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No comparison

Minimizing the Holocaust is too easy in the Czech Republic
Commentary | Archives


By Adam Daniel Mezei
For The Prague Post
March 21st, 2007 issue

Six million is too many. A modification, if you will, of the infamous World War II–era immigration policy of the government of Canada, which condemned boatloads of European Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust. “One is too many,” was the official Canadian policy of the time.
Here in the Czech Republic, the increasingly popular notion continues to spawn that love-ins of the Holocaust or Shoah era are flooding the marketplace for scholarly ideas. It’s a canard that continues to gain traction in this Central European country and is positively frightening when one considers the horrifying phenomenon of Holocaust-denial conferences being convened around the globe of late. Take the recent one in the Iranian capital, Tehran, for instance, kickstarted by the efforts of mullah-manipulated Shia demagogues such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his bearded minions.
In the Czech cultural sphere, a tight coterie of pseudo-scholars seeks to do something quite similar by channeling the debate about the war toward the Draconian period of the Beneš Decrees. Enacted in the immediate post-1945 era, the decrees were the brainchild of Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš. They heralded in a harsh postwar policy of eye-for-an-eye justice that effectively led to the expulsion of more than 3 million ethnic German citizens after the war.
Among that group, thousands had eagerly collaborated with the Nazis in the implementation and enforcement of anti-Jewish policies in the Czech lands during the Protectorate era from 1939 to 1945. But thousands of others had not. All were citizens who once dwelled peacefully in the Sudeten Highlands on Czechoslovakia’s German and Austrian borders for centuries, devoted to the Masarykian multicultural ideal that had taken root in Central Europe over the two decades of the First Republic’s lifespan.
Jews? Germans? The Beneš Decrees? What’s the connection here?
Last month’s Protectorate-era “city lights” sign campaign — an ironic spoof of the Nazi-era diktats imposed on Bohemian and Moravian Jewry spearheaded by the creative genius of Jan Binar of the McCann Erickson advertising agency — instigated a flurry of angry feedback from hecklers convinced there’s been too much “Jew talk” dominating the airwaves of late. The dustier skeleton in the Czech closet, according to them, is the Beneš Decrees.
While the progeny of these Sudeten deportees bang loudly (amid other seekers) at Prague Castle’s iron gates demanding their rightful historical recompense, little has been done to right this historical faux pas. Czech and Slovak Jews (though to a practically nonexistent extent in the latter case) have been recognized, acknowledged and compensated too excessively, they pine. The Volksdeutscher are due to receive their just deserts.
But ah, you see, there’s the rub.
Amid the clamoring for mehr geld — more money — the spotlight has been craftily shifted away from the 40 years of what the locals euphemistically refer to as “former times.” It’s often forgotten how robust the solidarity was between East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Those historic ties between Czechs and their Teutonic cousins were reestablished during the Cold War, leading to the curious phenomenon during the pre–1989 revolution times of Czechoslovaks speaking German — not English — as their second or third language, depending on their proficiency in Russian.
Collaboration among East Germans and Czechoslovaks in the scientific, cultural and espionage spheres was prolific, not to mention the common scandalous treatment of their own athletes. The latter were experimented on like guinea pigs as part of the German Democratic Republic’s national doping project, superbly documented in American Steven Ungerleider’s award-winning exposé titled Faust’s Gold.
Has the bitter past been dealt with?
Not officially, to be sure. However, once-weak branches were strengthened, and the basis for rapprochement between the two nations was clearly sown. Today’s successor state to Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, refuses to reopen the discussion on the Beneš Decrees with a united Germany. This is disturbing in the extreme, though it can hardly be described as “swept under the carpet,” as these pseudo-scholars claim.
To equate Shoah-era memorializing with the Beneš Decrees is not only misleading but disproportionate. The decrees were not a systematic attempt to eradicate an entire people. Say what you will about the buffoonery of Beneš and his questionable leadership during Munich and the Czechoslovak government in exile in London, but a mass murderer he was not.
Czechoslovakia had been occupied for six brutal years. Beneš was putty in the millions of hands of furious, vengeful Czechoslovaks who wanted nothing more — perhaps rightfully so — than to vent their frustrations upon their recent vicious overlords. Beneš was caught up in that swell, and it would have been his head on a platter had the decrees bearing his name not been passed at the time.
The Wehrmacht’s combined defeats at Stalingrad and in the North African desert prevented the Nazis from reaching the Middle East. Had Hitler’s huns reached that far, the continued slaughter of the ancient Jewish communities of British-controlled Egypt and Palestine, Vichy-controlled Lebanon and Syria, and, finally, British Iraq — in that order — would have been violently unleashed. The writing was clearly on the wall, and history has proven this.
Using cruder terminology, the Czech Sudeten scandal can be compared to a “virus” that the Czechoslovak leaders wished to expunge from their midst. The instant it was removed, the so-called problem was solved. But a state-sponsored and enduring campaign of annihilation the Beneš Decrees were certainly not. Not since Hussite times and the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 have Czechs been a militant race. Bloodshed and rapaciousness are anathema to their national character. That is what makes the harshness of the Beneš Decrees so historically salient.
According to the Final Solution’s genocidal proponents, however, together with their willing East European henchmen, European Jewry was instead looked upon as a “cancer” needing eradication. To highlight the absurdity of Nazi evil and the extent of the Jewish manhunt, so-called “Jews” kneeling at the church’s altar beneath gigantic statues of Jesus were dragged away kicking and screaming by Gestapo agents in Poland, Germany and Jozef Tiso’s Slovakia, carted off to their eventual deaths. People who hadn’t been Jewish for generations were caught up in this dragnet. Like an old shtetl saying of the time said: “Want to know who’s a Jew? Ask the non-Jews, they always seem to know best.”
The Beneš Decrees were a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible historic injustice. Tales of what transpired in Czechoslovakia’s border regions are legendary in their cruelty. The photographic evidence exists in all its barbaric zeal. The persistent refusal of the modern-day Czech Republic to examine its macabre past is as perplexing as it is injurious to the future generations of the once-expelled.
Lambasting Binar’s recent sign campaign as excessively Holocaust-oriented is not how to resuscitate the Sudeten dialogue. Let it be clear: The Shoah and the Beneš Decrees do not travel along parallel tracks. The reason why is obvious. While one set of boxcars led to the West and a chance at life — albeit a drastically diminished one, with its concomitant travesties and deprivations — the others led eastbound to the hellfires of the gas chambers, where life as we know it on this earth was obliterated for all time.
Somehow, according to the crooked calculus of the aforementioned pseudo-scholars, these two historical tragedies seem to add up. Ironically, Kafka would have been proud.
We should be appalled.

