Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Victims of Dictatorship Unite: Why Central Europeans, Jews and Israelis Should Cooperate, Not Compete

Barry Rubin
The Rubin Report
30 December 09

Note: This article is a response to an op-ed by Ephraim Zuroff in the Jerusalem Post. To show my respect for Mr. Zuroff, I gave a blurb which is on the back cover of his latest book. But it is necessary to rethink the relationship between Jews and the peoples of Central Europe—including Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and other countries—regarding the events of the World War Two era. Rather than compete over our sufferings in that period, we should join forces in exploring and exposing the traumas of that period.

Central to Mr. Zuroff’s argument is the claim that any emphasis by Central European countries regarding their own sufferings during World War Two—especially if it focuses on the oppression of the Stalinist USSR—is somehow a challenge to the uniqueness and importance of the mass murder of Jews in those countries. Indeed, it is implied that this effort borders on or even exemplifies antisemitism.

I think this argument is fallacious and a strategic mistake. It is never a good idea to concea history. Due to the existence of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc until 1991, the truth about the terrible oppression of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others was hidden away from the world until recently. As part of their national reassertion, these peoples want to highlight what happened to them and the full horror of their sufferings.

They have every right to do so. And why should we oppose this as long as it does not come with the ignoring or justification of the Shoah? Is our highest priority to set up a competition of suffering , in which we define these oppressions as conflicting rather than mutually reinforcing? Instead, we should fully participate, as Jews and Israelis, in this process for several good reasons.

One factor is that many Jews were among the victims of Soviet repression. In the Lithuanian museum in Vilnius housed in the former KGB headquarters, it is pointed out that about ten percent of those deported by the Soviets in 1940-1941 were Jews. One of them was Menahem Begin. Although being sent to Siberia saved those who survived those camps, this was not the intention. Almost 1,000 Jews were massacred by the KGB in the Katyn forest along with thousands of Poles. Is the blood of these Jews and the tens of thousands who perished in the Soviet Gulag of lesser value than those murdered by the Germans?

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