Eastern Europe's long-buried truths

The Tories' new rightwing European allies have provoked a debate over the second world war that is long overdue

If anyone needed additional proof of the unsuitability of the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party as a partner for the British Conservatives, their response to a ceremony held yesterday in Riga to honour the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city in 1944 should be a stark reminder of the lack of shared values between the two parties. A statement issued by For Fatherland and Freedom harshly criticised Riga mayor Nils Usakovs for placing a wreath at the local Victory Monument which commemorates the liberation of the Latvian capital city from the Nazi occupation and for participating in a rally to mark the event. As far as they are concerned, Usakovs' presence at these events was "an insult to the victims of Communist terror and a glorification of the Soviet troops."

For Fatherland and Freedom, as by now should be well-known in Britain, prefers to honor Latvia's Waffen-SS veterans who fought for a victory of the Third Reich and Nazi domination of Europe, ignoring the important historical truth as Usakovs noted yesterday in his comments that "had Riga not been liberated from the Nazis in 1944, there would be no independent Latvia today [and therefore] it is our duty to thank those who fought against the Nazis."

The sad truth is that the positions taken by the Latvian politician Roberts Zile and Kaminski are hardly exceptional in their home countries. There, the second world war narrative accepted by the overwhelming majority of the civilised world – victors as well as losers, perpetrators as well as victims – has been distorted since independence and the transition to democracy to make it more palatable to their electorate and to minimise the role of local collaborators in Holocaust crimes. To understand the motives behind these efforts, it is important to note that while the Nazis were able to recruit local helpers in every country occupied by or allied with the Third Reich, the scope and depth of the collaboration by eastern Europeans was far more lethal and extensive than that of other Europeans.

While local police in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Greece played an important role in the implementation of the initial stages of the Final Solution – identification, confiscation of property, separation of the Jews from the rest of the population and preparation for deportation – they did not participate in the mass murder of their Jewish neighbours. Their collaboration ended at the local train station from whence the Jews were deported to Nazi death camps in Poland.

In eastern Europe, on the other hand, numerous local collaborators volunteered to participate in the mass murder of Jews and played an integral role in the annihilation process, which in many countries – especially in the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine and Croatia – took place nearby, not in the death camps, all of which were in Poland. Baltic death squads such as the Latvian Arajs Kommando and Lithuanian Ypatingas Burys and 12th Auxiliary Police Battalion were among the most deadly and the Croatian Ustasha earned notoriety for their savagery and cruelty.

After the second world war, all of these countries were part of the Soviet Union or under communist domination, and therefore could not deal openly with their Holocaust crimes. And although the Soviets and the communists made a commendable effort to prosecute the local killers, the fate of the Jews was often manipulated for propaganda purposes and there was no freedom of expression and debate. It was only with the fall of communism that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and others finally had an opportunity to face the truth and deal with its consequences.

Unfortunately, there were few local leaders who had the courage to tell their people the truth and carry out the necessary painful processes of prosecuting the guilty, rewriting history books and school textbooks, returning stolen property, and apologising for the crimes.

The results speak for themselves. Although there were numerous Nazi war criminals who could still be brought to trial, not a single one was ever punished in the Baltics, which had the worst record of local collaboration, and only two have been punished in democratic eastern Europe. Although various leaders issued public apologies (usually in Israel, almost never at home), they failed to deliver in terms of prosecution, restitution, education and documentation. Even worse, Holocaust-related issues became the main cause of renewed local antisemitism, which threatened the minuscule remnant Jewish communities in these countries.

For some reason, these issues, which should have been highly significant in determining the candidacy of these countries for European Union and Nato membership, were apparently not taken into account. Suddenly, these countries have the legitimacy of those memberships without having fully internalised the concomitant values. Miliband is correct in pointing out the obvious flaws of the Conservatives' new allies. But they are only the tip of the eastern European right wing, which is determined to rewrite the history of the second world war in a way that no self-respecting European should accept. By joining forces with parties such as Fatherland and Freedom and Law and Justice, the Conservatives are granting important legitimacy to a false narrative that seeks to whitewash war crimes and erase the heroic victory of those who saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis.

Editor's note: This article was amended at 1815 on 14 October. It was originally published with the wrong introductory paragraphs


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  • MiskatonicUniversity MiskatonicUniversity

    14 Oct 2009, 6:01PM

    "Such a debate is long overdue and should have been conducted before the post-communist countries of eastern Europe were admitted as full members of Nato and the European Union."

