How To Inflame Old Tensions

December 27, 2008 at 8:28 am

In an exercise in what might be regarded as rather poor taste, Estonia has published a 2009 calendar of WW2 recruitment posters for the the 20th (1st Estonian) Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.

The calendar sold out in three days and had to be reprinted. It has 12 reproductions of SS posters encouraging Estonians to fight the Soviets and shows soldiers in German uniforms with Estonian collar badges.

The uniforms show a large E bisected by a sword, rather than the double lightning flash symbol of the SS. This is not historically entirely accurate as both uniforms were worn by the Division.

Estonia has 1.3 million citizens, of which a quarter are Russians – never comfortable or welcome in the homes given to them in the days of occupation by the USSR – and they are not happy about this at all. It was recognised at Neuremburg that most of the Estonians fighting for the Nazis were not volunteers but were forcibly drafted when their SS division was founded in 1944. They were not found to be war criminals even in the highly-charged post-war period of trials.

Some of the treatment of Jews by the Estonian Police Force was by contrast, unforgivable.

Although having to swear allegience to Hitler, they were joined by their Finnish neighbours in the fight against the Red Army and when Estonian independence was briefly restored in September 1944 they turned their guns on the Germans and the Soviets alike.

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. “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.”

It seems like a storm in a teacup but I certainly wouldn’t have one on my kitchen wall.