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Neocons Part 2

Lawrence Bush
January 1, 1970
It has become widely understood that the unique lessons of the Holocaust, including recognition of the potential morphing of racial hate into a program of genocidal eliminationism, is one of major educational importance to inoculating future generations against it happening to anyone else anywhere else. It is also intrinsically important as a major chapter of barbarity in European history that gives modernity and scientific progress the needed pause to retain essential ethics and standards of humanity. And not least, truth-telling about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe is not an abstract game. It is not only a statement about the ethics of false vs. true, about racism and the inherent equal value of all people. It is also about democracy itself. Surprisingly for many, some East European countries within NATO and the EU are generally democratic except on this issue. In 2010, the new right wing government in Hungary passed a law in effect criminalizing the opinion that there was only one genocide in the region during World War II. It was rapidly followed by a similar law passed by the Lithuanian parliament and signed by its president that year. Momentum for this non-dramatic trend picked up in 2014 when a similar law was passed by the Latvian parliament. Young people who would think about challenging a status quo now hesitate to speak out, and independent minded souls tend to emigrate. This is very sad, not least because the hard-working and long-suffering peoples of Eastern Europe whose nations made it into NATO and the European Union deserve the same standard of democracy as any citizens of any NATO-EU country. The East European “Double Genocide” movement is so far from actual history — and elementary logic — that it would have us believe that those who liberated Auschwitz (i.e. the Red Army, on 27 January 1945, the date that is now therefore Holocaust Memorial Day) are morally the same as those who perpetrated the genocide there. That is why the movement would prefer that Holocaust Memorial Day be forgotten, and replaced by a day of mix-and-match commemoration of the victims of Nazi and Soviet crimes together. The date chosen for that replacement is August 23rd, day of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. The demand for a single “red-and-brown mix-and-match” day of commemoration is one of many contained in the constitutional document of the movement, an influential document that most Americans have not even heard of, so far under the radar has all this been transpiring. It is the “Prague Declaration” of June 2008. The declaration boasts the word “same” five times (italicization in the citations that follow added for rapid reference): (1) “Consciousness of the crimes against humanity committed by the Communist regimes throughout the continent must inform all European minds to the same extent as the Nazi regime’s crimes did”; (2) “Believing that millions of victims of Communism and their families are entitled to enjoy justice, sympathy, understanding and recognition for their sufferings in the same way as the victims of Nazism have been morally and politically recognized”; (3) “Recognition that many crimes committed in the name of Communism should be assessed as crimes against humanity serving as a warning for future generations, in the same way Nazi crimes were assessed by the Nuremberg Tribunal”; (4) “Establishment of 23rd August, the day of signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as a day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, in the same way Europe remembers the victims of the Holocaust”; (5) “Adjustment and overhaul of European history textbooks so that children could learn and be warned about Communism and its crimes in the same way as they have been taught to assess the Nazi crimes.” The declaration also demands “equal treatment and non-discrimination of victims” which in practice has meant that the murdered millions have to be thought of as “equal” to say political dissidents wrongly deported to Siberia or imprisoned or otherwise wronged. In April 2009, one of these points, indeed the establishment of the mixed day of commemoration of Nazi and Soviet crimes, was approved in a non-binding resolution of the European Parliament. In May of 2014, under the lofty title “Black Ribbon Day,” it was snuck under the radar into a military appropriations bill of the United States Congress, at the initiative of a number of Baltic-American nationalist organizations. Although representing just “one little point” of the “red-equals-brown” juggernaut, it can serve as an illustration of how the revision of history in the direction of Double Genocide can be construed (actually: misconstrued) as part of today’s politics of national security vis-à-vis an assertive or aggressive Russia. In short, if the Soviets and the Nazis were equally guilty of genocide, and the Soviets or their successor state, Russia, never owned up to that “other Holocaust,” and Putin is nowadays misbehaving, then surely this is a splendid stick with which to hit the Russians: They are Hitler incarnate. Within minutes of Congress passing the (non-binding) resolution on the mixed red-brown day, the Lithuanian ambassador in Washington rapidly gloated that “Putin virtually brings back the historic ghosts, which are referred to in the resolution.” That the World War II Soviets were our Allies in freeing Europe from the one genocidal regime is now so much forgotten, so