    Be serious, has Spain sorted out its OWN historical ghosts before joining the EU?

    How are small countries, caught between two of the most violent totalitarian regimes in history (the shorter lived won accounting for 14 million murders, the longer lived one for 20 million murders) meant to sort these things out to the nth degree and to our satisfaction?

    We have the luxury of being on the winning side, so all our skeletons, whether collaboration in the Channel Islands or bombing German cities are swept away.

    I've no doubt had the Nazis won the hot war our leaders and many others would have been executed for war crimes.

    I've no doubt that had he Communists won the cold war leaders, intellectuals, trade unionists and hapless citizens would have disappeared into the maw of the gulag.

  • marma77 marma77

    14 Oct 2009, 6:14PM

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  • marma77 marma77

    14 Oct 2009, 6:17PM

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  • alef alef

    14 Oct 2009, 6:23PM

    MiskatonicUniversity

    You are right - the difference between hero and criminal seems to depend which side won the war and left to write the history.

    Bit the danger in today's politics in the post Soviet space is that it may ignite the future war.

    There are millions of native Russians living today in Baltic countries and Ukraine who became second-class citizens and victimized for whatever may have happen in the past just for them being other then native population.

    And those state feel empowered to conduct such a policy due to assumption that whatever they do they will be supported and protected by NATO.

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 6:29PM

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  • Streatham Streatham

    14 Oct 2009, 6:37PM

    ... the liberation of the Latvian capital city from the Nazi occupation...

    Hard to read that without a feeling of paradox. The change of one occupation for another?

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 6:45PM

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  • Drahdiwaberl Drahdiwaberl

    14 Oct 2009, 6:48PM

    For some reason, these issues, which should have been highly significant in determining the candidacy of these countries for European Union and Nato membership, were apparently not taken into account. Suddenly, these countries have the legitimacy of those memberships without having fully internalised the concomitant values.

    I would agree with a lot of what you write Mr Zuroff, except the above illusion about Nato and EU "values".

    Those values are non-existent. In the 1950s and later, Nato and the major EU states had no qualms about supporting and arming the terrorist gangs composed of remnants of the Nazi collaborators (the "forest brethren") in the Baltic states of the USSR in the full knowledge of their Nazi past. (Fortunately Kim Philby was around to make sure most of them got their just deserts.)

    That, I suppose, is to be expected. The real pity is that of the western liberals who spent decades enthusiastically supporting eastern European "dissidents" thinking that after the counter-revolution they would end up with a nice cuddly Guardian-reading liberal republic of eastern Europe, instead of states largely dominated by the bunch of poisonous right-wingers, mafiosi and neo-fascists that we now see.

    ever been had?

  • MrJoe MrJoe

    14 Oct 2009, 6:48PM

    To understand the motives behind these efforts, it is important to note that while the Nazis were able to recruit local helpers in every country occupied by or allied with the Third Reich, the scope and depth of the collaboration by eastern Europeans was far more lethal and extensive than that of other Europeans.

    That's because Western Europeans had to choose between siding with the Nazis or Britain, France and the USA - fairly easy choice. Eastern Europeans had to choose between siding with the Nazis and siding with the Soviets - horrible choice with no 'right' answer. Allying with the Soviets to defeat the Nazis was to stop one genocide in exchange for allowing another to occur unhindered.

    If they had made the other choice and the Soviets had managed to push further west, you'd be complaining about Latvians collaborating with mass murdering Russians instead of Germans.

  • DurkheimwasRight DurkheimwasRight

    14 Oct 2009, 6:49PM

    'the heroic victory of those who saved the world from Hitler and the Nazis'

    Meaning? Oh yes, The heroic Soviet Union, who deported or executed all those Poles who had just spent 5 years risking their lives every day to fight against the German occupation. Listen mate, while it is true that there is ignorance about the role played by local collaborators in the shoah (interesting that you use the term 'holocaust', a term that gives religious sanctification to what happened) the comparison between the apparently civiilised collaboration of the french and the Dutch and the Norwegians and the uncivilised collaboration of East Europeans is pathetic. had there been 3 million Jews in France the collaboration levels would have been just the same as they were in Poland. And how is escorting people to railways stations not participating in mass murder, when their fate could be guessed? As for your assumption that the motivation of the Soviet Union was to save the world and give us all a better future, I suggest you think about what life was like for the ordinary person in Eastern Europe by the 1980s. It is true that there was no mass terror, but it was also true that you had to wait 12 years for a car, 7 years for a phone, that you had to wear socialist underclothes and that there was no hope. No hope, just squalor and humiliation. In 1992 I saw huge queues outside macdonalds in warsaw and asked a student of mine why people wanted to go there when the food was crap and expensive, She thought for a bit and said: 'clean toilets'. In Krakow in 1989 , a population of 700,000, there were 3, yes 3 places where one could buy beer.