Adam Daniel Mezei can be reached at @praguepost.com


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[10:27 23/03/2007] : "Never lose your command of superficiality", the British press baron Lord Northcliffe is believed to have told his journalists, and indeed editorial pages should not be expected to serve as fora for historical debate. Nonetheless, misconceptions and outright misunderstandings are a different matter.

Mr. Mezei does not specify who the "pseudo-scholars" of his article are, though with a certain basic grasp of the actual situation within the historical establishment(s) of central Europe, one can assume them to be Sudeten Germans or the conservative German historians who have succeeded in shifting the terms of debate towards German suffering during World War II. It is certainly understandable to be dismayed at the gains which such "revisionism" has made within German historiography, yet it has little to do with the activities of the Czech historical profession (which German right-wing commentators largely treat with no small contempt). Rather, anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with the Czech historical establishment must certainly be aware that its primary "revisionism" is to revise the Communist past to cover the Stalinist backgrounds (and all too frequent later secret-police activities) of its elder statesmen - and that as far as the German-speaking minorities of interwar Czechoslovakia are concerned, the prevalent stance is one of defending the post-war nationalist consensus on the purported "historical necessity" of de-Germanisation. While there are definitely honourable exceptions, such as the group of young scholars associated with the Charles University student journal Babylon, who do in fact strive for a complete comprehension of the many tragedies of central Europe in the past century, far too many Czech scholars remain blinded - not by revisionism or overt anti-Semitic prejudice, but by the 19th-century-vintage Teutonophobia kept on artificial life support by the successive Communist regimes. And this is not even to mention the continually high level of anti-Teutonic chauvinism in the Czech tabloid press (viz. this week's column by Jana Bobosikova in Metro denouncing the "Austrian fifth column" of anti-nuclear activists).