unmentionable, that the new bogus history takes on a life of its own in the heart of Western democracy. Some of the figures and groups that lobbied for this 2014 congressional resolution are among those which helped engineer the May 2012 repatriation from Putnam, Connecticut to Lithuania of the remains of that country’s Nazi puppet prime minister Juozas Ambrazevičius (Brazaitis) for reburial with full honors, in a ceremony attended by two former heads of state. During his brief tenure in Kaunas (Kovno) in the summer of 1941, Ambrazevičius signed documents confirming Nazi orders for the Jewish citizens of his city to be sent to a concentration camp (it was actually a mass murder site). He subsequently signed another that confirmed the order for the remainder of his city’s Jewish citizens to be incarcerated within a month in a ghetto (it would become the Kovno Ghetto). But instead of speaking up with moral clarity disagreeing with a certain decision by an ally, the neocon infected State Department actually helped camouflage the event. As the remains of the Nazi puppet PM were en route to the glittering reburial, the United States embassy in Vilnius sponsored a major symposium on the Holocaust, focused on Timothy Snyder’s celebrated book Bloodlands (I subsequently published an open letter to Prof. Snyder). The reburial underway did not even get mentioned at the symposium. This is one of a number of deeply disturbing neocon style capers by the State Department’s Vilnius outpost. In 2011, the embassy offered a generous grant to a Canada-based summer literary seminar on condition that the Wiesenthal Center’s Nazi-hunter and historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff, be disinvited from the announced program (he was). In 2010, the embassy arranged financing for a conference that helped the Lithuanian government obfuscate the Holocaust. In 2009, when this policy was just starting at State, America added its vote to the “Vilnius Declaration” that snuck in language about the “genocide” of Nazi and Soviet regimes in addition to the demanded rubber-stamping of the proposed unitary August 23rd mixed day of commemoration. For those here in Vilnius, perhaps the greatest shift was obvious at the local human level during the switchover from the Bush to the Obama administration: Rachel Kostanian, herself a flight survivor, and the incredibly courageous and inspirational director of the one honest Holocaust exhibit in Lithuania, known informally as the Green House, went from being an honored specialist frequently consulted by the embassy to a kind of outcast routinely excluded from discussions about Holocaust commemoration and education. She discussed this in a recent online interview. But in earlier years, under the Clinton and Bush administrations, policy was gracefully balanced. Satisfying the East European yearning for Holocaust distortion was not on the agenda. In fact, for years, the United States was easily able to have a splendid relationship with Lithuania and neighboring states, and stand up assertively to Russia when necessary, while occasionally gently disagreeing with attempts to distort the Holocaust narrative or cover for antisemitism. The best of friends can disagree about some things. For years, the US had cooperated with the Wiesenthal Center’s efforts to put on trial suspected Nazi war criminals. In 2008, the Bush administration’s last ambassador to Lithuania awarded Fania Brantsovsky, a Vilna Ghetto survivor and heroic veteran of the Jewish partisans (now 92) a certificate of lifetime merit less than one week before police came looking for her, as part of the state campaign to defame survivors who resisted. The commitment to Lithuania’s security, and status in the European Union and NATO was every bit as strong, but there was an American sense of noble pride in speaking the truth about the Holocaust when it was, in various ways, under local challenge in the spirit of the far-right Double Genocide movement so central to nationalist circles throughout the region. For reasons that remain murky, the situation deteriorated rapidly during the Bush-to-Obama transition, and has continued to slide. This is surprising as one would a priori expect the neocons to have had rather more success with a Republican administration. One theory has it that this was in response to the Baltic states’ fury that President Obama in 2009 cancelled the Bush administration’s plans for missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, and then, “even worse,” went ahead in 2010 to sign with Russia the new Start Treaty that reduced by half the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers. According to various Western diplomats speaking off the record in Vilnius, instructions came through from Washington to “give in on everything else” to allay the feelings of betrayal that America was improving relations with Russia (the “restart”). A more sinister and factually uncorroborated version links it all to a purported CIA prison and rendition facility, and, it is alleged, concessions provided to ensure that its secret is kept until the end of days. A third version would have it that the Neocon platoon led on these issues by Kagan and Nuland, both American Jews, persuaded the administration to underwrite the history revisionism demanded by the right-wing (“neocon-compatible”) circles in power among our NATO and EU allies as a concession in maintaining the solid wall of solidarity against the Russian bear just to the east. If it’s so important to our loyal allies that the history be modified