    Where do you live Mr Zuroff? Nice is it? Comfortable? I bet it is, but I bet you also spend plenty of time extolling the virtues of a bankrupt system that you never had to experience. Now get off the web...

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 6:50PM

    This is curious

    "Naums Lifšics, Jewish Latvian economist, survivor of Stalinist repressions, holder of the Order of the Three Stars, wrote in his letter to the major Latvian national newspaper "Diena" about participation of NKVD agents in activities of Arajs Kommando:

    When the war started, NKVD infiltrated into Arajs Sonderkommando its agents, who helped Arajs to eliminate Jews. After the war the same NKVD members worked in the building at the corner of the Stabu and Brivibas streets. For example, one of such covert agents was Boris Kinstler, former assistant to Arajs, and Pavlova, who received high level award for her "good" deeds"

    From Wiki

  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 6:56PM

    After the second world war, all of these countries were part of the Soviet Union or under communist domination, and therefore could not deal openly with their Holocaust crimes.

    That part is mostly not true. The Nazi-collaborationists were exposed, tried and in many cases executed in Eastern European countries for their deeds. They certainly were in Croatia and elsewhere in Yugoslavia

    The real problem is that it turns out that many of the Eastern European "dissidents" cherished by the West because they were anti-Communists, and many of whom gained power in the 1990s to the cheers from the Western capitals, were indeed fascists all along.

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 6:58PM

    "a ceremony held yesterday in Riga to honour the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city in 1944"

    First time they "liberated" the city in June 1940. Executions and deportations of thousands to camps followed.

    Second time they "liberated" the city in 1944. More deportations of thousands to camps followed. Women and little children were sent to Arctic to die. The country was ruined.

    The "liberators" left Latvia only in 1994. Promising "to return".

    No much reasons for celebration. Unless you are one of the "liberators" who settled in the "liberated" /conquered/ territory.

  • chrish chrish

    14 Oct 2009, 6:58PM

    This article completely whitewashes the Soviet Union' oppression of Latvia and the Latvian people. Russian effectively annexed Latvia in June 1940 in which a reportly around 35,000 people were deported or killed. Many more were subsequently suffered the same fate. It should come as no surprise that many Latvias therefore saw the German invasion of Latvia as a 'liberation' and yes many did willing sign up to join Wafen-SS and army units, many were also coerced into it. Around 70,000 Latvian jews were murdered by the Germans with some Latvian co-operation. The subsequent recapture of Latvia by the Russians you can call a 'liberation' but for the Latvians in was just the reconquest by another foreign aggressor which would subjugate them for a further 55 years or so.

    During this period of Russian 'liberation', 100,000s of Latvians were imprisoned in gulags and sent to Siberia and many killed. more than 100,000 fled Latvia for the West. Whilst just as China is doing in Tibet, Russia encouraged large numbers of russians to emigrate to LAtvia to dilute its ethnic identity. it is not really surprising that most Latvians see Russian as the greater oppressor than Germany. Most had direct experience of being persecuted by the Russians but no experience of being persecuted by the Germans.

    The idea Latvians should thank Russians for oppressing them is ridiculous.

  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 7:00PM

    MrJoe:

    That's because Western Europeans had to choose between siding with the Nazis or Britain, France and the USA - fairly easy choice. Eastern Europeans had to choose between siding with the Nazis and siding with the Soviets - horrible choice with no 'right' answer.

    You can go on repeating that lye over and over again, and it still won't make it true. They had to choose between the Allies, i.e. Britain, France, USA and USSR, on one side, and the Axis, i.e. Germany, Italy and Japan on the other. They chose the Axis, because they agreed with the fascist policies of their governments.

