Silence in the Past, Silence Now



O P I N I O N

by Roland Binet (Braine-l’Alleud)

During World War II, numerous proofs of the systematic massacre of the Jews on a large scale had made known to the allied leaders. As the British had very early in the course of the war cracked the Enigma code, their Intelligence Service could read nearly all military dispatches sent by the German units to their headquarters, including those daily reports sent by the Einsatzgruppen leaders who duly sent the daily figures of the Jews and other “enemies” they had killed. One of these reports told of some 30,000 Jews having been killed.[1]

Churchill received summaries of these military intercepts and we know now that very soon after the attack against the Soviet Union in June of 1941, he had been aware that some appalling catastrophe was befalling the Jews in the conquered territories, in the Baltic States, Poland and other Soviet Republics under Nazi rule.

But “mum’s the word.” Churchill had other problems to contend with. At that time (summer 1941), only the United Kingdom and its dominions and colonies were effectively fighting against the Nazi beast. Denmark, Norway, Slovakia and France had puppet regimes supporting Germany, supporting Hitler.

But, in fact, the very first allied leader who heard about the massacres on a massive scale was Stalin who got direct reports from the occupied territories. He even authorized the creation of a Jewish Antifascist Committee and allowed some of the leaders to speak in Yiddish during the reunions they held. He later commissioned I. Ehrenburg and V. Grossman to write a “Black Book” about the massacres of the Jews in the occupied territories of the USSR. But, after the final victory had been gained and his paranoia increased, he of course did not allow the authors to mention the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and later (before his death), he had his thugs destroy the manuscript of Ehrenburg and Grossman. Fortunately a copy had been smuggled out of the USSR. He also had the leader of the Antifascist Jewish Committee (Solomon Mikhoels) killed in 1948 during a faked truck road accident.

We know that during the summer and fall of 1941, a massive number of Jews were slain (in Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Poland). But we know too that the Jews were not the only victims of military and ideological violence by the Nazi branches of mass destruction, many civilians or soldiers were killed mainly in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union (more than 3 million Red Army soldiers died in captivity through hunger, mistreatment or outright direct killings or beatings), but also in Poland where the Nazi thugs had decided on rooting out the intelligentsia and the church and moral authorities. We know too that there were many fervent volunteers to help the Nazis, in the Baltic States, the Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary. There had been dispatches about these huge crimes, and summaries regularly sent to Churchill by the British Intelligence Service. But, Churchill kept silent.

In Poland, contrary to the exterminations by bullets as practiced by the Einsatzgruppen in the former Soviet Union republics, ghettos had been established and there, already by 1940, there had been many cases of death by famine, arbitrary or capricious killings or beatings. There too, the SS authorities had sent reports to their superiors and there too, British Intelligence had been reading them and transmitting them to Churchill, but “mum was still the word”; the opaque filter against a public airing of these appalling news from the occupied territory was kept in place by the British authorities.

In 1942, Poland’s Jewish Labor Bund succeeded in transmitting a report on the atrocities against the Jews to their London representative Shmuel Zygielbojm, (who later, despairing of the silence killed himself using gas as was being done to his brethren). He tried to get newspapers interested in the news and, finally, an article was published in the Daily Telegraph on June 25, 1942 bearing the header “Germans murder 700,000 Jews in Poland in Travelling Gas Chambers.” This should have brought with it a strong reaction because the word “gas” had a definite connotation in the British psyche (bearing in mind World War I and the gas attacks on the Western front). And, 700,000 persons killed in “travelling Gas Chambers” (trucks in fact) should have struck a chord in the British readers. 700,000 was a huge figure and trucks have a relative small capacity for the accommodation of human beings. And, thirdly, when you saw such massive figures, you had to reason that there was a master plan behind the enterprise, an industrial master plan. And, at the highest level (Churchill and the members of the War Cabinet), this report plus the intercepted dispatches from the occupied territories should have made it crystal clear what the aim and the scope of that master plan were.

Later came other reports, as for example the Riegner report (August 1942) which was passed on to Mr. Wise of the World Jewish Congress, but the Under-Secretary of the (US) State Department Morgenthau judged that the allegations that millions of Jews were under threat of death by prussic acid were unfounded.

Even De Gaulle chose not to do anything when he received the Cassin report (after the news of the first roundups of Jews in France and the atrocious conditions of imprisonment in camps such as Drancy, had been mae known to the Free French Forces’ leader) who proposed how to save the Jews of Europe.

Jan Karski had with him documentation on microfilms when he visited London and made his report there to the highest authorities (November 1942), but Anthony Eden (the pro-Arab and antisemite British Minister) chose not to relay the important information that this representative of the official resistance A.K. had brought on the massacres in the Polish death camps. When, in 1943, Karski saw Roosevelt, this talk too remained without any consequences.

