It's not a good idea to mention a noose in the home of a hanged man. But Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia who visited Israel this week, has the chutzpah to openly say explicit and distorted things, even at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. The two nations, the Jews and the Estonians, so he said, "are partners to the same historical experience."
According to the Estonian president's distorted logic, the Jewish victims who were murdered by the Estonians during the Holocaust, and the Estonian hangmen who annihilated the Jews, are "partners." In that same speech, the guest made no mention of the Holocaust, not even one word, nor of the fate of Estonia's 4,500 Jews during World War II.
Let's do it for him and briefly remind the president of the historical facts. Most people in Estonia, just like the citizens of its two Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Latvia, welcomed the arrival of the Nazis and considered them liberators and not conquerors. It was the good fortune of the Jews of Estonia that, after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they held back for a few weeks until they were ready to overrun that country. In the meantime, around 3,500 Jews managed to escape to the Soviet Union.
Of the approximately 1,000 Jews who remained in Estonia, 993 were murdered by the Nazis and their Estonian collaborators. Thousands of European Jews were transported by the Nazis to Estonia and murdered in the concentration camps there. The camp guards were Estonians. The 36th battalion of the Estonian security police took part alongside the SS in the mass shooting of the Jews of Nowogrodek in what is now Belarus.
The Estonian president lived for many years in the United States and graduated from Columbia University in New York; it is clear that his remarks were well thought out and not made by chance. Ilves does not deny the Holocaust, he simply ignores it, so it is fitting to call him a "Holocaust distorter," a term popularized by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel.
This definition covers a new species of leaders in the Baltic countries, as well as in central and eastern Europe, who since the collapse of the Soviet Union have sought to rewrite history and draw an analogy between the Nazi occupation of their countries and the Soviet occupation. As far as these leaders are concerned, there is no difference between Nazism and Communism.
These leaders are trying to create a false equation according to which the Nazis' crimes in the Holocaust are not a unique phenomenon in history. Therefore, from their point of view, the Jews' murderers who collaborated with the Nazis and fought against the Soviet occupation are heroes. So the authorities have set up monuments and memorial sites for them.
These leaders who got together under the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism in June 2008 are now striving to declare August 23 a memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian regimes. Europe will never be able to really be united, they claim, if it does not recognize the "joint heritage" of Nazism and Communism.
If, heaven forbid, this actually happens, it will make Holocaust Day, which is marked throughout the world, redundant. Who will need Holocaust Memorial Day if there is a joint memorial day that brings together the hangmen and their victims under one roof? One of the main activists in this group of leaders of the Prague Declaration is the Estonian president.
Distorting history is a widespread phenomenon in Estonia. Under international pressure, that country was forced to declare January 27 as Holocaust Memorial Day, but in an opinion poll, 93 percent of Estonians said they were opposed to it.
Nevertheless, the gravity of the Estonian president's position is dwarfed by the thunderous and shameful silence with which his remarks were received in Israel. No one got up to protest - neither the president, Shimon Peres, nor the aggressive foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who is so worried about Israel's honor. Neither Yad Vashem nor the heads of the various Holocaust research institutes at the universities.
Official Israel uses the memory of the Holocaust for its political and security needs, but it does not object when history is distorted and doesn't really care about the memory of the Holocaust. It appears that only a handful of historians like Dr. Zuroff and Prof. Dov Levin, who has retired from Yad Vashem (and this perhaps is the reason for the institute's embarrassing silence on the matter ) are continuing to fight a rearguard battle against the deniers and distorters of the Holocaust.
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