In Europe, a New Public Curtain of Revisionism, Oblivion and Antisemitism




O P I N I O N

by Roland Binet  (Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium)

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Isee two new important social and political trends now that have a direct bearing, first on the memory of what happened in Europe and the USSR during the Holocaust and other massacres and, secondly, on the life of the Jews presently living in Europe.

Recently, in October, a new Federal coalition government was formed in Belgium, comprising a Flemish nationalistic and populist party, the N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie)[1], which had gained more than 30% of the votes in Flanders in May 2014.

This would not have been in itself a topic of interest. But, just after the formation of the new government, collaboration with the Nazis in Belgium quickly became a topic of renewed interest that monopolized the national news and commentaries for a number of days.

The Holocaust Becomes a Daily Press Issue in 2014

First, during an interview last October and a question related to the collaboration during World War II the Federal Minister of the Interior (thus for the State of Belgium, and not for the Regions which have some forms of devolution and their own local governments) Jan Jambon (N-VA) said “It was a mistake, but the people had their reasons.” In October too, Federal Secretary of State Theo Francken (N-VA) in charge of “Refugees and Immigration” went to the ninetieth birthday party of Bob Maes, an old member of the VNV[2], a Flemish movement that openly collaborated with the Nazis during the war.

Bruno De Wever, a noted and neutral historian of the Second World War, specialist of the collaboration in Belgium, also brother of the N-VA leader Bart De Wever but of an entirely different moral fiber, said recently in an interview: “But let us not forget that a large part of the Vlaamse Beweging (Flemish Movement),[3] now also present in the N-VA, originates from families who collaborated during the war.”[4]

party boss with le pen

N-VA party boss Bart De Wever poses cheerfully with France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen…

There are also well-known pictures of the N-VA party boss Bart De Wever, as well as the actual Minister of the Interior Jan Jambon, posing (separately) with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the well-known then leader of the French Front National (extreme right wing party). Jean-Marie Le Pen who once said in public that “the gas chambers were a detail of history.”

After the war 53,000 citizens in Belgium were condemned for collaboration, 43,000 others were stripped of their civil and political rights for the same criminal behavior.[5] But the trial files are now closed and only historians may consult them.

Now we have at the highest Belgian State level, people who frequent past collaborators, flirt with extreme right wing figures or think that collaboration was some kind of honest mistake.

Let me be clear about those who did collaborate with the Nazis in whatever form and country. The collaboration during the war was not some mistake. It was a crime. People who collaborated in whatever form with the Nazis or the military occupation authorities aided and abetted the Nazi regime or other organizations (NSDAP/SS) that were deemed criminal by the Nurnberg Trials of 1945/1945. They — the collaborators — were thus accessory to war crimes and genocide. And even if in Belgium there were no pogroms as was the case in the former USSR republics, let us remember that in occupied Belgium, the SS, SD, the German military authorities and soldiers of the Wehrmacht, the German policemen as well as their willing collaborators bear the responsibility for the genocide of the Jews and the Roma, the assassination of hostages, resistance fighters, innocent civilians, and the deportation of men and women for slave labor in Germany or Austria. My own father who had hidden in order not to be deported in Germany for slave labor was denounced to the Germans by someone from his own village, and the guards in the prison where he was sent — and from which he succeeded in escaping — were members of the Rex militia of Wallonia.[6]

These collaborators in all countries under the Nazi regime were thus criminals.

Belgium is just the latest example of a Public Curtain of revisionism that has descended on Europe. Because the members of the three other parties in the coalition government have not revoked the behavior or declarations of important N-VA figures or tended their resignation in order not to be associated with people minimizing the crimes of the collaborators.

During the Maidan manifestations in Kiev last year, once I saw an inscription on a wall: ‘СОТНЯ’ (sotnya). And this struck a chord in my active memory. This word describes a military unit of 100 Cossacks. And, as history has taught us, we know that the Cossacks were reputed Jew-killers and pogrom makers. And this I found quite characteristic of the behavior of some of the Ukrainian leaders and citizens in the past or presently — not speaking of the extreme right and antisemitic party СВОБОДА (Freedom) — who openly revere and glorify nationalistic members of armed units (the Ukrainian SS unit Halitchina, the OUN and the UPA) that openly collaborated with the Nazis, often in the murder of Jews or so-called partisans, as well as in the destruction of lives and properties, or as guards of camps and death-camps. These past and present Ukrainian leaders — supported by many of the intellectual and political élite of Western Europe —, never hesitated in tolerating open manifestations of support of Ukrainian SS members. In 2009 already public displays of the SS Galizien were allowed in Lviv, the Minister of the Interior having said then “that there was nothing illegal in that initiative.”[7] And, a march glorifying the Ukrainian Waffen SS was again allowed in Lviv last year.