  • fromtheUrals fromtheUrals

    14 Oct 2009, 7:01PM

    @MiskatonicUniversity
    So you are among those who try to rewrite history without knowing it?
    My father once told me a story which he heard from his father, my granddad, in 1944 when he visited home for a short leave after having been wounded and treated in hospital. It was in some town in Poland during our offensive when his tank group came across a column of skeleton-like Jews convoyed by Waffen-SS. Russians killed all SS-men as they hated them, but two black-uniformed mongrels managed to survive and they were speaking no German - one was Pole, the other somewhere from Baltics. It turned out the whole column was convoyed by East-European SS. Our tankmen were short of rations by that time but they gave Jew prisoners half of what they had and then went on to the west.

    My granddad was an ordinary sergeant of the Soviet army (not a member of Communist Party) and he was KIA in Berlin the day before that war ended. But he may turn in his grave when hearing things like equalling light-heartedly the "two totalitarian regimes".

  • pietroilpittore pietroilpittore

    14 Oct 2009, 7:01PM

    Mr Zuroff is entirely right to say that

    local police in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Greece played an important role in the implementation of the initial stages of the Final Solution – identification, confiscation of property, separation of the Jews from the rest of the population and preparation for deportation – they did not participate in the mass murder of their Jewish neighbours ... In eastern Europe, on the other hand, numerous local collaborators volunteered to participate in the mass murder of Jews and played an integral role in the annihilation process,

    One might wonder whether that was because people in Western Europe are intrinsically more decent and civilised than those in the East, or because the West did not have the recent experience of being oppressed by the murderous lies and tyranny of the Soviet government.

    while the Nazis were able to recruit local helpers in every country occupied by or allied with the Third Reich, the scope and depth of the collaboration by eastern Europeans was far more lethal and extensive than that of other Europeans.

    The same is of course true for the Soviets who killed far more people, though fewer Jews, than the Nazis. I do understand and sympathise with Mr Zuroff's emphasis on the killing of Jews. However ...

    Very bad logic, but perhaps understandable emotion, could lead people to feel "The Soviets are my unforgivable enemy, the Germans have liberated my country from the Soviets whom I would happily kill, the Germans say the Jews are their enemies as well as the Soviets, therefore ..."

    or even "Jews have been prominent among the Communists who have done so much harm, so ..."

    An educated liberal would object that some Jews from Marx onwards is very far from most Jews; how far can one forgive a Baltic or Ukrainian peasant for not being an educated liberal?

    Also: the West/East distinction is not quite that clear. French police deported far more Jews, even children, than the Germans asked them to. Francois Mitterrand worked for the collaborationist Vichy government, and was awarded the Order de la Francisque (Petain's equivalent of the Legion d'honneur) for his services. He later switched sides, but was a Vichy official during the time when Jews were being deported to their deaths; in his postwar political career he was supported by, and supported, Rene Bousquet who had a prominent part in the children's deportations (and also switched sides opportunely).

    I don't remember the Guardian denouncing Mitterrand, or the French Socialists whom he led for so long, with the venom directed at Poles or Latvians.

    Nor should you: Mitterrand was an intelligent man doing the best he could, as he saw it, for his country at a time when it was impossible to know what the truly best course was.

    Many Poles and Latvians also.

  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 7:01PM

    When I say, "they chose the Axis", I of course mean those who did, not all Eastern European, most of whom opposed the Nazis, and millions of whom fought alongside the Allies in overseas brigades and home resistance units.

  • Chapaev Chapaev

    14 Oct 2009, 7:11PM

    Those neo-Nazi miscreants in Latvia do not deserve to be called Latvians, for they are traitors and retroactive quislings whose ideological ancestors not only committed genocide against Jews and Russians, but also martyred many thousands of Latvians who fought heroically in the Red Army and partisan volunteer units. If the present Latvian regime and its surrogates is going to continue on this dangerous course of revisionism and falsification of history, then it must be held accountable for the Holocaust, including reparations given to the victims of the Holocaust.

    suggest you think about what life was like for the ordinary person in Eastern Europe by the 1980s. It is true that there was no mass terror, but it was also true that you had to wait 12 years for a car, 7 years for a phone,

    In the 1960s and 1970s, my grandfather did not wait 12 years for his Chevrolet, nor did my father for his Volga Gaz. They did not pay the equivalent of $1000+/month for an apartment or $1 million on a mortgage, but paid practically nothing on housing and other necessities. People lived in decent, normal lives, enjoyed the best job security with benefits, were represented by trade unions, and sent their children to school with practically no costs. By contrast, formerly successful enterprises like at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk and the mines of Silesia have been pretty much destroyed by the capitalists and their regime.

    The heroic Soviet Union, who deported or executed all those Poles who had just spent 5 years risking their lives every day to fight against the German occupation.

