President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš has based his views about members of the Latvian Legion on historical facts which prove that the Legion was established at the command of the occupying Nazi regime in 1943. It was never voluntary in essence, and the German occupation regime did not see it as an element of the SS forces.
Many historians, including Canadian historian Harold Otto, along with Kārlis Kangeris, Mirdza Kate Baltais, Andrievs Ezergailis, Inesis Feldmanis, and others who have studied this issue, believe that the link between the Latvian Legion and the SS was a formal one. It was the decision of the German occupants to include the Latvian Legion in Waffen SS forces. The United States recognised this by a special decision taken in 1950. It should be remembered, too, that former members of the Latvian Legion were entrusted by the Allies with guarding the main Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. No Latvian Legion officer or soldier was ever a member of the Nazi Party.
During World War II, the Latvian Legion was on the front lines and never took part in punitive expeditions against civilians or committed crimes against humanity. The Legion was established as a military unit, and it mostly fought on the eastern front lines.
The punitive unit known as the “Arājs team” was set up in 1941, when the German military invaded and occupied Latvia, and it really did commit terrible crimes against civilians, including participation in the Holocaust. The Latvian Legion, in turn, was established in 1943. The Arājs team was included in the Legion toward the end of the war in 1944, but that in no sense suggests that the Latvian Legion was responsible for the crimes that were committed. Accordingly, it is at least improper to place an equal sign between the punitive unit and the entire Latvian Legion.
Finally, it was the decision of the German occupying regime to include the Arājs team into the Latvian Legion. Historians have found that members of the Legion had varied views about this. Today, it is completely wrong to draw parallels between the Latvian Legion and the punitive team which the Nazis set up and which committed serious crimes.
World War II ended 67 years ago. Nazi war criminals have been tried and punished. The fuss around the Latvian Legion which is occurring at this time must be seen as a purposeful attempt to humiliate and blacken the reputation of the Latvian state – something which has nothing to do with any objective evaluation or understanding of history.
In addition to this, it must also be noted that the 1907 Hague Convention banned the drafting of civilians into the forces of occupying powers. That is why Germany declared the Latvian Legion to be a volunteer organisation.