By Scott Taylor
There is a controversial new video out on NATO’s official YouTube channel entitled Forest Brothers. The gist of the 8-minute film is to lionize the brave Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian fighters who took to the woods to resist the Soviet Union’s 1945 occupation of the Baltic States. These desperate guerrillas were supported by many of the local population and were thus able to continue resisting the Soviets until the 1980s.
This is a virtually unknown chapter of the Cold War, as it occurred within the Soviet-occupied territory. No one talked about armed resistance by nationalist groups, as the Soviets presented themselves to the world as one big happy family.
The theme of this new piece of NATO propaganda is to liken the resolve and heroism of these historical “Forest Brothers” to the current special forces units of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. According to the film, the modern-day Baltic warriors, like their “Forest Brother” forefathers, are facing overwhelming odds — this time at the hands of President Putin and his murderous Russian horde. The timing of the release of the NATO short film is no doubt aimed at magnifying the threat posed by Russia conducting major military exercises this summer on their side of the border.
Unfortunately for students of this era, the film totally rewrites history with the purpose of demonizing Russians. The bigger problem is that the movie is also exonerating Nazis, many of whom were complicit in the atrocities of the Holocaust.
The narration in the film claims that, in 1945, Baltic fighters “who had fought on both sides” during the Second World War took to the forests to fight for their national interests. This statement makes no sense and it is patently false. The Baltic states had the unfortunate geographical situation that put them between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In the famous 1939 non-aggression pact signed between the two, Hitler allowed Stalin to occupy and annex the three Baltic states. When Hitler broke that pact in June 1941, his troops quickly pushed the Soviets out of the Baltic.
Very few Latvians, Lithuanians, or Estonians chose to withdraw and fight for Stalin, but in a dark chapter of Baltic history, they volunteered in droves to fight for the Nazis. Anti-Semitic militias quickly and aggressively rounded up the Jewish population for extermination.
One of the most ruthless of these militias was the Latvian Arajs Kommando unit. In 1943, Germany formalized the alliance by forming Baltic volunteers into Waffen SS troops. Latvia alone provided enough volunteers to man both the 15th and 19th Waffen SS divisions.
As the fortunes of the war turned against Hitler, the Germans and their allies were forced back. The 15th Latvian SS Division was able to surrender to Western allies, but the 19th found itself trapped on the Courland Peninsula battling the Soviets to the very end. Once Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin and the dream if his Third Reich was extinguished, those Baltic volunteers in SS uniforms took to the woods to avoid capture. Because of their affiliation with the Waffen SS and, in particular, the hard-core Arajs Kommandos who perpetrated the Holocaust on the Baltic Jews, they faced either the Soviet Gulags or execution.
To be fair, the re-enactors in the NATO Forest Brothers film clearly show these Soviet resistors using German weaponry and wearing German-style uniforms. To say that they fought on both sides of the war is untrue, and to lionize those who were in any way involved in the Nazi Holocaust is abhorrent.
Canada currently has 400 soldiers forward deployed in Latvia to provide a deterrent to Russian aggression. Next March 19, the Latvians will stage their annual parade in Riga to commemorate the glory of their WWII Waffen SS Legion. That’s right, Canadian troops will be present as Latvians pay tribute to Nazis.
Latvians are at least honest enough to commemorate their past openly. For NATO to retell history and to glorify the Waffen SS as anti-Soviet heroes is simply wrong — no matter how much they want to demonize Russia.