Few countries in Europe have as firmly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel an intellectual elite as the Czech Republic - certainly not Germany or France, which is why Mr. Mezei's claim that the Czech Republic is awash in Holocaust relativisation is not entirely accurate. What is, however, disturbing about the present situation with regard to the old guard of Czech historians does touch both upon the Sudeten question and that of culpability for the murder of the European Jews. For one, the Benes Decrees did not only affect the murderers, but many of the victims: a great many Holocaust survivors who returned to postwar Czechoslovakia in the hopes of a resurrection of Masarykian tolerance were treated no differently from those who had raised the swastika banners in 1938. I mean specifically the far from insignificant part of the prewar Jewish population that spoke German, and who made up the vast majority of the Jews of the Sudetenland, most of Moravia (and in particular Brno), and a strong minority even in Prague. (Testimony from a number of them can be found, for instance, in the previously cited Babylon). Secondly, the persistence of short-sighted Czech chauvinism over this one question - and the refusal of the historical establishment to do much against it - spells nothing good for anyone who differs from the agreed standard norm which it purports to defend.
Martin Tharp
Prague
[16:34 23/03/2007] : Why can't we let the past be in the past? I am sure there were a lot of Germans who suffered during WW II and that a lot of Germans died. Russia for instance lost 20 Million people yet it is rarely mentioned. Czechoslovakia was not the only Country, which expelled their German population. Poland did so as well. During (and after) War Time there are always innocent people who get affected whether they are in Czechoslovakia, Kosovo or Iraq.
Peter Zamfir
Sanford FL
[21:10 24/03/2007] : >>Few countries in Europe have so firmly pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli an intelectual elite as the Czech Republic-certainly not Germany or France.....<<

Do I detect a tone of regret and wishfullnes about this fact ?

Teutonophobia?Wow!!!

Student magazine Babylon being promoted as the only bastion of "correct"history?

These three points alone disqualifies(in my opinion)above comment by Martin Tharp from being considered relevant.
Jiri Hubacek
Victoria,Canada
[00:49 25/03/2007] : I address my comments primarily to Martin Tharp of Prague. Dear Sir, I'm going to (hopefully wrongly) presume that you may not have noticed the Prague Post's piece ("If you're bald, forget about going to the public library) from the edition dated 31.01.2007. Following the Post's publication of that particular article, a series of comments were submitted by readers, and I place particular emphasis on the feedback of Andrew Portman, from Birmingham, UK. In it, Mr. Portman mentions the apparent "paltry coverage" that the so-called "Sudeten atrocity" (i.e. that of the Benes Decrees) receives in the Czech Republic in comparison to the Shoah, and I was therefore mightily moved to address this glaring incongruity in his remarks, resulting in the Op-Ed above.

When I write of pseudo-scholarship, I am of course referring to the seeming off-the-cuff remarks by individuals like Mr. Portman, who perhaps are not as keenly aware of the local situation here in the Czech lands as are we residents.

Your remarks, Sir, in that I "am not well-versed enough" in the historical reality are therefore out of context.

As we all know, history is written by the victors. I doubt any stretch of history will be entirely known to anyone save for the ones who experienced it for themselves, in all its mighty gore.

While I am grateful to have been spared the ignominity of either historical tragedy--neither the Holocaust, thank goodness, nor the expulsion from the former Czechoslovakia under the aforementioned Benes Decrees, thank goodness as well--I do take severe issue with the attempt by some (whom I name "pseudo-scholars") to equate the Holocaust with the Benes Decrees either in tragedy or in relentlessness. As I say in my piece, Edvard Benes was not an Adolf Hitler. Case closed.

