not go to war over Soviet subjugation of the Baltic States, that caused the surrender of Courland, still counted as Nazi-occupied territory, to the Soviets. Latvians had held on in the desparate hope that, just as in WWI, the struggle for Latvian independence could be launched from this sliver of Latvian territory even while the Soviets controlled the rest. Instead, Britain, France, and the U.S. ignored Latvian pleas for aid; occupying Soviet forces deported surrendering Germans and shot surrendering Latvians outright as traitors, deeming them as having sided with the enemy in Великая Отечественная Война, the ''Great Patriotic War'', "liberating the Latvian S.S.R." from its Nazi occupiers. These were the individuals—who had given their lives for a Latvia free of Soviet subjugation—who the Latvian parliament commemorated.
[10]Lee, Martin A. The Beast Reawakens, Fascism's Resurgence from Hitler's Spymasters to Today's Neo-Nazi Groups and Right-Wing Extremists, page 296. Routledge, 1999. ISBN: 978-0-415-92546-4

Updated: June, 2017

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