On March 16, Canadians were still coming to grips with the shocking news of a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. A white supremacist had gunned down 100 Muslims — 50 killed and 50 wounded — at two separate mosques during Friday prayers.
The extremist responsible for this massacre — and like New Zealand Prime Minister Janica Ardern, I refuse to grant him the notoriety he craves by naming him here — published a 74-page manifesto outlining his right-wing racist views.
The international community was quick to condemn this slaughter of innocents as an act of terrorism. This monstrous act also served to highlight the growing threat stemming from the rise in alt-right, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups around the world.
The Christchurch terrorist himself made a direct link to Canada by lionizing the Quebec City mosque murder rampage conducted by 28-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette on Jan. 29, 2017.
It was indeed a sobering reminder that terrorists come in all colours and from all walks of life.
In stark contrast to this grim reality, mere hours after the Christchurch shootings, more than 1,000 people marched through the streets of Riga, Latvia, to commemorate Hitler’s Second World War SS Latvian Legion.
This controversial annual parade to celebrate perpetrators of the Holocaust has taken place since 1990, when Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union. In 1998, this event was declared an official day of remembrance by the Latvian government.
Not surprisingly, such a blatant glorification of Nazis drew a stern rebuke from the European Union. In 2000, the SS Latvian Legion parades were once again made “unofficial.”
Nevertheless, they are allowed to continue. Photographs and videos from this year’s parade — one of the biggest in recent history — show several marchers sporting swastikas on their arms.
Diehard Latvian nationalists who defend these parades claim that these swastikas are in fact the cross of thunder, an ancient central Asian symbol. Nice try. Since the Second World War and the adoption of the swastika by Hitler’s Nazis, we all know what this symbol has come to stand for.
Many SS Latvian Legion apologists argue that this particular military unit was not directly involved in Hitler’s final solution to exterminate the Jews.
This is a bit of a moot point, as 27,000 Jews in Latvia were slaughtered in 1941 and 1942 by a Latvian militia known as the Arajs Kommando.
By the time SS leader Heinrich Himmler formed the SS Latvian Legion in 1943, Latvia had been proclaimed “Juden Frei” or “free of Jews” by Hitler’s Third Reich.
The central core of the new SS Latvian Legion was none other than the killers of the Arajs Kommando. That Kommando included a bloodthirsty anti-Semitic officer named Herberts Cukurs, whom Holocaust survivors directly link to the murder of Jews.
Latvian supporters of the SS Legion make the point that many members of these two combat divisions — 120,000 personnel in total — were forcibly conscripted by the Germans. That is a historical fact, which is not in dispute.
However, I will argue that if you were forced to wear an SS uniform against your will during the Second World War, it is unlikely that you would dig it out of your closet to proudly wear it down the streets of Riga 45 years later.
No, those SS Latvian Legion veterans who participate in the parades in ever-dwindling numbers were the hardcore SS volunteers.
One argument offered by Latvia’s apologists for their glorification of a Nazi unit is that it is a commemoration of the sacrifice they made. The problem with that logic is that Nov. 11 remains the official national day of remembrance in Latvia, wherein all fallen warriors are grieved.
Needless to say, B’Nai Brith was never fooled by the obfuscation and distortion of history offered up by those Latvians who have so actively sought to rewrite history.
Last July 4, B’Nai Brith Canada wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the eve of his visit to Latvia, urging him to condemn these annual parades.
This sentiment was repeated by a Sun newspaper editorial penned by B’Nai Brith president Micheal Mostyn on March 15, just ahead of this year’s parade.
Well, lo and behold, Global Affairs Canada has now issued a formal condemnation to Latvia.
Canada currently has 540 troops stationed in Latvia, with the stated mission to protect our NATO partner from Russian aggression and to protect our shared values.
Turns out we don’t share the same viewpoint as Latvia when it comes to glorifying Hitler’s SS. Let’s hope that Canada follows through with the discussions intended to develop what Mills said will be a more “inclusive Latvia.”