The trouble with ‘double genocide’

Efforts to equate Nazi and Soviet atrocities open old wounds on both sides of the old Iron Curtain

by Erica Alini

The trouble with 'double genocide'

AKG-images/Newscom

A recent decision by the European Union has evoked the ghosts of horrors past. Last month, the European Commission rejected calls by countries in Eastern Europe to criminalize the denial of crimes perpetrated not only by Nazi but also Communist regimes, reviving a highly contentious debate over whether Soviet atrocities can be equated to the Holocaust. Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic argued that Soviet crimes “should be treated according to the same standards” as the Holocaust. But due to a lack of consensus, the proposal was rejected, though it remains under review.

The idea of a so-called “double genocide” law that links Nazi and Communist crimes concerns some Jewish commentators and Western countries. Critics paint Eastern Europe’s lobbying efforts as an attempt to rewrite history by focusing attention on its role as a victim of the Soviets rather than as a collaborator in the extermination of Jewish minorities during the Nazi occupation. Anti-Semitism, critics say, is alive and well in Eastern Europe. Lithuania, for instance, has shied away from trying some suspected Nazi war criminals, and waged a controversial campaign to investigate alleged crimes committed by Jewish partisans during the Second World War.

The debate has also sparked a grim battle over how victims should be counted. Lithuania points to the 780,000 residents who fled, were killed or deported during the first years of Soviet rule, and compares that to the 200,000 Jewish citizens who died in the country under the Nazi regime. But Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff notes that the number of Lithuanian Jewish casualties should be put in perspective: it amounted to 91 per cent of Lithuania’s Jewish community.

Opponents of the proposal say that referring to Soviet crimes as “genocide” risks muddying the memory of the Holocaust. “For all the terrible crimes of the U.S.S.R., you can’t compare the people who built Auschwitz with the people who liberated it,” Zuroff told the Guardian.

That reasoning, in turn, is not sitting well with the descendants of those who suffered Soviet repression. Defeating Nazi Germany “in no way justifies the crimes that the Soviet army and regime perpetrated,” says Peeter Rebane, 47, a Harvard graduate and entrepreneur in Tallinn, Estonia. Both of Rebane’s grandfathers—a university professor and a local town mayor—were sent to labour camps in Siberia for being “active in the society,” he says. Only one of them survived his time in captivity, but couldn’t rejoin his family after being released for fear that doing so would attract further targeting by the regime. He died years later, alone and anonymous. The plight of those like him, says Rebane, hasn’t been as well publicized as that of Jewish victims. There are “no movies made by Steven Spielberg” on it, he notes.

That reaction is “only natural” in places that, like the Baltic states and Poland, have experienced a double occupation, says Meike Wulf, a politics professor at Maastricht University. These countries, she wrote in an email to Maclean’s, “have great difficulties in acknowledging another people’s suffering, they cannot accept the anti-fascist narrative (with the Holocaust at its centrepiece) prominent in the West and U.S.” Despite any lingering anti-Semitism, obtaining official recognition of their own suffering, Wulf added, could help to counter the painful legacies of the past.




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The trouble with ‘double genocide’

  1. This so called "double genocide" debate is a straw man argument which appears to be muddying the waters with regard to exposing Stalinist crimes. I find it appalling that the Holocaust appears to have been co-opted by those who wish to whitewash Stalinist repression. It appears now that any discussion of these crimes is conflated immediately into "double genocide".

  2. The key phrase here is: "There are “no movies made by Steven Spielberg” on it"

    Nazi lost the WWII – that's why everybody knows all details of the crimes committed by nazi.
    Soviet Union was major winner of the war, as a result practically nobody knows what the crimes were committed by communists in all East Europe.

    If we count all victims of communists, the number, I bet, will be several times bigger than the number of nazi's victims.

    It is pity, that Ukraine is not even mentioned, Ukraine is the biggest victim of communists,as well as the biggest ‘double genocide' country.

