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Dovid Katz

 
EDITOR'S PICK: THIS YEAR'S YOM HASHOAH IS DIFFERENT

by Dovid Katz in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 3, 2011, Special to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

 

 

 

The history of the Holocaust is being undermined by Holocaust Obfuscation, a sophisticated new movement emanating from some East European countries and their spokespersons internationally.

A NEW ERA

Why is this year's Yom Hashoah different from all others?  For the first time in decades, there is verily a new challenge of historic proportions, and one which we have frankly been failing to counter effectively. May we now on this day be inspired to rise to the occasion with a new sense of purpose, clarity of thinking, and the minimal courage necessary for us fortunate Westerners to speak out robustly for a just cause.

Spring 2011 will lead us very shortly to the seventieth anniversary of the 'Holocaust by Bullets' unleashed after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Aided by thousands of volunteer killers in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and elsewhere, the Nazis began rapidly to arrange for all the Jews in very many locations (of  whatever age, skill, gender, belief, whatever) to be ghettoized, plundered and humiliated in preparation for being undressed and shot dead in big pits outside town. Here in Lithuania, there are around 250 such mass graves where Lithuanian Jewry was butchered, mostly at the hands of enthusiastic 'local forces' who are sometimes honored nowadays as 'anti-Soviet partisans'.

A million Jewish civilians were killed in Eastern Europe in the half year that ended in December of 1941. It is no diminution of the earlier horrors of ghettos and concentration camps further West to understand that the actual genocide got underway en masse after the Nazi invasion of the USSR ("Operation Barbarossa"). It was in the shadow of those six months of  successful butchery of nearly all the Jews in big chunks of the newly conquered territories that the Wannsee conference was convened in Berlin right afterwards, in January of 1942, sealing the fate  ( genocide ) for millions more.

So what is now so new beside the round year of seventy?
 
HOW DOES HOLOCAUST OBFUSCATION WORK?

In our still-young twenty-first century, Holocaust Denial has been relegated to the fringes of Western civilization. If any one event be chosen to symbolize a turning point, it might well be the turn-of -the-century libel suit brought by the denier David Irving against Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, over her classic book Denying the Holocaust. Ever since Mr Justice Charles Gray's April 2000 verdict, Denial has been rather unacceptable in polite society.

But something untoward was in tow at the same time. Among the proud new states to emerge on the territory of the hated Soviet Union, after its collapse some twenty years ago, were those that provided those thousands of voluntary killers in the time following 23 June 1941, those where  "collaboration" meant not, for example, ratting to the Gestapo or organizing for the deportation of one's townspeople, evil enough, but the enthusiastic and voluntary shooting of the children, women, men of the local Jewish population. In other words, a genocide in large part by neighbours.

With the fading of memory, what with the disappearance of survivors, witnesses and perpetrators alike, a perceived saturation with Holocaust programs, and a new world order, it is perhaps barely a surprise that more nationalistically, far-right-inclined nations to emerge in Eastern Europe would start investing serious money from their national budgets, even in economically strapped times, to try to gain acceptance for their own narrative. That narrative is a shameful one. It is rooted deeply in a number of interlocking ideas. First, local antisemitism and racism in the form of the notion that "all the Jews were communists and got what they deserve" (or in a milder form "The worst communist criminals were Jews and so it's all understandable"). Then comes the effort to sanitize and where possible even glorify their local Holocaust killers as some kind of  "national heroes who resisted the Soviet Union" (and yes, virtually every fascist Jew-killer in the East was indeed "also anti-Soviet"). All of it is then crowned by an upmarket academic and journalistic rush to wash it all over in a postmodernist mush of equality and equivalence of all victims and victimhood. Presto, the Holocaust is gone. Without a single death being denied.

