It is not easy to see how yours, mankind’s history disappears in flames in no time. You are lost in complete helplessness and you are paralysed in disbelief. Many of us did not experience anything like that ever: when an essential part of humanity’s historical heritage is gone in front of your eyes. It is a tragedy. Some people have come with parallels to the feeling of utter helplessness that overwhelmed everyone who had his TV on, on the 9/11th. But then we knew that a despicable crime unfolds in front of our wet eyes. Here we do not know about it yet. And we do want to know the real reason for the disaster in the heart of Paris in the early evening of the first day of the Catholic and Christian Holy week.
The legendary phrase of Henri IV Navarra attributed to the leader of Huguenots when he decided to convert into Catholicism back in 1593, “Paris vaut bien une mess’’, Paris worth a mess, was not always an euphemism for reasoning a compromise. It had its literal meaning, too. And that literal meaning had to do with Notre Dame, first of all. In the wider context, it means our attachment to that very place. The place as it is known, understood and as it is in the blood of anyone who loves Paris, who knows history, cannot live without culture and who appreciates art. Not to mention what it means for Parisians and French people, and for the history of that special country.
Why so many millions from all corners of the earth tight so powerfully in their hearts to Paris? And it goes on for centuries. Because it is a unique place, brilliant in its shining beauty, manifesting a very special dimension of freedom, the elegance of freedom. Paris epitomises our dreams not without a reason: a romantic part of people, always individual, is freed there in its own special way. After all, there are not so many places on this planet among our cities where beauty enhances a human being and opens up a special inner part of us. Venice epitomises harmony, and Paris epitomises elegance. That’s why our hearts are tight to it. And that’s why Paris is worth a mess, indeed, as Henri Navarra did see it literally five centuries ago.
At the time, Notre Dame was firmly in its place at Il de la Cite in the heart of Paris for a good three centuries from the time it had been completed, after two centuries of the construction of that mighty fortress of history. No doubt, the history of Notre Dame is not a pastoral one. No doubt, one could feel the centuries of fierce battles, awful crimes, and uncompromising conflicts being accumulated inside that bastion of Catholicism. But at the same time, Notre Dame in its gorgeous beauty, that incredible amount of human work, that iconic shape of its towers and its spier, meant the history alive in front of our eyes. It was the one of the utmost symbols of Paris and France, and of human history.
The Notre Dame bells, ten of them, all with human names; the Notre Dame splendid organ, the biggest, best and the most important in the world; the Notre Dame incredible rose windows, the essence of art and an embodiment of the very process of what a human being can create and produce. The treasures inside, priceless paintings and sculptors. It all is the essential part of the world’s cultural heritage.
The history of France, Europe and the world accumulated in Notre Dame through its eight and a half centuries. As my artist husband said gleaned to the TV screen on the night of horror: “So, d’Artagnan was passing on and forth there daily, with Notre Dame in its place. And now I would move around without it. It is unreal”. He also said: “Can you imagine for all those people in Paris for whom Notre Dame was always there, what does it mean that it is gone, in such a horrific way?..” I tried, but I could not. And all those millions people on the Parisian streets on that fatal Monday evening, April 15th, 2019, were also in a complete and utter disbelief. Because in its way to protect us, our consciousness refuses to take such things in a real time-regime. It needs time to absorb the loss and new reality, Paris- without -Notre-Dame.
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How many from up to 14 millions visitors who were coming during all those years to Notre Dame annually knew that those great vivid and masterly sculptures on the top of the cathedral, all around it, all 28 of them are depicting the Kings of Judah, from Saul and David to Zedekiah? That the sculptures are not the figures of the French kings as the ignorant criminals who went crazy of their fountaining arrogance during the French Revolution were supposing and thus knocking off the heads of the sculptures in question.
And how many people know the reason for creating in the mid-13th century the most elaborated sculptures of 28 Jewish Kings and placing them on the most honourable position of the most important cathedral in France meant to crown it for centuries to come? The reason was to manifest the gratitude to the Jewish financiers of Notre Dame to whom the French kings and those responsible for accomplishment of the cathedral decided to turn for help after so many years ( 182 in total) of constructing and completing Notre Dame. So, Notre Dame had been built to a very large extent on the Jewish money, and in eternal – as they thought and hoped for – and manifesting gratitude for that, 28 Jewish Kings had been crowned the most important cathedral in France, the place where Napoleon was crowned almost six centuries later.
Yet two centuries after that, the Jewish man whose mother was murdered in Auschwitz, Aaron Lustinger, Cardinal of Paris for almost 25 years ( 1981-2004), close friend of St Pope John Paul II who did promote him to Cardinal, was buried in the Notre Dame Crypt. His epitaph which he did write for himself starts like that: “ I was born Jewish. I have received the name of my paternal grandfather, Aaron”. It continues: “… I have remained Jewish”. It is not an every day text that one can read in a Catholic Crypt.
Cardinal Lustinger was a complex figure. But his devotion to Jewishness and to the state of Israel was never in doubt. He was also the person who, a year after another, would come to the Paris Synagogue to say kaddish for his mother murdered in Auschwitz.
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So many people so naturally took the tragedy of burning Notre Dame as their own. Especially those for whom culture is an oxygen, and those who are educated adequately. Following the coverage in the world and social media, one can see that additionally to mourning France, very many Italians, British, and Russians do understand what has happened and what scale this tragedy is. The better general education in a given country, the richer the culture, the more people from there understand what has been lost, and that this loss is a tragedy of a world culture and heritage. Poland and Lithuania are shocked unanimously, as well; and yes, there is a strong element of faith in it, but not only. There are some people in other places as well who are feeling shock and dismay.
So many of our friends and colleagues from the cultural world are devastated – musicians, artists, writers, actors, directors, cinematographers, scientists, culturologists. The world of art is mourning. The world of culture is in grief. We do know what we have lost. We also know that even would-be restored parts – and it is a very big part of the cathedral – won’t be any close to the historical value of the lost cultural world treasure, to its authenticity. And, importantly, to the energy and presence accumulated there during the centuries. It matters. Authenticity matters always, would it be authenticity of XX or XII century, Warhol or Louis David whose giant canvases are inside Notre Dame, and could be affected.
Having seeing tears of great Jewish director Misha Katz who did break in at the awful moment of the Notre Dame spier’s fell, having read wise and heartfelt words of the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin who did not lose a moment for expressing his solidarity with France, I also came across of some weird reactions, some hopelessly ignorant, some pretentiously hypocritical one. It might be that this kind of reaction, and this kind of people, do not deserve attention. But I think that it would be wrong to let them thrive in their ignorance, their coldness, and their hypocrisy. “Catholic church was so bad towards Jews, so what do we care about their Notre Dame?” – they are saying. Well, one can start and cannot finish to count the places in which that or another church was bad towards Jews, such is the history of our people. But Notre Dame is not about this, it was very much also about honouring all 28 Kings of Judah in a most prolific display of it in the very heart of Europe for eight hundred and fifty years. Sometimes, it is useful to get back to school, independent of one’s age.
The other kind of these weird reactions is articulated by some journalists who are flaring out that ‘so many people are dying all around, but perhaps it is easier to feel for a subject, a cathedral in this case, than for human lives’. Come on. When a journalist cannot recognise a symbol of heritage, a house full of mementos of human history, he is in a wrong profession. And he is not licensed to preach the rest of us on ‘easiness to feel’.
There is a third type of a strange fronda, in the hope to be visible by being demonstratively different, perhaps, – when some people are so enthusiastically claiming: “ I am anti-Royalist, so why should I care about who has been crowned there?” This is pathetic, to live in such ignorance, to have such a bland life. And then, there are some people who are frantically arrogant about the Notre Dame tragedy addressing us to ‘the place where the Inquisition had a seat’ and reminding us on a truly horrific episode of burning 40 carts full of copies of Talmud and Torah scrolls ‘in that very place’.
The Disputation of Paris had a place in 1240, and the shameful for Catholic church and Christianity in their zealotry against Jews episode had been started by a Jewish convert into Christianity Nicolas Donin who had did quite a job of translating and interpreting Talmud in his twisted way and writing an inflamed denunciation of Judaism to the Pope. Donin was a small man who has caused enormous and long-lasting damage, being motivated against Rabbis personally because he believed that they ‘mistreated’ him in his dealings with Karaites. Jews and Judaism in that extremely difficult disputation were represented brilliantly and extremely courageously by four most excellent Rabbis of France, Rabbi Yehiel of Paris, Rabbi Samuel ben Solomon of Chateau-Thierry, Rabbi Judah of Melun , and Rabbi Moses of Cousy, the eternal heroes of our people. King Louis IX who was presiding over the Disputation was so deeply impressed by our Rabbis that he said his famous phrase that ‘only very skilled and trained clerics should dispute with Jews’ ( but laymen should plunge a sword into those who speak ill of Christ’). The Disputation of Paris had been used by the Catholic church in general to spread consciously and manufactured on purpose slander against Jewish people widely among the Christians, spreading insistently frightening, mean and distorted pictures that would last many centuries and cause multitude of deaths, massive injustice, and blossoming vile hatred.
All existing in Paris copies of Talmud and entire wealth of our Judaic theological manuscripts had been burned in Paris not immediately at the Disputation, but two years later, not in 1240, but in 1242, and not at the Notre Dame, but at Place de Greve, quite dark place of the French capital known as the place of executions. Now the place is known as Place of Hotel de Ville, Esplanade of Liberation, the very place of the seat of the City Council of Paris.
