March 17, 2003 Neatkariga Rita Avize

“Zurofs nepalidz patiesibai, vins to sadulko”
Zuroff doesn’t help the truth, he stirs it up
Dainis Lemesonoks


It has already become a yearly tradition in Latvia in the spring that Efraim Zuroff makes an accusation. The hyperactive leader of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center thoroughly prepares it in order to time it to coincide with the historic events of March 16. Maybe we ourselves, Latvian society, are guilty that we have become afraid of the phantoms of the past and thought that this man is a regular inspector of the capital.

Efraim Zuroff, in his desire to find some more war crimes in order to arrange a show trial, has become hysterical. His enemies are now not only any Balt or Eastern European, but also influential leaders of American Jewish organizations who refuse to adopt the position that a nation must accept collective and eternal blame for the crimes committed by a minority of that nation.

It seems that the extremely moralizing hunter of Nazi ghosts is likely to soon become a persona-non-grata among his own people since his activities which are destroying the reputation of the Wiesenthal Center, seem more than anything else to be an anti-Semitic provocation.

The word is that our reverence and responsiveness are paying off very well. We did not realize in time that Zuroff is no more than the director of a non-political organization, which is trying to attract donations by staging various demonstrative actions. Through his search for money, he has become certain that the Latvians are the nation of Kalejs and Arajs, whom it is easy to push to the wall.

Estonia was the first country to understand how to respond to Zuroff’s activities. The influential newspapers there have refused to publish the advertisements for Simon Wiesenthal’s “Operation: Last Chance” – the appeal for information about those who shot the Jews in return for a reward of 10 thousand dollars. This took place, moreover, after the categorical request of the Estonian Jewish community’s leadership [to refuse to publish the ads] because their text accused all Estonians of collaborating with Nazi Germany, an accusation which could arouse ethnic hatred and is prohibited by Estonian law.

This month, in Latvia, only Kurzemes Vards refused to publish Zuroff’s offer of bloody money. Several other regional newspapers have already published it, probably for fear that a refusal to do so would create an unpleasant scandal or arouse international problems for Latvia.
These advertisements, however, are no longer being submitted for publication to the largest national newspapers, since these papers consider the publication [of the ads] last year to be a mistake which they do not intend to repeat.

It would be inaccurate to claim that the Estonians treat their minorities with kids’ gloves. The attitude there is not ideal. Estonia’s naturalization policy is more liberal [than Latvia’s], non-citizens can elect their own institutions, the treaty on national minorities is implemented, but I cannot say that Estonia has fully eradicated everyday anti-Semitism. And the privately-built monument “for all WW II participants” in Parnu, where only a man in a German uniform is pictured, doesn’t promote public harmony. In spite of that, the Estonian Jews considered it their civil duty to “shock” Zuroff, as he himself admitted.

Why are the Estonian and Latvian positions towards Zuroff’s activities so different? I will try to answer after having listened to the responses of three persons well-informed on these issues to the following questions:

1. Why do you think that the Estonian Jewish community exhibited such strong solidarity with its country and turned against its compatriot Zuroff? What is the reason that Latvian Jews are not acting or do not want to act in the same way?

2. What is your assessment of “Operation: Last Chance”? What results do you think it will achieve?

3. The annual arguments about March 16th – including it on the list of memorial days or removing it from the list, permission or prohibition of a public procession, meetings of former soldiers, newspaper publications and discussions about the [Latvian] Legion, collaboration and military crimes – have greatly developed over the past years. How have these developments influenced Latvia’s international reputation? How have they affected the attitude of Latvian Jews to the Latvian state?

Prof. Aivars Stranga (Latvia University):

1. The Estonian Jewish community is different than the communities in Latvia and Lithuania. Before the war it was very small and had only four thousand members. It also was the richest in the Baltic states, had very few Communists, was very loyal to Estonia, and had a very pronounced tendency toward assimilation (in contrast to Latvia). The Germans conquered Estonia at the end of August 1941 and therefore three thousand Jews were able to save themselves and later returned to the country. The majority of the Latvian Jewish community is composed of people from the old republic [Soviet Union], who have Soviet conceptions of contemporary history, and a Soviet mentality. People such as Pliner and Cilevich conduct themselves as if Latvia were still an outlying district of the Soviet empire. Many Latvians believe that all Jews think this way.

I don’t want to say anything bad, but the Estonian Jewish community is less Soviet. I have no right to interfere in the affairs of the Riga Jewish community, but I think that it was a mistake to allow Zuroff to use its premises to make unfair accusations about hundreds of [Nazi war] criminals walking freely in the streets [of Latvia]. Zuroff as a private person can claim what he wants, if the government admitted him here. The [Jewish] community, however, must distance itself from such statements [actions], must realize that Latvia is a free state which defends Jewish interests, and they must not permit [anyone] to slander it. The state authorities have been responsive to the needs of the Jewish community. If there are claims against the government, then I don’t know what to say…

2. There will not be any results. There will not even be any historical findings, only a scandal. Zuroff’s behavior has already made this clear when at an academic conference he shouted at people from the Baltic states and from Poland.

