O P I N I O N
by Roland Binet (Belgium)
The European Union has as one of its main tasks the promotion of cordial understanding between the peoples of Europe and, consequently, it must be careful about the history of the continent as it is being taught. One of the reasons for the foundation of the Union was to bring together peoples that were previously enemies, in two world wars and numerous other conflicts.
A recent initiative regarding European history dates back to 23 September 2008 when more than 400 MEPs signed a common declaration supporting the proposing of 23rd August as the “European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism”. That declaration is founded on the “Prague Declaration” of 3 June 2008, with the following main objectives: (1) recognition of Communism and Nazism as a common legacy; (2) recognition that many crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity serving as a warning for future generations, in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal; (3) ensuring the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination of victims of all totalitarian regimes; (4) celebrating a day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes. This date of 23rd August is not anodyne. On that day, in 1939, the German-Soviet Pact was signed. A part of the secret clauses of that infamous pact foresaw a territorial repartition between Nazi Germany and the USSR, and, in pursuance of these secret clauses, the USSR invaded part of Poland as soon as September 1939, and then the Baltic republics in 1940.
Following the Prague Declaration, some groups at the European Parliament will hold a hearing on the matter of ensuring the principle of equal treatment of the victims of Communism and Nazism, on October 19, 2011. In its initial report, the European Commission wrote in its preamble: “The memory of Europe’s history is the common heritage of all Europeans, today and of future generations. Reconciliation with the legacy of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes requires sharing and promoting this memory.”
When one reads all the preparatory texts (report from the Commission, conclusions of the same Commission, the Prague Declaration, etc.), one cannot shake off the overall impression — even if the objective of the “Prague Process” is to educate current and future generations about what really happened in Europe — that a number of representatives from countries of the EU seem to be “jealous” of the continuous flow of information that the Holocaust generates, to the detriment, as they wish to see it, of the sufferings they had to endure under the Communist yoke.
Has that date of 23rd August any signification whatever for the Jews who had to bear the vastly greater number of dead under Nazism? Has the advice of the organs representative of the Jewish victims of Nazism been sought? And, why limit itself solely to Communism and Nazism as far as the history of Europe is concerned? Greece, Spain, and Portugal have dealt with fascist regimes with, sometimes, bloody repressions — for decades in the first two, and for about half a century in Portugal.
Should one wish to “share and promote the legacy of the crimes committed by totalitarian regimes” as well as talk about “equal treatment”, one should first and foremost be precise, it seems to me, and put the onus on the essential differences between Nazi and Communist crimes and, therefore, may one envisage the idea to have a common day of remembrance in honor of the victims of two scourges that are so remarkably different, starting from their origins and extending all the way to their consequences?
Stalin was in truth a paranoiac personality, imbued with power. There is now an abundant documentation that analyzed the mind of that serial killer on a European scale and the methods he used (e.g. the biographies by Simon Sebag Montefiore, Zhores and Roy Medvedev published in Russian, Robert Conquest, and many more). One knows that his crimes originated in his misled mind, even if these crimes sometimes had the effect of eradicating entire strata from society qualified as “enemis” (the kulaks, Ukrainians at the time of the Great Famine, the Tatars, the Jewish doctors’ plot, Kirov’s murderers, the Red Army’s leaders, etc.). That bloody tyrant had no popular support, no power attributed to him according to free elections. There was only the secret police to carry out his Machiavellian schemes, with the passive assent from a continuously terrorized population. When the poet Yossip Mandelstam was arrested, deported and, subsequently, died in the Gulag, it was because he had displeased Stalin in writing and declaiming in public his “Ode to Stalin”, one of the most acerbic critics of the regime.
He was denounced not because the Soviet people had faith in Stalin, no, only because under that terror regime the one who did not denounce the other ran the risk of being denounced in his turn.
