Seventy is the biblical lifespan for latterday humans. And ― the number of years since Hitler’s Wannsee Conference “made official” the Final Solution for European Jewry in January of 1942. During the preceding six months, starting with the June 22nd 1941 Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the Nazis saw how easy it was to find enthusiastic local killers in the Baltic and Ukraine regions, among others. Around a million Jews perished by bullets in that half-year in Eastern Europe, many voluntarily discharged by “patriots” from the local populations against their own neighbors of many centuries.
So what of Holocaust memory over these seventy years?
For the last generation, since around the fall of the Soviet Union, Holocaust Denial has been dying a certain death in polite society. One symbolic milestone is Sir Charles Gray’s ruling in the Lipstadt-Irving trial in London in spring of 2000, after Holocaust denier David Irving sued Professor Deborah Lipstadt.
But denial here in Eastern Europe, in a landscape utterly defiled by numerous mass graves and death camp sites, was not an option. A new and more cunning ruse took hold: Holocaust Obfuscation. What is Holocaust Obfuscation?
In short: Deflate Nazi crimes; inflate Soviet crimes; make their “equality” into a new sacrosanct principle for naive Westerners who like the sound of “equality”; redefine “genocide” by law to include just about any Soviet crime; find ways to turn local killers into heroes (usually as supposed “anti-Soviet” patriots); fault victims and survivors, especially those who lived to join the anti-Nazi resistance.
Even shorter: Confuse the issue.
For over two decades, the seeds of Obfuscation were being planted rather professionally by politicians, academics, intellectuals, media types, state employees, with unwitting cover coming from sundry Western and foreign Jewish nokhshleper seduced by honors, grants and junkets. That the movement was being tracked is thanks largely to one person: Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the indefatigable director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, whose quest for Nazi war criminals to be brought to justice in a fair trial always went hand in hand with razor-sharp historical and psychological analysis. In the case of the three Baltic states, Zuroff from the outset demonstrated that these governments’ failure to take seriously Nazi war crimes trials went hand in hand with a campaign to rewrite the actual history. The years went by, and once the war criminals were nearly all gone, and these states cozily inside NATO and the European Union, the movement to get all of Europe to redefine twentieth history went into full swing.
With the West and foreign Jewish groups busy with other matters, a group of right-wing East European members of the European Parliament proclaimed, in 2008, the “Prague Declaration” which has the word “same” five times, making the total equalization of Nazi and Soviet rule into a perfidious goal for all of Europe. The Prague Declaration’s demands include the “overhaul” of all European textbooks to reflect the revisionist history, as well as a “Nuremberg” process for judgment of communist criminals.
In April 2009, a nonbinding vote of the European Parliament included an item about all Europe having a single mixed day of commemoration for Nazi and Soviet victims, a key demand of the Prague Declaration. And in July 2009, alas, the United States was one of the signatories on the “Vilnius Declaration” that included both the mixed commemoration day and language supporting Double Genocide, in other words, insistence on absolute “equivalence” of Nazi and Soviet crimes.
(Readers in the United States are asked to contact their elected representatives to get this American acquiescence to the antisemitic East European revisionists undone! The American embassies in this part of the world will only act if there is political pressure back home for them to do so.)
With scarcely a peep from the West, various countries in Eastern Europe, now member states of the EU, NATO and the OSCE, have invested in Double Genocide becoming the only legally permissible opinion. Hungary and Lithuania went so far in 2010 as to pass laws criminalizing the historic truth, that it was the Nazi Holocaust alone that constituted genocide in these countries during World War II. The Hungarian law’s maximum penalty is three years in jail. Lithuania’s maxes out at two.
State funds have been used to honor local perpetrators in macabre displays that cause untold pain to the remnant Jewish communities in this part of the world. The same Lithuanian government that professes belief in the “equality” of totalitarian regimes in the parliamentary glitter of Brussels and Strasbourg, runs a city center “Museum of Genocide Victims” in central Vilnius that until recently did not even mention the Holocaust (it is all about Soviet crimes, and even sports antisemitic cartoons from after the war, when nearly all the Jews were gone, showing Jews as communists).
When after massive international criticism, a single small “Holocaust room” was added in the cellar this past fall, it too was made for good measure to include a glorification of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a fascist group known as “the white armbanders” that started to murder Jews up and down Lithuania before the Germans even arrived, fulfilling a plan stated explicitly in their prewar leaflets.
Roger Cohen of the New York Times, in a recent op-ed on the subject, correctly notes that the “Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, which devotes the vast bulk of its space to Soviet crimes against a valiant Lithuanian resistance, broadly reflects a still-skewed national psyche.” There is actually some British understatement there. When Holocaust murderers are recast as patriotic heroes in a European Union / NATO / OSCE member state museum, it is time for a loud and clear protest from the West and its robust media.
As for the campaign that the Eastern European far right took to the European Parliament, well, the mystically endowed number Seventy has somehow begun to inspire the simple notion that enough is enough. On 27 January, the seventieth anniversary of Wannsee, seventy European parliamentarians from nineteen EU states signed the Seventy Years Declaration, in an unabashed retort to “Prague 2008.” It is a bold new reaffirmation that the legacy of the Holocaust shall not be undermined and it mentions by name the specific groups of Nazi allies currently honored in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Among the seventy were eight deeply courageous Lithuanian parliamentarians (six from the national parliament and two from the European Parliament, none of them Jewish). Within minutes of the declaration’s research, they were trashed as “pathetic” by the country’s foreign minister, who went on to say, so hurtfully on the anniversary of Wannsee, that the only difference between Hitler and Stalin was in the length of their moustaches.
As of today, only one champion of Jewish causes, the non-Jewish British human rights champion Denis MacShane, author of a major book on antisemitism, took the time and trouble to reach out and publicly support the eight courageous Lithuanian parliamentarians who defied their government to join the Seventy Years Declaration. He wrote a letter to each.
Hopefully, some serious moral support will soon be forthcoming to break the sounds of silence coming from the United States.
Meanwhile, the Seventy Years Declaration takes on a new life of its own, turning a web of complexity introduced to obfuscate and distort history back into something that is so often, on moral issues, rather simple: the truth.
Dovid Katz, who founded Yiddish studies at Oxford, and then in Vilnius, edits DefendingHistory.com. His new book, City in the Moonlight (a collection of his Yiddish short stories set in old Jewish Lithuania, translated by Barnett Zumoff) appeared this week in New York. He is a co-author (with Professor Danny Ben-Moshe) of the Seventy Years Declaration.