A combined day of commemoration for the victims of Nazism and communism?

Baltic leaders consistently repeat the historically inaccurate mantra that communist crimes were genocidal.

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July 12, 2009 22:17
4 minute read.
A combined day of commemoration for the victims of Nazism and communism?

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As hard as this may be to believe, it is entirely possible that in a few years, Europe will no longer set aside a special day to commemorate the Holocaust. Instead, Europeans will mark August 23, the day of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which paved the way for the German and Russian invasions of Poland, as a day of commemoration for the victims of Nazism and communism. Given the enormous increase during the past decade in Holocaust awareness and education, such a prediction might sound very unlikely, but if the campaign being currently waged by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with support from other post-communist countries, to equate communism with Nazism succeeds, that will be only one of many very problematic changes in the manner in which Europeans relate to the annihilation of European Jewry. PERHAPS THE MOST disturbing aspect of the problem is the virtually total ignorance and apathy of Israel and the Jewish world in response to this campaign, which has been conducted for well over a decade and has recently been upgraded with very worrying results. Only last week, for example, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) which met in Vilnius, Lithuania passed a resolution calling for the establishment of August 23 as a day of commemoration for the victims of communism and Nazism, with the only opposition registered by Russia and a few European communists. The truth is that in this regard, the handwriting has been on the wall practically from the renewal of Baltic independence. Since 1991, in meetings with senior Baltic officials, in response to our demands that they acknowledge the extensive scope of Baltic collaboration in Nazi crimes, prosecute local Nazi war criminals and rewrite the history textbooks to accurately reflect this reality, they always tried to divert the discussion to their suffering under the Russian occupation and the role of Jewish communists in Soviet crimes. Thus it was hardly surprising that in when these governments decided to establish historical commissions to investigate the crimes suffered during their occupation, they insisted, despite protests from the Wiesenthal Center and other groups, on combining the research on local Holocaust crimes with that on communist crimes in one unified body. Another related phenomenon was that Baltic leaders consistently repeated the historically inaccurate mantra that communist crimes were genocidal. I will never forget my meeting in Vilnius in the early 1990s with Vytautas Landsbergis, then Lithuanian head of state, who in response to my gift of a volume on Holocaust research, reciprocated with a book on the mass deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia, which he referred to as "our Holocaust." Add the total failure of the Baltics to prosecute local Nazi war criminals, the efforts to divert almost exclusive blame for the murders to the Germans and Austrians, and the establishment of genocide or occupation museums which which totally ignore local Holocaust crimes and Nazi collaboration, and the pattern becomes crystal clear. About two years ago, emboldened by the failure of the European Union, the United States, Israel and the Jewish world to hold the Baltics accountable in a meaningful manner for their manifold failures in dealing with Holocaust issues (prosecution, restitution, documentation, etc.), these governments intensified their campaign to create official symmetry between communism and Nazism. THEIR FIRST major success was the June 3, 2008 "Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism" signed by Vaclev Havel and numerous members of the European Parliament, which called for the establishment of August 23 as an official day of remembrance for Nazi and communist victims "in the same way Europe remembers the victims of the Holocaust on January 27, as well as an "Institute of European Memory and Conscience" to serve as a museum, research, and educational center on these crimes. The rationale presented for these steps points to the "substantial similarities between Nazism and communism" and warns that "Europe will not be united unless it is able to reunite its history [and] recognize communism and Nazism as a common legacy." While one can sympathize with the legitimate desire of the victims of communism for recognition, there is nothing innocent about this declaration which clearly seeks to undermine the current status of the Holocaust as a unique historical tragedy and relativize it to divert attention from the extensive collaboration of Balts with the Nazis and the abysmal failure of all their governments since independence to adequately deal with these issues. On September 23, 2008, more than 400 members of the European Parliament signed a declaration supporting the establishment of August 23 as "European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism" and on April 2, 2009, a resolution similar to the Prague Declaration passed in the same body by a vote of 533-44 with 33 abstentions. A month ago, however, when I asked the members of the Israeli global forum on anti-Semitism whether anyone had heard of the Prague Declaration, not a single member responded positively. It is clear that the time has come to start paying attention to this insidious campaign being conducted primarily by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to alleviate their guilt for Holocaust crimes and displace the Shoah from its unique status. If not, we are likely to soon find ourselves facing the cancellation of the numerous important achievements of the past decade in Holocaust commemoration and education and forced to fight an uphill battle against a new and distorted World War II historical narrative. The writer is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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