On the Eve of Yom HaShoah, Great Britain Sinks into Littleness on the Holocaust
It is not every week that one sees William Hague, the British foreign secretary (the post is parallel to that of the US secretary of state), courting photo shoots with Hollywood’s Angelina Jolie. The glamorous photo shoots are a feather in Mr. Hague’s public relations cap, no doubt, and that aspect was supposed to be mitigated by joining forces in an international campaign against rape, a most worthy campaign and cause, to be sure.
But I am very disturbed over a morally related matter that happened (if you believe in coincidences) the same day of the photo shoot. After waiting for weeks, I received a reply from a low-level official in Mr. Hague’s Foreign Office to a letter I’d written asking why Britain has not stood up publicly to comment, howsoever diplomatically, on Latvia’s recent (March 16th) center-of-the-capital gala parade honoring (!) that country’s Waffen SS. No, I’m not kidding, it’s true. Tragically, an Israeli member of Knesset, who came to protest, died of a heart attack in her hotel room right after the event. Over 6000 people have already signed the international petition I set up last year.
What would it cost for Britain’s Foreign Office (and for that matter, its prime minister) to say something like “We truly value our partnership with our close European Union and NATO ally Latvia, but wish to express disagreement on this issue. By honoring the Waffen SS, particularly in a country where over 90% of the Jewish population was massacred in the Holocaust, one shows disrespect to the victims, to the values of liberty and the European Union, and disrespect to the enormous sacrifices made by our country to free Europe of Nazism.”
Without going too deeply into UK politics, it is important for people in America and around the world to understand that the politics that led to this “alliance with the Waffen SS” glorifiers had a rather mundane political motive. Back in 2009, when the Conservative party leader David Cameron was still in opposition, he was being challenged as not being Euro-skeptic enough with respect to the European Union, and to prove his mettle, he took his party out of the mainstream conservative center-right alliance to which Germany’s Chancellor Merkel and France’s then President Sarkozy belonged, and made a new alliance in the European Parliament with an assortment of far-right antisemites, racists, Holocaust deniers and apologists for fascism.
Then, earlier this week, another scandal broke. A major UK football club (you Americans would call it a soccer club) appointed as its manager Paolo De Canio, a well-known Italian far-righter known for his statement “I’m a fascist, not a racist!” He also went to great lengths to prove that Mussolini was just a poor misunderstood soul. To their credit, anti-fascist forces in Sunderland, the region, including many whose families fought against Hitler in the British army and are proud of it, have vowed to stay away from their beloved team’s games until there is a change of leadership.
Then, as they say, the plot thickened even more. Back in 2009, when the British Conservatives first made their alliances with far-right politicians in Latvia and Poland, it was the then Labour foreign secretary, David Miliband, who is Jewish (and is this spring headed off for New York so as not to interfere with his brother Ed’s ambitions, but that is another story), protested robustly, explaining that the Conservatives’ new dalliance with the East European far right was “not leadership but pandering, not judgment but dogma, not patriotic defense of national interest but the white flag of surrender to (…) extremists”. Good for him.
And then, fast forward to this week: David Miliband happened to be vice chairman and non-executive director of Sunderland Football Club, and he immediately did the right thing and resigned in protest, citing the (pro-fascist) politics of its newly appointed manager.
What about Mr. Hague, the current Foreign Secretary, who is still basking in his photo-op with Angelina Jolie PR-coated over with a supposed campaign against rape? Well, as I said above, I received a letter from junior official at his Foreign Office, about the Waffen SS adulating events which Latvia’s president has repeatedly praised (last year Latvian President Berzins said we should all “bow our heads down” to the service of the Waffen SS in fighting on Hitler’s side during the war!)
The letter from the Foreign Office tells me:
“I understand that this is an emotive issue for all those involved. I am pleased to note that this year’s events passed off safely. The history of the Latvian Legion is complex and one which historians are best placed fully to understand. The UK believes that the abolition of Legionnaires Day is essentially a matter for the Latvian Government and I hope that you understand that this is not a matter in which the UK government has any locus to become involved.”
Actually this year’s march was not as “safe” as the just-make-it-all-sound-kosher Foreign Office letter would maintain. There were scuffles and peaceful protesters, including Joel Rubinfeld, co-president of the European Jewish Parliament who were harassed by police and fascists alike. A Riga city council member who opposes Nazism was assaulted. Many were roughed up at the events, which reeked of a racist and pro-Nazi atmosphere.
As Mr. Hague contemplates his joint campaign with Ms. Jolie for international action against mass rape in conflicts, and his glamorous photo-ops with her and others, he will hopefully not forget some other photos: the infamous images of Latvian Jewish women, forced to undress, being shot right into the death pits, many of them raped beforehand. Many of the perpetrators were Latvian “patriots” who went on to join the Waffen SS that today’s Latvia pays homage to, with Mr. Hague’s Foreign Office explaining, with shameless abdication of moral responsibility, that “this is not a matter in which the UK government has any locus to become involved.”
As we come to Yom Hashoah, let us remind Mr. Hague and other leading politicians of the Western world, that responsible politics entails taking responsibility, not saying some resurgent evil should be left to historians to debate! The trivialization of the Holocaust, its reduction to an event so minor that it should not be invoked to spoil an orgy of glorification of Nazi collaborators and perpetrators, has now gone too far. It has nothing to do with a political party. It was people of all parties, inspiringly led as it happens by his own party’s Winston Churchill, who inspired such enormous sacrifices for the freedom of Britain, Europe and ultimately the entire free world.
Let this year’s Yom Hashoah be a little different. Let it be one when we remember our responsibility in today’s world to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. In neighboring Lithuania, the Nazi puppet prime minister of 1941, Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, who personally signed papers ordering Jews of his city (Kovno) to be sent to a concentration camp, and then the remainder to a ghetto, was last year reburied with full honors amid a string of sickening public events glorifying him (see the reports in The Algemeiner about the reburial, and about this year’s state-sanctioned neo-Nazi parade where a banner featuring the Nazi puppet PM’s image led the proceedings). The leading university in Kaunas, Vytautas Magnus University, still has a lecture hall name and bas relief dedicated to honoring the infamous collaborator. Would any foreign professor with self-respect enter this university before it removes its shrine to the city’s leading Nazi puppet of the Holocaust era?
Also in Lithuania, Vilna Ghetto survivors continue to be accused of “war crimes” for having survived by joining the anti-Nazi partisans (they are heroes of the free world!) even as the state tries to cover it all up with memorial events for the benefit of foreigners and diplomats. In Estonia, another neighboring Baltic country, the parliament a year ago passed a law paving the way for formal glorification of that country’s SS! Time for this cancer to be stopped and for the leaders of the great nations that brought down Hitler to lead the way with a modicum of backbone and integrity.
As Yom HaShoah approaches, Britain has the option to be Great Britain in its moral values and its insistence on their permanence, not Little Britain that is afraid to speak up against the evil which the country made such great sacrifices to defeat.
Naturally, it is also a time for Jews in the United States, Canada and other countries to stand in solidarity not only with the perished victims and the dwindling numbers of survivors, but also for the integrity of the history that is now being revised by a number of states in Eastern Europe that want to minimize their own historic complicity by turning perpetrators into heroes. It must not happen. Let that be the message of our Yom Ha-Shoah this year.
Monica Lowenberg is London correspondent and a senior analyst at DefendingHistory.com.