July 7, 2020

The uncomfortable memory of Jewish extermination in communist regimes | Babelia


The Eastern European countries where the bulk of the Holocaust took place are the same as those that had (USSR) or adopted (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia …) communist regimes at the end of World War II. When El Hierro Curtain came down in 1991, they set out on the path to the European Union with two elements: insecurity about their national identity and a collective memory in which the central element was not the Holocaust, but the most recent crimes of communism. The fit of these elements in the central and cosmopolitan vision of the Holocaust that the EU has has been complex, it has carried out noteworthy struggles as the antifascist and has allowed the instrumentalization of the Shoah and contributed to legitimize fascism. This is the thesis defended by Jelena Subotic, an expert in memory studies and a professor of Political Science at Georgia State University (USA), in the essay Yellow Star, Red Star: Holocaust Remembrance After Communism (Yellow Star, Red Star: The Holocaust Remembrance After Communism), recently published in English by Cornell University Press.

With few exceptions, such as Yugoslavia, these States came from a time, the communist, in which the extermination of six million Jews was subsumed by the heroic narrative of victory in World War II and of mentions to the victims without distinctions. For example, in the Buchenwald concentration camp, then in East Germany, the focus was on the Nazi persecution of the Communists and the revolt they led, leaving aside both the thousands of Jews who died in the camp and the role of United States troops in their liberation. “This erasure of the Jewish experience under communism also continued after the war, since Jewish identity – especially its religious element – was drowned out by the new construction of a supranational, ethnicized and secular subject,” he explains. As historian Tony Judt noted, “The uncomfortable truth about World War II is that what happened to the Jews between 1939 and 1945 was not nearly as important to most protagonists as subsequent sensitivities might wish.”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, the new democratic states were expected to contribute to the way of remembering the Holocaust that had already developed in western Europe, where it occupies a central element (with its museums , their adapted academic curricula, their commemorations, etc.) and the exceptional nature of the Shoah or Jewish suffering are not in doubt. “But it was a difficult and sometimes impossible demand to fulfill. That memory of the Holocaust was not central to the identities of these States. What was central to their identities was the remembrance of communism and a trial of past crimes that was threatening was being called for. , unwanted and offensive to the newly constructed post-communist narratives. However, to participate in a united Europe, post-communist states could not simply reject Holocaust remembrance. They needed a way to participate in a larger European memory space, but in their own terms. “

“This remembrance of the Holocaust is not exactly denialism. Although it is problematic, it does not present voices that deny the Holocaust as a historical fact or question its more established realities. It is also not trivialization. Although the emphasis is on broader ethnic suffering, it is relatively little It is common to hear a clear disregard for the persecution of the Jews. A more nuanced way of understanding it is ‘appropriation of memory’, in which the memory of the Holocaust is used to remember a different type of suffering, such as that suffered during communism or for ethnic violence perpetrated by other groups, “writes Subotic.

In 2016, Polish public television aired the film 'Ida', suggesting a murder of Jews by Poles, with a warning about
In 2016, Polish public television aired the film ‘Ida’, suggesting a murder of Jews by Poles, with a warning about

A very present element in these narratives is the externalization of guilt. In 2016, for example, Polish public television aired the Oscar-winning film Going, in which a murder of Jews at the hands of Poles is suggested, with a warning about the “historical inaccuracies” of the film, recalls the author. The Government also approved in 2018 to punish with up to three years in prison the use of the expression “Polish concentration camps” to refer to the extermination centers located in the country under Nazi occupation, such as Auschwitz or Treblinka.

“In trying to create their new post-communist identity, many of these countries ran into the problem of what their political identity is,” Subotic notes in a telephone interview. “And the problem is that many of them were fascists the last time they were independent. When they started criminalizing communism and talking about villains being those who had been considered heroes in communism, they turned the script around and many who had been considered fascists or collaborationists they became new national heroes just because they were anti-communists. This rehabilitation of fascists, collaborationists, and far-right leaders from the 1930s or 1940s is very dangerous. “

Subotic looks at three countries in his essay: Serbia, Croatia, and Lithuania. In the first, an “inversion of memory” has been given to his judgment, in which the Holocaust and its images “are directly appropriate” to represent other victims: the ethnic Serb majority. The Croatian case is more of “divergence”. “Here the Holocaust is disconnected from other genocidal crimes committed during World War II, in order to make the Holocaust a uniquely Nazi (ie, German) problem and absolve the local political community of its participation in it.” During the war, the Croatian ustasha were allies of the Nazis and established a state in which they murdered tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies.

For Lithuania the author uses the term “memory fusion”. “The Holocaust is directly combined with other atrocities, such as Stalinism,” during which the country suffered deportations and mass arrests. In fact, to prosecute the crimes of the communist era, apply the legal infrastructure developed to do so with those of the Holocaust. “In post-communist Europe, the role of the wicked is reserved for communism as the newest source of oppression and persecution,” sums up Subotic. “The great delegitimization of communism that has swept across Europe since 1991 has also produced a legitimization of fascism, which is repackaged, renamed, and reinterpreted to appear more acceptable and polite in the 21st century.”

Star, Red Star: Holocaust Remembrance After Communism. Jelena Subotic. Cornell University Press. 241 pages.

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