Plans halted for WWII memorial

  • 2002-07-25

The Estonian city of Parnu on July 23 called for the redesign of a monument honoring veterans of a World War II German Waffen-SS unit after it sparked widespread criticism.

Members of the Parnu City Council declared unanimously that the monument would not be unveiled this weekend as planned unless changes were made, a city spokesman told the Baltic News Service.

At the center of the controversy is the monument's inscription, which glorifies the role of soldiers who served in the unit.

"To all Estonian soldiers who fell in the Second War to liberate their homeland and to free Europe in 1940-1945," the planned inscription reads.

The bronze bas-relief on the granite monument has also come under criticism.

Although an SS symbol had been removed from the soldier's helmet, it still had him dressed in an Estonian Waffen-SS legion uniform and holding a sub-machine gun pointed east toward Russia.

"The monument should bear the idea of Estonia's fight for freedom, not what we can see in it today," the city's deputy mayor, Taimi Vilgats, was quoted as saying on public ETV television.

A group of World War II veterans contributed to the monument's design.

Prime Minister Siim Kallas sharply criticized the monument.

"It is extremely regrettable and such monuments should not be born," Kallas was quoted as saying by BNS.

Tens of thousands of Estonians volunteered or were pressed into service by the Nazis during their occupation of the country from 1941 to 1944.

Coming after a brutal Soviet occupation, many Estonians viewed the Germans in 1941 as liberators and many still consider the legion as having fought for the liberation of Estonia against the Soviets, who occupied the country for nearly half a century after the war.

Backers of the monument, including veterans groups, have agreed to revise its contents.