To Mr. Zamfir from Sanford in the USA: Sir, in casting about, willy-nilly, staggering and not to mention, inconceivable to the human mind, figures such as "the 20 million Russian casualties of WWII" are you not merely muddying this whole issue, but you're also discounting the fact that the Soviet authorities THEMSELVES were responsible for many of these apparent deaths.

It's a well-known historical fact that Joseph Stalin himself during the 1930s in his country culled the Soviet Red Army of nearly all its top military strategic minds as part of his general paranoia that the Soviet military leadership at the time had been privy to "harmful Western influence" by many of those who fought as part of foreign conflicts (egs. the Civil War in Spain, WWI) and therefore many of the Soviet troops during WWII were virtual cannon fodder for Wermacht artillery. Millions of Soviet soldiers were the unwitting victims of their OWN miserable leadership, who drew them into a routing slaughter at the hands of the Nazis by terribly inexperienced generals.

What's more, we will never know the precise figures of Soviet citizens who were banished to the extensive archipelago of internment camps in the Soviet Gulag, surely contributing to your 20 million "tally." Most people can't even perceive double their monthly income, let alone a million lost souls...let alone 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, let alone 3,200 American GIs already wasted in Iraq.

I say all of this--once again--to place your figures in stark opposition to the unique character of the Jewish Holocaust, which was not even remotely similar to the culling of Soviet citizenry (both military and civilian). The Holocaust was a PLANNED, PLOTTED, and PATIENTLY-CONCEIVED military-industrial plan to eliminate the existence of a (so-called) entire human race, aided by the highest IBM technology of the time. I suggest a rad of the brilliant Chicago-based author Edwin Black's "The IBM and the Holocaust" for more on this issue.

Thank you.
Adam Daniel Mezei
Prague
[11:24 25/03/2007] : >>Take the recent one in the Iranian capital, Tehran, for instance, kickstarted by the efforts of mullah-manipulated Shia demagogues such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his bearded minions.

Did Adam Daniel Mezei actually go to this conference? Or is he just relying on the ridiculous reporting about it in the western press?

Parallel with his clumsy high-school level of writing, Mezei seems to have a clumsy approach towards analysing the facts. His "argument" essentially boils down to the standard mantras that a) the death of a Jew is a more serious crime than the death of any other ethnic group and b) anyone who dares to challenge any aspect of the holocaust is automatically anti-semitic.

In any case, it is clear that Mezei has not investigated the holocaust in anything other than the most superficial detail. If he had, he would at least quote accurate figures supported by reputable historians rather than the figure of six million. This figure first appeared in 1943, well before the end of the war, in an article in Readers' Digest.

Mezei starts from an extremely racist position (describing ethnic Germans as a "virus"). He quotes figures which are known to be false, and then he accuses anyone who disagrees with those figures of being racist themselves.
Martin Cohen
Manchester
[20:57 25/03/2007] : >>Did Adam Daniel Mezei actualy go to this conference?Or is he just relying on ridiculous reporting about it in the western press?

I assert that Cohen is akin to Canadian Zundel-known Holocaust denier who was deported to Germany on the request of German government and who will likely(or already is)go to jail.
The "reasoning'offered by Cohen is essentially the same.
Apart from that,was Cohen himself in Teheran for this anti- semitic conferrence?His questions on the top suggests that he was,otherwise his question is incredibly hypocritical.
If he was,his philosophy is in that way further revealed to anyone who is able to think.

What is the style of writing having to do with the essence of Adam Medei's opinion piece?
Nothing,but an attempt to disparage author.

By the way,in 1943 the war far from over,so any numbers supposedly given by "reputable" historians about "correct"numbers were premature.
Jiri Hubacek
Victoria,Canada
[23:15 25/03/2007] : A piece like this by Adam Daniel Mezei, and so well written and sharply documented, will always open up a whole can of anti-Semites, even Jewish anti-Semites. This is a courageous piece, especially now that "get the Jews" is back in vogue. The world is round and so is bigotry. It keeps on going. To those of us outside the sphere of Eastern Europe, this dispute comes as a microcosm of what's been ailing all of Europe and parts of the West since the Holocaust, and even before, dating, in fact, from the moment Pharaoh declared- "Come, let us deal craftily with this people."

