24 March 2010

In defense of my mixed feelings

I keep returning to the excellent post Defending history by Peter Ryley aka The Fat Man on a Keyboard. In this post Peter reflects on the article by Dovid Katz who protests the recent attempts by the Baltic countries to obfuscate their complicity in the Holocaust and willing cooperation with the Nazis. Says Dovid Katz:

In the case of the countries in the far east of the European Union, the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), there is a reluctance to own up to any complicity with the Holocaust.
Reluctance is a very delicate term for outright denial, I would say. Add to the list Ukraine, where haloing of nationalist movements, largely cooperating with the Nazis, is in vogue, and Moldova - to lesser extent, and the list of Soviet republics where the extermination of Jews was started by the eager locals as soon as the Soviet Army left, even before the German troops invaded, will be almost complete.

The desire to rationalize their complicity in Nazi genocide by equating Hitler with Stalin is quite easy to understand. Keep your people in denial for a long enough time, and here goes the history. Add to this the creeping and gradual rehabilitation of all kinds of Nazi collaborators, and in a few years the whole history of Eastern Europe in XX century will be good for the undertakers.

Significance of the Hitler = Stalin formula, though, goes beyond the pathetic attempts by some countries to rewrite some episodes of their history.

It is impossible to disagree with Peter when he states:
Certainly both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian, but the specifics of their historical roots, the source of their support, motivation of their supporters and their ideological aims were markedly different. The trouble is that the term is often not used analytically, but as abuse or simply for playing a game of guilt by association.
It is impossible for me, being Jewish, to forget that the Nazi Germany was a place where the arguably singular decision to exterminate a whole nation was put into a calculated and methodical execution, with no equals. Many a revisionist of history today tries to obscure this fact by (correct) references to mass murder of other nations, but still - no other nation but Jews was a target for total extinction. Even Romanies (Gypsies) were executed by the Nazis selectively (only nomadic ones).

It is impossible as well for me to forget that the Soviet Red Army and its millions of fallen soldiers was the chief protector of the Soviet Jews and I shall never stop being grateful for it.

And yet... For me, neither an historian nor a philosopher, there is a strong emotional aspect to this impossible and wrong Hitler = Stalin equation. Yes, some of my relatives were murdered by the Nazis (and by the above mentioned local collaborators as well). And yes, I shall never be able to watch a documentary about Holocaust to the end, my heart being torn by the sheer evil shown on the screen and by the love to the people who perished.

But then, my other relatives, having escaped the horrors of the Nazi genocide machine, were thrown into GULAG for no other crime than the desire to reach the socialist heaven or for a wrong joke told to a wrong person. I, myself, have my (short-lived) belief in communist ideals extinguished after learning enough from people who have seen the other side of the Soviet "heaven", from the great books like GULAG Archipelago and The Great Terror. I know what would have happened to my family and many other Jewish families, hadn't Stalin croaked when he did, about the trains already being prepared and the slow extinction already awaiting the Soviet Jewry.

I vividly remember the greyness and the incessant daily lie that was called Soviet Union, the mental oppressiveness of the regime maintained by liars for unbelievers. I shall be forever grateful to the powers beyond the Iron Curtain that forced the regime to its knees and liberated millions of people in Eastern Europe and Asia to choose their own way of life. Unlike many a Western "intellectual", I shall not badmouth or try to diminish the struggle of millions of people in the West who contributed to the victory in the Cold War, nor will I deny, like some morons tend to, the mere reality of the Cold War.

It is indeed, as Peter states, vitally important to keep our history right. With different forces trying to "revise" some facts according to their ideology, religion or simply desire to avoid the shame, the history should be kept from many different attempts to rewrite it. Whether it's a creature of David Irving's ilk that whitewashes Hitler or Seumas Milne with his creeping revision of Stalin's butchery or Baltic states' leaders wiggling out of guilt - the vigilance in protecting history from all of them is an endless task.

As for my personal view: I'll hate Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and a few others with the same intensity. Even if it's historically incorrect.

And I believe (no, I know) that I am not contradicting anything in Peter's view.


jams o donnell said...

your post and  fat man on akeyboard's post are most certainly food for thought. I will have to visit his blog more frequently.

I'll fast forward to the end - hating Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and the others may be historically incorrect (I don't think so though) but utterly correct on a moral and humanitarian level and that will do for me.

As for hiostory perhaps we would be better off staring our histories in the face and learning from it rather than creating some bullshit idllyic past.

Dick Stanley said...

Nice post, Snoop. Good, thoughtful words. Apropo history, I am reminded of the old Mexican proverb: "History is a trick the living play on the dead." Worth fighting, for sure.

David All said...

Thanks Snoopy for two very good posts from Peter Ryley and yourself on the twin modern barbrianisms of Facism and Communism and their twin Monsters who headed them, Hitler and Stalin. Thanks also for the fine comments from Jams O Donnell and Dick Stanley.

It is incredible to realize that two of the world's greatest nations, Germany and Russia should both be ruled at the same time by these two gigantic mass murderers. This story in all its complexity is something that must be taught to each generation and never be forgotten.

Allen Bullock's "Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives" (1993) is perhaps the best history of both men by a great historian. Link to http://www.amazon.com/Hitler-Stalin-Parallel-Alan-Bullock/dp/0679729941#noop
Read about about two very different Jews and their fates under Hitler and Stalin in the novel, "Two for the Devil" by Allen Hoffman at http://www.amazon.com/Devil-Small-World-Allen-Hoffman/dp/0789206412     

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SnoopyTheGoon said...

I live by the definition Ambrose Bierce made up many years ago:


An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

The Plump One is certainly up there with the best.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Er... thanks (blushing).

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Thank you, David, for you kind words and thanks for the links too.