Who speaks for the communist dead?

  • 2001-08-09
  • George F. Ward
Earlier this year, in February, London's Imperial War Museum mounted an impressive exhibit on the World War II Holocaust. The British prime minister made a fine and moving speech on the occasion of the First International Memorial Day. The grim rollcall of the dead: Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, social democrats, churchmen of various stripes, Jehovah's Witnesses, intellectuals – in short, racial groups and any individuals who stood against Hitler's monstrous tyranny. All are entitled to say, as Blair solemnly intoned, "Never again."

Surely those entitled to say "Never again" are those not usually mentioned in the recitation of Nazi crimes – the peoples of the Baltic states and Ukraine, countries allied to the Germans, who suffered a purge, firstly by the Nazis and later by Soviet occupation forces.

In addition, the Baltic states and countries of Eastern Europe were occupied by the Red Army, which installed communist regimes that eventually led to the Iron Curtain and the effective partition of Europe.

The Soviet Union rounded up former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, anti-communists and the Soviet's most feared internal opponents, the intelligentsia and social democrats ironically, many of whom were Jews. The precise number that perished in the gulags or forced labor camps is not known, but the diet allocated to prisoners was less than that required for survival.

Later Stalin instituted a pogrom against the Jews, characterized by what was known as the "Jewish doctors' plot" (to kill the dictator). Typically, considerable numbers of whole populations were relocated in remote parts of the U.S.S.R. as a solution to the "minorities question."

This was most evident in the case of the Baltic states, where the populations were augmented by Russian "immigrants." In 1995, it was calculated that 38 percent of the population of Estonia was Russian or from Russian-dominated areas. Similarly, Latvia had a non-native population of 45 percent, and Lithuania, which fared somewhat better, with 20 percent of its population being non-Lithuanian.

After the end of World War II and the Nuremberg Tribunals, reckoning came for the Nazis from another not unexpected source. The Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish organizations became very active in the hunt for war criminals and bringing them to justice. The most important Nazi survivor clearly implicated in planning and executing the machinery of genocide and mass murder was Adolf Eichman, exfiltrated from Argentina in 1961, tried and executed by the Israeli government in May the following year.

Since then, it has been most instructive to watch white-haired, stooped, elderly Germans and those who were allied to them hunted down and brought to trial for war crimes, although Austria recently refused the extradition of an SS officer to Italy for alleged war crimes.

Constant claims have been made about the number of Nazis and fascists, especially from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, present in Australia having "slipped through" the immigration net. In the first year of the 21st century, 56 years after the end of World War II, Konrad Kalejs, a Latvian in his 80s, is likely to be extradited to his former homeland for trial on the grounds of mass murder. Despite evidence of his mental condition offered by lawyers, a Melbourne judge has considered him to be fit for deportation..

In June 2001, Germany commenced payments of reparation to Holocaust survivors and German companies that used slave labor during the war have been compelled to contribute to the payments. The German government has also made financial reparation to the state of Israel. Even the U.S. computer giant IBM has been implicated in the same process and is expected to pay up.

Encouraged perhaps by the success of the Jewish action, other victims of the Holocaust have joined the fight for financial compensation. The Romany Council in Europe has lodged claims on behalf of gypsies killed in concentration camps, and homosexuals have commenced a "pink" claim.

However, the numerically greatest numbers of victims of the Holocaust have exacted retribution and payment for the atrocities visited on them. Spearheaded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, this activity has been supported by the mass of Israelis and Jews around the world. Dissent has been muted, but the noted Jewish intellectual Frank Knopfelmacher, was shunned and despised by his co-religionists when he publicly denounced the process as a "Holocaust industry" that made money from the dead.

The author takes no set position on this question, but revenge can be justified and justice is, or should be, the cornerstone of a civilized society. Yet justice is flexible and it depends on who rules. As time has proven time and again, after wars the victors write history to suit their own purposes and carry out judicial execution among the losers.

More recently, we have seen those guilty of genocide in the Balkans indicted for crimes against humanity. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, a former Yugoslav communist, is awaiting justice in The Hague. In Chile, there is still a possibility that General Pinochet, a discarded U.S. ally in the Cold War, will be tried for crimes against his own people.

Whether the Israeli government will ever be held to account for actions against its own Arab citizens and neighboring regimes is a moot point.

However, in the name of justice and humanity one must ask the question that so many in the West appear to find so difficult. Who speaks and acts for the communist dead?

Recent documents acquired from Russia by the Hoover Institute in the U.S.A. show that before the inception of the U.S.S.R., communists planned to inflict terror and death on the citizens of that unhappy nation. Despite attempts to remove the stains of guilt from the "pure" Lenin, evidence shows mass extermination began under his rule and at his direction - 70,000 in 1921 alone.

Documents held and translated by the Hoover Institute exist bearing Stalin's own handwriting approving these deaths and the establishment of the gulags, which were intended to work the incarcerated to death. Moreover, as Moscow took over adjoining territory, these activities were applied to their citizens through the internal application of policies related to the minorities question.

Consequently, mass murder, imprisonment in the gulags and the deportation and relocation of millions took place. With the expansion of the Soviet empire the process was repeated wherever communist governments held power.

In the U.S.S.R. between 60 million and 85 million people were killed as a result of communism, plus over 35 million in China and lesser numbers in other communist countries. "The Black Book of Communism" written in French in the early 1990s, confirmed these numbers. It attracted hostile criticism but was translated into English somewhat later.

However, in the minds of most in the world community, there is no equivalence seen between the Nazis on the one hand and the communists on the other. Who has been tried by international courts for the atrocities of the U.S.S.R. and its allies?

The former East German leader Egon Krenz must be the unluckiest man in the world, convicted for giving orders that led to the deaths of a few that fled to the West. He was merely following orders, no doubt, but at least he deserves some credit for opening the crack in the Berlin Wall.

The point is that deaths perpetuated by the Nazis appear to be seen as crimes against humanity. However, those committed by communists are whitewashed, perceived as morally purifying a country for the greater good and the creation of a new man. Until this supreme act of hypocrisy is redressed, until the guilty are brought before the courts, and until monuments are erected to the victims of communism, gulags are preserved to illustrate guilt and incriminating documents are integrated into history books, we are clearly deficient in humanity and complicit in obscuring the deaths of millions more than Hitler managed.

I ask again: Who speaks and acts for the communist dead?