The Saeima of the Republic of Latvia Declaration Regarding Latvian Legionnaires in World War II PDF Drukāt E-pasts

In 1998, false news was disseminated to the world’s mass media, foreign governments, and international organisations that the Latvian legionnaires who during World War II as part of the German armed forces fought against the USSR were supporters of Hitler’s regime.

For the sake of historic justice and protection of the good memory of Latvian soldiers, we declare:
In the 1930s, two major totalitarian terrorist countries were formed in Europe. Implementation of aggressive measures by these countries began with the signing of the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which resulted in Latvia’s losing its independence and having its territory alternately occupied by the USSR and Germany.

The occupation regimes repeatedly violated the norms of international law and human rights and even committed war crimes against the Latvian people.

Both occupation powers violated the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which prohibits occupation powers to involve the inhabitants in the obligation of taking part in military operations against their own country or in paramilitary services (Article 52). Both occupation powers recruited citizens of occupied Latvia into their armed forces and involved them in various paramilitary services. Those who tried to evade conscription were subject to imprisonment in concentration camps or capital punishment. As a result, Latvian citizens were forced to fight against one another during World War II.

Forced participation in the USSR armed forces is not considered as support of Stalin’s regime, whereas forced participation in the Latvian Legion, which fought as part of the German armed forces, is currently interpreted by some political demagogues as support of the German fascist regime, although Latvian citizens had no say about incorporating the Latvian Legion into the Waffen SS.

In fact, some Latvian citizens volunteered to join the Latvian Legion, but this happened because the USSR perpetrated genocide in Latvia in 1940–1941. Hundreds of people were shot without trial; tens of thousands were deported to remote areas of the USSR. At that time, Germany also committed war crimes and genocide in Latvia, but these had a significantly smaller impact on Latvian citizens. Therefore, some Latvian citizens believed that joining the Legion would protect them and their families from further mass repressions committed by the USSR, something that actually did take place later.

The aim of conscripted and voluntary legionnaires was to protect Latvia from the renewal of Stalin’s regime. They never participated in Hitlerian punitive actions against peaceful inhabitants. Like Finland’s army, the Latvian Legion fought not against the anti-Hitler coalition but only against one of its members – the USSR – which was the aggressor against Finland and Latvia. When the High Command of the German Armed Forces tried to send Latvian legionnaires to fight against the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain and France, all the Legion’s officers and soldiers categorically refused. Therefore, the Western allies – the United States, Great Britain and France – settled the issue of the Latvian and Estonian legionnaires back in 1946 by granting them the status of political refugees. In 1950 the U.S. diplomatic mission repeatedly declared: “The Baltic Waffen SS units (the Baltic legions) in terms of their goals, ideologies, actions and soldiers’ rank are to be regarded as special units that are distinct from the German SS.”

The right of Latvia as an occupied country to seek compensation from the occupying countries for violating the norms of international law within its territory is set forth in the aforementioned Hague Convention, which stipulates the following: “The belligerent party that has violated these norms shall be liable to pay compensation.”

Therefore, it is the responsibility of Latvia’s government to do the following:

1) to demand that in accordance with the norms of international law the occupying countries and their successors pay compensation to Latvian citizens, their family members and heirs for losses incurred as a result of the unlawful conscription into the armies of the occupying countries;

2) to seek to prevent insults to the honour and dignity of Latvian soldiers in Latvia and abroad.

Alfrēds Čepānis
Chairman of the Saeima

29 October 1998

 

Documentary "Latvian Legion" (script by historian Uldis Neiburgs) tells about the beginning of Latvian Legion, about the battles it fought and about Legion's contradictious evaluation nowadays. The film is based on the range of documentary newsreels, interviews with ex-legionnaires and views of historians: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHtcgaeC4T8

 
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