    This is yet another example of how these neo-fascist revisionists are trying to hijack history and subordinate it to the hateful, discredited movement of their ideological ancestors, as though they alone represent Poland or Latvia. The fact is that far more many Poles served in the armed forces of the legitimate Committee of National Liberation and the subsequent Provisional Government than in the proxy bands of the cowardly exile regime in London.

  • marma77 marma77

    14 Oct 2009, 7:13PM

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  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 7:16PM

    > CarefulReader

    "You can go on repeating that lye over and over again, and it still won't make it true. They had to choose between the Allies, i.e. Britain, France, USA and USSR, on one side, and the Axis, i.e. Germany, Italy and Japan on the other. They chose the Axis, because they agreed with the fascist policies of their governments."

    Mhm. You confused me. Whom exactly did you have in mind?

    For example Latvia was oriented on Great Britain and regarded it as an ally. Too bad Western Allies were not there to help when USSR and Reich shared Eastern Europe amongst them. Did they help? Did they even object? They were too far away and too week.

    No much sense either in your claim that "They chose the Axis, because they agreed with the fascist policies of their governments" Speaking of Allies would that make "Communist policies" of Britain, France, USA and USSR. Or that would be "Capitalist democracies" of Britain, France, USA and USSR?

    By the way, do you know that Latvians were fighting Red Army with German weapons waiting for the day when Americans and British will come from the West and to liberate them? They thought they have to hold on to buy time and make it to the day when they come.

  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 7:26PM

    No much sense either in your claim that "They chose the Axis, because they agreed with the fascist policies of their governments" Speaking of Allies would that make "Communist policies" of Britain, France, USA and USSR. Or that would be "Capitalist democracies" of Britain, France, USA and USSR?

    It would be the anti-fascist policies of Britain, France, USA and USSR. The conservatives, liberals, socialists and communists of the world united in their fight against fascist governments of the Axis, which wanted to establish a hierarchy of peoples based on their racial origin and purity. Anybody who fought for the Axis, fought against all of the Allies. The rest is just sophistry.

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 7:27PM

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  • Chapaev Chapaev

    14 Oct 2009, 7:33PM

    During this period of Russian 'liberation', 100,000s of Latvians were imprisoned in gulags and sent to Siberia and many killed.

    It is not as one-sided as you portray. The numbers were not "100,000s", but amounted to about 60,000, and these were all by no means innocent people, but were found to have engaged in treason, sabotage, and acts of banditry, undermining the war effort, economic development, and the country's post-war rehabilitation.

    In the lead-up to the war, on 14 June 1941, 17,000 members and agents of the former bourgeois regime, including burreaucrats, gendarmes, soldiers, were simply sent away to places like Krasnoiarsk, where they would not be able to disrupt the country's development and defense. After the liberation, some 40,000 people involved in banditry leading to the martyrdom of thousands of Communists, Komsomoltsy, political workers, etc, were sent away to Omsk and Amurskaya for both punishment and rehabilitation.

  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 7:35PM

    bypasser, what isn't logical? Aren't you aware that USA and UK were allies of the USSR? Aren't you aware that both UK and USA were helping and coordinating with Communist resistance forces around Europe and Asia at the time? This is really becoming ridiculous. The Western democracies and the world's communists were on the same side in World War II, as the Western governments made clear in numerous public proclamations to Eastern European people's.

  • KrustytheKlown KrustytheKlown

    14 Oct 2009, 7:45PM

    I think the contemporary focus on the suffering of the Jews in WWll, and regarding the holocaust as a discrete event separate from the other horrors of the war, is anachronistic, certainly in the context of Eastern Europe. AS Richard Novick points out, this view of the holocaust did not arise until the early 1960s, well after the events in question.

    As Richard Overy states in his book, "Russia's War", "in all of history there has probably been no more terrible place than Eastern Europe in the 1941." That's obviously not to excuse in any way those who collaborated with the Nazis, but let's remember that few in the USSR or neighbouring states escaped the hideous cruelty and deprivation of the times, a level of suffering which is difficult for us even to imagine. It's all very well for us to focus on the suffering of only one group of people. Ordinary folks in Latvia, Poland etc had no such luxury.

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 7:48PM

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  • wildriverapples wildriverapples

    14 Oct 2009, 8:03PM

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  • CarefulReader CarefulReader

    14 Oct 2009, 8:06PM

    wildriverapples

    Every country rounded the jews up and sent them to the death camps. France did not even bother to fight the Germans.

