Declaration on Latvian Legionnaires in World War II

латышские легионеры

Saeima of the Republic of Latvia Declaration on
Latvian Legionnaires in World War II

In 1998, false information is being disseminated in the global mass media, as well as to the foreign governments and international organisations, stating that Latvian legionnaires who fought in the German armed forces against the USSR in World War II were supporters of Hitler’s regime.

In the name of historical truth and to honour the memory of Latvian soldiers, we declare:

In the 1930s, two major totalitarian terrorist countries were formed in Europe. Pursuit of the aggressive goals set by these countries began with signing the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which ended the independence of the Republic of Latvia and subjected the Republic of Latvia to alternate occupations by the USSR and Germany.

Occupation regimes repeatedly violated international law and human rights, as well as committed war crimes against the Latvian people.

Both occupation powers violated the Hague Convention (IV) of 1907 respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land which prohibits impressment of inhabitants of an occupied country into the army of the occupying country or their involvement in paramilitary activities (Article 52 of the Convention). Both occupation powers drafted citizens of occupied Latvia into their armed forces and assigned them to diverse paramilitary formations. Any evasion was punishable by imprisonment in concentration camps or the death penalty. As a result, during World War II, Latvian citizens were forced to fight against one other.

While forced service in the armed forces of the USSR is not considered an expression of support for Stalin’s bloody regime, some political demagogues interpret the forced service of Latvian legionnaires who fought in the German armed forces as an expression of support for the German Fascist regime, regardless of the fact that Latvian citizens had no say on inclusion of the Latvian Legion in the Waffen SS.

Indeed, some Latvian citizens did join the Latvian Legion voluntarily; however, they did so because in 1940–1941 the USSR committed genocide in Latvia. Hundreds of people were shot without trial; tens of thousands of people were deported to distant regions of the USSR. During this time, Germany also committed war crimes and genocide in Latvia, but they had a smaller impact on Latvian citizens. Therefore, some Latvian citizens believed that by joining the Legion they were protecting themselves and their families against new mass repressions by the USSR, which actually did occur later.

The aim of soldiers who were drafted into the Legion or who joined it voluntary was to protect Latvia from the restoration of Stalin’s regime. They never took part in Hitler’s punitive acts against peaceful inhabitants. Just like the Finnish army, the Latvian Legion did not fight against the anti-Hitler coalition; it fought against one of its members – the USSR, which was an aggressor in relation to Finland and Latvia. When the headquarters of the German armed forces attempted to send legionnaires to fight against the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain and France, all officers and soldiers of the Legion categorically refused. Therefore, in 1946 the Western allies – namely, the United States, Great Britain and France – clarified the issue of Latvian and Estonian legionnaires and granted them the status of political refugees. In 1950, the representative office of the United States repeatedly declared that “The Baltic Waffen-SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS.”

The above-mentioned Hague Convention sets forth the rights of Latvia as an occupied country with regard to the occupying countries which have violated international law on its territory: “A belligerent party which violates the provisions of the said Regulations shall, if the case demands, be liable to pay compensation.”

Therefore, the Latvian government is obliged to do the following:

1) demand the occupying countries and their successors in title to observe international law and pay Latvian citizens, their family members and heirs compensation for losses incurred as a result of illegal impressment into the armies of the occupying countries;

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

Speaker of the Saeima
Alfrēds Čepānis

Riga, 29 October 1998

Documentary “Latvian Legion” (2000)