  3. I totally agree with Peeter Rebane when he said:

    "Defeating Nazi Germany in NO WAY justifies the crimes that the Soviet army and regime perpetrated.”

    And let's not forget what MAO TSE TUNG did in China. It was how many victims? 100 million?

  4. – Opponents of the proposal say that referring to Soviet crimes as “genocide” risks muddying the memory of the Holocaust. “For all the terrible crimes of the U.S.S.R., you can't compare the people who built Auschwitz with the people who liberated it,” Zuroff told the Guardian. —

    Remembering the genocide of others in no way "muddies" the memory of the Holocaust.
    The phrase "Never again!" should be applied to all the atrocities committed against humanity.

    The Holodomor (genocide by famine) by the Soviets murdered millions of Ukrainian people by starving them to death.

    At one point during the Holodomor 25,000 men, women and children were dying PER DAY.
    If that isn't genocide, I don't know what is.

  5. There is no trouble with "double genocide". The trouble is with prejudiced approaches to the recognition of human suffering and in trying to elevate the sufferings of one group above the suffering of other groups. The UN Convention recognizes "that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity". It does not try to create a hierarchy of suffering groups. Zuroff's comment is nonsensical, while Meike Wulf misses the main point about East Europeans' reaction to the treatment of Holocaust. It would be more correct to say that they have great difficulties with a hierarchical approach in acknowledging of people's suffering.

  6. CORRECTION

    Peeter Rebame is 37, not 47 yrs old

    • HOW CAN YOU BE SURE ????

      • Coz I met him back in 1995 at some sudent meeting
        and his age has been mentioned in the local media
        Not that it has any importance to this feature though

  7. ". . . you can't compare the people who built Auschwitz with the people who liberated it . . . "

    Liberated it indeed . . . . opps, Zuroff forgot to mention that Auschwitz was used by the KGB as a prison camp till 1947!

  8. Very well said, totuuden! You have hit the genocidal nail exactly on the centre of the hierarchial head. The label "anti-semitic" is automatically and without question applied by Zuroff et al (a.k.a. the hunters of the 85+ year-olds who had anything remotely in common with the German army during WWII) to anyone who DARES to purport that other races suffered genocide to an equal or, dare they say, to a greater extent than the Jews. Anti-semitism, unfortunately, has been created by the Jewish people themselves by maintaining that their suffering should, for selfish reasons of their own, be on the highest level of the "genocide hierarchy". This self-centredness naturally creates a negative reaction among other races who question how the oppression and genocide they have suffered is of any less importance. In order to lessen or even eliminate anti-semitism, the ball is in the court of the Jews who must dismount from their self-created high horse and admit that others in the world have similarly suffered. Nobody has the right to say they have suffered more than others. Ms. Wulf has the wrong understanding of the Poles and Balts. The difficulty these people have is not with acknowledging others' suffering, but with the exact opposite – the fact that their own suffering has been regarded as being on a lower level or not worthy of public awareness. I would suggest Ms. Wulf actually travel to Eastern Europe and speak with people who had first-hand experience with the terrors of communism and not just postulate on themes of which she has no direct knowledge.

    • Do you always spew such vile nonsense without any regard to formating or reason?

      • Vile nonsense, indeed! It appears that either you agree with the concept of hierarchial genocide or you are a victim the convenient re-writing of history that has taken place in Russia which attempts to cover up or somehow rationalize the Soviet genocide of millions during and after WW2 (e.g. deportations to Siberia, firing squads). If you have no direct knowledge, either through personal or family experience, of what took place under the Communists, I would suggest that you refrain from judging a topic which is obviously totally foreign to you.

      • Vatro,
        How did you get your 67p rating? Have you been performing some intense self-supporting? It is not possible that you have so many like-minded supporters. Artificially boosting your score is fraudulent.