Europe has taken that as a cue and has been crafty with this people from day one. As I read Mezei's piece, I kept thinking, heck, this is exactly what France (where I was born after Vichy came to power) is still grappling with, and onward, ditto, along the rest of the continent. Europe is still trying to find peace with itself for what it did and continues to do - to no avail. Europe is still trying to find the place, the context, wherein its enlightenment went haywire and embraced bestiality.

How - goes the question - could we have done this to the people who gave us Moses and Jesus? Or, did we do it BECAUSE they gave us Moses and Jesus? Rather than face up to Europe's history of coffin-trains, European intellectuals choose to shoot the messenger, in this case, Adam Daniel Mezei, who chooses to fight, rather than to retreat. Mezei (in my reading) is telling European thinkers to stop playing with words and numbers (oh - it wasn't Six Million but "only" five and a half - does that make you happy enough?), right, wake up and smell the ovens, desist from the academic games and face up to your past, Europe, otherwise you have no future.

Novelist Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
New York, NY
[11:27 26/03/2007] : Jirk Hubacek repeats the nonsensical idea that anyone who disagrees with the figure of six million is automatically anti-semitic.

Inevitably, he has completely missed Cohen's point about the Readers' Digest figure. This figure was published before there was *any* evidence for death camps: it must therefore have been invented. No serious historian agrees with this figure.
James Zwakovitch
New York
[12:05 26/03/2007] : First of all, my apologies to Mr. Mezei regarding the general intent of his article - I should admit that I did not read either the opinion piece he mentioned nor its comments, and took his entire essay as a general comment on Czech historiography. I sincerely regret the error.

Nonetheless, I would stress that in terms of the the general historiographic discourse in the Czech Republic today, the relativisation of the Holocaust is not a significant problem, or is at least less prevalent than in the circles of the western European bien-pensant left. The persistence of reflexively xenophobic patterns of thought across a wide public spectrum, from professional journals to the daily tabloids, is and should be disturbing to all who can recall where it can lead. For many a 19th-century Czech nationalist, such as the writer Jan Neruda, the Jewish population of the Czech lands was the source of Germanisation and Hapsburg control. Of course, there have been more honourable moments in Czech history, namely the vital military support that Czechoslovakia supplied to Israel in 1947, but the intellectual patterns set by the nationalism of a past age should be viewed with no small suspicion. Even hidden under a fig-leaf of "anti-Fascism", they mean no good for anyone excluded - Jewish, Romany, or any other ethnicity.
Martin Tharp
Prague
[20:11 26/03/2007] : According to this that also my country /Slovakia/ passed through Holocaust and it had one of the most strictiest law against the Jewish people "Jewish codex" its right to think and agree with this article and to think deeper about the human suffering. Article is written very well, very informative and it has my best rate.
Sona
Sona Ujcikova
Kosice - Slovakia
[22:43 26/03/2007] : Casting numbers willy-nilly.

