4.07.2006 Agence France Press

Latvia remembers Holocaust amid debate over modern attitude


Riga (dpa) - The Baltic state of Latvia commemorated the Holocaust on Tuesday, amid continuing debate over modern Latvians' attitude to their past.

On July 4 1941, Nazi forces in Latvia burned Riga 's chief synagogue as part of a Holocaust which eventually kllled more than 90 per cent of the country's Jewish population. In Latvia , the date is official Holocaust Memorial Day and a national day of mourning.

However, some experts accuse modern Latvians of apathy in their attitude to Nazi crimes.

"The Baltics saw active collaboration of numerous locals in the murder of Jews, but their societies are incapable of generating the political will to punish their own nationals," said Dr Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center .

Latvia has not prosecuted a single Nazi criminal since it left the Soviet Union , Zuroff pointed out. He also criticised recent attempts by some groups to glorify pioneering aviator Herberts Cukurs, a member of one of Latvia 's Nazi death squads.

Latvian nationalists view the accusations as a deliberate attack on their nation's image. During the Soviet era, Moscow propagandists accused Latvians of wholesale collaboration, and modern criticisms are sometimes regarded as a return to the calumnies of the past.

The Wiesenthal Center is trying to "create the idea that Latvia is the only country in which part of the population took part in the Holocaust," nationalist daily Neatkariga Rita Avize claimed in an interview with foreign ministry spokesman Gints Jegermanis Monday.

The active participation of Latvians in the Holocaust is not in doubt. Since the renewal of independence, Latvian historians have published 15 volumes of research into the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet regimes, clearly establishing the fact of collaboration.

Debate now focuses on the nature of that collaboration, and whether the Holocaust was actively supported by a broad spectrum of Latvian society, or by a relatively small handful of individuals.

"Some people, including Latvians, worked for the Nazis and the Soviets. The problem is that so much Nazi propaganda was taken over by the Soviets that some true claims were mixed with many more wrong ones," said Uldis Neiburgs of the Latvian Occupation Museum .

To address the issue and mark the anniversary of the synagogue burnings, Latvia is due to host a conference on the Holocaust on Wednesday. The conference is to be opened by Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and sponsored by the Latvian president.

"The aim of our conference is not to retouch the participation of individual Latvians in the Holocaust, but to bring together people who can talk about these issues in a high-quality way," said Jegermanis, one of the conference's organisers.

hile the debate over Latvians' attitude to their past and Holocaust survivors' attitude to Latvia continues, however, the conference is likely to raise as many questions as answers.