I would be extremely surprised if any of the readers of this article have ever heard of Limbazi, Latvia, but as of now the name of that town should light up a few red lights of caution in Western capitals, as well as in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. After Thursday, July 4, 2013, Limbazi will go down in infamy as the site of a commemoration which gravely insults the victims of the Holocaust and is another upgrade in the attempts by the Baltic countries to rewrite the history of World War II and the Shoa.
Less than a hundred Jews lived in Limbazi on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Latvia in June 1941. In a matter of days, ultranationalist Latvians led by the local Lutheran priest Edmund Macs started to harshly persecute and kill the Jews of the town, whose fate was ultimately the same as those of the country’s provincial Jewish communities, which were totally annihilated during the summer and fall of 1941 by the Nazis and their numerous Latvian collaborators. Thursday, however, a special commemoration was held in Limbazi to mark an ostensibly auspicious event, the “liberation” of Limbazi from the Soviet forces on July 4, 1941. The sponsors of the commemoration are the right-wing political party Visu Latvija [All For Latvia!], known for their ultranationalist views. Based on the invitation to the event, it is clear that the fact that the removal of the Soviet forces (which had occupied Latvia from June 1940) paved the way for the mass murder of Limbazi’s Jewish community, is of no concern to the organizers, who obviously consider the Nazi occupation a distinct improvement over its Soviet predecessor.
The commemoration in Limbazi is part of a wide range of activities being conducted in the Baltic countries, and especially in Lithuania, to change the hereto accepted narrative and perception of World War II and its aftermath, in a very radical way. This campaign, and make no mistake about it, this is a deliberate campaign, which includes a large number of activities which are government sponsored and financed, seeks to achieve the following goals:
- Rob the Holocaust of its totally-justified current status as a unique case of genocide, a sui generis event in the annals of mankind;
- Minimize or hide the horrific crimes committed by East European Nazi collaborators against Jews in the service of the Third Reich;
- Deflect attention from these crimes to the suffering of the East European nations which were subjugated by the Soviet Union and the other Communist regimes;
- Convince the world that Communist crimes were genocide so that Jews as well can also be accused of genocide, thereby neutralizing Jewish demands on them for accountability for Holocaust crimes;
- Create a false narrative of local heroism in the fight against Communism, ignoring the fact that many of the local “freedom fighters’ actively participated in the mass murder of Jews, all of which will help change the justifiably negative image of the Baltic countries from nations of killers to nations of victims, worthy of sympathy and compensation.
The commemoration in Limbazi is a perfect example of the tactics being used. To claim that Latvian “partisans” were the ones who liberated the town from the Soviet occupation is disingenuous at best, and in reality an obvious distortion of history in the service of Latvian ultranationalism. Without the Nazi invasion of the country, any attempt by the Latvians to kick out the Soviets would have been doomed to total failure, and in fact the only practical “achievement” by Latvian nationalists during the initial weeks of the German invasion was the persecution and murder of their Jewish fellow citizens. Ignoring their fate at this ceremony not only insults the victims, but helps glorify the local “patriots” who helped carry out the murders and seeks to focus attention on the horrors of the Soviet occupation, rather than on the shameful crimes committed by Latvians during he Holocaust.
The only good news in this regard, is that the ceremony was not sponsored by the government and that when questioned about it, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told AFP that it was “unacceptable.” The bottom line is, however, that Visu Latvija is a member of the ruling coalition, and that no sanctions will be taken against them for commemorations of this nature. They are the party which also supports the annual March 16 parade of Latvian SS veterans in the center of Riga, an event which seeks to promote and disseminate the canard that those Latvians who fought in SS units for a victory of the Third Reich were actually serving the cause of Latvian freedom, even though the Nazis never had any intention whatsoever of granting Latvia independence.
Ironically, the celebration fell on the anniversary of one of the tragic massacres of Latvian Jews during the Holocaust, the burning to death by the notorious Latvian Arajs Kommando, of several hundred Jews who were praying Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night in three Riga synagogues, the largest of which was on Gogol Street. To its credit, Latvia designated July 4 as Holocaust memorial day to commemorate that tragedy, but invariably there is rarely any emphasis on the identity of the perpetrators of that crime and the significance of Latvian collaboration with the Nazis in the annihilation of Jews, both in Latvia and beyond its borders. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that ceremonies such as those observed in Limbazi take place and that Latvians who fought in the SS are considered patriotic heroes.
When Latvia and its Baltic neighbors were accepted into the European Union and NATO, the assumption was that they had embraced European values, one of which was the hereto accepted narrative of World War II and its aftermath. If anything, their acceptance into those august bodies actually triggered the exact opposite. Having achieved their major foreign policy objective, they now feel free to pursue their goal of rewriting their history in order to absolve themselves of blame for Holocaust crimes and obtain recognition and compensation for their suffering under Communism, many of whose crimes were committed by their own nationals. The time has come for Brussels, Washington and Jerusalem to wake up and firmly oppose this highly dangerous campaign which will have serious implications for the future of Holocaust memory and education.