Recent events in four different Eastern European countries have once again highlighted the ongoing assault on the accepted Holocaust narrative in the post-communist world. Three attracted considerable attention, while the fourth, which perhaps affords us the best insight into the phenomenon of Eastern European attempts to rewrite World War II history, was virtually ignored, until it aroused a solitary Jewish protest.
In Kiev, Odessa and Lviv, on January 1, hundreds marched to mark the birthday of Ukrainian nationalist hero Stepan Bandera, who headed the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN ), which collaborated with the Nazis and actively participated in the mass murder of Jews following the German occupation of Ukraine in 1941. A few days later, the regional council of the Ukrainian oblast of Ivano-Frankivsk declared 2012 the year of the UPA, the military wing of the OUN.
From Estonia, on December 27, it was reported that the country's defense ministry planned to submit a bill to parliament that would recognize Estonians who served in the 20th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, which fought alongside German troops as "freedom fighters" for the country's independence - despite the fact that Nazi Germany had no intention of granting Estonia freedom. While the Waffen-SS division did not participate in Holocaust crimes (by the time it was established the Jews of Estonia had already been murdered ), its members included men who had previously been involved in killing Jews and Gypsies.
In Zagreb and Split, Croatia, memorial masses were conducted on December 28 to honor Ante Pavelic, its World War II head of state, who bears responsibility for the mass murder of hundreds-of-thousands of Serbs, 30,000 Jews and several thousand Roma. Pavelic, who was installed by the Germans, created one of the most lethal and brutal regimes in Axis-dominated Europe.
The fourth event involved former Lithuanian foreign minister Vygaudas Usackas, currently the EU Special Representative to Afghanistan, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he characterized the Nazi occupation of his homeland during the years 1941-1945 as "a few years' respite from the communists."
In view of the fact that 96.4 percent of the 220,000 Lithuanian Jews who lived there under the German occupation were murdered (along with thousands more Jews deported there from Western and Central Europe ), many by local Nazi collaborators, Usackas' description was grossly insensitive, if not outright outrageous. Yet in response to my criticism, Usackas issued a public statement in which he justified his original text by pointing to the unbalanced treatment in Western public opinion of "the crimes of Stalin's regime ... and the tragedy of its victims," which had only recently received due legal recognition, "in contrast to Nazi crimes which have been universally condemned by all civilized humanity." And while he did reiterate an earlier condemnation of Holocaust crimes in general, his comments did not mention a word about the tragic plight of Lithuanian Jewry or the horrific crimes committed by Lithuanians during the "respite" from Soviet occupation.
Such callous indifference to the fate of over 200,000 Lithuanian citizens, murdered in many cases by their own countrymen, may seem shocking coming from an official representative of the European Union, but recent events in Lithuania clearly indicate the government's determination to rewrite the history books to cover up the crimes of local Nazi collaborators. In this regard, one example stands out: a conference held in the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament ) last June to mark the 70th anniversary of the German invasion. The conference's main purpose was to glorify the Lithuanian Activist Front, a political group that collaborated with the Nazis in the hope of reestablishing Lithuanian independence, and that openly called for violence against the Jews. This incitement was a factor in the widespread attacks on Jews in 46 Lithuanian communities even before the arrival of Nazi troops - a well-documented phenomenon whose existence was denied at the conference.
All of the above cases can best be described as "Holocaust distortion" (as opposed to denial ), which seeks to promote the canard of historical equivalency between Nazi and communist crimes, thereby denying the Holocaust its rightful place as a unique case of genocide. Such distortion also minimizes the highly significant role of Hitler's Eastern European collaborators in Holocaust crimes and paves the way for the rehabilitation of those who fought against the Soviets, regardless of any crimes they may have committed against Jews. It is this ideological foundation that spawned all four events described above.
This approach was originally formulated in the Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, which can properly be categorized as the official "manifesto of Holocaust distortion." The declaration's original signatories - 27 leading Eastern European political leaders and intellectuals - openly warn that Europe will never be united until it "recognize[s] communism and Nazism as a common legacy," and makes practical demands that if accepted would lead to a revolutionary reevaluation of World War II history, and turn the Holocaust into just another of many similar tragedies. Unfortunately, resolutions supporting these principles have already passed by a wide margin in the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
It is time for the Israeli government and Jewish defense organizations to begin actively combating these dangerous phenomena, lest the successes achieved during recent decades in Holocaust commemoration and education worldwide be erased by those trying to conceal the crimes of their countrymen.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. A German edition of his latest book, "Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice," was published last month by Prospero Verlag.
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