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Latvia’s Biggest War Cemetery – Among Partisans And SS Soldiers

A war cemetery is a strange place. It is difficult to grab the scope of a resting place where so many died in a violent way. Often it is thousands of names lined up. Latvia’s largest war cemetery Lestene is no exception.

Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-2In the small town of Lestene, about 80 kilometers from Riga, is Latvia’s largest war cemetery. Unlike most other war burial sites, it was opened as late as 2003, which the modern design shows.Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-3

In 2003, there were 7360 fallen soldiers from the Latvian Legion who was also a subject to the Waffen-SS. Since then, the number has increased at a high rate, as new bodies are found on the old battlefields.Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-4

The biggest war cemetery in Latvia

Common to all the buried in Lestene is that they were killed between 1944-1945. Around the monument is a wall with the names of the fallen. Today, more than 11,000 names are written and there is room for a total of 20,000.Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-5

In 2016, 236 new names were added. This because Latvia and Russia have signed an agreement about exchange when the remains of WWII soldiers are found.

The Latvian SS units have avoided many allegations of crimes that other SS divisions have been accused of. It is mostly because Latvia’s regular army hardly had any chance of meeting the Soviet in battle. Instead, they agreed to fight for an independent Latvia together with the SS. At the same time, there were communist Latvians that welcomed and facilitated Soviet troops.Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-6

In addition to Latvian SS soldiers, many partisans are buried here. Groups of partisans continued to fight the Soviet occupation with guerrilla warfare, long after World War II ended.Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-7

In the other Soviet-occupied countries there were similar movements. In Poland, the “Forest Brothers” seemed to be an assembly of soldiers who carried out attacks and sabotages against Soviet troops. The Forest brothers are believed to have remained active until 1955.

Lestene-war-cemetary-latvia-8The name came from the fact that they were most often located deep inside the Polish forests. The Forest brothers who were caught were punished with death.

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