Hitler, also a paranoiac personality, by contrast, had ample popular support because he was elected during free elections. As soon as 1935, infamous laws put the Jews beyond the pale, and, subsequently that would be true within the occupied territories. The “Commissars’ Order” (execution of the “Commissars”, the Communists and the Jews, in the USSR), the green light given to the Einsatzgruppen and the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942, gave, if not a strictly legal frame, at the least an order emanating from the Chief of the German armies — Hitler — so that the Jews, the Reds and all these persons deemed noxious to the survival of the Aryan race might be “eradicated” (the Germans used the German word ausrotten that one would use for noxious animals). Then, and this was totally different from what happened in the Soviet prisons and the Gulag, the Nazis sought the most expeditious annihilation methods, the less stressful for the executioners, to be applied to humans deemed Untermenschen, methods that were truly industrial.
And during the time of the Hitler regime, there was no German opposition movement, no serious German opposition, howsoever tacit and mental in nature. Opposition was not inspired by the Shoah, whether administered by bullets or by the automated industrialization process of putting people to death, whose symbol became Auschwitz-Birkenau. Worse, Guido Knopp (in Die SS) gives this astounding figure: 85 % of all affairs the the Gestapo worked on were on the basis of denunciations from German citizens.
Nevertheless, this perverse Nazi ideology dividing masters from slaves only worth being killed found followers in some occupied countries too.
One has only to look at the numbers of massacres organized by pro-fascist antisemites in occupied countries: Lviv in Poland (4,000 Jews killed by the end of June 1941, mostly Ukrainians; source: Die SS by Guido Knopp); Kaunas in Lithuania (nearly 7,000 Jews killed during a mere two days according to Stahlecker, commanding officer of the Einsatzgruppe A; source: The Massacre of the Jews of Lithuania by Karen Sutton); in Latvia (nearly 35,000 Jews killed during the first hundred days of occupation, 30,000 on the account of Latvian murderers; source: Margers Vestermanis’s interview in Der Spiegel of 25/04/2005). In Belgium and in Holland, fascist collaborators took part in the hunt for Jews, as did the French police and the Vichy Government in France. Not forgetting the atrocities committed by fascist movements in Hungary,Slovakia and Romania (as well as in Croatia, perhaps a future member-state of the European Union)…
It is this particular aspect of the industrialization on a huge scale of the process of killing with the active and voluntary participation of collaborators in some of the occupied countries — people motivated, most often, by a rabid antisemitism with firmly anchored roots —, that makes the Shoah unique and that renders it untenable, historically speaking, to put the victims of Nazism and Communism on an equal footing. All the more if in order to reach this goal one puts the onus on the victims and not on the underlying ideologies at the basis of these crimes. From Hitler’s side, an ideology of a race supremacy of masters and the systematic destruction of those deemed of an inferior creed; from Stalin’s side, the haughty madness of a man imbued with power without any ideological support whatsoever with the exception of his ravings.
Then there is the major difference in the consequences. Central and East European Jewry was mostly annihilated. There is no comparable genocide of a people resulting from Communism, heinous as Stalin’s crimes were. Of course those crimes need to be recognized, studied, and justice pursued, as a separate complex of issues. The victims of Communism have the right to the historical recognition of their suffering, and I would be the first to support that, as this is a matter I have been aware of since the early 1970s (having also known personally victims of Communism).
But, for these MEPs to try to have Communism itself recognized as a “crime against humanity” on a par with Nazism, this is a lost cause, as the crimes committed under Stalin and his followers do not in any way correspond to the definition of that type of crimes given by article 7 of the Statute of Rome for the International Penal Court of Justice in 1998.
Nevertheless, when it comes to putting these specific sufferings on a par with those the victims of the Shoah had to suffer, I think that it is not up to the MEPs to decide in this matter; the choice belongs in the first instance to the organs representative of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, as well as the choice of a remembrance day in honor of all the victims of totalitarian regimes (including the Spanish, Portuguese and Greek forms of fascism and many more evils in Europe and beyond).
And frankly, it is high time to take a firm stand against such interference from the EU and the MEPs, from far-fetched ideas that have sprung from the minds of people who are simply jealous — suffering from Holocaust Envy — of the continuous attention that the Shoah receives and who try with whatever weapons at their disposal to displace the Jews from the rightful place in our collective memory where, alas, a bloody historical aberration has put them in.
It is time to react, time to stand up against all these rightist and extreme-right movements in Europe and the European lackeys within the EU kowtowing to these manipulators of modern history.