I have once again personally witnessed the ugly manifestations of resurgent neo-fascism in the Baltic countries during the past 10 days.
Last Wednesday some 1,500 Lithuanians participated in a march organised by the Union of Nationalist Youth down the main avenue of Vilnius to mark Independence Day.
On Monday, approximately the same number of Latvians gathered in the centre of Riga to honour Latvian SS veterans who fought for a victory of the Third Reich in the Second World War.
The sights and sounds at each of these events were difficult to stomach, and conjured up other scenes, when the ideological forefathers of the marchers ruled the streets of these two capitals and were active participants in the annihilation of Lithuanian and Latvian Jewry.
These marches highlight the two major themes of current Baltic right-wing discontent. The first is a total lack of tolerance for the local minorities, whether it is Poles, Jews, or Russians. “Lithuania for Lithuanians” was the dominant slogan in Vilnius.
In Riga, the hostility towards Russians and Jews was explicitly expressed in signs, comments, and accusations. Two of the more unpleasant encounters I experienced at the march were with an elderly Latvian who insisted that “all Jews are murderers”, and that it was Jews who were responsible for the collapse of the banks.
An elderly woman kept on shouting at me about thousands of murdered Latvian children ostensibly killed by Jewish Communists.
The second theme is related to the ongoing systematic efforts in post-Communist Eastern Europe, but especially in the Baltics, to rewrite the history of the war and the Holocaust in order to minimise or hide the crimes of local Nazi collaborators and promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.
In Riga the march seeks to portray the Latvian SS veterans as heroic freedom fighters who paved the way for current independence, a thesis with three basic flaws.
First, the Nazis had absolutely no intention of ever granting independence to any of the Baltic states, regardless of the military contribution of the locals.
So the irony is that today’s independent Latvia could never have been established had the Third Reich won the war, a goal which these SS Waffen veterans sought to achieve.
The second point is that fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in history is hardly a criteria for the status of heroes under any circumstances.
It is important to note that although the Latvian SS Legion itself was not involved in Holocaust crimes, among these soldiers were quite a few who prior to joining the Waffen-SS had actively participated in the mass murder of Latvian Jewry and thousands of foreign Jews deported to Latvia to be murdered.
In Vilnius, that theme was reflected by a slew of Lithuanian swastikas worn by the marchers and a large, black SS flag prominently flown.
Probably the best way to convey the dangers posed by these events on the one hand, and the utter sense of disgust I felt to watch these spectacles on the main avenues of European Union member states – ostensibly committed to human rights and tolerance – on the other, is to return to my encounter with the Latvian who was convinced that all Jews were murderers.
Totally exasperated by his senseless rantings, I asked him whether, had he been able, he would have joined the infamous Latvian Arajs Kommando, which murdered tens of thousands of Jews in Latvia and later in Belarus. He replied immediately, without batting an eyelash, in the affirmative.
Notice how Efraim Zuroff’s emotional reactions dominate his article along with his tossing of slurs.
The idea that different groups have different interests is totally foreign to him. The interests of Lithuanians differ from the interests of Jews and Russians.
Every strongly identifying in-group has hostility towards outsiders, whether that in-group is gays, Jews, blacks, Chinese, Muslims or Lithuanians.
Every form of nationalism has a victim narrative and every victim narrative contains a nationalism. This is as true for Jews as it is for Lithuanians.
Efraim Zuroff completely lacks empathy for non-Jewish closely identifying in-groups.
Dr. Zuroff writes: “The sights and sounds at each of these events were difficult to stomach…”
All marches by tight in-groups who have clashing interests with one’s own in-group are difficult to stomach. I don’t think Nazis and Muslims and Palestinians are thrilled when they are forced to watch Jews marching.
Dr. Zuroff writes: “…the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.”
Why is it a canard? Communism slaughtered far more people than Nazism though over a longer period of time. Jews played a major role as Stalin’s willing executioners. Jews helped carry out Stalin’s genocides. Why exactly are Nazi crimes worse than communist crimes? Dr. Zuroff never bothers to make the case for his questionable assertions.
Dr. Zuroff writes: “First, the Nazis had absolutely no intention of ever granting independence to any of the Baltic states, regardless of the military contribution of the locals.”
Yeah, well, every group with spirit wants to dominate the world because if your group don’t dominate the world, another group will and they will likely oppress you. Much of the time, life is kill or be killed. You either expand your territory or others will attack you and try to take your territory and rape your women.
Goodall also found an aggressive side of chimpanzee nature at Gombe Stream. She discovered that chimps will systematically hunt and eat smaller primates such as colobus monkeys. Goodall watched a hunting group isolate a colobus monkey high in a tree, block all possible exits, then one chimpanzee climbed up and captured and killed the colobus. The others then each took parts of the carcass, sharing with other members of the troop in response to begging behaviours. The chimps at Gombe kill and eat as much as one-third of the colobus population in the park each year. This alone was a major scientific find which challenged previous conceptions of chimpanzee diet and behaviour.
But perhaps more startling, and disturbing, was the tendency for aggression and violence within chimpanzee troops. Goodall observed dominant females deliberately killing the young of other females in the troop to maintain their dominance, sometimes going as far as cannibalism. She says of this revelation, “During the first ten years of the study I had believed […] that the Gombe chimpanzees were, for the most part, rather nicer than human beings. […] Then suddenly we found that chimpanzees could be brutal—that they, like us, had a darker side to their nature.” She described the 1974–1978 Gombe Chimpanzee War in her memoir, Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe. Her findings revolutionised contemporary knowledge of chimpanzee behaviour, and were further evidence of the social similarities between humans and chimpanzees, albeit in a much darker manner.
So, that the Nazis weren’t planning on giving independence to the Baltic states is not a shocker. Independence usually has to be seized by force.
Dr. Zuroff writes: “The second point is that fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in history is hardly a criteria for the status of heroes under any circumstances.”
It is not at all clear the Nazis were the most genocidal regime in history. Mao was responsible for about 70 million deaths, far outweighing the total Nazi death toll. Stalin killed more people than Hitler.
Dr. Zuroff writes: “It is important to note that although the Latvian SS Legion itself was not involved in Holocaust crimes, among these soldiers were quite a few who prior to joining the Waffen-SS had actively participated in the mass murder of Latvian Jewry and thousands of foreign Jews deported to Latvia to be murdered.”
Yeah, well, lots of Jews participated in Stalin’s genocides of the Cossacks and the Ukrainians. So what? Should Jews who had nothing to do with those slaughters walk around with guilt today?
The Lithuanian who said all Jews were murderers is no more shocking than the widely held belief that all Muslims are terrorists and that all blacks are criminals. When a tiny proportion of a people does horrible things, such as Jews pushing communism or German carrying out genocide or Muslims crashing planes, then it will come naturally to paint black a whole group.