On top of all that there is the geostrategic aspect. Some of the countries involved, particularly the Baltics, are the easternmost outposts of NATO and the European Union right smack at the new East-West border, looking right at an unpredictable resurgent Putinist Russia. Let there be no mistake, the smaller nations that border or are close to Russia have every legitimate reason to be apprehensive, and the West has every legitimate responsibility to back them to the hilt. And, east of that border, there is Ukraine whose people do not enjoy the Western economic or security umbrella that they deserve.

In the cocktail of so many interests, one morally repugnant interest can sometimes be snuck through the cracks, and, with a little help from the junkets, medals and pleasures that governments can provide to naive foreigners (including "Useful Jewish Idiots"), there is every prospect for a revision of World War II history, downgrading the Holocaust, upgrading Soviet crimes to "genocide" (sometimes  by legal redefinition of the term) and even slipping through glorification of Holocaust killers to an unsuspecting West that is usually far too busy to pay much attention to "details".

Add to this already volatile cocktail the very current geopolitical scene, and it is not much of a leap to see how fascist-admiring far-right East European politicians can hope to use Holocaust revisionism as a potent stick in today's east-west arena, in what is sometimes called the New Cold War. If Nazism and Communism were in principle "equal" as the new revisionism, sometimes called Double Genocide, claims, then there might be a potent new stick against Russia, which should by this logic, as an equal of Hitler, now become an international pariah in view of the retroactive revision of history.

The long and short of it is, that the Holocaust is being written out of history by a convergence of interests emanating mostly from East European ultranationalists, who do not want the stain of collaboration in their history, who want to become the historic victims of the same Holocaust years, who want to heroize and glorify their countries' Jew-killers, tolerate massive local antisemitism while professing love of foreign (and prewar) Jews to the outside world, and and settle scores with the Russians. All with barely a notice of the world's major Holocaust institutions and programs.
 
Right Now, not 70 years ago

Even as our days of remembrance unfold, a powerful lobby in Canada has cunningly chosen the new Museum for Human Rights as a viable battleground. You can't get much more Western, modern or democratic than Canada. Yet not only has the very simple idea of a one Holocaust gallery being included in the museum's permanent exhibition been distorted beyond recognition by an antisemitic, Holocaust-distorting East-European-origin lobby. That lobby could simply could not resist printing and distributing postcards depicting the Jews as pigs.

Just as frightening has been the assault on de facto freedom of debate. The two inspiring scholars who actually stood up to all this, Dr Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism,  published a historic essay, "The War Against the Holocaust" at the beginning of April. Shortly thereafter, a young historian, Dr Per Rudling, mustered over a hundred signatures from scholars from all over the world for a polite and measured letter of protest. Both scholars have been subjected to a barrage of abuse from the antisemitic far right, and the support that they deserve from comfortable and secure academics and institutions internationally will hopefully grow in the days to come.

And, this past Tuesday in Budapest,  a 97 year old twice-convicted Hungarian Nazi war criminal was allowed by the courts to become a plaintiff and sue for libel (!)  the Wiesenthal Center's chief Holocaust historian and justice seeker, Dr Efraim Zuroff for exposing his Nazi crimes that could still be brought for trial. On Thursday May 5, the war criminal himself goes on trial for war crimes. Why has the free world not spoken up about this turning of the justice system of an EU and NATO country into a monkey circus as part of the movement to raise the status of war criminals and diminish that of Holocaust victims and survivors, and historians who are their current advocates, who ask only for a fair trial in a court of law in the suspect's own country? For decades, Dr Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, has led a sometimes lonely battle against the massive forces of governments determined to prevent the history of the Holocaust being taught accurately.

In Latvia and Estonia this year, authorities allow for massive city-center celebrations in memory of these countries' Waffen-SS, which in both cases were comprised in part of members who had previously been among the proud Jew-shooters. And even in the case of those Waffen-SS members who may have personally not committed a proven war crime, why on earth are Canada, the US, and Britain remaining so timidly silent on the glorification of  any Waffen-SS in any NATO country?  Every proud citizen of these Western nations has so very much to be proud of in the incalculable contributions and sacrifices entailed in the war against Nazi Germany. That Western-led alliance is a highpoint of our common history, and it is wrong to stand by idly as it is rubbished in a revisionist mishmash of  "equality" which is as morally repugnant as the racism and antisemitism that lie so close to the collective soul of the revisionists' efforts.