To be cold and harsh and indifferent towards the others’ tragedy is definitely and certainly not in the Jewish character. I am glad that there are only very few voices like those appeared in the aftermath of the disastrous Notre Dame fire. In my understanding, a person is feeling more and deeply Jewish when he or she does have capacity for compassion which is not limited by any kind of zealotry. This is written in Talmud and many other our sources of wisdom and kindness. This is prerequisite of our existence.
And who did pledge the first 100 million euro , and now more, for the Notre Dame reconstruction the morning after the devastating fire? A Jewish man, leading French businessman and philanthropist Francois Pinault. Hours later, the richest man of France, Mess Arnault has joined Francois Pinault, and a privately sourced pledge to restore the symbol of Paris has risen to 300 million euro in a day.
Throughout all history of that complex, beautiful, the one and only Notre Dame de Paris, the place which despite being in the centre of persecutions and fights, had been also the place of a great music, highest art and inspiration for myriads of the artists, including Marc Chagall and many of his friends and colleagues, was also a magnet for millions of people world-wide who were learning of how to appreciate the beauty, how to learn the history in all its complexity, and how to find humanity amidst the darkness. By holding to this humanity, not an abstract one, but always very concrete, we are living more decently and more richly. It is so strange that this kind of thing is needed to be reminded of, doubly so at the moment of sorrow.
It is very painful to look and to see on the blackened hole at the centre of one of the most beautiful places of Paris, Il de la Cite. It is still surreal to think that the one of your favourite sites of that great city, from wherever you would be looking on it, day or night, sunrise or sundown, is not there anymore in its splendor and with a grace of its 850 years. We could be very disappointed with what has happened with Paris during the last decade and how it is losing its unique character dramatically, because we all who do love Paris are judging it on with a high demand of a person in love. I feel tremendous loss caused by that very strange and so massive fire that destroyed the pride of France in an hour. But at the same time, I feel that I do love Paris as I never did.
The Arrivals, Departures exhibition opened in early June at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa is a gem from several points of view: it is a fine presentation of not so widely known or exhibited often Jewish artists from the Ecole des Paris, the School of Paris; it is a meticulously researched historical observation of the tragic period that defined their lives; and it is soulful journey returning those eighteen tattooed souls back to us, their brethren, and to the wider public. To the world.
It is also the homage to homage, so to say. It is a loving renewal and appreciation of the collection donated by Dr Oscar Ghez to Haifa University and the state of Israel 40 years ago. So far, only seven of 137 art works from that great donation were permanently displayed at the Hecht Museum. The current exhibition which would be on display for five months, until November 2018, and hopefully, would become the travelling one, shows as many as 85 works, 55 of them from the Ghez collection which he meant to be the memorial to the artists, the victims of the Holocaust.
It certainly is the memorial, both to the artists perished in the Holocaust, and to the man who loved Israel, loved his Jewish people, and who did care so much and relentlessly on the works of those who were murdered by the Nazis and given up by the Nazi collaborators. I am very glad that Dr Ghez’s son, Dr Claude Ghez, who was present at the opening of the exhibition in Haifa, and who did so much for this exhibition to be materialised, saw the legacy of his father as a part of the living Israeli and Jewish culture today.
It is quite rare when you have a sensation from a new exhibition of getting home. Of being in harmony with everything around you, from a poster to the smallest exhibit. Overall, you have a feeling of seeing something that is as if it is a natural continuation of your own thoughts, ideas and associations. Arrivals, Departures is the exhibition with a soul. And this soulful, genuinely compassionate exhibition is not only thought of masterly, with a clear concept and a trove of research and knowledge behind it, but it is produced very finely, too.The exhibition is also the result of friendly and fruitful cooperation which is always a pleasure to witness in the professional art world. The main team who conceived and produced Arrivals, Departures, Dr Rachel Perry and her students from The Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in the Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa has worked for the exhibition in close co-operation with Ghetto House Fighters Museum and Yad Vashem which both has loaned the art works from their collections to the exhibition. Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland and the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris had provided valuable documentation and records.
On personal level, among many people participated in this effort, the role of two people in particular had been crucial: Dr Claude Ghez who has provided the ten great art works from his family’s collection at The Petit PalaceModern ArtMuseum in Geneva, established by his father, to be seeing in Israel for the first time; and who had been extremely helpful and generous in many other ways, including possibility to print the exquisite catalogue of the exhibition; and Nadine Nieszawer, the well-known art dealer and expert on the Ecole des Paris, the daughter of the Holocaust survivor, who additionally to her brilliant skills and world-level knowledge of art and its perception, had put her heart into the project. Tangibly, all the efforts of all those people from so many institutions in different countries did bear that unmistaken mark of the presence of heart in the Arrivals, Departures exhibition. And perhaps, it is that instant feeling that greets a visitor of that rare show, the feeling of compassion that marks the exhibition in overall. But not only.
Wedding Art and History
The Arrivals, Departures exhibition is the product of the two years studies of the MA program in the Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa. Art historian Dr Rachel Perry, the graduate of both Columbia and Harvard, with many years experience of work in Paris took her international students, nine of them in the first year and five in the second, on the remarkable journey. They were travelling together to Paris, to trace the track of the perished artists and to meet some of their relatives; three of them are living in Paris today. They embarked also onto personal journeys, as each student had been researching the life, destiny and work of a particular artist, according to their own choice. The students were differentiated in tasks, too: someone was proof-checking facts and details; somebody else did planning and design; another one was focusing on illustrations and images. And Dr Perry herself was also worked intensely researching for the exhibition at the US National Holocaust Museum in Washington, the French WWII Archives, and at the other historical institutions.
It is there in Paris when Dr Perry was wandering with her student on the alleys of their pilgrimages to their heroes, when the name of the exhibition was born. “We were going from one place to another, looking at the places of our artists’ studios, their homes, those streets at Montparnasse, and when we were leaving the studio of Alexandre Fasini, I raised my eyes and saw the street sign on the wall. It was rue du Depart. Literally. It cannot be, I thought”, – tells Rachel. – “But what’s more, when you are looking at the map of this district of Paris, you are seeing the Gare Montparnasse in the middle, with rue de l’Arrivée and rue du Départ very near from it, running in parallel, making two sides of one block, actually. And I thought: a railways station, and those two streets, it cannot be real”. Upon hearing this from Rachel, I thought that it certainly was not a coincidence. It was definitely shown to her. From Above.
The works at the exhibition are grouped according to the genres, from city landscapes, through the natural landscapes, the nudes, street lives, portraits. Says Rachel Perry: “Following the path, from the artists’ arrival to Paris, their life and work in France, via their works, you can see very clearly how the character of the works has changed reflecting the political and daily life changes from 1938 onward. How from exuberant, full of life and colour, vibrant pieces of art it has become more and more tense, gloomy, anxious. You can feel the fear, you are getting into the gray first and then dark palette, you are seeing the plots on canvases which were atypical for the Ecole des Paris, such as birds in a cage. And then you are facing the Departures wall, with all that documentation on their arrests, deportations, transports. The End”, – explains the exhibition’s curator.
On an especially poignant note, the exhibition also shows some works created by the artists while they were in detention. To me, it is a very powerful screaming point of the exhibition; of the kind of the screams which are made without voice.
They are the works of two artists, Jacques Gotko and Abraham Berline, who did find themselves in the company of a few more artists at the Royallieu-Compiégne internment camp in the northern part of France, before being transported to Drancy, and from there either to Auschwitz or Majdanek. As the camp had been under the auspices of the International Red Cross, they did supply it with some amount of art materials, so the imprisoned people there could paint or make drawings, if they felt like that.
The exhibition in Haifa shows some of those works. They were saved miraculously and heroically by the surviving inmate, the artist himself Isis Kischka who donated these priceless works to Ghetto Fighters House Museum in Israel. The Museum graciously loaned the works in question for the current exhibition.
If I would be making the poster for this exhibition, I would certainly use for it the small watercolour by Jacques Gotko which, in fact, was the invitation to the exhibition in the camp organised by the imprisoned artists for their brothers in tragedy. The work is signed “Gotko, 1496”, with the numbers being the artist’s inmate number in the camp. On the invitation, there are two glasses touching each other in a toast, and a sign above them: Quand méme [Despite Everything!..] A piece of barbed wire is arranged around the glasses. But – there is always but, for the artists of The Ecole des Paris in general, and for any of our Jewish artists, musicians, writers, poets who did find themselves in the direst of dire circumstances, in particular. The ‘but’ of this small art work is the colour of the liquid inside the glasses rounded by barbed wire. It is bright orange. As bright, as sun. I love my people.
There are more artworks painted in the camp at the exhibition. I feel compelled to mention all and every of them: The Exit, and Compiégne, both by Abraham Berline; Fence of the Camp at Compiégne, A View of the Compiégne Camp, Compiégne, and Quand Méme, all by Jacques Gotko. They all are light in colour and almost innocent in the plot, but not in the message. They are made this way as if their authors were trying to wash away the horror in which they themselves and so many others with the same destiny were living for the time which was left for them. Those works reminds me the tone of the memoirs and writings by Viktor Frankl, the one of the most profound Jewish voices of the Holocaust, and probably, the most gentle and contemplating one, without escaping the reality or forging it. But while Frankl was writing his analyses after the war, the works in question are made in camp, and thus are unique on-time experience, and also the statement.
The works from the camps in this exhibition, as the works of the children imprisoned in Terezienstadt, and the other works made on the spot during the Holocaust, are bearing the energy of the people who did them. We can still hear their voiceless scream even from those innocent-looking light blue water-colours. The lightness makes the scream yet more piercing.
