I wrote about how differently Nazi and Soviet crimes are consumed in our society a couple weeks ago. Specifically on the comparative lack of interest in vilifying Stalin and examining Soviet archives, vis a vis Nazi archives and records. But taken to the extreme, that view can also lead to what Dovid Katz, a professor at Vilnius University and research director at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, calls Holocaust obfuscation. In “The Crime of Surviving,” published last month on Tablet Magazine, Katz explains that this phenomenon effectively strips history of all nuance.
It equates Nazi crimes with Soviet crimes, but does so by elevating the horrors of Soviet crimes and making Nazi crime, and specifically the Holocaust, invisible. It took me a few minutes to even understand what Katz was referring to, so convoluted is this rendering of history. But in short, the Holocaust becomes irrelevant, a mute historical moment. And, in places like Lithuania, it’s becoming the preferred modus operandi for dealing with the horrors of the recent past.
How does it play out in real life? Katz offers up the example of Rachel Margolis, a Holocaust survivor who has been dubbed a war criminal because, after surviving the Vilna ghetto, she joined the resistance to fight the Nazis. Since the Baltics happened to be freed (and subsequently overrun) by the Soviets, Margolis’ “collaboration” with the enemy has been rewritten as a war crime. It’s a convenient way to avoid dealing with the role played by ethnic Lithuanians in the Holocaust in that country
What really stands out for me in this how the bearers of freedom so often turn out to be the bearers of a new kind of horror and tyranny. It’s a story that continually plays itself out around the world, as allegiances shift and former friends become enemies. Would it have been better for the Soviets not to have fought off the Nazi invaders? Of course not. The tragedy is what happened after.
The “double genocide” movement has gained the support of government and political parties in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe, which have invested substantial treasure to persuade the entire European Union to accept the equality of the Nazi Holocaust and Soviet crimes. Their biggest success has been the Prague Declaration, issued from a conference on “European Conscience and Communism” in June 2008, which demands that Europe “recognize Communism and Nazism as a common legacy”; that Communism be assessed “the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal”; that a single “day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes” be declared, thus effectively eliminating Holocaust Remembrance Day; and that European history textbooks be “overhauled” so that “children could learn and be warned about Communism and its crimes in the same way as they have been taught to assess the Nazi crimes.”
While it’s gratifying to see communist crimes receive attention—I think a day to commemorate the horrors wrought by communism in this region is a great idea—this gross oversimplification of historical realities does no one any favours. The fact that communism and Nazism fall on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum, while a useful lesson in the dangers of extremism, just underscores the hollowness of the gesture.
This short post doesn’t do the full article justice. You can read all of “The Crime of Surviving” here.