Eden remained inflexible when plans were aired on how to accept more Jewish refugees in Palestine, as for example just for 1943, 30,000 authorizations of immigration had not been allocated at all.

But, in the United States the situation had not been better as this scandal of momentous proportions was hushed up by Roosevelt who had received information in 1944 that the official figures of Jewish immigration had been falsified and grossly increased by the Department of State. And, in another repulsive gesture, President Roosevelt did not deign to receive a delegation of 400 orthodox Rabbis who wanted to petition him (in order that the U.S. intervene to stop the mass deportations of the Jews in death trains), the proof if need be that the U.S. administration had other urgent problems to solve in 1944 rather than trying to save hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who had begun to be deported on a mass scale from May of that year.

The Allies not only kept silent but did not do anything to allay what had become an industrial genocide.

We know the reasons behindthat criminal inactivity. There was a war to be won against enemies that conducted strong defense strategies. There were some antisemitic personalities at high levels of power in the United Kingdom and the United States. But, also, there had been a systematic refusal to allow more refugees in Palestine but also in nearly all countries of the Western Hemisphere, the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, among others.

Still, knowing these reasons does not hide the fact that the silence of the Allies had tragic and criminal consequences. Millions of people were sent to an atrocious death because the Allies had chosen not to bomb the access railways tracks leading to camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Treblinka.

Now, in February and March of 2015, it is again the season of marches in the Baltic States. Marches are frequently associated with fun, pleasure, music, enjoyment and a sense of cohesion between the joyful participants.

We can witness that nationalistic sense of cohesion in the marches that are traditionally held in February and March, be they in Kaunas, Vilnius, Tallinn or Riga.

Ex-members of the SS units from the Baltic States (Estonia/Latvia) or sympathizers of the Nazis march through the streets of cities where pogroms, individual killings and mass massacres had been carried out. Cities and countries – let us remind ourselves of this painful fact — where the German troops had been welcomed with adulation and flowers in June and July 1941 when they arrived to “liberate” the local populations of the Communist yoke.

 

Even if the Baltic States have now legally banned the display of any Communist or Nazi symbols, emblems or distinctive signs, when you see pictures or film fragments of such commemorative marches, you cannot but feel disgusted. Because underlying these marches, there is the feeling that these people are proud of what they did, proud of the fact that while they were holding the Red Army troops a little longer at bay, behind their backs but with their full cognizance Jews continued to be killed in their own Baltic States or else in Poland in death camps. And by SS or SD troops which had the same uniform they were wearing. “Brothers in arms” in fact. And, before these men from the Baltic States (Estonia/Latvia) enlisted freely or were conscripted, they surely had heard about the mass massacres in Kaunas, in Ponar, in Rumbula, in and around the numerous ghettos in their native countries, the work details that went daily through the streets of the main cities of their countries. Perhaps, too, some of these courageous young men had lent a hand when Jews had been killed during early and spontaneous pogroms. They had perhaps witnessed atrocity scenes near where they lived or in the city streets. They had perhaps seized Jewish properties after the Jews had been chased from their houses or apartments. They had perhaps stolen goods, jewels or money from abandoned Jewish properties. And, undeniably, they would oppose or not support any legal measure from their parliaments that would aim to restitute the stolen Jewish properties or pay a financial compensation to the Jewish victims or their eligible parties or descendants.

 

When you visit these Baltic capitals, Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga, you can also visit museums that purportedly retrace the history of the occupation periods (meaning Nazi and Communist) or the genocide perpetrated in these regions. But “genocide” is a word that is by and large in these museums used to describe victims of Communism. In the Tallinn and Riga genocide museums, there is barely any mention of the murder of well over 90% of the native Jewish populations and certainly no mention of the enthusiastic participation of local antisemites intent on destroying Jewish lives (cf. the pogroms in Kaunas, Lithuania, or the first individual arrests and killings of Jewish males by local “self-defense units” in Latvia and Lithuania).

 

But there is also a general tendency in the Baltic states to rewrite history and not recognize facts that were related by survivors or Jewish historians. For instance, Andrew Ezergailis has allowed one of his articles, entitled “Holocaust’” to be part of the Latvian book Unpunished Crimes (pages 134-138,published by the Latvian Relief Society Daugavas Vanagi Inc. (© Memento – Daugavas Vanagi / Stockholm – Toronto – 2003).

 

What does he write?