I was affected to read in the catalogue and to hear it from Rachel Perry, too, on ‘the largest, unusually large oil painting made in the camp’, and then seeing the work’s measurement – 60 x 51 cm. The Holocaust reality has its own measures, obviously.
Holocaust and Art
There is well-known phenomenon of the two schools of thinking on the Holocaust and art, its mutual compatibility. The members of one school cannot get themselves content with the idea that such ultimate horror could be reflected by artistic means, would it be cinema, poetry, or visual arts. Some of the representative of this school believed that since creating process usually means positive energy, with an aesthetic elements involved, anything created anew as a piece of art would be still artificial in comparison with the real horrors of the Holocaust, and thus would be invalid from the point of view of authentic experience. Elie Wiesel, for his part, absolutely rejected the thought that Holocaust can be reflected by a movie, and firmly denied all proposals to make a film on his Night, the ultimate narrative of the Shoah. In the case of Wiesel, such position is quite understandable.
And there is another school of thinking on the matter; the one that sees the means of creative deeds as an opportunity to express, to convey, and to connect. To express at least some of the ocean of emotions and thoughts evoked by such bottomless tragedy; to convey a multitude of messages, from hope against hope to the last subtle goodbye; to connect between those who were taken from life brutally and abruptly, and those who survived; and also, importantly, to connect between the generations, and in this vital task Dr Rachel Perry sees her ultimate goal in this special project:
“ As it happened, the resolving understanding of what we have been doing for the two last years did come to me almost at the end of the work. Among all those 85 art works, so versatile ones, some of them simply gorgeous, some rare, some very rarely exhibited, it all came down, for me personally, to the tiny watercolour, the smallest work in the entire exhibited collection. It is the Max Jacob’s watercolour of a bridge, charming, warm and elegant, and just 19 x 27 cm size. But for me, the message of the work has crystallised everything that we were doing during the years of building the project: we were building the bridge. Or even bridges: between the generations; between the people in different countries and with different history; between those for whom the Holocaust is the personal experience and part of life and those who are aware of it distantly; between knowledgeable and less knowledgeable people; between art connoisseurs and lovers of history, between experts and wide public. That bridge-building on so many levels has been the essence of our collective effort, to me. And this is how I see the overall message of this project, and the main discovery of it”, – said the curator of Arrivals, Departures exhibition.
It was only natural that life brought forward a massive response to Holocaust; the response that has been expressed in different forms of art as well. It did not happen right away. Immediately after the war, there were many people who genuinely believed that nobody would be able to create poetry or music after all that horror in general.
But then Paul Celan did come with his unparalleled poetry, the best one on our tragedy; and much later John Williams has created immortal music theme for The Schindler List; and Adrien Brody did not pretend for a second while living the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman on the screen in the Pianist, the film which is a rare exception from the Holocaust filmography, it has to be said. Not surprisingly, as the actor says himself, the world which had been opened to him in that role, still haunting him ever since, 16 years after the film’s release.
In another touching inter-connection, it is solely thanks to Szpilman and his after-war memoir that we know the details of the last period of life of Roman Kramsztyk who did come to Warsaw in the summer 1939 to deal with the family matters after his mother’s death, and had been trapped there. He was a notable man there, in the Warsaw Ghetto, the famous, well-to-do artist from Paris. He was sitting days through in the ghetto’s cafes, as he used to do in Paris, and he drew the days long, too. He drew the ghetto’s inhabitants, and it is another heart-breaking document both of the time and of art, the very few drawings which survived. Kramsztyk was killed by the Nazis in another round-up of the ghetto, as he refused to depart from his paintings in his studio. I understand him completely. The studio was savaged and robbed, of course,– as was the case with the majority of the studios and works of the artists from this exhibition. That was done in a civilised France.
What Rachel Perry and her colleagues did assemble in the Arrivals, Departures exhibition is a rare mix of artists and their works which all are the very essence of the Shoah because they has become its victims, and at the same time, we are seeing many of their works created also before the Second World War. They did not stop to create during the Holocaust, too; they did it despite of it. Despite Everything. Quand méme.
Dr Perry emphasises that “the art has become a part and a tool of the Holocaust studies not before mid-1980s, which is quite recently, in historical terms. This is yet unexplored massive knowledge, very fruitful one, and as such, it provides great opportunities, and widens up new horizons for us” – says Dr Perry. I cannot agree more with my colleague.
Arrivals, Departures exhibition at the Hecht Museum, University of Haifa: until November 1st, 2018.
The landscape in the Central and Northern Lithuania is practically endlessly serene. Especially on a hot sunny day of a premature summer. The idyll of our journey has been suddenly interrupted by a short siren while few black limos were outrunning us sharply. “The Prime-Minister”, – said somebody on the bus. Our diver had a special smile on his face rushing his white bus in the same direction, for the same event. He felt belonging. Then another siren and another mini-cortege, and yet another one. “Looks like the Speaker ( of the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament), – said another member of our group, – “ and the Foreign Minister, too” – mentioned someone else.
Entering the town of Seduva, we saw an idyl which one can rarely see nowadays in the centre of Europe: a family of quite Chagallian goats was laying serenely just next to the road; a bunch of pretty happy lambs walking nearby, and gorgeous black cow sitting like a queen with such intelligence expression on her face that we were expecting her to open her mouth and to speak any minute. The streets were empty. Everybody was just outside the town, where on a very green field a few dozens of people have gathered. I bet that Seduva never saw such number of a black limos with state flags of 15 countries on them, including the USA, France, UK, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and many others.
We all have gathered at the inviting open field on a May day when the greenery on trees branches is still young but has progressed enough. The branches around us and in the skies were gentle and pretty. It was quite windy, and normally you would be able to withstand such wind for just a few minutes. But we did not care. Nobody of us did, not entire political leadership of the country and many senior politicians, nor all the Ambassadors, not the creme a la creme of the Lithuanian intellectual and cultural elite including the director of the state Museum of Tolerance Markas Zingeris, great film director Saulius Berzinis, philosopher Darius Kuolys, or quite many Lithuanian people, both elderly and young ones.There was no hierarchy on the day and the place. All those who came were standing together, shoulder to shoulder, almost literally. The security personnel was very tactful and almost unnoticeable.
The foreign guests who did come specifically for the occasion did not care either: famous Finnish architect professor Rainer Mahlamäki, senior philanthropists from Australia, top- engineer from Switzerland, senior official from Brussels. We all, almost, wore a sun glasses which happened to be quite useful, and not because of sun or wind. It was the one of those rare occasions when you could note a tough security officer wiping his tearful eyes, despite all his efforts not to make it visible.
Emanation of Love
We were all staying next to a rarely beautiful cemetery. When you live long enough, you start to realise the importance and the role of the cemeteries in a different, very personal way. Especially the Jewish ones – those ones from them that had not disappeared, or got demolished. Especially those in Europe. Especially those one which suffered, in many ways, during the WWI and aftermath of it; the aftermath that went on for decades, in certain respects.
This Jewish cemetery in Seduva had been lovingly restored by the Seduva Jewish Memorial Fund just a few years ago. There are few such noble things in life to be done as to restore the place of the last rest of people of any faith. In our case, in the case of Jews, given the history of the XX century, it is a super-mitzvah, consciously carried on good deed of fighting not only natural oblivion, but resisting and overcoming the screaming crimes carried against helpless people so enthusiastically. And even if my friend, poet and writer Sergey Kanovich, son of prominent Jewish writer Grigory Kanovich, would stop his activities in Seduva after completing this task back in 2015, I would feel deeply indebted to him. On my own behalf. On behalf of my family. On behalf of Sergey and mine enlarged, brutally, mercilessly destroyed the family of our brethren.
It was a very painful process, the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Seduva. When completed after a three years of hard work, the memorial site of the people who were populated the area in a over 60% proportion, and where there is not a single Jewish person lives for 77 years by now, the cemetery in Seduva had been immediately recognised by receiving Special Mention of the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage a year ago, in May 2017. The experts would tell you that there are not too many, to put it mildly, sites of the Jewish heritage that had received international recognition in this century. The Seduva one is rather an exception, sadly. And it is a very important statement, too. Especially in the country like Lithuania, with that boundlessly terrible history of the Holocaust there.
No picture, not even impressive ones taken by a drone, would give you the impression of this place unless you visit it. Here we were, in the middle of green plains of the geographical centre of Lithuania, Jews, Lithuanians, Finns, Americans, Germans, Swedes, French, British; men and women, of all possible ages between 15 and 85; powerful leaders and simple pensioners, artists, architects, and writers, and military officers, film-makers and diplomats, philosophers and IT engineers, businessmen and public figures. We all visited that cemetery on our own, nobody organised it. Our feet moved us all there as if on their own, but in fact, it was the other organ that carried us there. And everyone who went to the cemetery, was doing it on their own way : professor Mahlamäki was staying on his own trying to measure some other perspectives than a visual ones; the Speaker of the Seimas, Viktoras Pranckietiswho is from this very place, and for whom it was profoundly personal, was washing his hands entering the Jewish cemetery in full accordance with Jewish tradition, simply, without any pomp.
I did not know what and whom I was watching more at the moment: the cemetery which has returned dignity to my people whose sons and daughters had been wiped off life there; or the people who were visiting it on that sunny day in May 2018 with palpable respect and empathy. I thought that I could stay on that piercing wind indefinitely, without being cold for a moment. And those who visited that big enough cemetery were not in a rush to leave it, quite in dis-accord with a protocol. It was not the day for protocols, anyway.
