The world's leading Nazi hunter called Monday for the authorities in Latvia to enforce a ban on a controversial commemoration of local Waffen-SS troops due to take place on Tuesday, DPA reported.
"Ban the march, enforce the ban and explain to the people that maybe these people were thinking they were fighting for Latvia but the real benfeficiary of their service and their bravery was Nazi Germany," Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told the German Press Agency dpa.
Zuroff was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in the Latvian capital entitled "World War II and the Holocaust," sponsored by the World Congress of Russian Jewry.
Describing attempts by Central and Eastern European countries to equate the Holocaust and crimes committed by post-war Communist regimes as "total hogwash," Zuroff said the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in particular were guilty of an attempt to "rewrite history."
"With all my empathy for victims of Communism, the crimes of Communism simply are not the same as the Holocaust. Part of this is fuelled by a desire to deflect attention for the extensive collaboration with the Nazis during World War II and their post- independence failure to bring these people to justice," Zuroff told dpa.
March 16 is "Legionnaires' Day" in Latvia. Though not an official public holiday, hundreds of people take to the streets to remember the 140,000 men who fought on the German side in World War II.
Others, led by Russian and Jewish groups, stage counter- demonstrations decrying the commemoration as a glorification of fascism.
On Monday Latvian nationalist organization Daugavas Vanagi was attempting to overturn a Riga council ban on its planned procession from Riga cathedral to the iconic freedom monument in the centre of the city.
A statement released by Daugavas Vanagi called on Latvians to mark March 16 "quietly and with dignity" and not to respond to any provocations organized by anti-fascist activists who plan to stage counter-demonstrations.
The organization said Zuroff should not associate with attendees at the Holocaust conference, who "deny the fact that the Baltic states were ever occupied" by the Soviet Union.
Latvia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. Every March 16 tensions rise between the country's Latvian and Russian communities.
The Legionnaires' Day ceremony attracts widespread international criticism, though its defenders argue that they are simply remembering war dead who were forced to wear the uniform of the Waffen-SS, the Nazi party combat wing, because as non-Germans they could not join the regular German army or Wehrmacht.