“Revere and glorify” are also the adequate words when you consider the attitude of some of the leaders or populations in the neighboring Baltic States toward known Nazi SS or criminal collaborators. In March 2012, just prior to the annual march (held on March 16) in honor of the Latvian (SS) Legion members, the Latvian President said during an interview that “these people are heroes.” Cukurs, the Latvian war criminal, second in charge of the Arājs Kommando is also considered as a hero now in Latvia, celebrated with a musical in his honor.[8] In Lithuania, the Forest Brothers are now the heroes of a film praised on its tour of the US (“The Invisible Front”).[9] Yet, we know from survivors and historians that many of these Forest Brothers during World War II did not accept escaped Jews in their units of partisans or just killed them because they were Jews.[10]

But, there are presently many other troubling matters in European countries or in the former USSR republics that gained independence at the beginning of the nineties.

Statues of well-known criminal collaborationist figures have been erected in posthumous honor: Bandera in Lviv, Ukraine; admiral Horthy in Kereki, Hungary; statues in honor of SS members in some countries have been erected in Bauska in Latvia, and in Lihula in Estonia.

In Budapest, the authorities have decided to name a street after Cécile Tormay, an overtly antisemitic author.

In Vilnius, there is now a street named “23rd of June Street.” That is the date when Lithuania was supposedly freed in 1941 from Soviet yoke. Even a Jewish museum now participates in the revisionist rewriting of history. When Dovid Katz visited the “Jewish Museum – Tolerance Center” in Vilnius last year, he was astonished to read the following words on a panel: “1941-06-23 – The June anti-Soviet rebellion starts in Lithuania together with the persecution of Communists and Soviet activists. The first killings of Jews have been performed in the context of the war chaos and anti-Soviet rebellion…”[11] In a documentary about the “Rewriting of History”[12] in Lithuania, a Lithuanian government official in charge of a state sponsored commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes denied that there had been spontaneous pogroms carried out by Lithuanian citizens before the arrival of German troops. Karen Sutton quotes different sources proving that there were spontaneous pogroms in Lithuania without the order or supervision of the Germans (an example: “In almost all major cities save Vilnius, similar acts of violence [she had mentioned the pogrom in Slobodka, the suburb of Kaunas] erupted in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal”).[13]

Last year, when the World Jewish Congress got together in Budapest, there were hundreds of members of Jobbik to protest against that reunion of Jews. Jobbik, an openly antisemitic party, got 17 % of the popular votes at the last elections.

In all former Soviet republics, there have been reports of antisemitic acts, but mainly in the form of desecrations: swastikas on Jewish sites (Nagykanizsa and Tamási, Hungary in 2011), desecration of commemorative Jewish monuments (Ponary, Lithuania and Bialystok, Poland, in 2011). Or cemeteries: for example: Valdemārpils, Latvia in 2011. France is not exempt from such barbarous acts. Jewish cemeteries have also been desecrated there in the recent past, often with swastika emblems.

Also disturbing is the tendency in some of the former East-European countries (Baltic States, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, etc.) to equate Nazism with Communism as two evils of equal nature: the Double Genocide theory. The victims of course having to be put on an equal footing for the purveyors of this theory. When Efraim Zuroff[14] was asked in the documentary Rewriting History what he thought of that “Double Genocide theory” (or red-equals-brown theory), he stated quite clearly that the result would be to minimize the magnitude of the crimes of genocide of the Jews, committed by the Nazis on an industrial level.[15]

And when a much detested Russian leader – Putin – tries to introduce a proposal of resolution at the UN in order to banish all Nazi signs, symbols and emblems, the United States opposes it and the European Union abstains! Including the Allied countries who fought against Nazism and Hitler and should be the first to ban all Nazi symbols![16] Putin knows what fascism is as his parents went through the siege of Leningrad. But the hatred of much of the gullible West European populations against Putin – and the love for “free and democratic Ukraine” – is sufficient to thwart any initiative from him. Even if the goal is quite honorable and completely legitimate: banish Nazi symbols from the public domain.

