Listening to the heartfelt and passionate speeches by Israeli leaders and public
figures about the importance of remembering the Holocaust at the various
ceremonies held around the country this Yom Hashoah, one could easily get the
impression that no subject, perhaps with the obvious exception of Israeli
security, was of greater concern.
And in fact, in recent years,
especially since the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb has become more and more
ominous, we increasingly see the two issues linked together, with the Holocaust
repeatedly enlisted to strengthen arguments concerning specific steps taken, or
prepared, by Israel to preserve its security and/or to thwart genocidal
Such importance attributed to the Shoah should in theory ensure
that practical Holocaust-related topics would be given a high priority by
successive Israeli governments, but anyone acquainted with life here in the holy
land is well aware that that is definitely not the case. Whether it be the sad
plight of thousands of needy survivors, the lack of efforts over the years to
bring Nazi war criminals to justice or to lead the struggle to regain communal
and personal Jewish property, the truth is that when it comes to the Shoah, the
gap in Israel between rhetoric and action is sadly way too wide.
certain cases, these issues were left to be dealt with virtually exclusively by
foreign Jewish defense organizations, while others were entrusted to NGOs. And
while there has finally been an improvement in the assistance offered to needy
Israeli survivors, the government has not assumed responsibility for
Shoahrelated issues with the same passion which inspires the rhetoric of Israeli
politicians every Yom Hashoah.
In recent years, another very important
issue related to the Holocaust has surfaced which requires urgent Israeli
government intervention, and which has been completely ignored by Israeli
authorities. I refer to the efforts of various Eastern European countries to
rewrite the history of the Shoah with two ulterior motives. The first is to
minimize, or even hide, the role played by their nationals in Holocaust crimes.
The second is to convince the world that the crimes of Communism are at least
equivalent, if not worse, than those of the Nazis.
In order to fully
understand the importance of this issue and the insidious anti-Semitic nature of
this campaign, the uniquely lethal nature of the collaboration with the Nazis in
Eastern Europe must be explained.
Unlike the situation elsewhere, where
local Nazi collaborators helped implement the initial stages of the Final
Solution – definition, Aryanization, concentration and deportation of the Jews –
but did not carry out their mass murder themselves, the Nazis integrated the
local collaborators in Eastern Europe in the killing operations and these forces
played a highly significant role in the annihilation of the Jews in the Baltics,
Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Croatia.
After World War II, all of these
countries were either part of the Soviet Union or ruled by Communist parties and
it was only slightly more than two decades ago that they made the transition to
democracy and were able for the first time to deal with their Holocaust history
openly and honestly. The results to date have, to put it mildly, been
Instead of telling the truth about local active participation
in the murders and trying to make amends by prosecuting unpunished Nazi
collaborators, the blame for the annihilation of the Jewish communities was
attributed exclusively to the German and Austrian Nazis. The Nazis undoubtedly
bear major responsibility, but could never have succeeded to the extent that
they did in these countries without the massive assistance of their local
helpers, and almost no local killers were ever successfully brought to justice.
Even worse, some of the most notorious criminals are being glorified for their
patriotism and resistance to Communism, ignoring their role in Holocaust
In 2008, this campaign was accelerated by the publication of the
Prague Declaration, which besides promoting the canard of historical equivalency
between Communism and Nazism, called for practical measures which if implemented
would undermine the current status of the Shoah as a unique case of genocide.
Among its demands were the creation of a joint memorial day for all the victims
of totalitarian regimes (which would ultimately replace Holocaust Memorial Day),
and the rewriting of all textbooks to reflect the supposed equality of the Nazi
and Communist regimes, which would negatively revolutionize the teaching of
Behind these steps was the desire to be able to
classify Communist crimes as genocide, which would help weaken Jewish
accusations regarding Holocaust crimes in these countries, since that would mean
that Jews too had committed genocide (in the service of the Communists). If
everyone is guilty, then of course no one is.
Given the far-reaching and
highly dangerous implications of these developments, one would expect the State
of Israel to actively combat this brazen attempt to undermine the Jewish
narrative of the Holocaust, in the same manner that it fights against the
delegitimization of the Zionist narrative regarding the establishment of Israel.
Yet this has not been the case. On the contrary, the Foreign Ministry has
maintained almost complete silence in response to the Prague Declaration and
numerous events throughout Eastern Europe which undermine the historical
accuracy of the Holocaust and replace it with a false version of history
produced by ultra-nationalists.
During the past year, for example, Israel
remained silent as Lithuania reburied with full honors the leader of the
provisional Lithuanian government established after the Nazi invasion of June
1941, which fully supported the Third Reich and who signed orders facilitating
the persecution and murder of Lithuania’s Jewish citizens. It preferred not to
protest neo-Nazi marches on Lithuanian independence day down the main avenues of
Vilnius (Vilna) and Kaunas (Kovno), or parades in the center of Riga honoring
the Latvian Waffen- SS units which fought for a victory of the Third Reich. Even
worse, official Israeli institutions maintain a level of cooperation with the
group in Lithuania which actively promotes the Prague Declaration, since it is
they who control Holocaust education and commemoration in that
In response to my criticism of the silence of the Foreign
Ministry, in an interview published in Globes on Yom Hashoah, the ministry
spokesperson replied that former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman had visited
the region many times and had participated in events to commemorate the
Holocaust at which he mentioned the historical responsibility of these
countries. That might be the case, but it also misses the point.
presence at a ceremony commemorating the Holocaust, which is organized by the
very people promoting the Prague Declaration and implementing the rewriting of
Holocaust history, only further weakens the fight against
With countries like Lithuania and Latvia, who are among the
main culprits in this regard, poised to take over the presidency of the European
Union in the coming year, it is high time that Israel minimize the gap between
Holocaust rhetoric and practical action on Shoah-related issues, and begin to
take the threat of Holocaust distortion seriously.The writer is chief
Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel
Office. His most recent book Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring
Nazi Criminals to Justice deals extensively with the failure of post-Communist
countries to prosecute Nazi war criminals and its impact on the fight to ensure
the accuracy of the historical record of the Holocaust.
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