The Sense of Place
We all came to the cemetery after the just finished ceremony that had brought us all together on May 4th, 2018 in Seduva. It was a ground-breaking ceremony for the forthcoming museum and memorial complex of an unique concept, The Lost Shtetl. In parallel with the work of restoring the cemetery, the same group of people led by the same man, Sergey Kanovich, has come to the idea to build a museum in that serene, on the first glance, place and to make it a memorial for the people who were annihilated there – and everywhere in Lithuania. The idea is very simple, actually. When Sergey and I were discussing the things around The Lost Shtetl, I asked him what about the film in conjunction with the project is going to be. My friend replied quickly: “About the same what is the museum to be about: it is about a life destroyed”.
And it is that vision that had defined the location for The Lost Shtetl – two hours drive from the Lithuanian capital, at the place which has no other special attractions; among the fields of the Lithuanian plain.There are those who did not get the thought behind this location: “Who needs a museum in a middle of nowhere? A museum must be in Vilnius”, – Sergey has heard from some foreign diplomats whose imagination quite clearly did not lead far. But Sergey, his team, the sponsors of the project, and its creators from Finland and the US all knew that the current location is a fundamental feature of the concept. That concept can be described quite simply: everything in The Lost Shtetl project has to be authentic. The creators do not allow themselves a luxury of pretension.
According to the incomplete data, there had been 283 shtetls like Seduva in Lithuania before the Second World War. And, as we all know, there are just 3000 Jews are in the country today, in a shocking contrast with 250 000, a quarter of a million people who were forming 10% of the Lithuanian population in 1941. Should this life which has been so thriving and which is an integral part of Jewish heritage, and more generally, human tradition, be left abandoned? If we succumb to such lenience of mind and soul, what does it tell us, those who live today and who are descendants of the people who were living in these very places in such density and such intense life? The people like Sergey Kanovich who have got the idea of restoring the Shtetl lost, the people like the private sponsors of the project who have put not only their resources, but their very souls into the process of its creation, deserve a huge gratitude. Clearly, there are many projects of virtual memory on the subject in our technologically advanced time. Those are good for studies and research. But for the memory to become living, it should be materialised. There is no way around it. This is how a human perception works.
I would never forget the first impression that the one of the few similar projects of publishing the map of the Jewish Lithuania in a pre-WWII period has left on me and my husband: deep sorrow of the life, talent and human spirit erased. I still remember that feeling today although there are years passed since we were presented with the first publication of such a map. It felt like a scar on a soul that is not going anywhere.
In contrast, I also remember the first impression when I heard about and saw the project of The Lost Shtetl Museum: a wave of a warm gratitude over the reassuring understanding that the destroyed life would be restored now ; that the Lost Shtetl to be found.
It is no coincidence that the description on the Yad Vashem entrance contains the words from Isaiah pointing On the Name and the Place. In the magnominity of the destroyed lives, so many of them at the places unknown, the very meaning, or rather the sense of the place has a prophetic importance. Additionally, a place is crucial because it still bears energy of events and human presence there sometimes even throughout centuries. Those are the places where your emotional memory associates itself with your people, and you are beginning to feel your roots.
With as many as 283 places in Lithuania for the memorial to its exceptionally talented, versatile, in many senses special Jewry, Litvaks, defining the place for the memorial was a challenge for the project team, I can imagine. Among many other factors, you should also think about the attitude of the local authorities, and of the local population, too. The positive and open stand from their behalf does not necessarily go automatically in Lithuania, after the unspeaking crimes committed so efficiently and following total neglect for decades after that. In the case of Seduva, the Sergey Kanovich team did meet the people whose heart is in the right place. They have become devoted partners in The Lost Shtetl endeavour.
There was also a meaningful geographical factor in choosing Seduva for the Memorial. After the ground-breaking ceremony, Viktoras Prankievicius, the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, was speaking to Rainer Mahlamäki, the Finnish master architect who has designed the building. “Did you realise that this complex will be staying right in the centre of Lithuania, exactly, literally in the geographical centre of our country? It is so very important for us!”, – the Speaker said. It is, indeed. The Lost Shtetl would extrapolate all those 283 disappeared shtetls all over Lithuania. Both intellectually and spiritually, it would speak for all of them. That’s why we all have had such good use of our sun-glasses on the windy day in Seduva.
How to Build Life Disappeared?
The Finnish maestro of architecture Rainer Mahlamäki also has quite a strong point of feeling the space – especially so with regard to museums, and further on, in particular,regarding the museums dealing with history. “ I believe , and I feel, that any museum of history would not succeed as a building out of the context of the space, – says professor Mahlamäki. – I have had that experience with POLIN ( the Museum of History of Polish Jews in Warsaw), and it is fundamental that the building is a part, continuation and reflection, all at the same time, of the place where it stays. Every time when I am coming to POLIN, and I do it regularly and quite often, the sensation of the fact that the museum stands in the very heart of the Warsaw Ghetto, makes me feel special. Now, with POLIN staying there, it is a dialogue of that utterly tragic – and heroic – place with the reflections that we are having at the place today”.
Professor Mahlamäki is quite right. POLIN is visited by 2 million people from all over the world annually, and all those reflections indeed are connected to the place of where POLIN stays.
Recently, in the debate ignited by the outrageous law in Poland which aims to censor the narrative of Holocaust, well-known Polish artist and intellectual Dr Patricia Dolowy have written: “All my life I am living in Muratow, and after the war, there was no life there, just huge, overwhelming, haunting emptiness. Until the moment when the POLIN building had been erected there. The life, the sense, the feelings, all of it that has been whipped away so cruelly and so finally, has returned to us”.
I am thinking about this essence, the very sense of making the museum, of erecting the building also in Seduva, by the same architect who related his heart to his creations, in his customary under-stated manner.The design for The Lost Shtetl complex of building is stunning. It is as if it is coming from a dream. “How else to relate the main message for this project? – tells the architect, – the one on the life gone, disappeared, the life that had been so vibrant and full”. Mahlamäki is saying that after being invited to design The Lost Shtetl, he was facing a serious challenge. “How do you create the building, a complex of buildings that would be telling, visually so too, on something that existed in a full measure, to be whipped from the face of the earth in no time and with such cruelty? It must be a dream, and there must be a light, I thought. Actually, the landscape of Seduva has defined a lot for me in the project. That landscape with its plain serenity and greenery is quite similar to the Finnish landscape that I feel in detail. Light has been crucial for me as for the artist in all my buildings; but for a project like that, light has become an essential element of the design” – shares the author of The Lost Shtetl.
What Rainer Mahlamäki has created as the result of his intense search for the right outcome for The Lost Shtetl is a complex of buildings that reminds Fellini’s images in his immortal films: it is the reality which is born from a dream, and which embodies a dream. It is gentle and loving, and it is very harmonious. It is like one remembers one’s family from a distance of years: the further on, the more gentle these memories are.
I saw all five Mahlamäki’s projects on memorial architectures, three of them on the Jewish history and Holocaust, one on the Siege of Leningrad and another one on the embodiment of evil, the Documentation Centre-Museum of the Nazional-Socialism in Munich. Every time, I was deeply impressed by the degree of tact which the master has put into his projects. In the case of the project for The Lost Shtetl, never boasting about it, Rainer Mahlamäki was scrupulously attentive to the detail of his building from the point of view of its closeness to the Jewish authenticity and tradition. I would not even know about it at this stage of the project unless I would read some professional description of the project: “ such and such details are resolved in this way in reminding of the traditional Jewish way of covering roofs of buildings in shtetls”. Not only the architect produces the shape of his buildings in respect and commemorating the tradition of the people that had been whipped away in the most cruel way; but he is not boasting about it. It tells you about the person’s character, his depth and his attitude to life. In the case of Rainer Mahlamäki, it truly is a rare phenomenon.
Applied Memory: To Reject or To Embrace?
If somebody would tell me 10-15 years ago that there would be the people who would not be moved by restoration of memory, I simply would not believe it. Such a thing was incomprehensible to me. But with my deep involvement into the sector of the post-Holocaust studies and activities, I am observing sustainable reality of rejection of the new commemorations.
There are two aspects in this pain-caused phenomenon, philosophical and practical ones. Philosophically, there are some people who do believe that there is no way back to the life destroyed. And because of that, there is no need in efforts to reconstruct it. It seems artificial to them. To me, such disposition although it contains certain logic in itself, does have a principal flaw. In my view, the more remembrance, the better. What else can we do for those whose lives had been taken so barbarically, except to remember them?.. I disagree with this intellectual claim as too intellectual, to me. Too distant from life.
And life should be when thinking about memory. Back in 2013, my husband Michael was invited to create the exhibition for the IV World Litvak Congress, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the extermination of the Vilna Ghetto. His was the only personal exhibition for the event. The responsibility was huge. To the surprise of many, there was not a single gloom picture in that collection whose title was Jewish Melody. Michael, the grandson of Sofia Litowska, did explain his thought behind his creation that has been dedicated to his family: “When I was creating these works depicting a lullaby, loyfer, in an Yiddish family, Kletzmer musicians, gentle Jewish accordionist under two white doves, a Jewish girl playing her cello, maestro Jewish violinist who plays staying on a cloud, I was thinking on all of them alive, not dead. I was thinking of them in their finest moments. I was as if hearing their melodies. My point is that even if all of those people did not survive the Night, their melodies certainly are. Our Jewish melody is. Our memory is. It is singing, playing and smiling. I would like to remember those people, among whom there were also the members of my and wife’s families, alive. I would like us to remember their melody, not their torment. I would like their melody to live”. I was impressed to see the people’s perception of that commemorative series. They were overwhelmed. They were grateful. They were smiling. They called it “cosmos of memory”. They understood.