But, I think that apart from what Zuroff thinks about the minimization of the fate of the Jewish victims of Nazism during the war, there is also another important underlying aspect in that revival of reverence and glorifying of Nazi collaborators or local Waffen SS members. It is a manner to rekindle the dormant fire of global antisemitism that has never been entirely put out in these countries where supposedly “true native” citizens actively and savagely participated in the pogroms or killings of the local Jewish populations.

Oblivion

The time that has elapsed since May 8, 1945, has succeeded in transforming what was once thought of as an unspeakable horror – what can be worse that the avowed wish of a country leader to have whole “races” or strata of European populations annihilated? – into something trivial, a trifle, something that has no direct bearing any more on the mass-thinking of the present generations. Many people now do not even know anything any more about World War II or the Holocaust, about the widespread collaboration in some countries. Thus, they are at the mercy of false declarations, false propaganda, revisionism, the rewriting of history, by whatever people may say, people who may have much at stake in these matters or someone’s criminal past to hide.

We do not feel now in the present generations the necessary sense of justice and needed duty of memory as to what happened during the war, the necessary need to uphold the enormity and gravity of the committed crimes under Nazi occupation. These present generations do not feel bound by the moral pledge we – born just during or after the war – took upon ourselves, first to uphold the memory of the Jewish and other victims of Nazism and, secondly, to defend the creation of the State of Israel.

It is as if, suddenly, the historical and bloody past of the Second World War had been erased from our collective memory and we had begun, in many of the countries of the European Union, to start a brand New World. A brand New World where the ghettos, the death trains arriving in death camps in Poland, the gas chambers, the crematory ovens, the massacres by bullets in front of or inside of open pits, the execution of hostages and resistance fighters, the mass deportation of slaves to keep the industries of Nazi Germany going, as if all this had never occurred.

A Renewed Wave of Antisemitism

Western Europe is not exempt of a new form of virulent or latent antisemitism. According to recent reports, 20 % of the Germans and 44 % of the Italian population still profess prejudices, an antisemitic or a hostile attitude toward Jews.

In Austria there were 522 cases brought to court in 2010 (related to the “Prohibition Status”) and 73 indictments. It is to be noted, too, that in Vienna, there is a statue of Karl Lueger, the well-known antisemitic mayor of Vienna whose racist views largely inspired Hitler during his residence in the city before World War I.

In Germany, although there are stringent laws against the cult of Nazism and a ban on all Nazi displays, there were, in 2011, 1,188 politically motivated crimes of an antisemitic nature, committed by right-wing activists.

But, let us point out that there is now another form of recent antisemitism: barbarous acts and aggressions are carried out by Arab or Moslem citizens living in Western Europe who hate Israel and equate all Jews with Israel. In some West European countries (France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, but also Sweden and others), there is a marked radicalization of “Salafist” or “Wahhabist” precepts, especially among the poor, poorly educated or gullible Moslem youths, with the inevitable consequence that the Jews are singled out and have become easy targets of hatred against Israel. Some extremist imams or religious leaders have even advocated establishment of Sharia law in our countries, as for example “Sharia4Belgium”!

And these physical aggressions include the murder of Jews. As for example, the murder by a French Muslim citizen (who came back from jihad in Syria) of four persons in the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, two of them being Israeli tourists who happened to be there. Or, when, on March 19, 2012, in France, a French Muslim turned terrorist killed a Jewish teacher, three children and injured another one, on the grounds of the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse. Recently, too a rabbi was stabbed and wounded with a knife on a street of the Jewish neighborhood in Antwerp.[17]

Acts of aggression in all these bastions of culture and democracy are on the rise. In France, with its very large Muslim population, there were 389 antisemitic actions and threats in 2011, and 1,262 indictments related to racist, antisemitic and discriminatory offenses in 2010. In the United Kingdom, in 2010, 488 hate crimes were recorded and, according to unofficial data, 586 recorded antisemitic incidents. Belgium (82 complaints in 2011), Italy (58 recorded incidents in 2011), Sweden (161 crimes reported in 2010), the Netherlands (286 recorded incidents in 2010). It is to be noted that in the Netherlands some of the recorded antisemitic incidents were due to the use of the word “Jood” (Dutch: “Jew”) in relation to policemen or supporters of adverse football clubs. This common use of the word “Jew” as a form of abuse has a definite racist and antisemitic connotation.[18]

More and more Jews from Belgium and France have decided to leave their country and emigrate because they face hatred, are spitted on, insulted, mocked, attacked, and sometimes killed.[19]

Conclusion

I find it sad to see that now, almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War, there is again in Europe or in the Ukraine an upsurge of historical revisionism, a revisionism that has now reached some of the highest levels of governments in some countries of the European Union. A revisionism that not solely tries to minimize the suffering of the Jews and other innocent victims of Nazism, but, as in some ex-USSR or East European republics, rehabilitates and glorifies known or condemned collaborators or mass murderers who helped the Nazis in their vile ideological work of racist and ethnic cleansings.

