Victims of the Nazi-backed Ustasha regime killed at the end of the World War Two lay on the ground surrounded by posing Ustasha soldiers near the Sava River in Croatia in 1945. (photo credit:REUTERS)
... in Croatia ... the accepted narrative of World War II and the Holocaust have come under heavy attack from ultra-nationalists and revisionists.
... less than two weeks ago, at the official state ceremony commemorating the victims at Jasenovac, the largest and most notorious of the concentration camps established by the Ustasha regime, which was nicknamed “The Auschwitz of the Balkans,” a new low was reached in terms of Holocaust commemoration. On the direct intervention of Natasha Jovicic, the director of the memorial complex, who also serves as a special adviser to the president on Holocaust issues, notorious Ustasha supporters from the Croatian National Platform were allowed to lay a wreath in memory of “all the victims of the camp from 1941 until 1951.”
The practical implication of this outrage was to legitimize the myth propagated by the Ustasha apologists that the postwar Communist regime turned Jasenovac after its liberation in April 1945 into a death camp where innocent people were murdered, thereby creating a false symmetry between Ustasha and Communist crimes. (The local Serb and Jewish communities, as well as the organized opponents of fascism, had justly refused to attend this official state ceremony to protest the failure of the government to stem the resurgence of neo-fascism and Ustasha nostalgia, and therefore were not present, and could not have prevented this outrage.)
The problematic events in Croatia are only the tip of a huge iceberg of Holocaust distortion which is spreading throughout post-Communist Eastern Europe. An important part of the explanation for this dangerous phenomenon has to do with the history of the area during the Holocaust. While the Nazis sought and succeeded to enlist local collaborators in every country they occupied, as well as in those allied with them, only in Eastern Europe did collaboration with the Nazis include active participation in mass murder.
Thus while the Nazis’ helpers elsewhere actively assisted in the implementation of the initial stages of the Final Solution (definition: Aryanization of property and valuables, concentration and deportation), these collaborators were not the ones who committed the murders. They were accessories to murder, having sent Jews to be annihilated in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
In countries like Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Belarus, local collaborators were integrated into the mechanism of the mass murder of the Jews. This historical fact is one of the main reasons why these countries find it so difficult to tell, teach and write the truth about World War II and the Shoa.
Another reason is their oppression under the Communists and their desire to obtain recognition and compensation for their suffering.
In that regard, the success achieved on behalf of Holocaust survivors is a source of envy, and one which these countries seek, unsuccessfully until now, to replicate.
These two factors are the main themes of the attempts to rewrite the accepted narrative of World War II and the Holocaust – to minimize or hide the crimes of local perpetrators and to promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes. They find practical expression in the Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, which calls for a rewriting of European textbooks to reflect the supposed historical equivalency between the crimes of the two totalitarian regimes, the establishment of a European Institute of Memory and Conscience which would serve as a museum/memorial and research center along the lines of Yad Vashem, and a joint memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian regimes to be observed on August 23, the day that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a Non-Aggression pact.
Needless to say, the adoption of any of these demands would seriously undermine the hereto accepted perception of the Holocaust as a unique historical event and the singular fate of Jews under the Third Reich.
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the views expressed in the Prague Declaration were fairly strong in Eastern Europe, but they were not so actively promoted, for fear that they might negatively affect these countries’ chances of obtaining entry to the European Union and NATO. Once that goal was achieved, however, all restraint in this regard disappeared and now the revisionist agenda is being pursued with vigor.
I wish I could say that the EU, the US, Canada and Israel were taking the necessary steps to prevent the revised version of history being promoted in Eastern Europe from being accepted, but unfortunately virtually nothing has been done.
A variety of political and economic interests have combined to prevent any effective action and in the meantime, an entire generation of Eastern Europeans has grown up virtually ignorant of the Holocaust crimes of their own countrymen and convinced that Communist crimes (which in Eastern Europe are out of all proportion to reality – and blamed on Jews) were just as bad as those of the Nazis.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is another good opportunity for a wake-up call in this regard.
*The author is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. His most recent book, Musiskiai; Kelione Su Priesu (in Lithuanian, “Our People: Journey With an Enemy”) which deals with Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes, was published in January 2016 by Alma Littera.