  9. Genocide is genocide and they are all equally reprehensible. The Armenian genocide , the native American genocide, Assyrian genocide , the Soviet genocide, the dropping of nuclear weapons on civilian populations and other horrors cannot be graded and placed in a framework of degree of worst atrocity. We must not deny or belittle the holocaust but we must appreciate such horrors and crimes have been committed by many against millions of innocents. The atrocities of the Soviets and Americans did not make the front pages of the history books because they got to write them. The ability of the authors of these many and varied atrocities to rationalize same is beyond explanation.

  10. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, and many others are all equally guilty of crimes against humanity on a tremendously large scale. Idi Amin, Hirohito, the Duvaliers and many others, although not on the same scale as Hitler, etc., are also guilty of crimes against humanity. There's not enough space here to list all of mankind's degradations against his fellow man. Unfortunately, very seldom is anything done about it until it is too late and the world goes on as before in ignorant bliss.

  11. Are the people quoted in this article there just to pad the space? Because nothing they say seems to have anything to do with the subject matter in anything but the most incidental manner.

    • The subject under discussion in the article, in case you may be misunderstanding or interpreting it in some obtuse fashion,
      is clearly " hierarchial genocide". Please state to all of the rational thinkers who have thus far responded with excellent comments what your understanding of the article is instead of blindly belittling their comments.

      • I think you misunderstood my comment, I was not referring to the commenter's here but rather those people who are quoted in the article itself, they seem to me to be talking around the subject rather then addressing it. Essentially I agree with totuuden. Perhaps you're just upset that I called you on your racist nonsense above.

        • Where do you see racism in my comments? I have merely stated facts as they are. I challenge you to prove any f statements false with substantiated points, not just spewing comments typical of those who are not fully informed. The ease with which you throw around the "racist" label confirms that you have a lot to learn as to the history of various peoples especially during and after WW2. Nobody is belittling or denying the Holocaust, but the point made is that other groups also were victims of genocide and that no one group has the right to elevate themselves to some higher level of suffering. This can in no way be construed as racism – it simply states that everyone deserves to be treated equally.

  12. Reviewing history regulates rules of engagement while considering casualties of war… enumerated some unlawful killings… producing disturbances from the grave within it's unstable past of regrets. By balancing extreme measures which provide
    both nations to be particular and renaming issues that doubted existence on prohibiting their true self to redeem. Now… is the time to realize… who's responsible for the worst crime they committed? And justice will prevail as these digging and searching could only find an answer in a changing world without misconception?

  13. The holocaust occured more than 65 years ago. Time to lay it to rest. What exactly are these people gaining by bringing it up time after time. It is part of history and will always be there for someone to look up if so interested. The Russians, Chinese, Viet Cong, Sudanese and other African mass murders are all similar incidents that are part of the past and these incidents aren't continually brought up or had movies made of them. Enough already. Let's look at the future and stop capitalizing on the suffering of past crimes.

    • Well said!!! If only the self-appointed, self-centred retainers of the top spot on the "we suffered the most" hierarchy would someday see history in a totally rational fashion as you do.

  14. The biggest crimes of the 20th century were committed by both the
    Communist Russia and Nazi Germany regimes that sought world conquest and

    domination (dozens of millions of people of many nationalities were
    exterminated). Ukraine’s losses in the 20th century suffered from Soviet Russian and Nazi
    German rule are staggering and unsurpassed (human
    losses alone may be over 20 million).

    As an ethnic minority in the Soviet Russian Empire Jews were
    disproportionately highly represented in communist parties, in Soviet
    repressive state security agencies and other anti-people communist power
    institutions. Therefore Jews actively participated in unsurpassed
    communist crimes in large numbers. Just explore the information on Lazar
    Kaganovich (butcher of Ukraine through artificial famine), Leon Trotsky
    (commander-in-chief of the Red Army), Henrikh Yagoda and many other
    communist Jews in power. A lot of ordinary Jews also actively supported
    communism.
    Communist Jewish crimes must also be prosecuted and
    punished as Nazi crimes have been. Truth and real justice (punishment
    for all crimes) must prevail. The issue of financial and material
    compensations for communist crimes must also be resolved as Germany paid
    compensations for Nazi German crimes to many nations including Jews.

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