Yes, [Nazi] war criminals must be prosecuted, regardless of how old they might be. That is the principle, but in practice things are different. Kononov’s partisans, who sought to take revenge against the brutality of the [Nazi] occupation burnt alive a woman who was nine months pregnant, but Russia has protested and the court canceled its [guilty] verdict. The trial of one criminal must not be transformed into the shaming of an entire nation. Then we can also look for those who signed the deportation orders in Latvia. We know about only four, but three of them were Jews. And maybe, for example, Zyama Krivickis who signed the list of six thousand people, is still alive and walking the streets somewhere.

An academic approach is needed, scientific investigation and the historical commission established by the president, which will deal with these issues. If the investigation will indeed discover, for example, that the murder of Jews was sometimes carried out upon the initiative of Latvians, a fact which has still not been proven, such a fact will certainly be noted, regardless of how unpleasant it might be.

The court case, which started in Lithuania, and in which the accused died in prison, has already proven that a show trial only makes it more difficult to establish historical truth.

3. The old Legion members are smarter than those who one day admire them, and the next day are ashamed of them. It would be barbarous not to remember those who perished; only it must be done in a proper manner. It seems to me that a [memorial] service for the dead is more respectable than a street procession, which is joined by those who have no sentiment for the Volhov swamps or Kurzemes copper, people who shout only because they feel out of danger.

How can the events of March 16 influence Latvia and the ratification of the NATO agreement in the US Congress? There are politicians who haven’t yet decided – March 16th can have an influence – one more public march, and they will vote against. It is difficult to explain to the Americans that there were bad Nazis and good Nazis and we will not change their attitude with any convictions.

The general secretary of “Faunais laiks” Grigory Krupnikov:

1. The Latvian Jewish Community has publically stated that it has no connection to Zuroff’s activities. I think that this position has been sufficiently made clear.

2. This project is immoral. The goal that Zuroff wants to achieve is noble. In the same manner those of Stalin’s men who murdered and deported [innocent civilians] must be prosecuted. But first their guilt must be judicially proven, and no baseless accusations should be made. To offer money for information against such individuals, in these cases is immoral.

Too much attention is paid to Zuroff. Out of all proportion. He is a representative of a private organization, loud and talkative. Our reaction to him is free-of-charge publicity. I admit that there might be someone who must be prosecuted, regardless of his being old or ill, Kalejs or Farbtuch. Yes, [Operation: Last Chance] might be beneficial if it produces evidence of the murders, but Zuroff’s organization has not produced anything. This is not only immoral, but also ineffective.

3. It is all the same with the 16th of March or without it, the Jewish community is loyal to Latvia. It identifies with the history of the state. The Jewish community’s flag flies at the public meetings on the banks of the Daugava; the community supports the “Tautas front” and is now helping Latvia be accepted into NATO. The American Jewish Committee, the largest Jewish organization in the US, certainly supports the ratification of the agreement between Latvia and NATO – and it would do nothing of the kind without consulting our community.

We highly appreciate the balanced attitude of Legion members – the manner in which they observed the 16th of March last year and how they planned to do so this year – which highly improved Latvia’s image, especially in America and in the circles which must decide on the ratification of the NATO agreement.

It is natural that the 16th of March upset Latvian Jews. This is their reaction to the uniforms, which the people wore – and it is the same uniform as the one worn by the people from the nation which killed their relatives, friends, and kinsmen. And how do former prisoners of Kolima feel when they see the NKVD uniform?

It is only normal to conduct a religious service to honor the memory of those who perished. But there must not be any celebration or boasting.

Arkady Suharenko, Chairman of the Riga Jewish Community:

1. All the questions concerning the position of the Estonian Jewish community, should be presented to the Estonian Jewish community.

2. I believe that it is right to look for Nazi war criminals. In such cases there is no fixed limit. Those who killed innocent civilians only because of their religion and nationality must be punished for their crimes. And all of those who have not been punished should not feel secure and think that they managed to escape unpunished.

At the same time, I consider that E. Zuroff’s methods and style are unethical and inadmissible. The Riga Jewish Community and I, as its chairman, do not support Zuroff’s activities.

3. As for the 16th of March, I am against celebrating this day in any form. I think there should not be any street processions. It is clear that such parades harm Latvia’s image abroad.

Latvian Jews are and will be an integral part of the Latvian state. Integration will continue and will increase. Today the Jewish community enjoys a very good level of cooperation with the Latvian state and its leaders. We constantly feel their responsiveness and genuine concern for our needs. And in that regard, the 16th of March does not in any way influence the relations between Latvian Jews and the Latvian state.