Police arrested an antifascist provocateur for displaying a poster of soldiers killing Jews at the annual march by local veterans of two SS divisions that made up the Latvian Legion during World War II.
The man was arrested on the margins of the annual march of the Remembrance Day of the Latvian Legionnaires — soldiers from the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS and the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (the 1st and 2nd Latvian, respectively). A handful of veterans, flanked by hundreds of supporters waving Latvian flags, gathered around Freedom Monument for the march under heavy police guard.
The march in Latvia, a member of the NATO alliance and the European Union, is currently the only public event in Europe and beyond honoring those who fought under the banner of SS, National Socialist Germany’s elite security force. Occurring amid rising tensions with Russia, it is part of numerous expressions across Eastern Europe of admiration for those who allied with Germany against the Soviet Union.
Several antifa protesters from the Latvia Without Fascism group demonstrated against the event by carrying signs reading “They fought for Hitler” and “If they looked like Nazis, and acted like Nazis – they were Nazi.” None of those protesters was arrested.
Police did not allow a counter protest by Latvia Without Fascism, a leader of that group, Joseph Koren. Hundreds of police cordoned off the Freedom Monument as veterans, including some in uniform, sang patriotic songs and laid wreaths for their fallen comrades. Organizers of the event from several nationalist groups then drove the veterans to a cemetery where many of their comrades are buried.
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“It’s a disgrace that this is happening in Europe,” Aleksejs Saripovs of the Latvia Without Fascism group told JTA. “The European Union needs to pressure Latvia into abandoning this shameful event, but so far there is total silence.”
Many locals offered flowers to the veterans as they marched from the area around St. Peter’s Church to the Freedom Monument.
Advocates of the veterans and their supporters says that Latvian Legion soldiers were not involved in atrocities against Jews. According to the Latvian government, the legionnaires who were not forcefully conscripted merely sought independence for Latvia when they joined Hitler’s army.