Since then, my husband’s metaphor for living memory has been proved right many times, for different projects and aspects of what I call as applied memory. Working in this field intensively, I can see that acceptance of the concept of reviving memory is not that universal, as one would expect it, on a purely humanistic ground.
There is also another aspect of the same rejection phenomenon which is disturbing. There is a strange tendency of rejection a priory of anything done in the memory of people annihilated during the Holocaust if that anything is happening in the non-Western European countries. Some of those rejecting people are hostile to anything positive what is happening in the countries in which the SS veterans are still marching with honours and where the streets are re-named after the glorious Nazi collaborators. I do understand their indignation over those outrageous activities in a full measure.
I am personally engaged in the fight against those marches from the day that disgust had been started. I honestly am at loss of the civilised world’s position and its closed eyes towards it. I also am monitoring and fighting publicly all and every tendencies of the Holocaust diminishing and its revisionism anywhere where it is happening.
But what does it have to do with rejecting the good things that are happening in those countries? In my view, the appearance of new museums, new projects, new commemorations are the best and the most important things that could happen in the countries in which societies are leaving in prejustice and half-truth. The more just things will be implemented in those countries, the healthier their societies could become. To create such a project as The Lost Shtetl it is to seed one more seed of good. I just cannot see why and what for it should be rejected and criticised.
There is also another side of this snobbish outright rejection of projects of applied memory. I call it a laziness of mind. Disputing the subject with one of the critics of the restoration of memory in Lithuania, I have asked this person on how many times he was in Lithuania during the past 30 years. I tried to understand how familiar my opponent was with the realities there. The answer has stunned me. “What are you talking about? ” he said with clear low-key’ indignation. – We-are-not-travelling-there. Not to Lithuania, nor to Poland, and not to Ukraine. Our family did not set its foot on the ground of those places since our relatives did manage to escape from there just before it all started, in July 1941”. It was a clear pride in his voice.
“Well, – I told back – members of our families somehow did not manage to escape. Not from Lithuania, nor from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, or Austria, for this matter. And those who did not, had been murdered there or deported to be murdered. But with my husband and with our Foundation, we never thought not to go to the places where our families once lived. Quite the contrary, we were very interested and very motivated to go there, especially to those of the places that had been awakening from their half-of-a century communist-implemented amnesia towards the Jewish people , to support that awakening, to participate in the acts of an applied memory to the best we could while fighting anti-Semitism, Holocaust revisionism, and glorifying the Nazi collaborators. It is only now, unfortunately, that we are unable to visit the graves of our family in
Ukraine because we won’t be able to walk on Bandera avenues, or observe the non-stop marches of the neo-Nazis there. And it is only now when the anti-Semitism in Poland has become not only wide-spreaded-as-usual, but it has become the official policy of the country run by the lunatic ultra-nationalists from the PiS party that we have refused to come there until that government will stay in power there”.
Of course, it is a matter of personal choice to where to visit and what to support. Still, it is hard for me to see how those people who are so active in the sport of rejecting can honour the memory of our past, so tragic one, so fragile one. Clearly, a person is free not to travel, not to know, not to recognise, but in the case of applied memory, it means simply not to remember. Still-born memory does not distinguish the people whose lives had been abrupted in such a horrific way. Only living memory does; and the whole The Lost Shtetl project is just that: an effort to make our memory the living one. I do not know of a more noble purpose.
Contrast of Attitudes: Lithuania vs Poland
While being in Seduva in May 2018 for The Lost Shtetl ground-breaking ceremony, I cannot help but to think of my Lithuanian neighbour, Poland. Could anyone imagine the entire leadership of Poland to be present at the ceremony like we attended in Seduva ? Could anyone project such unanimous support by the authorities, both the highest and the local ones provided in accord, with respect and decency, and remorse, as we all who did come to Seduva on the windy day of May 4th, 2018 witnessed there?
I was not the only one who was thinking that way. A very senior European diplomat told of her impressions from the ceremony: “What a contrast between the two neighbouring countries, Lithuania and Poland, on this so vital for both matters of our common history. What a striking contrast!” Another close friend who flew in just after attending official commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Poland just could not held his concern, returning to the subject time and again: “ Practically all speeches at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemoration , from the (Poland) president to the young activists, were inflamed with strong nationalistic sentiment. Nothing like that happened there for many years when I was visiting the country. It is very disturbing; very, very disturbing”.
The world realises what the situation in Poland is today like, and does not have much illusion about it. With the unprecedented official anti-Semitic policy in Poland, the attitude of the authorities in Lithuania to the public restoration of the Jewish memory and respect to the Jewish people is quite different. I am not rosy-glassed on the subject. We know that this very matter is continuously difficult in Lithuania and the rest two of the Baltic states. It is difficult because of the burden of horror which has not been disclosed as it should in none of those countries.
And actually, for better or worse, the authorities’ motivation behind it is of a secondary importance. It is the outcome what matters to us today, in memory of those hundreds of thousands of the Jewish people all over Lithuania, its tailors and its professors, its musicians and its cobblers, its poets and its rabbis, it’s house-wives and its engineers, and all those children who had no chance to become any of them; those whose dead bodies in August 1941 were ploughed into the ground of the fields around Seduva and many other places in Lithuania. The outcome that would make possible for us and our children and grandchildren, and thousands of students of Lithuania would to come to remember them with love and affection to the white dream-like buildings of The Lost Shtetl, so their souls would have the place to be remembered, in the country where they were living for five hundred years before being exterminated there.
After the ceremony in Seduva, the Lithuanian young people, all between their 20s and 30s, had made another point: “When the museum will be built up and opened, this memorial complex will become so important for all the Europe – because where else one would be able to see the life as it was once all over here and in Europe, too, with all its features, its style and flavour?.. Creating such museum is important not for us only which it certainly is; but it is important in the pan-European context, in the way of how we today are seeing the story of the continent” ,- 30-year old Lithuanian journalist has told me on behalf of the group of his colleagues of the same age. This is the perspective of the Lithuanian people themselves, and it counts – if only because of the fundamental fact that Europe today has been formed as the direct result of the boundless tragedy of the WWII and Holocaust.
In a re-assuring way, great architect Rainer Mahlamäki has said about his latest creation, the complex of The Lost Shtetl: “ I can assure you that this building will be staying in a perfect condition for one thousand years. I am making it this way”. I do not remember when I have heard the commitment to memory of the Jewish people made so elegantly and so whole-heartedly. The best of it, he meant it.
Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and fllm-maker. She is co-founder and President of the Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchifoundation.org . Post-Holocaust is in the focus of her professional and public attention, including series of her Outreach to Humanity special cultural and educational projects. She is the author of forthcoming film and book about the professor Mahlamäki’s works on memorial architecture.
WISDOM OF HEART AND COURAGE OF COMPASSION: A LOOK BACK ON THE HEROES OF THE HOLOCAUST
By Dr Inna Rogatchi (C)
Based on the speech at the Inaugual Opening of the Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity exhibition at The European Parliament – January 24, 2017, Brussels
Between Wansee and Auschwitz
At the time of the commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 at the European Parliament, on the initiative and with warm support of my dear friends and colleagues, Members of the European Parliament Dr Hannu Takkula from Finland and Bastiaan Belder from the Netherlands, and their great teams, we has launched the European Premiere of my Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project, a series of fine art photography, essays and documentation material celebrating the outstanding people, beacons of lights of the XX and Xxi centuries whose lives were marked by the Holocaust.
As it happened, our event set for January 24th, was situated timing-wise in between two very meaningful dates in the history of mankind: an anniversary of the Wannsee Conference on January 20th; it was its 75th anniversary this year, and the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27th, which was the 72th anniversary of that crucial day this year.
While opening the exhibition dealing with the Shoah remembrance theme at the European Parliament, it felt to me that our commemoration has become the subject of impact of the both events mentioned, the horrible and relieving one; beginning and the end, or as it is in the case of Holocaust and Final Solution, rather premeditated end and miraculous beginning after the extermination.
Opening the exhibition, I was thinking on celebration of themiracle of surviving, of the strength of overcoming evil; oflife and humanism that did beat death and mass murder, genocide; and did beat it ultimately. Ultimately was the key-word there, to me.
Five years ago to the day of our ceremony in January 2017, at the commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the European Parliament and the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, back in 2012, our good friend, the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein said the following in his addressing: “ Just think about it: 70 years ago, a bunch of fifteen thugs got together for an hour and a half meeting in which they have sealed the destiny of entire Jewish people, with six million of them fell victims of that hideous crime which has actually started so utterly banally”.
I can see the point of my friend. And yes, very matter-of-fact an hour and a half meeting at the Wannsee villa could be seen in this way, too. There is certainly something deeply banal and shockingly bureaucratic in the way in which the Adolf’s decision to exterminate the entire people –whichever people they were – had been engineered there by Heydrich and fourteen more blatant criminals attended. It worth of mentioning, perhaps that eight of those fifteen thugs were Doctors of various sciences.
The more I am learning about the Holocaust, the more I understand that the Final Solution was not a trigger but a bureaucratic procedure to register the decision which was formed a while before. And the way paved towards the Final Solution by the Nazis had been very thorough and long one, importantly. The process of paving that way has started nine years before the short meeting at the shore of Wannsee lake. Nine years is a long enough time. The preparation for the process officially started in 1942, was on the way in a full swing for the period which was trice longer than the period of the action, of the extermination of the Jewish people. No wonder that it had been so efficient.