“Although the Einsatzgruppen had special German shooting units, their first gambit – to use a chess terminology – was to create the general impression that “native antisemitic” groups themselves were killing “their local Jews.” As this provocative move was unsuccessful, the Einsatzgruppen activated the killing apparatus (…) The theory of spontaneous killings of Jews in Eastern Europe, claiming that local inhabitants started shooting Jews without German leadership, is not supported by the documentary evidence.”[2]

 

First let us note that the ‘Daugavas Vanagi’ is an association of aid to the ex-members of the Latvian SS units, and let us wonder how a reputed historian can allow an article of his to become part of an ultranationalist propaganda book, because the prime topic of the book is the role the Soviet Union played in the “genocide” of the Latvian population with only a few pages devoted to what the Germans and Latvian collaborators did to the Jewish population living in Latvia at that time, in other words the one genocide that actually occurred in the country (the book is 296 pages long).

The word “genocide” is essential in the chapter “Structural Analysis of the Deportations of the 1940’s” by Sindija Dimanta and Indulis Zālīte (pages 97-103) to be found in that same book. There is also a definition of the genocide against the Latvian people (page 202). Yet, Ezergailis does not use the word genocide at all in his article on the murder of the Jews of Latvia, even though we now know that what the Germans and their local henchmen did to the Jews was a unique phenomenon and a true genocide. But we know also that now in some Baltic States it has been decreed by law that the mass repression of local populations by the USSR organ apparatus was a genocide, and denying that that “genocide” took place is punishable as a criminal offense in Latvia and Lithuania.

But, as to the “documentary evidence” lacking which Ezergailis mentioned, when you read the book L’Extermination des Juifs en Lettonie 1941-1945[3], you can read countless accounts from survivors as well as neutral witnesses who recount in detail how spontaneous killings were underway before and during the very first days of the arrival of German troops in Latvia or in the weeks following the occupation, not only in the big cities but also in small villages and towns. When you read other survivors’ accounts you realize then that antisemitic feelings, violent behavior against the Jews or the murder of Jews had not been isolated incidents in Lithuania and Latvia.

But this whole erroneous attitude of the proud Baltic marches in honor of men who fought bravely against the Soviet Union because they had no other choice in the face of past genocide waves against their own population, is biased. The men who celebrate their past military feats against the Soviet Union do not have to display Nazi symbols or swastikas.

If they display such a hate symbol it is to underline the fact that they still adhere to the Nazi ideology of the past, it is to prove to the world that they have not changed, that they still consider that the murder of their own Jewish populations was a good thing, to prove to the world – not that they are anti-Communists – but that they are still racist, that they still condone the huge mass killings of Jews, Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian civilians or resistance fighters that took place in their own countries, with the enthusiastic and extensive participation of local collaborators.

And now, as we near the seventy year mark since the end of the war, there is not a large number of ex-members of these SS, SD, Wehrmacht units or camp or ghetto guards still able to march. So, the ones who are now proudly march in the Baltics belong to younger generations, men and women who, because they were and still remain profoundly anti-Communist, and also still feel sympathy for a totalitarian regime such as the Nazi-regime that was intent on killing people deemed inferior (Untermenschen) to the great and pure German race.

That the media and intellectuals in Western Europe, that the European Union and the European Parliament members remain silent about these annual SS and neo-Nazi marches in the Baltic States strikes me as a kind of echo of the silence of leaders during the Holocaust itself. Because in fact the fate of the Jews was of no importance, of no bearing, and of no interest, to them.

Now, although in fact no Jewish or other lives are at stake any more in these forlorn countries near the Baltic Sea, this silence in West Europe means that the politicians, the intellectuals and the media look the other way when states belonging to the EU allow forms of racist SS and Nazi marches to fill the center of city capitals on independence days and other festive holiday dates. This is just one of the things giving them a reputation of states that refuse to confront their own bloody past and their own bloody participation, States that refuse to pay fair compensation to the heirs of the victims.

The same important people and heads of state in Western Europe who proclaimed “We are Charlie” on January 11, 2015, now remain mute, deaf and blind to the fact that in the North-eastern part of Europe, there is a renewal of fascism, of revanchism and hatred. That there is in these countries a joy in remembering the good old times when the true fight was against the Communists while at the rear hundreds of thousands of local or deported Jews (and other minorities) had been slaughtered by men wearing the same uniform, men believing in the same racist ideology, men intent on destroying democracy, pluralism and the freedom of opinion, expression and religion.

Shame on your silence, Europe!


 

[1] I am indebted to the French documentary Les Alliés et la Shoah (‘The Allies and the Shoah’ by Virginie Linhart, © 2012), for much of the factual information of this article, at least related to the part about the Holocaust and what the Allies knew.

[2] Page 136

[3] “The Extermination of the Jews in Latvia 1941 – 1945,”  a conference cycle under the direction of Rabbi Menachem Barkahan.

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