The Baltic states are eras­ing the mem­ory of the Holo­caust — and even pros­e­cut­ing sur­vivors. Where is our out­rage?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - JONATHAN FREED­LAND

WITH YOM KIP­PUR com­ing up, I know we are meant to be aton­ing for our own sins rather than mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions against oth­ers. But some crimes are too big to ig­nore. The crime in ques­tion is the Holo­caust — or, more pre­cisely, the way we re­mem­ber it. As the rem­nant of sur­vivors shrinks, and as that event passes from liv­ing mem­ory into his­tory, there is a bat­tle un­der­way for how the Shoah will be recorded for pos­ter­ity.

We think we know who our en­e­mies are in this strug­gle. We would cite David Irv­ing, re­cently al­lowed onto the air­waves of BBC Ra­dio where he was de­scribed as a “con­tro­ver­sial his­to­rian”, even though the High Court has es­tab­lished that he is, in fact, a “pro-Nazi polemi­cist” (to quote the judge in his 2000 li­bel trial). We would men­tion Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad, who reg­u­larly ques­tions the his­tor­i­cal ve­rac­ity of the Holo­caust.

But th­ese are the easy tar­gets. We are turn­ing a blind eye to an­other, no less se­ri­ous as­sault on the truth of the Shoah, an as­sault mounted by those widely re­garded as our friends.

I am speak­ing of the Baltic states, those that now sit in the Euro­pean Union as ap­par­ently demo­cratic na­tions. Take Lithua­nia. It re­cently de­cided to take se­ri­ously its obli­ga­tion to chase down those guilty of war crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the Sec­ond World War — by in­ves­ti­gat­ing four Holo­caust sur­vivors, Jews who had de­fied the Nazi slaugh­ter to fight as par­ti­sans.

You read that right. Four he­roes of the Jewish re­sis­tance are wanted for ques­tion­ing by the Lithua­nian state pros­e­cu­tor. Among those in­ves­ti­gated is Yitzhak Arad, for­mer head of Yad Vashem. Now 81, he faced prose­cu­tion — only dropped in re­cent days — for his con­duct as a 16-year-old. His mis­take, it seems, was to have re­called in his mem­oirs the raid he and his com­rades made on the vil­lage of Gir­d­e­nai. That place was a tar­get, ac­cord­ing to Dr Arad, be­cause its peo­ple, armed by the Nazis, had shot par­ti­sans while the lat­ter tried to take food.

Hunt­ing down the vic­tims like this is shock­ing — but it shouldn’t come as too much of a sur­prise. Af­ter all, since in­de­pen­dence in 1991, Lithua­nia has pros­e­cuted only three for­mer col­lab­o­ra­tors with the Nazis. And that’s not be­cause such peo­ple are in short sup­ply. On the con­trary, the Lithua­ni­ans joined the Nazi Jew-killing ef­fort with such glee that they wiped out 95 per cent of the coun­try’s Jewish pop­u­la­tion — 200,000 peo­ple — which put them close to the top of the col­lab­o­ra­tion league ta­ble. Of course, Ger­man of­fi­cers led and di­rected the op­er­a­tion. But it was lo­cal Lithua­nian vol­un­teers who made the speed and scale of it pos­si­ble. And they didn’t just dis­ap­pear in 1945.

The pur­suit of Dr Arad and his fel­low par­ti­sans is ap­palling, but it fits with a Lithua­nian ef­fort to play down the hor­rors of the Nazi era — and to cast them­selves as the real vic­tims. Vil­nius’s Mu­seum of Geno­cide Vic­tims lingers on the 74,500 Lithua­ni­ans who suf­fered un­der Moscow’s post-war rule, but makes only a brief men­tion of — and fea­tures no exhibit on — the 200,000 mur­dered Jews. Sim­i­larly, while only those three Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors have been pros­e­cuted, there have been 24 pros­e­cu­tions of Soviet-era crimes.

In this, Lithua­nia is ut­terly in step with its neigh­bours. Latvia gained un­wanted pub­lic­ity when it de­clared a pub­lic hol­i­day, “Le­gion­naires’ Day”, to cel­e­brate the vet­er­ans of the Lat­vian Le­gion Waf­fen SS. In at­ten­dance at the 2005 rally in Riga of th­ese old Jew-killers was the head of Latvia’s armed forces and the deputy speaker of its par­lia­ment. Lo­cal Rus­sian-speak­ing Lat­vians mounted a counter-demon­stra­tion, but they were con­demned by the Lat­vian pres­i­dent for fail­ing to re­spect the SS men’s “right of free speech”.

Mean­while, a bill reached the Es­to­nian par­lia­ment last year hon­our­ing those who had vol­un­teered for the 20th Waf­fen Gre­nadier Divi­sion of the SS as “fight­ers for Es­to­nia’s in­de­pen­dence” — and en­sur­ing they got a de­cent pen­sion.

Now, I un­der­stand what th­ese Baltic na­tions are up to. The op­pres­sor they are keen to re­mem­ber is Stalin and the Soviet Union: that makes them want to air­brush away the Nazi pe­riod, re­cast­ing Lithua­nian SS men as early free­dom fight­ers against Moscow.

But here is what I don’t un­der­stand. Where is the Jewish out­rage on this? Where are the in­sti­tu­tions that, rightly, look out for an­tisemitism in ev­ery cor­ner of the Arab press and ev­ery nook and cranny of the bl­o­go­sphere? Why are they — we — not scream­ing blue mur­der at the con­duct of th­ese na­tions, now given the full re­spectabil­ity of EU mem­ber­ship?

Could it be that our com­mu­nal leaders would rather not make waves be­cause th­ese na­tions of the “New Europe” are pro-Amer­ica and there­fore, usu­ally, pro-Is­rael? Or is it be­cause we have de­cided our fight with rad­i­cal Is­lamism takes prece­dence over all other threats, in­clud­ing this kind of naked as­sault on our past?

I don’t know what the an­swer is. I only know that what is go­ing on is ap­palling — and our si­lence shame­ful.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.