Those who would like to live with an adequate knowledge and understanding of history have to realise the process which was total and completely successful. That process included the Nazification of schools and the entire educational system of Germany; the Nazification of trade-unions; the Nazification of higher education; the Nazification of the Church – apart of the Confession Church that had been formed as the protest against it; the Nazification of culture; the Nazification of science; the Nazification of national registers, social services, and the society at all its levels and throughout all its structures.
It was the giant process of entire, methodical, massive Nazification of life in the country in which Jews constituted less than 0,75% of the population, and where the Final Solution turned to be not only logical, not only natural, but also quite easy and welcoming thing to do, a piece of cake, really, in the visioning of the Nazi leaders, but also in the actions and deeds of frightening number of human beings in the country of 67 million at the time. There should be no mistake: de-humanisators were dehumanised in the first place, to be able to carry on their sick cleansing.
Alternative for Oblivion
In my series, I am commemorating both Jewish and non-Jewish people. Those who became victims, and those who came to rescue, to help, to protest. That support often was vital then, and it still counts now.
It does count now because just a week ago, Bjorn Höcke, boss of the Alternative for Germany for Thuringia, gave quite a speech in Dresden, in which with all his charming openness he said the following: “We ( in Germany) have to take a 180-degree turn when remembering our past”; he publicly called the Germany’s official stand towards the country’s Nazi past “this laughable policy of coming to terms with the past is crippling us”. He also proclaimed that “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital” referring to the monument of the victims of the Holocaust in Berlin – which was not erected before 2005, by the way, waiting 60 years after the liberation of the camps.
As well, as the memorial museum at the Wannsee villa was not opened before 1992, waiting 50 years from the date of that hideous event, and causing, due to the perpetual delays and rejections of the memorial, the suicide of the very good man, notable historian Joseph Wulf who was advocating for the opening of the memorial with all his heart and was so desperate on the perpetual rejections and delays that he had took his life in mid-1970s.
As well, as the memorial museum to Felix Nussbaum, great German Jewish artist who did paint the very essence of the Holocaust and the Second Wolrd War as no one else did, and who was gassed in Auschwitz being just 39; the museum was not opened in his native Osnabruck before 1998, waiting 55 years since his annihilation.
These facts do give you the food for thought, does not they?..
The certain resurrection of the Nazi spirit that we are observing currently is troubling not only because Höcke is a senior national – and popular enough – politician in Germany. To me, it is troubling to the alarming degree because of this senior national politician of Germany is 44 years old.
He belongs to the generation of people born in 1970s who are detached from the legacy of the Second World War to more degree than the previous generations. This is also the generation which has become matured to become the leaders of the societies today. But his rhetoric is so chillingly familiar to anyone whose knowledge of history is elemental. And here is the core of my concerns today.
For a long time by now, I am repeating once and again: “It is not about ‘Never Again’.
I would always remember the footage filmed in Bergen-Belzen when the British forces forced the local population to visit the site of the camp and watch by they own eyes on the most horrible scenes around there. There was non-stop line of people who were moving through the path made for them by the British Army. None of them, just not a single one, was not looking on the scenes around them: corpses, more corpses, and yet more corpses. They were turned not only their eyes, but their heads off the direction in which the British liberators of Bergen-Belzen wanted them to look. All of them. So, I never got that illusion of “Never Again”.
For me, it is ‘Never Forget’. We do not. But we can see, in front of our eyes, that some would love to. And those ‘some’ are not that small in numbers, importantly.
Wisdom of Heart and Courage of Compassion
In my collection of works, essays and research collected in the Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project, I was concentrating on two mayor phenomena: Wisdom of Heart, and Courage of Compassion.
Wisdom of Heart goes for Jewish heroes commemorated in the series, and Courage of Compassion goes for those non-Jewish people who were risking their lives by saving the victims of Shoah.
Wisdom of Heart is a concept of the Torah. It defines the most important quality that the Creator sees in a human being. In the case of the gallery of great Jewish characters whose all destinies were marked by the Holocaust, we can see that wisdom of the heart in any of them: Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and the others. Those people did not become bitter after the unspeakably horrible crimes against them, their families and their people. Despite of all that, they all behave wisely, patiently, and very, very human. They ever preserved their great sense of humour, and I know about it first-hand, because my husband and I were very privileged and honoured to know some of them personally, well, and for a long time. And some of them – like Marian Turski, who still is working tirelessly, as the Chairman of the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and many other important institutions, is our dear friend, too.
Regarding the theme of Courage of Compassion – it is very different thing to accomplish it, or even to be capable of it. One can feel very compassionately, but he or she simply may do not have enough strength, bravery, courage to act. As we all know, it is happening in 90% cases of well-intent people.
The heroes commemorated in the Champions of Humanity, non-Jewish people, all were incredibly brave: Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, Irena Sendler, Zofia Kossak-Szszuka, all of them here – possessed that stern courage; the courage that allowed them to save thousands and become heroic humanists figures of all times.
Those people did save so many lives; tens, hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands in some cases. One. One human life. Every single one from those saved ones. The number of the descendants of the people saved by my heroes far outnumbered one hundred thousand.
And even more than that – if it could be more – , the champions of humanity did resist evil, and this is the fact of fundamental importance in the history of human spirit. Resisting evil assures the decency of life. For those for whom such things matters, decency is both the sense of living and the highest prize of it, as an honour has no price. And the honour of human life is the highest honour of all.
Back in 1933, it took just two days for the Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer to start to confront the vile hatred of the Hitler’s speeches publicly and strongly. We do need to remember about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the people like him, to remember about them in detail and with full consciousness. I see it as the ultimate resource of moral strength which we might need in the case of the re-incarnations of the evil in our lifetime.
Non-Jews and Jews alike, those Shining Souls commemorated in the Champions of Humanity series they all lived and some of them, who are among us, are living accordingly to the simple principle: to resist evil as the business of their own. They all took it personally. And so shall we.
Excerpt from DARK STARS, WISE HEARTS (C) book ( 2017-2018)
A VIEW FROM A CATTLE WAGON
(C) Inna Rogatchi ~ Excerpt from DARK STARS, WISE HEARTS BOOK
The wagon was set aside. To enter into that was optional. I found myself inside before realising what I was doing.
I have seen similar cattle wagons before, in different places, both inside museum walls and outside, in natural environment, in Auschwitz, at Yad Vashem, in Washington, you name it. I filmed them practically in every place I saw them: in Poland, in Israel, in Ukraine, in the United States. I filmed and photographed them because they were as if speaking to me. Or somebody from there, from inside, did.
I could touch the wagons but I never dared. I thought that I have no right to do it. I saw the elderly survivor from Italy crying uncontrollably, with his head laying on the cattle wagon’s wooden plank in Auschwitz, his wife trying to console him unsuccessfully, and I knew that I was right in distancing myself from a physical contact with those wagons. I had no right to touch it. I was not there at the time.
Inna Rogatchi (C). The Route. One Day in October series. Fine Art Photography.
But I felt the energy of that horror. I felt it physically, and it did not start from the wagons. The first time I did, it was in Mauthausen when I was filming for The Lessons of Survival, my film on and with Simon Wiesenthal, a dear friend. In Mauthausen, the light-blue doors with such nice roses painted on them circling DUSCHE sign in that cosy pastoral style made me rave. But I had no time for emotions, I was working. I had to concentrate.
Then we stepped into the crematorium building and were working there. Then we proceed into the ‘medical’ rooms. Then to torture chambers.
My experienced Finnish camera-man who spent twenty years filming wars in Africa, did confess to me in the evening when we both were drinking quietly after a long day: “Have you noticed that I lost conscience a couple of times when filming in the chambers? Sorry if the stuff would not be stable at some moments”, – he sighed. I did not cry there in the chambers. I did not cry after that work at all for three years.
But I felt the horror in all those empty today places of the camp which were so overcrowded fifty years before I stepped in there. I felt like the very air inside the chambers and the places leading to it had been very thick with nothing but a sheer horror. The Mauthausen walls preserved it intact.
I felt the energy of murdered people, my Jewish brethren, in many places plagued with Shoah: inside the barracks of Birkenau, next to the ditches of Paneriai, at the numerous ravines in Ukraine. I felt it in all those ghettos where I was walking through once and again, in Crakow, Warsaw, Vilna. I felt it on the Danube embankment at the place of the mass assassination and drowning of the helpless people just on the spot. I still feel it ever since, regarding all those places .
The first time that I was told about the Nazi camps and the people’s indescribable suffering there, as well as unimaginable heroism occurred in response, I was six. My mother has told me the story of doctor Korczak and the children from his Jewish orphanage, the kids whom he did not leave although he was able to do it, but instead was comforting them all the way to Treblinka, perishing together. For my mother who was a teacher and a student of prolific linguist, professor David Alba whose entire family including his wife and children died in the Warsaw Ghetto, there was no higher example of human devotion and exploit than the one undertaken by Janusz Korczak. And timing-wise, the stories from the camps were quite close to us. My mom has become a student and heard the Korczak story from her professor just eight years after the end of the war. How grateful I am to her for being wise in her heart to tell about it to me when I was a little child and doing it until the end of her life.