    While it's true that France was overrun and capitulated quickly, and that the French quisling government gladly helped the Nazis get rid of the Jews, it is also true that neither the French government nor anybody in France builds monuments and holds parades in the honour of the quislings.

  • Marienfeld07 Marienfeld07

    14 Oct 2009, 8:06PM

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  • neoconsRfascists neoconsRfascists

    14 Oct 2009, 8:09PM

    bypasser
    14 Oct 09, 7:16pm
    /> CarefulReader

    "You can go on repeating that lye over and over again

    I was wondering how would it take you to start calling people who have different to your own opinion liers and communists. Seems, this is the only way you can communicate. Is it how it is done in your country? Maybe I should be more understanding of the people who were born in the authoritarian Soviet Union, they tend to abuse those who disagree.

    BTW, you have done far more damage to all your arguments than anyone else possibly could. You undermine yourself by calling people names and accusing of lies without any ground. But, I guess, you don't see.

    OK, OK, bring more some of your obcene accusations. Show yourself off.

  • fromtheUrals fromtheUrals

    14 Oct 2009, 8:10PM

    bypasser

    I don't care much about Zuroffs's article, but since what time "Stalinist Soviet version of history" predominates in the west? Hasn't it Private Ryan saved Europe, destroying a German tank and killing a couple of Nazis? Or when speaking about "Soviet versions" you can show other figures apart from that at least 3/4 of Nazi troops were destroyed by the Soviets? Eisenhower and Churchill acknowledge this fact in their books. But you may have known better.

  • susarohl susarohl

    14 Oct 2009, 8:22PM

    The header to this article, reads: The Tories' new rightwing European allies have provoked a debate over the second world war that is long overdue.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jan/25/russia.books

    [Quote] Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who first exposed the horrors of the Stalinist gulag, is now attempting to tackle one of the most sensitive topics of his writing career - the role of the Jews in the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet purges.
    In his latest book Solzhenitsyn, 84, deals with one of the last taboos of the communist revolution: that Jews were as much perpetrators of the repression as its victims. Two Hundred Years Together - a reference to the 1772 partial annexation of Poland and Russia which greatly increased the Russian Jewish population - contains three chapters discussing the Jewish role in the revolutionary genocide and secret police purges of Soviet Russia.

    But Jewish leaders and some historians have reacted furiously to the book, and questioned Solzhenitsyn's motives in writing it, accusing him of factual inaccuracies and of fanning the flames of anti-semitism in Russia.

    Solzhenitsyn argues that some Jewish satire of the revolutionary period "consciously or unconsciously descends on the Russians" as being behind the genocide. But he states that all the nation's ethnic groups must share the blame, and that people shy away from speaking the truth about the Jewish experience.

    In one remark which infuriated Russian Jews, he wrote: "If I would care to generalise, and to say that the life of the Jews in the camps was especially hard, I could, and would not face reproach for an unjust national generalisation. But in the camps where I was kept, it was different. The Jews whose experience I saw - their life was softer than that of others."

    Yet he added: "But it is impossible to find the answer to the eternal question: who is to be blamed, who led us to our death? To explain the actions of the Kiev cheka [secret police] only by the fact that two thirds were Jews, is certainly incorrect."

    Solzhenitsyn, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, spent much of his life in Soviet prison camps, enduring persecution when he wrote about his experiences. He is currently in frail health, but in an interview given last month he said that Russia must come to terms with the Stalinist and revolutionary genocides - and that its Jewish population should be as offended at their own role in the purges as they are at the Soviet power that also persecuted them.

    "My book was directed to empathise with the thoughts, feelings and the psychology of the Jews - their spiritual component," he said. "I have never made general conclusions about a people. I will always differentiate between layers of Jews. One layer rushed headfirst to the revolution. Another, to the contrary, was trying to stand back. The Jewish subject for a long time was considered prohibited. Zhabotinsky [a Jewish writer] once said that the best service our Russian friends give to us is never to speak aloud about us."

    But Solzhenitsyn's book has caused controversy in Russia, where one Jewish leader said it was "not of any merit".

    "This is a mistake, but even geniuses make mistakes," said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress. "Richard Wagner did not like the Jews, but was a great composer. Dostoyevsky was a great Russian writer, but had a very sceptical attitude towards the Jews.

