To paraphrase an old Yiddish saying about kings and queens, you learn one heck of a lot more from a blanket silence from state authorities than from a roster of proclamations and declarations. What geostrategic calculation (or miscalculation) could possibly underlie the hushed-up decision of the West to go along with a drastic revision of World War II history that not only obfuscates the Holocaust and glorifies Hitler’s local East European collaborators and killers, but in effect rubbishes the history narrative of the Grand Alliance that freed Europe of Hitlerism? Not to mention the vast sacrifices of the Allies, still in the immediate family memory of millions of people, to free Europe of Nazism.
We recently reported on these pages about the February 16th neo-Nazi march in central Kaunas (Lithuania’s interwar capital and present second city) that featured a banner of six “national heroes,” five of whom were Holocaust collaborators. That piece concluded with a challenge to the mayor of the capital city, Vilnius, to ban or move the next-in-line March 11th neo-Nazi parade in central Vilnius. Alas, it went ahead without public comment from him, or from the American or British (or for that matter, any other) ambassador. The “good news” is that it featured “only” two Holocaust collaborators in the pantheon of heroes on the lead banner, there was “just one” hugeantisemitic image, and “only” a few swastikas in the Lithuanian style (with added lines) proudly worn in front of the nation’s prime institutions of government on the march’s route. There were the usual slurs against Poles, Russians, LGBT people and more.
And then, the bizarre Baltic Nazi-loving bash, enabled and empowered by state decisions in city centers on nationally important days, right here in the European Union / NATO alliance, took its annual ides-of-March turn northward to Riga, the Latvian capital. Yet again, that city’s central Liberty Monument was gifted to the worshippers of that country’s Waffen SS who had sworn an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Numerous of its members were recycled volunteer Holocaust perpetrators. All prayed dearly for Hitler’s victory over Europe. This year again, various government officials took part and praised the fasc-fest. The lonely voices of protest came, again, from Monica Lowenberg in London; one opposition UK Labour MP, Gareth Thomas; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff; a group of German protesters who were arrested at the border, and a British journalist who was hauled away by police from the event. Even that didn’t elicit a word of EU protest about gross violation of internal Schengen borders or free speech and press.
Nothing new there.
Westerners have not been told that laws effectively criminalizing dissenting opinions about World War II — more exactly: criminalizing expressing the simple truth of the Holocaust — have been passed by (among others) Hungary in 2010 (with a penalty of three years jail max), Lithuania the same year (two years max), Estonia in 2012, Latvia in 2014 (five years max), and Ukraine in 2015 (maxing out at ten years imprisonment). These are mostly “Double Genocide” laws that make it illegal to disagree with the state diktat that Nazi and Soviet crimes are “equal” and that both equally constitute “genocide.”
Whatever happened to Western values of free speech and open debate, never mind the unambiguous, uncomplicated detesting of the unique racist evil of Nazi fascism and genocide that the free world gave so much to defeat? Right here in Lithuania, one of DefendingHistory.com’s regular contributors, Evaldas Balčiūnas, has been lugged before police and prosecutors repeatedly for his articles protesting Lithuania’s glorification of Nazi collaborators as “heroes.” When, back in 2012, the Lithuanian government invested in reburying with full honors (from the US) the remains of its shameful 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister, it was the American Embassy here in Vilnius (including at the time — and not by coincidence — a consul close to a high Washington DC Holocaust museum official) that worked overtime to mastermind a veil of silence that prevented any of it from being so much as mentioned in any major international media outlet.
That same year the US embassy in Vilnius arranged for a New York Times reporter to speak only to the Lithuanian government side on its opposition to a declaration from 70 European Parliament members – including eight Lithuanians – that objected to “attempts to obfuscate the Holocaust by diminishing its uniqueness and deeming it to be equal, similar or equivalent to Communism.” The Embassy also arranged for the reporter to be informed by an American Jewish academic who was to receive a top state medal (this was not mentioned in the article) for helping smooth over, with some toffee and syrup, East European Holocaust revisionism.
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So, what is going on?
Like many seemingly complicated things in life, there is a rather simple narrative at the core. It’s the strategy of going along with something, even a meshugás (Yiddish for lark, quirk, obsession, crazy idea) of your ally when that’s a meshugás that’s crucially important to your ally. Over seventeen years in Vilnius, I have heard it many times from Western diplomats talking off the record: “Look, Dovid, these East Europeans (‘New Europe’) are the only ones who really stand up to Russia, not like Western Europe (‘Old Europe’), and if all they want in return is to fix their wartime histories from before when we were all born, what the heck! Don’t worry, they’ll invest a fortune in Jewish things too, so everyone will be happy.”
With the ongoing slippage into the New Cold War, and some Western governments themselves investing in historians happy to sanitize the revisionism (especially revisionism that cleanses the Eastern European local fascist forces that provided many of the Nazis’ actual Jew-killers), an East European “salon-friendly” far-right has been able to market itself as centrist or center-right to naive Westerners. But make no mistake. Anyone who makes heroes out of Hitler’s collaborators and perpetrators is far right, and a danger to the core values of the West, the European Union, and the Nato Alliance. No matter how suave, silver-tongued, educated and capable of producing endless junkets, medals, honors, grants and sundry forms of largesse for bored Western folks — elites and wannabes alike.
The far right’s addiction to Hitlerist nostalgia, the relevant revisionism, and a lingering blood-purity-theory racism is no surprise.
What is surprising is that this would be pursued even tangentially by the truly democratic and successful states that have joined the European Union and NATO, particularly the Baltics that were actually Soviet republics rather than just Warsaw Pact satellites. How magnificent that they have all become genuine democracies exhibiting democracy’s delightful pendulum of regular, peaceful and orderly transfers of power following choices that are made at the ballot box.
But never underestimate the power of academics, and particularly political scientists and PR types, to come up with geopolitical claptrap to make even worship of local wartime Hitlerists respectable. The argument runs along these lines: “Germany admitted guilt and paid reparations for its evils, but Russia never accepted responsibility for its own evils, which our parliaments have now decided was a genocide fully equal to Hitler’s genocide. What a great stick to hit Putin with and to make the Russians a permanent pariah!”
This won’t wash, now or ever, because the grand Anglo-American-Soviet Alliance that brought down Hitler is history that can be challenged, but it will never be overthrown — because it is true. It’s as simple as saying that the people who liberated Auschwitz cannot be “equal” to the people who committed the genocide there. It is foolish and counterproductive to hit Putin and his ilk with historical issues on which the Russians are by and large right.
Putin is an increasingly dangerous, autocratic, brutal, revanchist dictator, and the West must be vigilant, and protective of all of NATO’s members. There are, in fact, countless legitimate sticks in today’s arsenal of democracy to counter him honorably.
The cause is not served in the least, not one iota, by distorting history, obfuscating the Holocaust, turning a blind eye to the glorification of the local Holocaust perpetrators of Eastern Europe as supposed “anti-Soviet heroes,” practicing Aryanist-style racism, or enacting exceptions to free speech and free movement on an issue, of all things, of history.
It is high time for the large Western powers to be a true friend to EU Eastern Europe, a true friend who says “Wait, something is wrong!” when governments give their capital’s center for the neo-Nazis who make heroes out of the local collaborators in genocide (or rebury them with full honors), when governments invest in punishing local dissidents on issues of history, when governments suffer from a meshugás of trying to “fix” the history of one of the greatest achievements of Western civilization: bringing down Hitler in Europe.