Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Moves are underway in Estonia to honour those who served in Estonian units of Hitler’s Waffen SS during WWII. Similar plans have been rebuffed in the past but new legislation is being drawn up for introduction into the Estonian Parliament in March.
The Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity has documented the involvement of Estonian puppets of the Nazis and military and police units in war crimes. Along with about a thousand Estonian Jews, at least 250 Roma and six to seven thousand Estonian Christians were killed during the German occupation.
The occupation regime also supported the killing of more than 10,000 people of other nationalities in slave labour camps. The Commission established that between 1,000 and 1,200 Estonians in the “Home Guard” had taken part in criminal activity and that regular police units were deployed as security in Jewish ghettos in occupied Poland, helping brutally to clear out those ghettoes as part of the objective of annihilating Jews in death camps. In the summer of 1942, the Estonian 36th Police Battalion took part in what was described as “fighting partisans,” but was just another German-style genocidal campaign. In 1942-43, large numbers of those in Estonian police units were taken up first in the “Estonian Legion” and then into the 3rd Estonian SS Volunteer Brigade.
In early 1944, that unit became the 20th Estonian SS Volunteer Division, which in turn, in May of the same year, became the 20th Armed SS Grenadier Division (Estonian Nr 1). They were deployed in the northern part of the Eastern Front but were mostly wiped out. Re-established in October 1944, the unit was deployed to defend East Prussia. Despatched to Silesia, it surrendered in Bohemia. The argument behind honouring SS members as freedom fighters, backed mainly by nationalist parties in Estonia, originates from their role in trying to repel the rapidly advancing Red Army in the first six months of 1944.