Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Victims of Dictatorship Unite: Why Central Europeans, Jews and Israelis Should Cooperate, Not Compete

Please subscribe

By Barry Rubin

Note: This article is a response to an op-ed by Ephraim Zuroff in the Jerusalem Post. To show my respect for Mr. Zuroff, I gave a blurb which is on the back cover of his latest book. But it is necessary to rethink the relationship between Jews and the peoples of Central Europe—including Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and other countries—regarding the events of the World War Two era. Rather than compete over our sufferings in that period, we should join forces in exploring and exposing the traumas of that period.

Central to Mr. Zuroff’s argument is the claim that any emphasis by Central European countries regarding their own sufferings during World War Two—especially if it focuses on the oppression of the Stalinist USSR—is somehow a challenge to the uniqueness and importance of the mass murder of Jews in those countries. Indeed, it is implied that this effort borders on or even exemplifies antisemitism.

I think this argument is fallacious and a strategic mistake. It is never a good idea to concea history. Due to the existence of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc until 1991, the truth about the terrible oppression of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others was hidden away from the world until recently. As part of their national reassertion, these peoples want to highlight what happened to them and the full horror of their sufferings.

They have every right to do so. And why should we oppose this as long as it does not come with the ignoring or justification of the Shoah? Is our highest priority to set up a competition of suffering , in which we define these oppressions as conflicting rather than mutually reinforcing? Instead, we should fully participate, as Jews and Israelis, in this process for several good reasons.

One factor is that many Jews were among the victims of Soviet repression. In the Lithuanian museum in Vilnius housed in the former KGB headquarters, it is pointed out that about ten percent of those deported by the Soviets in 1940-1941 were Jews. One of them was Menahem Begin. Although being sent to Siberia saved those who survived those camps, this was not the intention. Almost 1,000 Jews were massacred by the KGB in the Katyn forest along with thousands of Poles. Is the blood of these Jews and the tens of thousands who perished in the Soviet Gulag of lesser value than those murdered by the Germans?

Indeed, even if it came a very distant second to the Nazis, the Stalin regime also targeted Jews and greatly contributed to their suffering. If it had not been for the Soviet-Nazi alliance, Hitler might not have been able to start the war in the first place. Stalin turned over some Jewish leaders to the Nazis and being a Zionist was a criminal offense under the Soviet regime, including in the countries conquered by Moscow during the war.

A second reason why we should join with Central Europeans in commemorating and revealing the true extent of this repression and mass murder is to help Jews and others understand today that antisemitism is not a monopoly of the political right. This is of high importance at a time when the main source of antisemitism along with hatred of Jews and Israel in the West is from a left which justifies itself by claiming that it is immune to that contagion.

Third, the idea that Jews should only deal with Central Europeans nowadays by demanding they endlessly proclaim their guilt over the Shoah is counterproductive, likely to produce resentment rather than acknowledgement by them of responsibility and true repentence. By merely demanding they acknowledge guilt over our suffering—often at their hands--while refusing to heed their historic suffering at the hands of others is setting up a conflict exploited by antisemitic elements. We should engage in a dialogue in which we respect their historical experience, which is also that of many Jews as well. On this basis of solidarity against totalitarianism, we can stand together as friends.

In fact, these are precisely issues on which we need to cooperate today. At a time when nationalism is viewed as an unacceptable evil, we should affirm the importance of our shared belief in the preciousness of our peoplehood. We share, too, the experience of knowing that the threats of those who would wipe us off the map must be taken seriously.

These are complex issues. To cite my family’s experience, the Soviets imprisoned my Zionist uncle in a cell with members of the Polish and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance; some relatives were deported to Siberia, others were saved from the Nazis by Polish collaborationist police who were secretly members of the Polish nationalist underground; still others were turned in by their Polish neighbors, and some were murdered by Lithuanian security police units; while others were saved by Red Army partisans but then kept as prisoners in the USSR for 12 years.

Mr. Zuroff ridicules the Lithuanian foreign minister for asking “How could it be that while some Lithuanians were risking their lives to save their Jewish neighbors, others were committing crimes by sending them to death?" Mr. Zuroff is right in saying that far more were committing crimes than saving neighbors. But the foreign minister is asking a central question: How did people in each of these countries choose sides and what can we learn from this process?

Finally, there is the question of the Jewish Communists, some of whom tortured and murdered local people—including other Jews—in the service of the Soviet secret police. Antisemites use this to stir up anti-Jewish hatred, just as the Nazis did (a point well made in Latvia’s museum on both the Shoah and their oppression by Germans and Soviet occupiers) . By refusing to deal with this issue we only help them do so. We should discuss this issue honestly. Just as the action of Nazi collaborators did not turn whole countries into war criminals, all Jews should not be held responsible for the deeds of a tiny minority. Moreover, these people did not act as Jews but as enemies of the Jewish people.

It is an important lesson for Jews to understand how some of their number betrayed them. Jewish Communists led the way in destroying the Jewish religion, language, and culture in the Soviet Union and satellite states. This is an important lesson for today where Jewish extreme leftists smear Israel and endeavor to hurt or destroy it.

In short, it is in our moral and political interest to join with Central Europeans in seeking to understand the truth about the past and its significance for the present. That includes acknowledging their suffering from both the Nazis and Stalinists during World War Two, and the latter for the half-century thereafter. One important element here is teaching about the costs and crimes of Communism in Western schools as well as the depredations of Nazism.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.