War crimes do not have a limitation period. But we often see a paradox in Europe’s recent history: at the end of the 20th century, World War II collaborationists, Hitler’s abettors and executioners suddenly became national heroes of the new independent states that have already joined or are aspiring to join the European Union.
Part of the official ideology in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania is glorifying collaborationists and war criminals – soldiers of local SS divisions that the Nazis set up during World War II to massacre Jews, anti-Nazis and the civilians of the occupied areas of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Poland. In today’s Baltic states, SS veterans are not brought to court or subjected to public condemnation; on the contrary, they are becoming heroes and even judges of those who defeated them.
Moving away from Russia and the Soviet Union, the newly independent post-Soviet republics have not found anything better than to side with the Soviet Union’s main historical enemy, Nazi Germany. In this contraposition, they are trying to find a hold to create their new national identities. It makes sense recalling the deeds of the collaborationists who today are seen as the symbols and the idols of independent and democratic countries that enjoy Europe’s support. No wonder, by the way, that it was in these same countries that the notion of the so-called nonn-citizens as second-class people emerged and that it is in these countries that cruel government nationalism prospers.
Below are barren lines from documents dating back to the beginning of Germany’s war against the Soviet Union…
“Document 180-L. A report by SS Brigadenfuhrer Stalieker, commander of operative group A on the group’s activities on the occupied territory of the Baltic states since October 31, 1941.
… At the very beginning of the eastern campaign, Lithuania’s active national forces united into so-called guerrilla groups in order to actively fight against Bolshevism… In the first days, the Lithuanian security police and criminal police were set up, consisting of former Lithuanian policemen, a majority of whom had been let out of prison… The population resorted to most cruel measures against Bolsheviks and Jews on their own, without any instruction from the German party… On the night of the first massacre, they killed 1,500 Jews, burned down or destroyed a significant number of synagogues, burned down a 60-house Jewish quarter. On the following nights, they destroyed another 2,300 Jews in a similar manner.”
Supplement for document 180-L: “The number of executions conducted. The district of Kaunas, town and rural areas: 31,914 Jews and 80 Communists eliminated. The Siauliai district: 41,382 Jews, 763 Communists. The Vilnius district: 7,015 Jews, 17 Communists. Total for Lithuania: 80,311 Jews, 860 Communists”. (Alexei Vitkovsky, Viktor Yampolsky. It was a secret yesterday. Documents on the Lithuanian events in the 1940s-1950s. 1990.)
Similar atrocities took place in West Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia. Here are just a few excerpts from authentic documents of that time…
“By July 7, Latvians arrested 1,125 Jews, 32 political offenders, 85 Russian workers and two female criminals. This was how the operative team had inspired them with its deeds. Repressions against Jews are mounting… Latvians are driving Jewish families out of town, men are being detained… Detained Jewish men are immediately executed and buried in ditches prepared in advance.”
“… The 11th Lithuanian battalion was charged with executing Russians, Jews, Communists and captured Soviet soldiers brought from Belarus and Poland… All these executions, especially mass hangings, were recorded on film cameras…”
Latvian battalions took part in the massacre of the civil population in Liepaja, Valmiera, Jekabpils, Daugavpils and Rezekne. Later they were used for punitive operations against the civil population not only in Latvia, but also in Belarus, Lithuania, the Novgorod and Pskov regions of Russia and in Poland.
Having occupied Estonia, the Germans set up the Omakaitse (Self Defense) organization consisting of nationalists and pro-Nazi individuals. It was actively used for punitive operations against the population. According to Omakaitse’s remaining reports, in the summer of 1941 alone, its members killed 946 Soviets and carried out 426 attacks on administrative buildings.
By November 1, 1941, they conducted 5,033 raids and arrested 41,135 people, out of which 7,357 were executed immediately “for resistance.”
On August 28, 1942, Himmler signed a directive on the setup of an Estonian SS division.
The resolution on setting up a Latvian SS division was signed on November 4, 1942.
However, before describing Latvian SS men as valiant soldiers, it may be useful to know of what they did in the rear. Here is a report by Lieutenant Baltins (a Latvian!), an envoy at large for the collaborationist Russian Liberation Army, to a RLA representative in Riga, Colonel Pozdnyakov, dated May 26, 1944.