Mr. Mezei, I am not sure why 6 Million is considered a clear number and 20 Million is not. I definitely think that the Holocaust was an abominable chapter in Human History. Are you however suggesting, that because Stalin killed some Russians and not Hitler, that somehow makes their loss any less tragic? I was just trying to point out that any loss of life is tragic. As you had pointed out yourself, many Soviet Troops were marched right to the front line and slaughtered, with Russian Generals and NKVD knowing full well what was about to happen. When The Nazis invaded Ukraine and Russia entire Villages were razed to the ground and the population killed. The Ukrainians at first welcomed the Germans, but when they found out what policy was being carried out, the tide finally turned against the Germans.
Peter Zamfir
Sanford FL
[10:40 09/10/2007] : And at the very beginning, there was a mean betrayal of British and French HitlerÅ› collaborators - Chamberlain and Daladier - and their governments and ideological leaders of society before and during Munich 1938. Even Windsors were responsible.
Not only Germany but all of the West (the so- called democratic) Europe had turned brown then.
They sacrificed and exposed the Czechoslovak fragile democracy and ill society to this evil.
And the consequences were:
- a spread of Nazi-fascist ideology among the vast majority of German inhabitants in Czechoslovakia (German SDP won elections in ÄŒSR between the wars with a collective support of Nazi ideology in its policy - the number of votes fully corresponds to numbers of expelled after WWII - Henlein's and Hitler's ideology and aggressive war policy the earlier peaceful German settlers in the ÄŒSR began to support turned them to the largest organized criminal group with a collective responsibility for their criminal program and activities they had supported),
- expulsion of the Czech minority (and majority in some places as well - because of Lord Runcimen's report and inconsistent conclusions and British pro-Nazi pragmatics) from ÄŒSR "German-settled" territory (Suddetenland)in cold autumn days 1939, i. e. model pattern for later reciprocal ethnic measure of Allies and Bene's Czech government after WWII because of danger permanent ethnic violence and fresh wounds (the "Bosnian model" of ethnic division hasn't been used only in ÄŒSR - what about Croatian Serbs in 90. etc. under democratic EU and NATO supervision),
- mass liquidation of all Jewish inhabitants and executions of Czech patriots, spread the war from the Middle Europe to the whole world,
- anti-western feelings of the whole nation in after-war elections of 1946 and deliberate support of communist doctrine and promotion of Eastern influence among the Czech majority of the nation since 1938 until now.
Not only Hitler, then brown-infected Germany and Germans (both in Reich and supporters in the ÄŒSR) are the only offenders responsible for WWII.
Who is a sufferer and who is an offender?
Who shall pay the bill?
Jaroslav Matejovic
Plzen
[23:53 11/10/2007] : Kenneth L. Ingle,
Breslauer Str. 30,
D - 33605 Bielefeld.
Tel. 0049-(0)521-321545

Dear Sir or Madam,

It is disappointing to see how hate, nationalism and racism still blinds many people to the historical truth, in debates concerning the reasons for WW2. A fellow writer's comments (no comparison, 09/10/07) are a typical example of such a hindrance on the way towards European Unity. Just the two sentences alone: - "Not only Germany but all of the West (the so- called democratic) Europe had turned brown then. They sacrificed and exposed the Czechoslovak fragile democracy and ill society to this evil." - are an insult to everybody outside Czechoslovakia who seeked a fair solution to a problem which need never have been.
I find it regrettable, to find political statements are still being made and believed in a country (now a member of the EU), which bare no or little relation to the facts as they were. In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action Adolf Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement!
The Munich Agreement had been popular with people in Britain only because it appeared to correct the wrongs done at the Paris Peace Conference and to prevent a war with Germany.
During his report to the house of parliament, the Prime Minister Chamberlain said: "I say in the name of this House and of the people of this country that Czechoslovakia has earned our admiration and respect for her restraint, for her dignity, for her magnificent discipline in face of such a trial as few nations have ever been called upon to meet. The army, whose courage no man has ever questioned, has obeyed the order of their president, as they would equally have obeyed him if he had told them to march into the trenches. It is my hope and my belief, that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past."
These were the words of an honest man, perhaps naive and inexperienced in foreign affairs, but certainly not brown as the above mentioned writer wrongly argues.
The following Editorial in the Daily Express (30th September) show only too well how even conservative newspapers believed the right action had been taken. " Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war Peace is a victory for all mankind. If we must have a victor, let us choose Chamberlain. For the Prime Minister's conquests are mighty and enduring - millions of happy homes and hearts relieved of their burden. To him the laurels. And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up from the Continent to confuse us."
This assumption was proved wrong and far more British than Czech lives were lost Later in the fight to free Europe from a man who had not kept his word!
Nevertheless we should not forget, that European history did not start in 1938 and one has to go back to the end of WW1 to find the real reasons which led to WW2. It would seem, that some countries are still not ready to be so honest about mistakes made in the past, as are the Germans.

Yours sincerely,

K. L. Ingle. (A British citizen resident in Germany).
Kenneth Ingle
Bielefeld
Note: These opinions do not represent opinions of The Prague Post.  

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