Righting wrongs

  • 2002-07-18
Efraim Zuroff is at it again.

The director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the world's leading Nazi hunting organization, toured the three Baltic countries last week and, again, made more enemies than friends. In fact, judging by the age of some of the protesters at his Riga press conference, there is a new generation of Latvians who think his sole purpose is to embarrass the country in front of the world.

One young woman even blamed him for the massacre of Palestinians, peppering her rhetoric with a word that has come to be applied to the mass death of everything from people to rainforests — genocide.

If there is one thing people in the Baltics know something about it's genocide. They are often reminded by NATO officials and others like Zuroff of the Nazi atrocities that took place here. To hear tales of Communist crimes, most need only ask their parents or grandparents.

The dialogue is healthy. Where it falls apart is when people try to compare Nazi murders and Communist murders. This, unfortunately, is the reaction that most Balts have to Zuroff. They try to enter a philosophical debate with him that they will always lose. He is not wrong, nor are they.

Zuroff, who has family ties to Lithuania, is careful not to diminish the horror of Communist crimes. But he rightly points out that it is not his job to pursue their perpetrators.

Instead of arguing with Zuroff, Balts should copy him.

People in the West have for the most part ignored Communist atrocities for a few reasons. First, the Soviet Union was an ally in World War II and history is always written by the victors. Everyone knows Auschwitz and Buchenwald, but few know Kolyma or Magadan, despite the best efforts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others.

Few people know that the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss, partly used Soviet concentration camps as a guide to running his own, according to his memoirs.

Few Western journalists were allowed into the Baltic countries during the Soviet reign, but the image of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin meeting in Yalta as friends is a lasting one.

There is no better time than now to change that. The Baltic countries are on the verge of joining two of the most important organizations in the world — the European Union and NATO.

Organizations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that detail the history of Communist crimes and try to publicize them should band together and form an umbrella organization to educate the rest of the world, including their soon-to-be allies in NATO. It may not be too late.