And, last but not least, there is a new wave of antisemitism in Europe, and, again, acts of aggression against and murder of Jews. And, once again the Western European Jews have the fear in their hearts.

We now live in a sad time. A time that reminds us of the nightmares that began in the thirties and that led to the mass murder of millions of innocent victims.

In some countries where there is no aggression against the Jews (in the Baltic States for example, the figures of such cases are much less than in Western Europe), the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust victims have sunk into official oblivion because there has been much more politically important suffering by the local populations under the Communist yoke. To see that historical distortion in action, it is sufficient to pay a visit to the Occupations Museum in Riga and the Genocide Museum in Vilnius and calculate the part taken in the displays by the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and that taken by the victims of Communist crimes.[20] The discrepancy is self-evidence, but the goal is to minimize the number of victims of the Nazis and their willing helpers and the actual participation of local militias, citizens, and “anti-Soviet” heroes.

And I who thought that the human beings were rational beings, capable of learning, capable of keeping the acquired knowledge in the long-term part of the memory sections of the mind, capable of learning from their mistakes, capable of bettering thesemlves, capable of distinguishing between evil and good, capable of differentiating between historical facts and popular hogwash…

I think, really, never so few of us have kept alive the memory of what happened during the Holocaust and during the Nazi occupation.

But I personally vow to do so as long as I live.


[1] The N-VA: Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (in Flemish) or in English “New Flemish Alliance,” a Flemish party that detests Belgium, its king and wants the independence of Flanders.

[2] Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (Flemish) or “National Flemish Union” in English.

[3] Vlaamse Beweging (English: Flemish movement) is an informal populist movement, originating after World War I, disgusted with the French-speaking élite in Belgium. Its members want independence from Flanders. The members of this informal organization are to be found in the racist extreme right movement “Vlaams Belang” (Flemish Interests); a large part of the members or sympathizers of that movement have recently joined the N-VA these past years, voicing the same hatred toward French-speaking citizens and Walloons, but also campaigning for a blanket amnesty in favor of Nazi collaborators.

[4] In the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad of 15.10.2014.

[5] In a French-speaking weekly Moustique, 22.10/2014.

[6] “Rex” is the name given to a Walloon party in Belgium before World War II and a collaboration movement during the war; its charismatic leader was Léon Degrelle (whom Hitler had willingly seen as his son; Degrelle survived the war and died in exile in Spain) who, later, was appointed officer in the “Walloon SS Legion” which fought on the Eastern front.

[7] Article (in French) of 2009 on the Belgian antifascist, antirevisionist website http://www.resistances.be/.

[8] Cf. recent articles on http://defendinghistory.com/, also by Efraim Zuroff.

[9] Cf. recent articles on http://defendinghistory.com/.

[10] The memoirs of Margolis Немного Света Во Мраке (“Some Light in the Darkness”) who escaped from the Vilna Ghetto and lived and fought in the forests are just one of the many testimonies of other Jewish partisans who experienced the real behavior of the (later-to-be-called) Forest Brothers; we can also refer to the works of survivor Avraham Tory (Surviving the Holocaust – The Kovno Ghetto Diary) and historian Karen Sutton (The Massacre of the Jews of Lithuania).

[11] Article of July 7, 2013 by Dovid Katz on http://defendinghistory.com/.

[12] Rewriting History, a documentary written and directed by Marc Radomsky, produced by Danny Ben-Moshe, 2012, with the participation of Dovid Katz and Efraim Zuroff.

[13] Page 127 , The Massacre of the Jews of Lithuania by Karen Sutton.

[14] Director of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem.

[15] Rewriting History, documentary cited.

[16] Cf. recent articles on http://defendinghistory.com/

[17] Antwerp has a large population of Hassidic Jews, many of whom work in the diamond industry.

[18] Figures, facts and examples from “Antisemitism,” a working paper by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

[19] There was recently an article in the newsletter of the Belgian “Ligue contre l’antisémitisme” (League Against Antisemitism), of which Joël Rubinfeld is director; he was present in Riga during the March 16, 2012 march in honor of the Latvian SS Legion and showed a video of the event.

[20] Which I last visited in August 2013 (Vilnius) and September 2013 (Riga).

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