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RIGA, Latvia – A gathering of academics, Jewish activists and locals here on Sunday and Monday seeks to begin an broad, international effort to combat “the dilution of the Holocaust.”
Throughout Eastern Europe, from Ukraine to Lithuania, a “new historiography” has sprouted that attempts to equate the Nazi genocide of Jews with the crimes committed in their countries by the Soviet Union, according to conference attendees.
With the growing perception of their largest neighbor Russia as a regional hegemon, many small East European nations have begun to interpret the results of World War II – a five-decade Soviet occupation – as part of an ongoing Russian appetite for expansion that gave them “their own holocaust,” in the words of one Jewish activist at the conference.
“In general, we support the construction of national narratives,” says Leon Greenberg, a former Nativ official and the Israel director of the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry, one of the two organizers of the event. “But the figures being glorified are not those who brought freedom or independence, and were often complicit in the murder of Jews.”
This new “anti-Russian” historiography, Greenberg adds, often crosses the line into pro-Nazism.
On January 22, Ukraine’s then-president Viktor Yushchenko awarded one of the country’s highest honors, the “Hero of Ukraine,” to WWII-era nationalist fighter Stepan Bandera for his opposition to the Soviet occupation. But Bandera didn’t merely oppose Communism, note organizers of this week’s conference – he actively collaborated with the Nazis, viewed Jews as the originators and supporters of the Communist invader, and was a hero to those Ukrainians who murdered Jews and Poles en masse during the German occupation, such as the killing by his partisans of 4,000 Jews immediately following the German conquest of Lvov in 1941.
The “white-washing” of such pro-Nazi groups, together with a new focus on the suffering inflicted by the Soviet regime, “amounts to the dilution of the Holocaust,” Greenberg says.
“We cannot accept a historiography where there were ‘many holocausts,’” he adds. “The Holocaust of the Jews was unique. Everyone in that war stood a chance of being harmed, and 50 million people died. But only the Jew was guaranteed harm. He was the ultimate victim, condemned because of his Jewishness, massacred on an industrial scale because he was himself.”
The World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry, together with the Baltic Forum, have organized the two-day conference to begin to piece together an academic response to these new narratives.
Political passions swarm around the conference’s topic. More than 250 locals, including young self-described “anti-fascist activists,” attended the first day on Sunday, and Latvian and Russian newspapers and television crews are covering the meeting.
But the conference’s work must be disconnected from the political
dimension, according to Dr. Ilya Altman, a historian and director of
the Moscow-based Russian Center for Holocaust Research and Education.
is a lot of unprofessional sensationalism” about the Holocaust, Altman
believes. “Our first question has to be about sources – what’s
available and where we can locate more. For example, if we want to look
into the question of collaboration, we have to start looking at
materials from courts and investigations [from the period].”
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