Why on earth did I not rejoice – like everyone else, it seemed – when the Wall was knocked down and all those people freed themselves from the yoke of Communism? I try to be honest on this blog so I will tell you why.
This is why:
Because for every one German who was murdering Jews in the Ukraine during the war ten local people were volunteering to help with their dirty work and murder Jews in broad daylight.
Because Slovakia, under Jozef Tiso (a Roman Catholic priest), adopted its own version of the German anti-Jewish laws in April 1939, long before it was occupied by the Germans, and deported 70,000 Jews.
Because Hungary and Romania became Nazi allies very early on, in 1940. When the war was already lost, between April and June 1944 (D-Day was on 6 June), 435,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to concentration camps with the help of the local population.
Because Serbia was declared ‘free of Jews’ in 1942, thanks to the efforts of the government.
Because Lithuania had auxiliary military units under Nazi detachments.
Because there was a Latvian volunteer police unit that shot 26,000 Jews at various locations.
Because there were local Nazi collaborators in Estonia... Croatia... Bulgaria...
I cringe and feel queasy every time I hear any of those names on the radio or the television, and I would rather the inhabitants of those countries were still safely hidden away behind the Iron Curtain and I wasn’t aware of their existence so much. Anti-Semitism was never eradicated during the Soviet years but it wasn’t allowed to flourish, as it is now once again. The Orthodox Church (and the Catholic Church too) has regained its influence over the population, and nationalist movements are getting stronger by the day. Hundreds of magazines are once again spreading anti-Semitic propaganda all over Eastern Europe.
In July 1946, i.e. minutes after the true horror of what had happened in Eastern Europe was revealed to the rest of the world, there was a pogrom – a pogrom! – in Kielce, Poland. Germany, where 44 per cent of the population voted for Hitler, has apologized and made amends. But the other countries haven’t and continue to deny their part in the Holocaust. If it’s ever shown where you live, watch the shocking Channel 4 series Holocaust, which recently broadcast hitherto unseen footage of Nazi sympathisers committing the same horrific deeds as their German counterparts. And if you haven’t seen it yet rent out Shoah by Claude Lanzmann and see how Eastern European peasants who lived a few miles from Auschwitz or other concentration camps acknowledge they knew what was going on and at the same time refuse to feel any remorse or shame about letting it happen. See how people live in houses still bearing Jewish insignia. ‘How did you get to move into this house?’ they’re asked. ‘The Jews “went away”.’
And, then, there’s France, where, before the war, my father had a business, a business that was taken over by the Vichy government. The first document below, dated 4 June 1941 and issued by the ‘Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives’, says that a Monsieur Georges (may he rot in hell!) has been appointed to manage my father’s business. The second document, dated 12 June 1941, says the business doesn’t belong to my father any longer and he’s now just a ‘technical adviser’. He must stop using any of his bank accounts immediately, give Monsieur Georges complete access to his premises and his account books, and provide him with any information he may need in order to manage the business. Furthermore, he must be at his disposal in situ until further notice.
Needless to say, my father left Paris at once and hid here and there for the duration of the war. By some miracle, he managed to recover his looted flat cum workshop several months after the end of the war.
I should cringe and feel queasy when I hear the words ‘France’ and ‘French’ – just as I do with the other names mentioned above, but I can’t: my father chose to stay in the country and that's where I was born. The French are only just starting to come to terms with the fact that, contrary to what they have told themselves and others over the years, they weren’t all in the Résistance and quite a lot of them in fact have a shady past. If you want to know more about the German Occupation in France, watch Le Chagrin et la Pitié by Marcel Ophüls, and listen to shameless ex-collaborators lie and try to justify their crimes.
Perhaps, in time, I will get used to hearing those names and stop wondering what the people concerned or their parents were doing during the war, but it’s still a bit too soon.
Addendum (28/11/06): I should probably have mentioned this before: I have a personal grievance against those unrepentant Eastern European Nazi collaborators: I'm not just outraged on behalf of other Jewish people or because I've seen film footage of what they did.
In July 1941, the Germans occupied a small town in Belarus, called Shklov. By the end of the year, they had killed almost all the Jews. Local fascists killed 6,000 men, women near the town. According to an eyewitness, ‘the children were put alive into a pit with their murdered parents and the pit was filled up’. My father’s family were probably thrown into that pit.During the night of 13 July 1942, the inhabitants of the Rowno Ghetto (Ukraine), where there were still about 5,000 Jews, were liquidated. According to an eyewitness who testified at the Nuremberg Trials, ‘shortly after 22.00 hours the Ghetto was encircled by a large SS detachment and about three times as many members of the Ukrainian Militia.’ My mother’s family were probably among the people who were massacred that night.