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September 4, 2014 7:43 am

A History Lesson for Barack Obama: What Really Happened in Estonia During World War II?

avatar by Arik Elman

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From the Oval Office, U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 27, 2013.

Dear Mr. President, Your Excellency Barack Obama:

In your speech in Estonia on Wednesday, you said, and I quote:

“After all, the only reason we’re here today in a free and democratic Estonia is because the Estonian people never gave up. You never gave up when the Red Army came in from the east or when the Nazis came in from the West.”

Now, I understand that grandstanding speeches are not the place for learning history. But neither should they be a forum for un-learning history and replacing it with cosy lies. The story of the Estonian people “when the Nazis came in from the West,” is a story of collaboration, not of resistance. Estonia was announced “Judenfrei” at the Wannsee Conference for a reason, Mr. President – it was a nice little killing ground, and while most of the local Jews escaped in time (into “Red” Russia), those who remained were murdered: 22 camps for the “imported” Jews were established and at least ten thousand of them were killed in Estonia.

“When the Red Army came from the East”, Mr. President, the Estonians (and other Baltic nations) supplied 38,000 men to the Waffen SS and other units of the Wehrmacht, and fought with “distinction”, killing thousands of Soviet troops. Is that what you meant when you told your audience “you were stronger and you always believed one day, no matter what, we will win”? Should we, perhaps, celebrate the heroism of Ain-Ervin Mere, who first helped Nazis exterminate Jews, then went on to fight at the front, escaped “Stalinist repression,” and died in Britain a free man?

Mr. President, if you want to show support for Ukraine, you should go to Kiev, not to Estonia. If you want to reach the hearts and minds of Russians, you should not try to stand the history of the Second World War on its head and whitewash it from uncomfortable facts. The history of Estonia in this period, just like the history of Ukraine, is also a history of the Jews – of betrayal, persecution, and extinction. We, who survived, will not let it be forgotten and swept under the rug of political expedience. Not even by you.

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