Christmas coming the European Union once again had to return to the
painful question of Europe’s Nazi and Stalinist past, to the war,
to the victims and culprits, and to the attempts to rewrite history.
With Christmas coming the European Union once again had to return to the painful
question of Europe’s Nazi and Stalinist past, to the war, to the
victims and culprits, and to the attempts to rewrite history. The
European Commission rejected on Tuesday a call from several former
Soviet bloc countries for the EU to pass a law against the “public
condoning, denial and gross trivialization of totalitarian crimes.”
Essentially, the law would officially equate Nazi and Stalinist prewar
and postwar crimes.
The authors fashioned the law on Nazi-Soviet equivalence
after the laws regarding the Holocaust in a number of EU countries.
Thirteen EU members prohibit the denial of the Holocaust or incitement
The Baltic States have long been pushing for a law
on “double genocide” that would apply to the whole of the EU. If
it were to become a Europe-wide law, it would provide cover for some
to conceal their own dark and bloody Nazi past.
A week ago, the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria,
Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic sent a letter urging Viviane
Reding, the European justice commissioner, to support the law. They
were told that the EU does not have legal grounds for this. The EU
justice commissioner’s spokesman, Matthew Newman, said that EU laws
regarding cross-border crimes as well as race and xenophobia do not
mention totalitarianism and that the commission rejects the idea
of double genocide. “The bottom line is, obviously, what they did
was horrendous, but communist regimes did not target ethnic minorities,”
It is good that these six countries wrote this letter,
for it calls much needed attention to the pro-Nazi sentiments that
exist in the Baltic. Examples abound. Here are just some recent ones.
In November, a certain Petras Stankeras wrote an article
for a popular Lithuanian weekly, Veidas, on the 65th anniversary
of the start of the Nuremberg Trials. Here is the quote that compelled
six ambassadors from EU countries to write a letter of protest to
the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry: “[Nuremberg] legalized the legend
about the supposed murder of 6 million Jews without submitting a
single document signed by Hitler…” (?!). Stankeras is not some random
neo-Nazi crank but an official historian with the Lithuanian Interior
Ministry. Following the ambassadors’ letter, he was asked to resign.
The Nazi sympathies in the Baltics are most alarming
not to Russia or Europe but rather to the Simon Wiesenthal Center,
which has been pursuing Nazi war criminals almost since the end of
the war. One of its leaders, Efraim Zuroff, thinks that the “sophisticated
symmetry” in the proposed law on double genocide conceals far-reaching
geopolitical aims – to make Russia a pariah by fostering an image
of the country as genocidal and no better than the Nazi regime.
When whole segments of a population are consumed with
nationalistic attitudes, there is typically a loss of reason, common
sense and historical memory. In Lithuania and Latvia, the ideology
of “dual genocide” has not only captivated the “righteous” political
parties and ministries, from the Foreign Ministry to the Interior
and Defense ministries; it has even penetrated academic circles and
the media. But try though they might to hide the swastikas of their
Nazi past behind a Soviet hammer and sickle, it is impossible to
The fact is that the massacre of Jews in Latvia and
Lithuania started immediately after the retreat of the Soviet troops
but BEFORE the arrival of the Nazis. As a percentage of the total
population, more Jews were killed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
than in any other European country. The Baltic countries had a uniquely
proactive brand of collaborationist policy. In France, Denmark, the
Netherlands, Norway, Greece and Belgium the authorities prepared
lists of Jews, brought them to the stations from which they were
shipped to death camps, and confiscated their property. Meanwhile,
there is documental evidence that in Lithuania and Latvia large numbers
of volunteers murdered Jews without any orders from above. The nearest
death camps were located in Poland, but the Baltics had their own
brutal answer to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor. This was not collaboration
but competition to kill the most Jews.
Nazi Romania, Hungary and Slovakia began their invasion
of the USSR on the same day as Nazi Germany. Their divisions and
battalions fought near Stalingrad, in southern Ukraine and the Crimea.
Romania under Antonescu annihilated half of its 600,000 Jews after
it took care of its Romani population. Hungarian war criminals perpetrated
such appalling atrocities in Vojvodina and some other regions of
former Yugoslavia that speaking Hungarian in those regions is a bad
idea even today.
Baltic death squads, like the Arais Kommando in Latvia
or Ypatingas Burys and the 12th Auxiliary Police Battalion in Lithuania,
committed such horrendous massacres that even the Germans considered
The Latvian SS Legion, the 15th Waffen-Grenadier Division
of the SS (1st Latvian) and the 19th Waffen-Grenadier Division of
the SS (2nd Latvian) were no rebels. These were all SS units.
Baltic legislatures have expanded the concept of genocide
to include deportations, imprisonment, loss of freedom for political
motives and many other things. If the events of the war are judged
by such dubious standards, the Soviets indeed behaved no better than
the Nazis. Accepting this, however, serves to play down what happened
at the beginning of the war in the three Baltic republics, what Hungarian
units did in Yugoslavia, and what Hungarians and Romanians did in
The builders vs. the liberators of Auschwitz
Nobody can deny the pain inflicted on these smaller
countries during the tragic Stalinist period of European history.
Our fatherland spilled blood wantonly both outside our borders and
within. The position of those who seek to rewrite history is almost
understandable, except that they only talk about Soviet crimes, not
totalitarianism in general, and what’s more, they never say a word
about their own crimes.
The contribution of the USSR and Russia to the Allied
victory is almost always mentioned in passing, as if our soldiers
were mere subcontractors, while the fate of the world was truly decided
in the Pacific or only after the Allied landing in Normandy. Or worse,
they are depicted as a horde of savages and slaves. This is not just
offensive, it is horrifying. Will we be able to preserve the memory
of those who died in that epic battle and of our role in it for the
sake of future generations? Will we be able to honor the fallen?
As Mr. Zuroff noted, “Despite the awful crimes of
the USSR, we cannot compare the people who built Auschwitz with those
who liberated it. If it had not been for Russia, Nazi Germany may
not have been defeated at all.”