O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Can history be bought up by even a small state’s nationalist government that has talked itself into the idea that revision of history and wide acceptance of that revision is somehow a national cause? It becomes a serious issue when that state is willing to invest heavily in the enterprise, at a time when the targeted influential foreigners are far from the issues at hand and easily manipulated.
The current Lithuanian government’s policy of pursuing a certain dual track (or double game): both “Double Genocide” (the theory that there were in effect “two equal genocides” — Nazi and Soviet, effectively writing the Holocaust out of history without denying any deaths) and “the Litvak Jewish heritage” (inclusion of the fabled Lithuanian Jewish heritage in the current pantheon for tourism and investment) has incrementally taken on a singularly worrisome character.
For one thing, it has often implied a disturbing reticence about the current Lithuanian government’s issuing permits for city center independence day neo-Nazi marches in both Vilnius and Kaunas. and more widely, an abject failure to react to state-tolerated antisemitic outrages that include front pages worthy of 1930s Germany and the 2010 legalization of public swastikas. This week an official asked American Jews “not to take antisemitic inclinations personally” (!).
But simple old antisemitism is the easier subject here.
Rather more insidious is the uncritical acceptance of the far right’s antisemitically oriented distortion of World War II as “accepted history” thereby enabling its Baltic practitioners to claim that “even Jews” support the “new history” of equal genocide espoused by the 2008 Prague Declaration.
“Double Genocide” is a complex of interrelated developments that has included the tendency, in the Baltics and Ukraine particularly, to turn the local Holocaust murderers into “national heroes” (by virtue of their having been “anti-Soviet”). It reached a crescendo in Lithuania in 2011 with a series of government sponspored events to honor the Lithuanian Activist Front.
The “Double Genocide” campaign in recent years has also included outrageous accusations against Holocaust survivors who are alive because they joined the anti-Nazi resistance (and are heroes of the free world). These accusations have been internationally decried but have still not been publicly withdrawn. Nor have any apologies been issued to the aged survivors defamed. Most recently, in 2011, Interpol (!) was sent to a survivor in Tel Aviv to apprise him of accusations that by asking that local Holocaust war crimes suspects be investigated he was “libeling heroes.”
By belittling victims and survivors, and glorifying local perpetrators the perceptually desired “equivalence” of Nazi and Soviet crimes is approached in the collective mind of Europe’s new far right.
After the Seventy Years Declaration, the first European Parliament document in opposition to the Prague Declaration was released in early 2012, the current Lithuanian foreign minister rubbished his own country’s noble parliamentarians who signed on, infamously proclaiming that “moustache length” was the only difference between Hitler and Stalin (that one even made the New York Times).
It is therefore all the more disturbing to see the distorted model of history seeping into the published prose of well-intentioned but naive Jewish Americans who are charmed and enchanted by suave Lithuanian Foreign Ministry folks, co-opted academics, enlisted PR firms and other de facto agents.
In a Jerusalem Post op-ed last November, Harley Felstein and Adrienne Oleck, self-proclaimed representatives of the Litvak cause (under the close watch of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington DC) allowed this to be inserted by someone (who?) in their op-ed:
“[...] the way it [the Lithuanian state] has celebrated its early freedom from the Soviets – the first time – in 1941. That freedom came at the hands of Nazi control – and consequently, at the peril of the Jewish community.”
It is hard to imagine anything so offensive to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust coming from a Western or Jewish pen. Lithuania did not achieve “early freedom” in 1941. It became a Nazi vassal state that provided thousands of collaborators who unleashed the murder of their Jewish neighbors in dozens of locations even before the Germans arrived. Had the Nazis won the war, there would have been no Lithuania to become independent in 1991. So much for that “freedom” — Nazi rule is only considered “freedom” by the neo-Nazis and their sympathizers in our own century.
And, crucially, it was not “at the peril of the Jewish community.” It was the actual murder of the vast majority of the Jewish community. Rarely in modern times has Holocaust downgrading reached this depth. By using such terms as “freedom” and “at the peril” here, the naive American Jewish proteges of the DC embassy have become unwitting spokespersons for the worst kind of history distortion now current in Eastern Europe.
Then, just last week, a well-intentioned JWeekly.com op-ed by Mervyn Danker, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s regional office in San Francisco, included this startling sentence:
“The Soviets and Germans were willingly aided and abetted in their murderous efforts by the local population.”
This is the most extreme form of Baltic confusionism: the notion that the Holocaust is somehow a jumbled Nazi-Soviet enterprise by the two supposedly equal evils of the twentieth century. As if it needn’t be mentioned that for all its many evils, the USSR did not commit the Holocaust. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Lithuanian Jews owe their lives to the Soviets: they (or their parents or grandparents) escaped eastward to Soviet held territory the first week of the war. Others joined the Soviet partisans, and a tiny number, including those hidden by local righteous gentiles, lived to be liberated by the Red Army in 1944.
For most ground-zero Holocaust-territory Jews, the USSR was the only hope of survival during those years when the Soviets were in alliance with the United States, Great Britain and the other allies. There were no American, British or Canadian troops near Vilna, Riga, Tallinn, Minsk or Kiev. The very idea that those who liberated Auschwitz are equivalent to those who committed the genocide there is inherently absurd.
By misreporting the Holocaust as some kind of mix-and-match Nazi-Soviet enterprise, the writer follows the spirit of a sign now on the front of the Genocide Museum in central Vilnius:
“[...] the following repressive bodies operated in this building: The Gestapo, and the KGB. The genocide of the population was planned here.”
The Genocide Museum includes shamefully antisemitic exhibits, and even its one cellar room on the Holocaust, added in late 2011 after international outcry at the omission of the genocide that actually occurred, itself distorts the history by calling the local killers of the Jewish population “rebels” who somehow liberated Lithuania. But even this sign stops well short of where an AJC official went in print last week. No wonder his article has been so triumphantly reprinted in Lithuania.
There are many bold Lithuanian truth tellers who have had the courage to stand up loud and clear to the far right’s distortion of history, most recently the valiant member of parliament Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis. He and other liberal voices are often subject to threats from the far right, but remain undaunted.
May we not now hope for analogous dignity, integrity and strength of character from American Jewish leaders who truly have nothing to fear for not accepting hook, line and sinker the new far right’s falsified history?
A polite refusal to accept distortionist diminution of the Holocaust is not too much to ask. Is it?