04 February 2018

An old and ugly tale


German soldiers and Polish police collaborators, 1943

For those of you who are surprised by the recent legislation banning criticism of Nazi collaboration and anti-Semitism in Poland, and the subsequent and predictable wave of anti-Semitic sentiment there: don’t be. The lack of any historical reckoning for Eastern Europe in the wake of the Second World War has long been a festering wound, and we shouldn’t be surprised when that infection starts to get angry again.

Lev Golinkin has a revealing and sobering op-ed on the topic at the New York Times. ‘Three times cursed are the dead Jews of the old Communist bloc,’ Golinkin writes. ‘Gunned down outside their towns and villages, ignored and whitewashed by the Soviet Union, and now, their killers glorified by the resurging nationalism of today’s Eastern European governments.’ The Soviet Union’s official atheism rendered the Jews and their sufferings at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators invisible. The victims of ha-Shoah were genericised, coöpted, turned into vague ‘Soviet martyrs’ of the Great Patriotic War. Their distinctiveness and the reasons they were murdered were conveniently airbrushed. In a similar way, now, the descendants and sympathisers of those same Nazi collaborators are rendering the peculiar nature of anti-Semitic hatred and violence invisible. As Golinkin writes:
The Nazis did not act alone. The Holocaust, especially in Eastern Europe, was made possible with the aid of local governments and paramilitaries, which rounded up and massacred Jews, sometimes in the service of the Nazis, sometimes on their own volition.

Today, these collaborators – groups and individuals responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews – are being glorified and rehabilitated as part of the ultranationalism surging across Eastern Europe. Nationalists seek to rally around men who fought for independence against both Russia and Germany; unfortunately, the World War II-era figures being chosen had expressed their vision for independence by murdering Jews.
But why is this happening? How comes it that all these right-wing nationalist figures in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Croatia – who were complicit in heinous, murderous mass crimes against their Jewish neighbours – are now being rehabilitated in public memory? Lithuanian-Jewish academic Dr Dovid Katz has the beginnings of an explanation here:
One major symptom of the revisionism underway in Eastern Europe is the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators as “national heroes” on the grounds that they were anti-Soviet. Here we see direct parallels with the current American debate on Confederate statues and memorials, but in Eastern Europe it is commission of genocide rather than the defense of slavery that is being honored.

It is fair to say that nearly all the local killers in Eastern Europe were, at the time of their crimes, reliably anti-Soviet. From the Nazi invasion of June 22, 1941 onward, when the actual genocidal phase of the Holocaust got underway, each and every murderer was anti-Soviet and yearned for a Nazi victory. By contrast, every victim of the Nazis, and all the Righteous among the Nations who risked all to just do the right thing and save a neighbor, prayed for a Soviet victory – not because they were all Communists, but because the Soviet Union was the only force seriously fighting the Nazis on ground zero of the Holocaust from the onset of the genocide and right through to liberation.

At its theoretical apex – and moral nadir – among scholars, politicians, and prosecutors in the Baltics and Ukraine, bogus moral equivalence has also involved unstinting efforts to smear Holocaust victims and survivors. This reached its low point with a campaign by Lithuanian prosecutors to open “pre-trial investigations” of Holocaust survivors – particularly those who survived by joining groups of Soviet-sponsored partisans in the forests, or who in recent years supposedly committed “libel” against Baltic “heroes” who had collaborated with the Nazis. The campaign started in 2006, and it goes on indefinitely (one of the five primary victims of these “investigations,” Dr. Rachel Margolis, passed away in 2015), although charges or specific allegations have never been proffered – nor have any state apologies ever been forthcoming.

United States policy regarding the Double Genocide theory began to change markedly around 2009 (I have written about this in considerable detail at the Jewish Currents website.) As one American diplomat put it to me some years ago, off the record: “Look, these guys will stand up to the Russians, not like England, France and Germany. And if all they want is some changes in the history, and it’s changes that hit Putin in the face, then why the hell not?!”
Note that Dr Katz is no apologist for Putin, and indeed spends much of the rest of his essay talking about the need for a resistance to Putin not to be built on lies. But two points brought up here are worth dwelling on for a moment.

The first is that the ‘hero-worship’ in Eastern Europe is very closely allied to the growth of anti-Semitism there. For example: (certain individual exceptions notwithstanding) the close alliance between the Uniate clergy and the Nazi-collaborationist UPA, responsible for committing monstrous obscenities and cruelties upon the Jews on their own initiative, is the dirty little secret that can no longer legally be mentioned there. If you object to this new state of affairs, of course, then you are either a ‘moskal’’ or a filthy ‘zhid’. It is not an accident nor a coincidence that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has exploded there in the last three years, since the Maidan.

This is a pattern that is repeating itself now, as we speak, in Poland. The new law which criminalises discussion of anti-Semitic violence committed by Poles was followed up by a ‘wave’ and a ‘resurgence’ of anti-Semitic outbursts directed at high-profile targets like the Israeli embassy there, which in turn builds on a growth of anti-Semitic sentiment that has been taking place for rather longer than that.

The second point is this: American neocons are remarkably selective in ‘whose Jews’ they will support. Their vaunted philo-Semitism is thus revealed as a sham, a veneer whiting over much uglier sentiments. They are more than willing to downplay and turn a blind eye to this kind of Holocaust obfuscation in Eastern Europe, if it serves their geopolitical ends. They are not true friends of the Jews of Europe, or the Jews of anywhere else, really, besides Israel. People like my great-grandparents and their relatives are, to the neocons and their allied ‘hero-worshippers’ in Eastern Europe, at best a distraction and at worst a pesky annoyance to be removed from the history books – with everything that implies.

What it comes down to is this: the Holocaust was particular and unique. The mass murder perpetrated against the Jews of Europe were of a uniquely heinous kind, and it is needful to remember that. It’s also needful not to voice a selective or partial view of the Holocaust, or one which equates it to Soviet atrocities in Eastern Europe. The modern ‘double genocide’ theory itself airbrushes Jews out of the picture in a worse way than Golinkin argues the genericisation of Soviet Jewish suffering did. The ‘double genocide’ is a partial-truth that, in too many places, puts the perpetrator in the place of the victim.

As Golinkin aptly puts it:
Breaking that silence is imperative, especially given the current global rise of anti-Semitism and the disturbing correlation between Holocaust revisionism and violence against living Jews.

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