My 2012 documentary film Rewriting History tracked the emergence of “double genocide” and the rewriting of the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania. The film warned that what was occurring in Lithuania was a harbinger of something that could become more widespread and ultimately mainstream in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately recent events in Hungary bear this out.
In a series of moves that emulate the Lithuanian rewriting of Holocaust history, the Hungarian government is engaged in deception and double-speak as they plan June’s official 70th anniversary commemoration of the 1944 Nazi occupation of Hungary. This was an event that led to 437,000 Jews being sent to Nazi death camps within weeks.
The characteristics and manifestations of double genocide were documented in my film’s story about Lithuania, and they are seen again with what is occurring in Hungary.
Firstly, while the Holocaust is commemorated, it is relativized with local suffering. While locals in Lithuania and Hungary did indeed suffer in brutal ways, the relativizing completely distorts the experience and nature of suffering.
Secondly, and concomitantly, the relativizing acts to deflect local culpability in the Holocaust. As such, it is a form of Holocaust denial.
This rewriting of history is not a fringe phenomena on the part of some extremists. In both Lithuania and Hungary we see the state coming to the fore in making double genocide part of public policy. A core part of the planned Hungarian commemoration is a statue and memorial center in Budapest, something that the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, (Mazsihisz), has taken great offense at. They say it plays down Hungarian collaboration with the Nazis and would depict Hungary as a victim of German aggression, when in fact the country’s wartime fascist government was an ally of Hitler. Indeed, this is the essence of double genocide.
Lithuania, too, has lots of memorials. There is a Holocaust Museum in the capital Vilna, a little wooden structure off a side alley. It pales in comparison with the massive “Genocide Museum” (tellingly the only official “genocide” museum in the capital), which is almost entirely dedicated to the Lithuanian, i.e. non-Jewish, “genocide” and thus advances the rewriting of history.
This Genocide Museum also reflects another key element of double genocide, as perpetrators of the Holocaust are lauded as national heroes and victims in their countries’ struggle against Soviet occupation – rather than being recognized for their role in the destruction of the country’s Jewish community.
Miklos Horthy was Hungary’s autocratic leader through most of the Second World War. Recently far-right groups have been erecting statues praising this leader and the government has let this happen. Once again there is a striking similarity with the Lithuanian experience, where streets are named after local nationalists who were also Jew-killers.
In Lithuania’s case it was only two years ago that the Lithuanian government repatriated from America and reburied with full honors the remains of the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” who personally signed papers confirming shipment of the Jews to death camps and ghettos.
Indeed, the fact that these leaders of yesterday are lauded today tells us a lot about current leaders and public attitudes.
In a development suited to an Orwell novel, governments are formally involved in establishing putatively historical research institutes, but which in effect work to advance the rewriting of history. The director of Hungary’s new history research institute called a 1941 deportation of tens of thousands of Jews “a policy procedure for foreign nationals.” Once again, the similarity to Lithuania is striking.
Hungary’s main Jewish organization has rightly voted to stay away from the upcoming official Holocaust commemorations unless they more clearly show the role of Hungarians in deporting Jews. Unfortunately the Lithuanian experience demonstrates that this is something Holocaust- collaborating countries resist. It is understandable why; this is a dark stain on their national past and a painful thing to admit. But it is the only moral choice, and the only option if true Holocaust commemoration is to occur in countries such as Hungary and Lithuania.
The double-genociders try to have it both ways, so while at home they undermine the memory of the Holocaust, overseas they maintain ties with Jewish organizations with whom they speak about the Holocaust, and where there is often ignorance about the local context and nuance on which double genocide is predicated. One way they maintain ties with world Jewry is bestowing them with medals and accolades. In the case of Hungary, prominent Holocaust historian Randolph L. Braham returned a high state award in order to protest what he says are government efforts to rewrite history. Elie Wiesel did the same. However, Jewish organizations and individuals who have been bestowed with similar medals by the Lithuanian government continue to cling to them. These PR exercises may have worked in keeping many Jewish organizations quiet.
Non-Jews, by contrast, have stood up and clearly and loudly said no to double genocide. Specifically, in January 2012, a symbolic number of 70 European politicians from across the Continent and the political spectrum signed the “The Seventy Years Declaration on the Final Solution Conference at Wannsee.” This declaration recognizes the uniqueness of the Holocaust and explicitly rejects double genocide and its distortion and undermining of what the Holocaust was.
Together with Dovid Katz I coauthored the Seventy Years Declaration. I am pleased to say that Britain’s United Synagogue and the World Union for Progressive Judaism have signed the Declaration. But Jewish organizations have for the most part failed to act in response to the emergence of double genocide in Lithuania. If they don’t want Hungary to be part of a spreading of this form of Holocaust denial they must act now. It is now time for all individuals and organizations to add their names to the declaration, which they can do at www.seventyyearsdeclation.org.
In remarks made about Hungary but that could equally apply to Lithuanian, Braham described “a cowardly attempt to detract attention from the Horthy (Nazialigned) regime’s involvement in the destruction of the Jews and to homogenize the Holocaust with the ‘suffering’ of the Hungarians [under] German occupation, [which] as the record clearly shows, was not only unopposed but generally applauded.”
Similarly, Hungarian Jewish leader Gusztáv Zoltai summarized, “Neither my mother nor my father were put on the wagons by Germans, but by Hungarians who passed them over to the Germans. Of course it is not only about taking responsibility, but people need to acknowledge that it happened this way.”
The author is an associate professor at Deakin University in Australia and the maker of the documentary film Rewriting History, www.rewriting-history.org
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