For the first time I heard and saw the real person who had an occasional, but repeating distinct sensation of being back to a ghetto street and running with some older woman from a round-up, from my third cousin. She was twenty year me senior, and like my mother, she was the child of the war. Fanja was the only child of two military doctors and spent all years of the war together with her parents in numerous military trains and hospitals, being bombed there not for once. She became a doctor, naturally. Fanja was dry, savvy and highly intelligent, very much no-nonsense person. She did not share her sensations with anyone before starting to talk with me about it, she said. She was shocked and described her visions as full of senses – the smells, the lights, the colours, the visions of certain streets, corners and basements. Fanja told me about that sweeping, colossal, paralysing fear that had been overcoming her at the times of those moments. I have told her that my only understanding of it is that some sparks of the souls who were murdered during Holocaust, the tattooed souls as I call them, has entered the Fanja’s own soul, to live inside there. I have no any other explanation to her baffled questions.
Later on, travelling the world from one its corner to another, I have to meet more and more people like Fanja who, in my understanding, are also hosting some sparks from the souls of the Country of Six Million. It is explicable, as all those souls were not leaving the bodies which they had inhabited, due to natural causes, nor more or less in the way it is happening in life usually. They were thorn away, abruptly and gruesomely, by those who loved or obeyed the evil. They had to live somehow and somewhere, those thorn away souls. Each of them had its own destined time to be in someone’s body.
I also met and still am meeting so many people who each has the Holocaust story to tell, the survivors, their children and grandchildren. And every single of those stories I have heard is ought to be written and remembered. Each of them is unique, extraordinary and magnetic. Because each of them is about human spirit. Each of them is breathing life, even in death.
Inna Rogatchi (C). My Great-Aunt’s Glasses. Ukraine. One Day in October series. Fine Art Photography collage.
So I found myself in that cattle wagon in Chicago. It was as dark inside, as one can imagine the darkness in one child’s fears. But it was more than dark. The blackness inside the wagon was the entire world. It was the air, the home, the dream, the day and the night. It was the only thing existing. And I was yet sparred from non-stops screams around me in the overcrowded wagon, from smells, from suffocation. I was sparred from a total sweeping despair, my own, atop of everyone’s around me. But staying in that cattle wagon of the Deutsche Bahn with the time rapidly running back, so I could hear its beat more loudly than my own heart’s jumping, I remembered very vividly the words of the Viktor Frankl’s account of him and people around him taken in the similar wagon on their way to Auschwitz, and how much did he struggled to get a chance to have a momentarily glance from that small window with nasty metal bars over it, towards his city disappearing in the view with no time at all…
When I stepped out the wagon, I felt that my understanding of how my fellow Jewish people and all the other victims of the Nazi feast of evil were feeling at the time of that massive attack against humanity, was almost completed. I knew no time distance from the events in mid-1940 any longer. It all was happening now.
But hearing on some reactions, both in Russia and outside, I decided to express myself on the subject once again. It seems that the theme of the Holocaust travesty is getting more and more actual, alarmingly.
Here you are shocked to watch a masquerade on the theme Shoah. And you are fighting your body to sustain the observation of all kinds of skating movements – legs spread, bottom up, mighty whirling, acrobatics, jumps, glued smiles, all those movements, in brand new camp prisoners’ robes, sort of, with a nice Russian braid – what braid? if you are trying so hard to make up your mug that deep grey, to show a suffering, you had to performed shaved, baby. And of course, yellow stars, there and there, so nicely sewn in, so visible.
Skating, they were improvising in their own means after widely accepted Life Is Beautiful movie – some of their defenders are emphasising. “Why people can like the movie, but cannot like the dance?” – I’ve read some comment.
Firstly, not everyone liked the movie. Far from that. The heavily Hollywood-ised Italian film, Life Is Beautiful is the one of the least Italian movies, as many Italians would tell you, and is a very serious flop in many ways , as many other people would add to that. That film, Oscar-awarded or not, is just profoundly tasteless, and false in many ways. Among my very many friends and acquaintances all over the world, there is only one person who actually liked that silly effort to tell about the Holocaust in the way Life Is Beautiful approached it; and the man had had a very strange sense a humour, to put it mildly.
And of course, you do speak and show the Holocaust in arts and literature. But you are doing it with taste and decency. You also do choose the genres. What next now?- people are asking being shocked by the Russian skating dance exercise. – Shoah musical?.. That exactly is the point.
If there is a need to explain that you are not dancing on bones, there is something very wrong with the people’s bringing up and education. Judging by the reaction both in Russia and outside it which is mostly healthy and outraged, the case is not crossed the point of no return. The most of the reaction was furious and justly so.
“Why didn’t you rehearse for couple of month by starving yourself?” – people bombed the tasteless, tactless and brainless dancers with fierce critic. – “And what’s grande finale? A gas chamber?” – are the reactions.
But there are also those who is trying to defend the well-known Russian ice-dancers in their outrageous games. Nobody else, but the chairman of the Russian Holocaust Foundation Alla Gerber said that in her opinion, what is unacceptable it is a smirk and joking about the Holocaust. “As far, as those things not present, it should be OK”, – she concluded publicly. I wonder how the statement might change unless the dancer would not be the wife of the Russian President’s spokesman; if the dancer would be a mortal from the point of view of Ms Gerber. One is not supporting the legacy of the Shoah victims being so pathetically servile towards the authorities, in any country, for this matter.
Another defenders tried hard to find the excuse in being ecstatic over the fact that ‘after decades of neglect, the Russian official TV has decided to single out the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust’. Please. After decades of neglect, the Jewish life in Russia is thriving, and there is no need whatsoever to thank their state TV channel of being so utterly nice as to remember Jews and the Shoah, –this is done in such appalling , unbearable way.
This is exactly the direct outcome of the decades of neglect that the Russian dancers are allowed themselves to perform Shoah, in the first place. They just had no clue what could be possibly wrong with their performance – and this is alarming sign of ignorance and insensitivity. In a brutal country ignorance and insensitivity could turn into grotesque easier and quicker – and it is exactly what we just saw during that terrible eight-minute exercise.
Let be fair – the critique of the awful episode from the Russian public is mighty. It means that the public there, as usually is the case, is healthier and better than some of its elements. The problem here, as I can see it, is not only with the brainless and outrageous dancers, but also with all those people on the Russia’s state TV channel who has decided that it is ‘cool’ to air and broadcast this sick giggling around the Holocaust, and to award it with the highest possible rates – oh, yes, it was a contest. Shame on them all. Many people for whom this escapade brought a real suffering, as to myself and many of my friends, are thinking on suing the Russian First TV Channel now, on the ground on insult and moral damages. That would be very appropriate thing to do.
It is also understood that there has been launched the official protests to the Russian Embassies in several countries from a number of organisations who are protesting the show and the disgrace towards the Holocaust victims and members of their families.
What worries me it is the tendency. The tendency of ‘afresh’ look onto the Shoah, the adopted permissibility to play , to experiment with the memory of the most terrible crime and horror committed against humanity. Within the period of two years by now, this is the fourth instance when I and my colleagues had to mobilise the world to guard this memory, and to guard also our own dignity.
Those jokes and games, those dances and jumps, that falsehood and perversion are continuing the Nazi business as they dreamt it would be continued in the case they would win. They’ve lost, but they were not punished enough. They’ve lost, but in some important countries – such as Soviet Union – there had been decades before the truth about the Shoah has transpired. They’ve lost, but in other important countries – as Poland, and the others, as Estonia – today it is possible to joke and to play and to experiment on the Holocaust and its victims.
The Life was not Beautiful during the Darkness of the Holocaust. The concept is pervert, and the price paid during the Holocaust is not allow those funny paradoxes. It is really that simple and straightforward. And one has to have enough modesty to handle the theme when one wants to come public on that. Every smile during that time was coming from and disappearing into the pain, fear, chill, bullet, and gas. Life was completely and totally de-humanised during those years. Enough of those sick jokes already.
Simon Wiesenthal has told to me in the mid-1990s: “By mid-1960s, I have realised that Germans lost the war, but we have lost post-war period”. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau back in 2014 has told to me and my husband: “Sometimes, I really think that we learned nothing from the Holocaust. Nothing”. Those were chilling statements by the legendary people who know what they were and are talking about very well indeed, and who both have had the most painful knowledge of the Holocaust first-hand, becoming both completely orphaned and living with their indescribable trauma the most decent and meaningful lives, as did many survivors of the Hell on Earth brought to the world by the Nazis and all those who did not stop and who were happy to help them.
I still am thinking about those lines by Simon Wiesenthal and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau ever since I’ve heard it from them. With jokes and idiotic dances about the Holocaust, I do see the point of my dear friends and teachers chillingly clear. And I will fight this and any other sacrilege of the Shoah at any centimetre of its way. I am doing it in memory of my own family members murdered in the Shoah, and every single one from the six millions.
Dr Inna Rogatchi
Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and film-maker. She is the President of The Rogatchi Foundation. Inna Rogatchi is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. Her forthcoming book is on the Legacy of the Post-Holocaust.
Reflections on the first ever March of Living in Lithuania
by INNA ROGATCHI (C)
August 29th, 2016 has become truly important day for Lithuanian people, for Israel, and for all of us who does not know the past term for Holocaust. On that day, a small Lithuanian town of Moletai has become a scene of tangible and penetrating lesson on the Shoah. It was a rare event – unpretending, quiet and sincere; determined and devoted; the real thing.
Inna Rogatchi (C). Our Memory. Lithuania. Black Milk & Dark Stars series.
Yet a couple of months ago, the people who were organising the March in the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Moletai massacre, were thinking that there would be 200-300 people in attendance, mostly guests from Israel, South Africa, and the other countries where the relatives of the victims of Moletai are living today.