    "This is not a book about how the Jews and Russians lived together for 200 years, but one about how they lived apart after finding themselves on the same territory. This book is a weak one professionally. Factually, it is so bad as to be beyond criticism. As literature, it is not of any merit."

    But DM Thomas, one of Solzhenitsyn's biographers, said that he did not think the book was fuelled by anti-semitism. "I would not doubt his sincerity. He says that he firmly supports the state of Israel. In his fiction and factual writing there are Jewish characters that he writes about who are bright, decent, anti-Stalinist people."

    Professor Robert Service of Oxford University, an expert on 20th century Russian history, said that from what he had read about the book, Solzhenitsyn was "absolutely right"......

    I doubt Mr Zuroff, much like those who railed against Solzhenitsyn's last work, where he saught to tackle this taboo subject, believes that Jews should be required to collectively apologise, pay reparations and be constantly held to account, some generations after hideous acts and those perpetrating them took place. Zuroff would be right, in this case, the Jews should not but neither should any other people or ethnic group.

  • Brusselsexpats Brusselsexpats

    14 Oct 2009, 8:27PM

    The debate over the Second World War has already been written in blood when Yugoslavia disintegrated.

    Like a fly emerging live from the amber, all the old hatreds engendered by WWII resurfaced and we all know what happened next.

    Possibly the worst legacy of the Nazi occupation has been the divisions it caused within formerly occupied nations. Even in Western Europe wounds have taken a very long time to heal. In Belgium collaborators were stripped of all civil rights, something the far-right Vlaams Belang has taken advantage of by repeatedly demanding amnesty.

    David Cameron is entering a minefield - I don't think he really understands the subtleties of the situation.

  • bypasser bypasser

    14 Oct 2009, 8:36PM

    > CarefulReader

    "While it's true that France was overrun and capitulated quickly, and that the French quisling government gladly helped the Nazis get rid of the Jews, it is also true that neither the French government nor anybody in France builds monuments and holds parades in the honour of the quislings."

    Did I miss something? Was France occupied by USSR first to be "liberated" by Germany?

    Was it so that Russian secret police was killing cream of the French society? Was it so that French women and children where sent by Russians to camps in Siberia to die from starvation and cold? Was it so that the Germans came and stopped all that?

    It wasn't so you say?

    So why are you comparing incomparable things?

    From all we know - if the Soviets would be first to invade France and Germans were to come to drive them out - the support to Germans might have been immense.

  • pepeg pepeg

    14 Oct 2009, 8:38PM

    The one thing that disturbs me in this piece and others like it is the lumping together Poland and Latvia, putting them in the same category of collaboration. This is mind boggling.

    Poland was in the fight against Nazi Germany from the very beginning to the very end.

    450,000 Polish soldiers were in uniform fighting Nazi Germany when the war ended in 1945, on both Eastern and Western fronts. About 200,000 fought as part of the Soviet Red Army. These are remarkable numbers for a country that spent almost the entire war under German occupation.

    Occupied Poland had no "Quisling" or "Petain" collaborator government, and there were no Polish SS divisions.

    Compare this to Latvia, a country of 2 million, which fielded two SS divisions (the 15th and the 19th)

    For illustration, if Poland collaborated at the same level, and given it was a country ten times bigger than Latvia, there would have been 20 Polish SS divisions! In actual fact there were zero.

    Let's restore some sense of proportion here.

  • DrJohnZoidberg DrJohnZoidberg

    14 Oct 2009, 8:38PM

    all very well for both sides to posit their own histories with the benefit of hindsight and geography. it's a part of their own history that poles, latvians and others need to come to terms with.

    we weren't there, nor do we share the national memories of oppression by the prussians and russians that the smaller nations, particularly those in the baltic states, have ingrained in their national psyche.

    and what of labour being in a grouping which includes the remnants of the former communist parties in those nations? to my mind that's just as dodgy.

  • Chapaev Chapaev

    14 Oct 2009, 8:39PM

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who first exposed the horrors of the Stalinist gulag

    Solzhenitsyn was a reactionary, superstitious, chauvinist, a literary Vlasovite, and an anti-Semite -- a modern-day Black Hundred. He slandered the great author Sholokhov when he spread the lie of "Quiet Flows the Don" being plagiarized. He was a traitor to the extent that his literature regrets the failure by invaders of Russia such as the Germans in conquering the country. The supposed humanist Solzhenitsyn praised the mass murderer General Franco and strongly supported America's genocide against Vietnam.

