by Leena Hietanen and Petri Krohn
The last Estonian SS veteran to have been awarded the Nazis’ Knight’s Cross, Harald Nugiseks, was buried in Estonia with full military honors on Friday 10 January 2014.
Nugiseks died on 2 January 2014 at the age of 92. During the Second World War, he succeeded in avoiding the Soviet mobilization in July 1941. One month later he left for Nazi-Germany to volunteer his military service for the Third Reich (which was invading and occupying his country).
In 1943 Nugiseks voluntarily joined the Estonian Legion (Waffen SS). He was one of four Estonian soldiers to be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, Nazi Germany’s highest award for this category of service, for his bravery in the battles against the westward-moving Soviet army in 1944. He was captured by Czech partisans in May 1945. He was handed over to Soviet authorities, tried for treason, and sentenced on 4 July 1947 to fifteen years (ten Siberian gulag plus five in relocation). He was released earlier, and returned to Estonia in 1958.
In Russia Nugiseks’ burial with military honors has raised some fury. A Russian lawyer, Mihail Joffe, who has been representing Russian speakers in the Baltic states at the European Court of Human Rights, called the burial a manifestation of neo-Nazism. He said, in Rossiskaja Gazeta,
“This burial is one of those things in a row happening in the Baltic States since 1991. I can name a dozen neo-Nazis events organized by the authorities in these states.”
It is anticipated that reactions from human rights, Western and Jewish organizations could be forthcoming in the coming week. In general, the Western embassies in the Baltics have maintained a studied silence on glorification of Hitler allies in all three Baltic states.
Estonia’s Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu expressed his condolences by saying that Nugiseks
“was a legendary Estonian soldier whose tragedy was that he could not fight for Estonian freedom in an Estonian uniform.”
As if Estonia would have been independent had the Nazis won the war. As if fighting for Hitler was to fight for “Estonian freedom.”
But there was no official participation by the government in the funeral. This can be seen as a possible signal that the government may have decided to avoid further damage to its international reputation, shaken in recent years, by withholding further direct government involvement in the glorification of pro-Nazi forces.