here and there in their favor, and if prominent American Jews can see their way clear in going along with it, then it seems good policy and practice. Time will tell which of the three factors, in whatever combinatory proportions, have been in play. In all three scenarios, and particularly the third, there is another factor calling out for serious study. Was the “demonization in the direction of Hitler” of the Soviet Union not part of the Cold War mentality, for which the betrayal of Eastern Europe at Yalta was the first American failure that could only be made right by destruction of the USSR? If so, the continuation of that mindset from the fallen USSR to twenty-first century Russia becomes an oft-noted psychological process of transference. But the empirical reality is different. For all its many very serious shortcomings, the Russian state today affords its citizens freedoms of religion, thought, travel and free enterprise that were unthinkable in Soviet times. It could be that the most important neocon book on the geopolitics of the topic is Intermarium (2012). The title is the proposed name for the East European lands between the Baltic and the Black Seas. Its author is Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, a Polish-born historian at Washington DC’s Institute of World Politics. One of the book’s arguments concerns the sacred bond of mutual loyalty. What George W. Bush’s secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld called “New Europe” (the new eastern member states of NATO and the European Union that were previously in the Soviet sphere) was exquisitely loyal, his argument goes, to the United States for Afghanistan and Iraq, providing blood, treasure and political capital, in contrast to the alleged perfidy of so much of western Europe (Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe”). Now it is time for America to repay that loyalty by enabling the rise of a new American-client (specifically American — not just Western, NATO or EU) sphere of federated states that he names Intermarium, and that will put a stop to Russia once and for all. It is all very much a sophisticated historico-political tract saying in many more words what the State Department’s Victoria Nuland put so succinctly in her “Fuck the EU,” insofar as both see the American alliance with right-wing Eastern Europe as a stand-alone coalition excluding Western Europe as much as Russia from the future table. One of the scary things in the book is the obvious chain of thought by which a World War III between the US and Russia may be the necessary price for the composite Intermarium’s totalistic revenge upon Russia for centuries of domination under czar and USSR alike. These issues are closely tied to human rights today and in the future, and to efforts against racism. Those who lavish state honor on the local Nazis cannot really put up wholehearted efforts against today’s neo-Nazis. Indeed, the State Department has gone silent on the Waffen SS adulation in Latvia and Estonia and the state-enabled neo-Nazi marches through Lithuania’s main cities on independence day celebrations. There has been no protest against laws inhibiting free speech on the subject of Double Genocide in the eastern NATO countries. It is as if democratic values are not important among our allies because all must now be subjugated to the anti-Russia cause, and the politics being protected are the politics of Double Genocide which brands Russia a purveyor of Hitler-grade genocide as a matter of policy. It is noteworthy that parallel developments in Hungary, accelerated by the 2010 victory of the right-wing Fidesz party (and the coinciding rise of the openly antisemitic Jobbik party) could not be kept under the Western radar. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and leading scholar of the Holocaust Randolph Braham both returned honors previously accepted from the Hungarian government to protest the Hungarian state’s honoring of Holocaust collaborators. In the same spirit, Israel’s new president-elect, Reuven Rivlin, as speaker of the Knesset retracted an invitation to a Hungarian counterpart who had participated in honoring a collaborator. Israel has had a complex and fascinating relationship to these issues, on occasion giving concessions to the Double Genociders in return for concrete votes in the UN, EU and other international forums. One such concession entailed the Israeli government arranging for Yad Vashem to rejoin, in 2012, a discredited Lithuanian state commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, which brought pained protest from the last Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, among others. This was tied to a poignant saga concerning Holocaust survivor, resistance fighter and Holocaust scholar Yitzhak Arad, who for over two decades was director of Yad Vashem. After being invited to join the state financed commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes (“the red-brown commission”) in the end of the 1990s, he was himself in 2006 absurdly accused of war crimes (there is still no apology, hence the defamation on the internet continues though there never was the slightest specific charge against him or the other Holocaust survivors targeted). He and Yad Vashem then withdrew from the commission. But after Lithuania’s vote against the Palestinian Authority joining UNESCO in 2011, the Israeli government arranged for Yad Vashem to come back to the commission, lending it credibility for its major mission of equating the Nazi and Soviet regimes. One of the happy results of all this was Yitzhak Arad’s masterful 2012 essay on the history of the revisionism, the commission, and its motives, where we see how Holocaust studies itself has been readily commandeered in the cause of rewriting the narrative in line with the East European far right. Finally, Yiddish. How on earth has Yiddish been mobilized for history revisionism? While klezmer concerts throughout Eastern Europe can occasionally be a cover to distract attention from antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism, they do not represent a serious investment in Yiddish. That part of the story relates mostly to Lithuania, which has been, as Efraim Zuroff recently put it in a documentary on these subjects, “a veritable laboratory for Holocaust distortion.” Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius (Vilna, Wilno, Yiddish Vílne) was a world center of modern Yiddish culture before the war, and the city where the Yivo was itself founded in 1925. Over a period of years, it became obvious to government operatives who specialize in Judaic studies that the field of Yiddish is particularly relevant, and particularly weak and manipulable. Many Yiddishists (in the sense of “lovers of Yiddish,” not necessarily experts or even speakers) frustrated by the lack of Jewish (and wider) focus on (and investment in) Yiddish language and culture in the West or Israel, can be gobstruck by state support for plaques in Yiddish commemorating great Yiddish writers, and by conferences, symposiums, colloquiums, and yes, by finding personal success as writers, artists, scholars, photographers, whatever, that they do not find at home. The Double Genocide Holocaust-revision movement can easily gain a groundswell of new support from a camp that be particularly spineless in one sense: the fetish of this or that sound or word or song can perchance outweigh a vastly more weighty calculus concerning the use of “love of Yiddish” to cover for Holocaust revisionism. Even when that revisionism is ipso facto a betrayal of the actual people who were Yiddish civilization in Eastern Europe before being annihilated. It is uncanny that silence from “Yiddishists” on the attempted criminalization of (Yiddish-speaking) Holocaust survivors, or on the glorification of local perpetrators and collaborators who annihilated the (Yiddish-speaking) Jewish population, can be purchased with a pot of lentils. The Lithuanian government’s units involved with history management have pulled off their biggest coup with an institution that was once the pride of living Yiddish culture and learning: the Yivo. In a deeply disturbing pattern, ignoring pleas from Holocaust survivors, the Yivo has shifted its emphasis from the progress of living Yiddish scholarship in New York to the PR needs of the Lithuanian government. From a 2011 event honoring the then foreign minister, through to a 2015 conference in partnership with the far-right’s state-sponsored academic institutions in Vilnius who are dedicated to obfuscating the Holocaust in Lithuania, the Yivo has become the jewel in the crown for East European Holocaust revisionism, the more so when its own director became a member of the state’s commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes. But this isn’t only about Yivo. When it has suited needs, the National Yiddish Book Center, the Bloomington Indiana University program in Yiddish, among others, have been pressed into service. One of the saddest (hopefully temporary) results has been the veritable hijack of Vilnius University’s own Yiddish institute. Beyond personal and institutional ambitions, none of the Western Yiddishists here meant anything untoward. They were just no match for the Soviet-trained operatives with handsome budgets to invest in Double Genocide revisionism, for whom the aura of international Judaic and Yiddish support is an invaluable cover for the history revisionism underway. One of the ironies of the situation is the contrast between foreign Jewish visitors who become pawns of the revisionism, and the attempts to cover up antisemitism, and the inspiringly brave Lithuanian citizens who themselves speak out, often with adverse consequences to their careers and income. None of this is about the delightful, hard-working people of Eastern Europe. Full disclosure: I am a Brooklyn born Jew who has been based in the heart of Vilnius for the last decade and a half, and have been treated splendidly by everyday people here and throughout Eastern Europe (in fact, on both sides of the new east-west border). All these issues are about governments, and the elites of academia, media and culture, not about the population. These countries suffered a lot under the yoke of Soviet repression, during all those years when our postwar Western party of freedom and advancement reached ever new heights. They live in the neighborhood of that same large and unpredictable neighbor and have every right to demand security in perpetuity. They are victims today too, in so far as they are being rather poorly served by governments that invest in history revision instead of a better life for all. Governments that are often dominated by the very ultranationalist elites who have found such unexpected vast support from a neocon dominated American foreign policy that would see them all become fodder in a glorious new crusade against Russia, in the spirit of permanent military adventurism that brings to memory an earlier misguided era of a very different kind of theory of permanent revolution.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.