  • Joukahainen Joukahainen

    14 Oct 2009, 8:44PM

    The Soviet Union also tried to liberate Finland by attacking it in 1939 but the Finns were so ungrateful and foolish that they fought back. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has mistakenly believed that the by doing this the Finns saved their country and kept their independence. This is, of course, a misunderstanding. The truth is that the stubborness of the Finns lost them the chance to enjoy liberation by the Red Army and to become part of the Soviet Union and so receive the many benefits of being ruled in their own country by hundreds of thousands of Russian military personnel and bureaucrats. Some sick-minded people have called this an occupation but that is a lie designed to discredit Russia when every informed and fair person knows that it was a generous gift of assistance to those lucky Baltic people who were not able to govern themselves.

    In the same way, I must set the record straight about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which that has been misrepresented by revisionist historians when everyone must know that this was just a clever trick by Stalin to fool the Nazis and enable the Soviet Union to save the free world.

    I do hope I have got this right because I wouldn't want to break the law under the Russian Constitution and end up in prison for writing something that is contrary to the official, approved version of history.

  • Chapaev Chapaev

    14 Oct 2009, 8:49PM

    The one thing that disturbs me in this piece and others like it is the lumping together Poland and Latvia, putting them in the same category of collaboration.

    You make a strong point when comparing the two, but there was a degree of collaboration and complicity with the Nazis among Poles.

    Polish Prime Minister Josef Cyrankiewicz, an Auschwitz survivor, wrote that one Polish physician was more eager than SS doctors to send sick Jews to their death.

    Young Polish men in the Baudienst participated in the murder of Jews as helpers of SS and German police.

    Bishop Czeslaw Kaczmarek of Kielce commanded Poles to yield to the Nazi occupation regime.

    Nor did Poles do anything meaningful to save the Jews. Poles actually committed mass robbery against Jewish property. They enriched themselves at Jews' expense. Newspaper "Trybuna Wolnosci" lamented in early 1944 "the criminal and despicable role" played by Polish policemen who tracked down the remnants of the surviving Jewish population and extorted money from them.

  • neoconsRfascists neoconsRfascists

    14 Oct 2009, 8:51PM

    Joukahainen
    14 Oct 09, 8:44pm
    The truth is that the stubborness of the Finns lost them the chance to enjoy liberation by the Red Army and to become part of the Soviet Union and so receive the many benefits of being ruled in their own country by hundreds of thousands of Russian military personnel and bureaucrats.

    You are trying to create a misconception. Should Finland become part of the Soviet system, it would be like Poland, Hungary, GDR and others run by local Finnish communist party and its own National army that would uphold the regime. Russian military personnel and bureaucrats were sitting in Moscow.

  • DrJohnZoidberg DrJohnZoidberg

    14 Oct 2009, 8:51PM

    chap- for all of sozhenitsyn's failures, he did highlight that the gulags were little better than extermination camps. 'work them to death and leave them in a camp in the wilderness to starve' being stalin's policy.

  • Chapaev Chapaev

    14 Oct 2009, 8:53PM

    The Soviet Union also tried to liberate Finland by attacking it in .

    Your entire premise is weak because there was no intention or desire to see a Revolution in Finland, but to extract territorial and other concessions from the country. Soviet Russia was committed to peaceful coexistence and cooperation with an independent, non-aligned Finland.

  • DrJohnZoidberg DrJohnZoidberg

    14 Oct 2009, 8:56PM

    neoconsetc- nice name...not at all reminiscnet of a sixth form poliitcs student.

    and what would have happened f the finns, in that scenario had decided 'actually, this communism stuff ain't for us' and tried to change things?...see: budapest 1956 or prague 1968.

  • KrustytheKlown KrustytheKlown

    14 Oct 2009, 8:57PM

    but there was a degree of collaboration and complicity with the Nazis among Poles.

    So a small minority of people living under one of history's most horrific occupations turn into collaborators? How astonishing (not!). Of course, every one of us here on CiF can be 100% confident that we would have been brave resistance fighters had we lived in Poland circa 1940.

    Nor did Poles do anything meaningful to save the Jews.</blockquote

    In fairness it's difficult to see what they could have done, for the most part. If any Pole was found to have been hiding a Jew, not only the individual Pole, but his/her family would likely have been executed. Again, I wonder if those of us reading these pages could be absolutely sure that we would voluntarily put at risk the lives of our familes in a probably futile attempt to help a relative stranger - of whatever creed or ethnicity.

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