I've just returned from freezing Vilnius (temperatures at -18c) for what amounts to the farewell party of Dovid Katz . A big bear of a man, born in Brooklyn to the Yiddish poet Menke Katz, Dovid was the great Yiddish Professor at Vilnius University who has spent the last ten years collating the lost art works and texts of this once great language, going into the forests and towns to speak to the few remaining Yiddish speakers and record the dialects and unique vocabularies. But he's been fired from the University for political reasons: he has been outspoken against the trend of Holocaust Obfuscation which has gripped Lithuania and several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
The basic premise of Holocaust Obfuscation can be found in the Prague Declaration of 2008 which, as Efraim Zuroff, the Nazi Hunter now in charge of the Wiesenthal Centre (who was also at Dovid's party) put it:
...seeks recognition of the canard that the crimes of Communism are equivalent to those of the Nazis and calls for the rewriting of all European history textbooks in that spirit and for the establishment of a European Research Institute to study totalitarian crimes as if they are all equal.
In the case of Lithuania (where Swastikas aren't banned) the logic is compelling. Russia occupied the Baltic States and (as the photos I saw on Saturday in Vilnius Castle show clearly) Lithuania nationalists gained power between 1941 and 1944 thanks to German support. Like many other countries, a purported Nationalist government, was actually a quisling puppet of Germany. It's also important to remember that ultranationalist militias (the LAF) started killing Jews before the Nazis even arrived, and proportionate to the population, Lithuania then suffered the biggest genocide of the Jews in that part of Europe. So with the defeat of the Nazi's and the annexation by the Soviet Union, the end of Hitler also brought to an end to this spurious moment of Lithuanian 'independence' for another 44 years, as well as further deportation, exile or death for many Lithuanians.
Like so many of the Central European countries ravaged by Hitler and Stalin, there is no doubt that Poles (in large numbers), Belarusians, Ukranians, Lithuanians and other nationalities were subject to a dual onslaught. As Tim Synder explains in his brilliant new book Bloodlands, those countries lost 18 million civilians in calculated political murder from the start of the Stalin Terror to the end of the 40s, let alone the millions of soldiers who died on its killing fields.
But the Prague Statement, which is supported by many parties in the ECR Grouping in Strasbourg (which the British Governing Tory Pary has allied itself with) has created the false historical symmetry of a "double genocide", equating the appalling sufferings of many of these populations with the near absolute destruction of the Jews.
Worst still, thanks to this double genocide theory, many countries like Lithuania can simultaneously whitewash their own complicity in the Holocaust, and at the same time prosecute the few remaining Jewish survivors for having fought with the Soviet backed partisans - their only means of survival. As Dovid puts it:
In May 2008, at the lowpoint of modern Lithuanian history, armed police came looking for two incredibly valorous women veterans: Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky (born 1922), librarian of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and Rachel Margolis (1921), a biologist and Holocaust scholar. Margolis is especially loathed by proponents of the "double genocide" industry because she rediscovered, deciphered and published the long-lost diary of a Christian Pole, Kazimierz Sakowicz. Sakowicz, witness to tens of thousands of murders at the Ponar (Paneriai) site outside Vilnius, recorded accurately that most of the killers were enthusiastic locals. Now resident in Rechovot, Israel, she is unable to return to her beloved hometown in Lithuania for fear of prosecutorial harassment.
So the revisionist movement of double genocide leads to a double persecution of the few remaining heroic survivors of that terrible time. I was lucky to meet one of them, Milan, this weekend. But there is one thing that debunks the double genocide theory: the reality on the ground.
I travel much in Eastern and Central Europe. Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians have vigorous dynamic societies. They have survived the dual nightmare of Stalinism and Nazism. But everywhere I go there are empty synagogues, abandoned or destroyed Jewish cemeteries. A once vibrant culture, part of the heart and soul of MittelEuropa, has gone for ever.
Dovid has dedicated his career to preserving this culture. His amazing collection of books and prints, Yiddish plays, paintings and poems, will have to go into storage because of the ultra nationalism of the Lithuanian Government.
When I first met Dovid ten years ago, and asked him about his work, he told me
I don't do holocaust studies. I do life. Not death.
And then regaled me with great Yiddish poems, or great Yiddish words (like 'schmekel-decker' for condom).
Now ten years on, political events have led him to become a defender of the living and the dead against the dangers of revisionism.
To find out more about his work against revisionism
Or for those interested in his work on Yiddish
And if anyone wants to help build a Library for his amazing collection of Yiddish Books, let me know. Otherwise they go into storage.