Saturday 10 January 2009 | Estonia feed | All feeds

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Russians protest at Estonia SS calendar

Estonia has dared to publish a calendar featuring wartime SS recruitment posters in a move that risks provoking a furious response from the tiny Baltic state's neighbour Russia.

 
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Russians protest at Estonia SS calendar
The calendar features a dozen retouched posters that in 1940s calling fellow Estonians to support the 20th (1st Estonian) Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS
Russians protest at Estonia SS calendar
The calendar features a dozen retouched posters that in 1940s calling fellow Estonians to support the 20th (1st Estonian) Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS
Russians protest at Estonia SS calendar
The calendar features a dozen retouched posters that in 1940s calling fellow Estonians to support the 20th (1st Estonian) Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS

The 2009 calendar, which sold out in three days in the capital Tallinn before being reprinted, is illustrated with 12 reproductions of SS posters used during the war to attract Estonian volunteers to join the elite Nazi force which fought the Red Army. It pictures soldiers in German uniforms and helmets with collar badges used by Estonian members of the SS.

The uniforms show a large E bisected by a sword, rather than the notorious double lightning flash symbol of the SS.

The calendars have provoked an angry reaction from members of Estonia's Russian community who make up a quarter of the country's 1.3 million people.

Nikolai Pechatnov, a Russian historian living in Tallinn, said they were a revolting reminder of the wartime service in the SS of tens of thousands of Estonians.

"If the calendar stated that this was propaganda for the SS and detailed historical facts that would be acceptable. But when you look closely at this calendar you will not find any of the well-known SS symbols, they have been replaced with Estonian division signs.

"In fact, the Estonian SS did wear uniforms with Nazi SS symbols on them. Young people who see these calendars today could be forgiven for thinking Estonians had nothing to do with the SS."

He said that the calendar lacked any historic explanation linking the Estonian SS division - members of which had to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler - to the Nazis, or that it consisted of what he called "punitive" battalions.

Although the Estonian SS division, founded in 1944, is not thought to have been involved in atrocities against civilians, earlier in the war Estonian police units are believed to have been used by the Nazis to murder Jews.

Aimur Kruuse, 38, managing director of the calendar's publisher Grenader Grupp, insisted that it did not support or propagate Nazi ideas and that the calendar was "not about the SS".

"People like military history and next year we may do something connected with Russian or German war history," he said.

He added that most of the Estonians fighting for the Nazis were not volunteers but were forcibly drafted into the SS - a fact that was recognised after the war at the Nuremberg trials that ruled that conscripts into the elite Nazi force who had not committed atrocities were not considered war criminals.

Although he admitted that the subject could provoke a negative reaction in Russia, he said it was important to understand Estonian history. The Estonians, like their Finnish neighbours, took up arms against the Red Army to try to protect their freedom.

"Estonian soldiers did not have the chance to fight during the Second World War in Estonian uniforms," Mr Kruuse said. "The members of the legion tried to bring freedom to Estonia, or to give their families time to escape to the west before the Red Army returned to kill them or send them to Siberia."

He added that when Estonian independence was briefly re-established in September 1944 some Estonians in German uniform turned their weapons against both the Germans and the Red Army.

A British authority on the SS, the filmmaker Andrew Mollo, said that Estonia had already been occupied in 1940 by the Red Army before the Nazis invaded and that those who joined the SS were regarded as anti-Bolsheviks fighting for their homeland.

"Of course, it did not do them any favours that in fighting Bolshevism these Estonians allied themselves with Hitler," he said.

"The Estonian SS were very different from SS units in other Baltic countries; they fought for the independence of their country and suffered immensely. The fact that they were brought under the SS umbrella was not their fault."

Ends

 
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