A ceremony in Viljandi commemorating the German invasion of 1941 as a "liberation" has drawn sharp criticism from the Estonian Jewish community as well as from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel.
The commemorative service, which marked the 70th anniversary of German forces driving Soviet occupation troops from the area, was held on July 8 at the city's German military cemetery. It was reportedly attended by several dozen people.
Jaanika Kressa, who represents the event's organizer, a local veterans' society, said that the group wasn't trying to create a conflict around the sensitive issue. "We want to thank the remaining soldiers, and tell them they were right to fight against Bolshevism," she said, as quoted by the local newspaper Sakala.
"The arrival of the Germans is considered the liberation of Estonia, because it was saved from the order introduced in June 1940, when about ten thousand people were deported to Siberia and the local people were impoverished […] The situation of the Estonians became normal again," she said.
Ala Jacobsen, chairwoman of the Estonian Jewish community, was quick to take issue with the view. "The usual attempt to portray people who collaborated with the Nazi occupational regime as 'warriors against Bolshevism,' and furthermore on the day when the mass murder of the citizens of Viljandi and Estonia who belonged to the 'wrong' ethnicity began [...] appears completely idiotic," she said in a statement.
The Wiesenthal Center's Israel director and Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff told the Jerusalem Post that Kressa's statement was "a malicious revision of the sad reality of Estonian history and a heartless affront to the memory of the Estonian Jews murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators."
"No one is disputing that the Estonian population suffered under the Soviet Union. But to celebrate the Nazi invasion, in which 99.3 percent of Estonia's Jews ended up being murdered, is unacceptable," Zuroff said.
Though the Viljandi event is likely to be a one-time affair, other ceremonies honoring soldiers who supported the June 22 Nazi invasion have been held in Estonia in recent years, sparking resentment each time. Likewise, Red Army veterans in Estonia controversially celebrate the Soviet invasion of September 1944, also referring to it as a "liberation." Most in Estonia view both invasions as the tides of war replacing one totalitarian occupier with another.