Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Estonia raised the SS to unprecedented heights

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the opinion of Defense Minister of Estonia Urmas Reinsalu. The latter, in his recent address to the veterans of the Waffen-SS, made no distinctions between Soviet and German Nazi troops. Representatives of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn said that it was inappropriate and sacrilegious to call supporters of the Nazis "freedom fighters".

In addition to the annual meeting in the village of Sinimäe dedicated to the anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg, Estonian veterans of the 20th Grenadier Division of the SS (Waffen-SS) attended a church service and laid flowers at the war memorial. All events took place with the consent of the Estonian Government, and were attended by families of veterans and young nationalists.

It is strange that many Estonians consider SS veterans "freedom fighters" who fought on the German side in order to prevent the Soviet occupation. They do not see anything wrong or questionable in such events and consider foreign criticism as an attempt to discredit Estonia.

However, history is relentless, and units of the Estonian SS are responsible for numerous crimes against the civilian population during the war. The President of the Middle East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky (former president of the Russian Jewish Congress) said that the Waffen-SS was the same structure as the "death squads," i.e., killing squads that hanged and burned old men, women and children in the territories occupied by Nazis.

However, unfortunately, most of the Estonians are indifferent to such events. The event that took place in Sinimäe is not unprecedented, and similar campaigns have been held at least eleven times.

Honoring of the Waffen-SS veterans harmoniously fits into the mainstream foreign policy of Estonia over the last couple of decades, including the rejection of the Soviet past. Estonia's complex of historical inferiority does not allow local politicians the possibility of an objective look at their own history.

September 22nd, 1944, the day when the Red Army entered Tallinn, according to the interpretation of the Estonian "historians" was not a day of liberation of the Estonian people from the Nazis, but a trivial change of foreign regimes.
On August 23rd, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and on September 1st of the same year Germany started World War II by invading Poland. The Estonian government declared its complete neutrality.

The Soviet Union allegedly forced Estonia to sign a pact of mutual military assistance to enable the Soviet Union to place military bases on the Estonian territory. Under this pact, after the outbreak of the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, 50,000 Estonians were mobilized in the Allies' military forces, part of them successfully fled to Finland. In July of 1941, Estonia was annexed by Germany, and the occupation lasted until 1944. Over that period, the Nazis destroyed over 20,000 people. In August of 1942, the German leadership sanctioned the formation of the Estonian Legion as part of the Waffen SS.
In violation of international laws of war, the German occupation authorities invited the Estonians into the German armed forces. By the summer of 1944, 38,000 men were mobilized, and frontier regiments and 20th Estonian SS division (15,000 people) were formed. Even young people under age of 17 years were summoned into German Air Force.

The Estonian "legion" of the Waffen-SS and other national legions were under full command of the German Wehrmacht. At the very onset of the war military recruits underwent rigorous physical evaluation, and those who did not pass were weeded out. When the situation on the fronts of the war has changed not in favor of the Nazis, people with tuberculosis and other serious illnesses were subject to mobilization.

Estonians insist that the Waffen-SS was a purely combat unit that has not taken any part in the extermination of Jews. However, the information contained in the German archival documents suggests that the battalions of the Estonian SS in 1943 carried out punitive actions on the territory of Belarus eliminating Soviet gorillas and burning entire villages. What is it if not a war crime? However, none of the members of the Legion of the Waffen-SS were convicted of these crimes.

There is a universally expressed view that the vast majority of Estonian soldiers at that time believed that fighting in the SS units, they were fighting for the "independence of Estonia and the Estonian people," even though they could not fight under their national flag. This is another lie, as there was not a single statement by leaders of Nazi Germany of any independence of Estonia and other Baltic States in the event of Germany's victory in the war. Therefore, the Estonian "heroes" did not fight for the so-called "independence of Estonia", but served faithfully to the interests of the Third Reich. Estonian Waffen-SS was an integral part of the German SS units, although was considered not quite a full-fledged unit in terms of race and military points of view by the Germans.
When in the early 1990s the Soviet Union broke up into small and large sovereign states, the geopolitical attitudes of seemingly apolitical people have changed. Many ethnic Russians who then resided on the territory of the former Soviet republics turned out to be residents of another country who did not have a clear idea about their future. This situation was most painful in the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

The Baltic Sea region has always been a battleground. In the 13th century, the state of Livonia was founded that played a significant role in armed conflicts. In 1721, Livonia became part of the Russian Empire. This region has seen many battles over political, religious and ethnic differences. The twentieth century was not an exception either in this respect.

Many political analysts believe that the legacy of the Soviet rule in Estonia is very controversial. On the one hand, its closed borders fenced it off from the rest of Europe. On the other hand, the Soviet Union has expended considerable funds to raise the weak agricultural economies of the Baltic countries. Huge industrial complexes and resorts were built over a short period of time, and significant attention was paid to the national culture and the arts. Baltic has always been different from other republics of the Union, standing out as "European". One cannot deny the fact that only under the Soviet regime Baltic nations recognized their national identity, which then led to the emergence of national states.

At the Nuremberg trials that took place at the end of World War Two, the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organization. This is why the annual demarches of the Waffen SS veterans are puzzling and criticized not only by Russia, but the entire world community. A Special Representative of the Ministry of Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov said that the decision of the military tribunal was still in force, and the Nazi meetings were a direct violation of human rights in the European Union.
But why do the majority of Western and Russian "defenders of human rights" keep silence looking at the post-war historical heritage of the Great Victory being trampled by gray-haired Nazi remnants and their narrow-minded young acolytes? Is history, as always, in the service of politics?
Sergei Vasilenkov