A threat too serious to ignore

Israel should take action on Holocaust-related issues as some "culprits" likely to take over EU presidency.

Vilnus Holocuast memorial (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vilnus Holocuast memorial
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 threats.
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.
In 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 terrible.
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 crimes.
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 European history.
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 country.
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.
His 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 revisionism.
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.