In Lithuania and Hungary, less than a year ago, laws were passed that criminalize the very opinion that there was only one genocide in these countries, the Holocaust. Even if the maximum punishments (two years in Lithuania, three in Hungary) are never meted out, these laws have already stifled free debate and intimidated historians who might disagree. Surely, as true friends of these nations, we should demand for their people the very same freedoms, within NATO and EU, that we cherish for ourselves.

Here in Lithuania, another day this coming week, May 5th, will mark three years since armed plainclothes police came looking for two incredible women in their late 80s, Holocaust survivors of the Vilna ghetto who fled into the forests to join up with the anti-Nazi partisans. Three years later, they have neither been charged nor publicly cleared, though defamed without end. In 2010, the Lithuanian Human Rights (!) Association publicly called for them to be "sentenced"!

It is all a reprehensible ruse to put into the record book a bogus "equality" of investigations of Nazi and Soviet suspects, and to discredit the bold anti-Nazi resistance in this part of the world, which came almost entirely from USSR supported forces here. There were no American, British or Canadian forces in these parts.

One of the two women, 89 year old Rachel Margolis, lives in Rechovot, and feels unable to return to her native Vilnius for one last visit, for fear of harassment and prosecution. It is widely believed that authorities here targeted her because of her sensational re-discovery in the 1990s of a long-lost diary of a Christian Polish eyewitness to tens of thousands of murders at a site outside Vilnius; she deciphered the text and published it in Polish, and it has since been brought out in English by Yale University Press.


There is a massive double game underway. Even as Lithuania declared (for foreign consumption) 2011 to be a year of commemoration for the Holocaust, it also declared the same year as a year of commemoration for "defense of freedom" including the L.A.F. (Lithuanian Activist Front) thugs who started murdering and molesting Jews up and down the country before the Germans even got here.
 
The 2008 Prague Declaration and a naive Western acquiescence

Let there be no mistake. This is no haphazard potpourri of separate episodes. The campaign against a Holocaust gallery in Canada (and against Dr Chatterley and Dr Rudling for having boldly mobilized public awareness), the trial in Budapest of a historian who provided the information leading to a war crimes trial in that country, the Waffen SS parades in Estonia and Latvia, the persecution and defamation of Holocaust survivors in Lithuania and the glorification of the local perpetrators in a number of countries (and their diaspora communities in the West!) are all part and parcel of the same movement.

This is the Holocaust Obfuscation movement that emanates from ultranationalist East European sentiments that want to turn perpetrators of the Holocaust into victims, that want to smear the victims and where possible try to turn them into perpetrators, and that has learned that it is relatively easy to snow over naive westerners, including major Jewish and even Holocaust organizations and museums. Only last December, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC participated in a heavily manipulated semi-secret conference in Vilnius, together with an array of iffy local partners including the Genocide Research Center that oversees a "Genocide Museum" where the word "Holocaust" is not mentioned, that contains antisemitic images with no curatorial comment, that glorifies Holocaust perpetrators as patriotic rebels. On March 11th, a neo-Nazi march through the city's main boulevard included the "chief public relations specialist" of that Genocide Center. Once important people and institutions are tricked, they don't always have what it takes to say "We made a mistake" and it happens that innocent misjudgements are compounded by institutional and personal pride. Let us all admit on this Yom Hashoah that we may have been naive, we may have been inattentive to a series of frightening developments unfolding before our eyes, that we have a lot to learn, not least from the tiny remnant (and in many cases vanishing) local Jewish communities in these countries.