“In mid-December 1943, the service took me to Belarus, to the villages of Knyazevo, Barsuki, Rozalino, etc. These villages were occupied by German troops who were quite tolerant towards the population. But when they were replaced with Latvian SS units, unreasonable, horrible acts of terror began. People had to run away to the forest at night, covering themselves with bed sheets (as a disguise against snow during gunfire). Around the villages, there were many corpses of women and old men. Local people told me that these atrocities had been committed by Latvian SS men. On April 23, 1944, I happened to visit the village of Morochkovo. It had been burned down entirely. SS men were living in cellars. On the day of my arrival, they were to be replaced with a German unit, but I still managed to speak Latvian to a few SS men, whose names I don’t know. I asked them why there were bodies of dead women, old men and children around the village, hundreds of unburied bodies, and also dead horses. There was a strong odor of decay in the air. The answer was as follows, “We killed them in order to destroy as many Russians as possible.” After that, a sergeant took me to a burned down house. There were several burned, ash-covered corpses there. “We burned those alive,” he said…”
… At the beginning of May, we saw about 3,000 bodies of executed peasants, mainly women and children, in a hollow near the village of Kobylniki. Those who had survived told us that the executions had been carried out by “people who understood Russian and bore skulls on their caps and red-white-red flags on their left sleeves,” i.e. Latvian SS units. I don’t remember the name of the village where my attention was caught by a swarm of flies circling a wooden barrel. When I looked inside, I saw men’s heads that had been cut off. Some of them had moustaches and beards. We found a lot of bodies of executed peasants around the village. Having talked to locals that had survived, there was no doubt left that these were also the deeds of Latvian SS units that had proved their courage and bravery in massacres of defenseless civilians,” these shocking revelations of witnesses and participants of war crimes are quoted by Igor Pykhalov, a renowned researcher of Soviet collaborationism.
Do Europeans know that the Baltic states justify Nazi crimes even in schoolbooks? That SS veterans receive an addition to their retirement pension and different privileges, while anti-Nazi veterans are put into prison for having fought on the side of the anti-Hitler coalition?
Ukraine is now lavishing supreme state honors on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Its commander Roman Shukhevich has been awarded the title of the Hero of Ukraine…
Yet another hero of today’s Ukraine is Shukhevich’s direct superior, leader of the Ukrainian nationalist organization Stepan Bandera.
So what are these figures famous for?
On March 22, 1943, Nazi executioners killed the entire population of the Belarusian village Khatyn, burning alive and shooting 147 people, including 75 children, with the youngest one being just seven weeks old.
Khatyn is the sorrowful symbol of Belarus and of its population’s numerous sacrifices. We know that Khatyn executioners were Hitler’s monsters. For a long time, it was believed that the village was eliminated by the Dirlewanger SS division. These Nazi criminals destroyed about 200 villages in Belarus with a population of over 100,000 people. Yet in Khatyn (and not only there), they received voluntary help from Ukrainian executioners. The 103rd, 109th, 114th, 115th, 116th and 117th Ukrainian police battalions were operating in Belarus… And, finally, the most important one, the 201st Schutzmannschaft battalion led by the future “legendary UIA commander,” Hero of Ukraine, “General” Roman Shukhevich. Today, there are monuments to Shukhevich and streets and squares bearing his name in West Ukrainian cities… What for? Perhaps for the fact that in February-March 1943 alone, carrying out the Winter Magic operation in the geographic triangle of Sebezh – Osveya – Polotsk, Ukrainian nationalists destroyed the villages of Ambrazeyevo, Aniskovo, Buly, Zhernoseki, Kalyuty, Konstantinovo, Paporotnoye, Sokolovo, together with the population? A total of 620 (!) Belarusian villages suffered the same awful fate as Khatyn.
Sadly, today’s independent democratic states are building their national identity on worshiping such heroes. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have based their statehood on the tomb stone under which the souls of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of SS executioners are still calling for revenge. For a long time, Ukraine went hand in hand with Baltic admirers of collaborationists. Moldova is hesitant, preparing to award its war veterans with memorable medals in the shape of German military crosses.
Latvian for Latvia, Lithuania for Lithuanians, Estonia for Estonians, Moldova… for Romanians… Can it be that this official policy of the republics that have already been independent for 20 years does not remind you of anything today, ahead of the 65th anniversary of mankind’s victory over the Nazi brown plague that threatened the entire world?