If such a sophisticated institution as Washington's Holocaust Museum could be manipulated in a faraway land to partner with institutions that condone (if not practice) antisemitism and Holocaust downgrading, it is not that difficult to understand how a highly sophisticated Holocaust Obfuscation that is far from overt antisemitism and preaches such shining words as "equality" and "equivalence" could change perceptions, slowly but surely, in a way that will very soon write the Holocaust out of history, strange as it sounds, without anyone noticing.

In June 2008, the "Prague Declaration" was proclaimed by a group of members of the European Parliament. Its demands include the following: that Communist crimes "must inform all European minds to the same extent as the Nazi regimes crimes did"; that Communist crimes be assessed  "in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal"; "overhaul of European history textbooks so that children could learn and be warned about Communism and its crimes in the same way as they have been taught to assess the Nazi crimes".

On top of that was the demand that August 23rd (date of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) be made into an international day of commemoration for Nazi and Soviet victims. In April of 2009 the European parliament actually voted for such a resolution (not a law, but still a huge political boost for the East European far right).

So far under the radar was it all, that in June of 2009, Britain, Canada and the US actually signed an OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) document into which the East European far right had snuck language using the word "genocide" for both Nazi and Soviet crimes, as well a demand for the mix-and-match August 23rd remembrance day to be adopted internationally!
 
Where may we stand this Yom Hashoah

Holocaust Obfuscation is part and parcel of a new model of history that is increasingly known as "Double Genocide". Let us reflect on the series of absurd events that defy credulity. The Prague Declaration . The votes for a joint "red-brown" remembrance day in the European Parliament. The American, British and Canadian signatures on an OSCE document enshrining Double Genocide. The protests with Jews-as-pigs postcards against a Holocaust gallery in a museum in Canada . The libel suit in Hungary against a Holocaust historian whose research led to the plaintiff's (!) going on trial for war crimes in the same city and in the same week. The third anniversary of the defamation of two valiant women survivors of the Vilna Ghetto whose resistance against Hitlerism makes them heroes of the free world. The cunning trickery of naives at a major Holocaust Museum to travel thousands of miles to confer Jewish-American legitimacy on institutions that practice Holocaust Obfuscation and antisemitism.

Not all of us are prone to political action, but there are times in the course of life and of history, where it is incumbent on us to rise to the occasion, and contact our elected representatives as well as Jewish organizations and Holocaust museums, and demonstrate that we who still care about the Holocaust will not remain silent as it is assaulted by a cunning and well-financed group of governments and communities who have something to hide: that some of the very "national heroes" that they now want to put on a pedestal, were actual participants in the Holocaust's mass murder.

But the task before us is a delicate one that does in fact entail recognizing the horrific crimes of Communism and the suffering of the East European nations under its yoke for so many decades, while we in the post-War West were enjoying ever more carefree prosperity and freedom.

As for many complicated conundrums, the solution is darned simple. The crimes of communism need to be studied, taught, recognized, researched and justice needs to be done, to the full extent of the law--as a separate issue, and without the equals sign, and without the abject nonsense that those who liberated Auschwitz are equal to those who committed its genocide.

There is a major new Holocaust battle to be fought. We owe it to the victims and the survivors alike to stand up. Now.
 

Dovid Katz, a native of New York now based in Vilnius, was professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Vilnius University from 1999 to 2010. He edits the web journal www.DefendingHistory.com. His writings on Holocaust subjects include a paper on the definitions of genocide and Holocaust Obfuscation, and "The Crime of Surviving", a piece in Tablet magazine last year that focuses on Rachel Margolis ?   His personal website is www.DovidKatz.net.

[Editor's note: This piece was written specifically for  the Winnipeg Jewish Review to be published during Holocaust Rememberance Week. Dovid Katz, a native of New York now based in Vilnius, was professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Vilnius University from 1999 to 2010. He edits the web journal www.DefendingHistory.com. His writings on Holocaust subjects include a paper on the definitions of genocide and Holocaust Obfuscation, and "The Crime of Surviving", a piece in Tablet magazine last year that focuses on case of Rachel Margolis.  His personal website is www.DovidKatz.net.]

 
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