“Observe that day in our memory…”
Moletai – which was Malat before all its Jewish residents had been annihilated – is the place in an hour drive from Vilnius where all its Jews had been locked for several days without food and drink in the one of the town’s several synagogues in the end of summer of 1941 before they were marched two kilometres to the specifically prepared pit. The 50 meter to 3-4 meter and of 4-meter deep pit had been dag by forty arrested Jewish men a day before. The digging took almost 24 hours. All the people forced to the death march were methodically killed next to the pit by the over twenty members of the Lithuanian white-band local police under the supervision of one Nazi officer, one translator, and the head of the Moletai district police. The decision of the massacre has come from the Nazi head-quarters in Utena, the district where Moletai belonged. The massacre was photographed by the Nazis.
The murder had been done in series, as the bodies in the pit had to be ‘organised’ by layers. There are at least three of them, but possibly up to five. Before the massacre, the Jews of Malat were thoroughly robbed, first their homes were looted completely, and then they were searched individually, hours before the massacre. In that pit, two thousand and three hundred people from Malat alone were murdered in the ‘action’ that lasted for five hours. Their belongings, including the clothes which they had to strip of under the gun-machines of their murderers, had been sold to the local population amassing 30.000 roubles. Their houses were grabbed too, of course.
The general figure of victims could be substantially higher: according to the official records of the Lithuanian Jewish Cemeteries register, 3 782 Jews from Malat and Utena together had been murdered at the pit. It is also believed that none of the 5 443 Jewish persons registered as the residents of the Utena district as of January 1st, 1941, did survive.
History does have miraculous threads for us in its arsenal. A couple of letters of the people from the doomed Malat had reached to their relatives outside Lithuania later on with a help of the Christian people from the place. The letters are preserved in Yad-Vashem now. So we could read the rows nervously scribbled in a rush by the victims themselves, just prior to their annihilation:
“ For two days now we have not eaten and soon we are going to be murdered. […] Everyone is dressed [and ready] with their beloved children and everyone is waiting. We are all [imprisoned] in the study house. Enough time remains so that sometimes we wish death would come already.[…] Observe this day in our memory: it will be the 19th of August.[…]Tsipora” ( YVA, O.75/158).
Letter from Moletai. August 1941. Courtesy: Yad Vashem (C). YVA, O.75/158
Three Generations of Oblivion
The followed 75 years, the time of three generations, were the years of oblivion. It is telling, indeed, that the March of commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the massacre has become the first commemorative event for the victims of such terrible crime.
For several previous years, the efforts of the Israeli-based relatives of the brutally murdered Jews in Moletai to commemorate their memory at the place of their annihilation went fruitless and frustrating. And also shameful, as well-known Lithuanian director Marius Ivaskevicius has shown so well in his exceptionally powerful writings on the issue of facing the truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania by the modern Lithuanian society. As I can see it, it was the Ivaskevicius’s personal stand that has triggered the awakening of the public conscience on the matter – and this is both healthy and timely.
Marius Ivaskevicius with his family at the March in Moletai. Photo (C) Viktor Tombak.
The issue started to be discussed in Lithuania much more intensely than ever before. For several years, a handful of Jewish activists, as Sergey Kanovich, are publicly challenging the very concept of the Lithuanian attitude to the Holocaust and the way of remembrance of the unparalleled tragedy and mega-crime in which 94,6% of the Jewish population of the country has been exterminated in the world record’ proportion. The nerve of the matter is that the crime has been committed largely and enthusiastically by the local police, known as white-band Lithuanian police, under the super-vision and command of the Nazis. Understandably, it is just impossible for the descendants of the Lithuanian Jewry to accept any kind of glorification of the Lithuanians who were participating in any way in such hideous crimes.
The recent book of Ruta Vanagaite “Ours. The Journey with the Enemy” had also been quite a bitter settling of the account between Lithuanians and Lithuanians on the matter of the Holocaust and the active participation of many local people in it.
Both Ivaskevicius and Vanagaite are not Jewish; and both thought that it would be necessary to emphasise it. Ivaskevicius has written a special statement-article “I am not Jewish” in the wake of his appeal to the Lithuanian own conscience with regard to the Moletai massacre as a case-study on their attitude towards the Holocaust today. Vanagaite starts each of her interviews with saying that she is not Jewish and that her motivation for writing a very challenging the Lithuanian society book was the fact of her familiarity with the documents telling on the participation of a several members of her own Lithuanian family, including her grandfather, in the actions against Jews during the Holocaust. Many people in Lithuania, even those who are not enthusiastic about the very disturbing book accounting the Lithuanian crimes during the Holocaust and too lenient attitude towards ‘unpleasant subject’ ever after, are saying that this book has brought the issue into the Lithuanian society which now has to discuss it, willingly or not.
Just a month prior to the March in Moletai, a wide and heated discussion, both in Lithuania and beyond it has erupted on the scandal around previously privatised 7th Forth in Kaunas, the first concentration camp in Lithuania, the place where five thousand Jews and three thousands POWs had been murdered about the same time with the massacre in Moletai in the summer of 1941.
At the same time, we shall not –and never will – forget those many heroic Lithuanian people who did save Jews or who were trying to do it, among them many clergy and nuns. In his deep and emotional letter on the eve of the Moletai March, famous theatre director Kama Ginkas whose entire family are Litvaks, has asked his friend and colleague Marius Ivaskevicius to put the stones from him and his ten grandchildren, none of which would not exist unless several brave Lithuanian people, including a few clergy men and women among them, would save and hide little Kama whose grandfather and many members of the family were murdered in the horrid 9th Forth in Kaunas. The same did very many people who were unable to attend the March personally but would like to participate in this commemoration in a distinctly personal way.
The People’s River of Memory
What has happened in Moletai on August 29th, 2016, overcome the expectations of many people who were familiar with the project. At least three thousand people in attendance, all by their own will, normal, ordinary people, many young ones, many with children, joined the visiting relatives of the massacred Jews of Malat . There were priests, Franciscan monks, women in the Lithuanian national dresses, high-rank Lithuanian military and soldiers, students, teachers, engineers, in the people’s river that flooded the streets of a small resort town. Additionally to many Israeli flags, there were Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian flags, too. The President of Lithuania Dalia Gribauskaite attended the ceremony along with Amir Maimon, the Ambassador of Israel in Lithuania and, in a truly thoughtful gesture, the Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel Edwinas Bagdonas, also was present. The Lithuanian Minister of the Defence was there on behalf of the Lithuanian government, and the Chief of Staff of the Lithuanian Army with a beautiful arrangement of white flowers represented the country’s military force.
In the first row of the March’s column, our good friend, the first president of the post-Soviet Lithuania legendary Vytautas Landsbergis was marching with his wife in a physically demanding effort. There are rare moments in life when one is deeply proud of one’s friend, and seeing 83-year old Landsbergis and his wife marching in Moletai on August 29th, 2016, was the one of such fundamentally important moments. Our other dear friend Emanuelis Zingeris was there, and many well-known members of the public, as well.
The first President of the post-Soviet Lithuania Mr Vytautas Landsbergis with his wife at the March. Photo (C): Viktor Tomrak.
There were the large prints of many photos along the way, both the victims and those who were saving the Jews, carried by many members of the public. For the first time in life of three generations, the people who were thrown into the ditch in the morning of August 29th, 1941, came back to life with their faces.
The other people were marching with over-sized yellow Stars of David being pinned to their clothes. Those were not Jewish people.
A black marble monument had been unveiled by the Ambassador of Israel at the place of that horrific ditch, with so many people queuing quietly and patiently in order to put the stone on the memorial and to light a candle there. Probably, in the heads of many people at attendance the words from Marius Ivaskevicius’s article were flashing; the words by which he, with barely held outrage, described a pitiful condition of the old small memorable stone to the victims of massacre ( not Jews, of course, in a typical Soviet style of omission) in the town. That stone had been knocked down some while ago, and private efforts by the foreign relatives of the victims to erect a modest memorial there went nowhere. It was all avenged and fixed now. Both in the concrete case of the memorial to the Moletai victims, and in a broader context, too.
Photo (C): Viktor Tomrak
“We are walking this road for them..”
The idea of how the 75th commemoration of the massacre in Moletai had been conducted, the participation of so many so different people, the role of the state in the commemoration, all this has created important precedent. It also contributed into what we all, Jews or not, do need essentially: personal connection. We do need it for ourselves, for decency of our life today and tomorrow. During the March, a small girl who was tired on the way, asked her mother:” Why we have to go so far, mummy?”. And her young mother has told her, in Russian: “Many years ago, the similar to us a little girl and her mom were forced to go all the way on this road, too. In the end of this road, they were murdered. Today, we are walking the way for them”. And the girl did continue to march bravely despite being quite tired.
March of Living in Moletai. Photo (C): Viktor Tomrak.
No one from so many of young children in that column would forget that experience, not to speak on very many teenagers and the youth in their 20s attending. And this is the essential part of the March in Moletai.
It has become a memorable, crucially important lesson on the Shoah in real time, by real people, among whom the prevailing majority were non-Jews. The majority of attendants were Lithuanians, but there were people coming from Latvia, Russia, Belorussia, Poland, to join the hands with relatives of the victims who did fly in from Israel, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, and the USA. To me, the most important characteristic of that true commemoration was the people’s own willingness to join the March. It made it real. And it made it principally important for all those others who were not marching in Moletai physically, but who cares about keeping the record straight and memory alive.
The fact that it has happened 75 years after the massacre, after many years of oblivion, and amidst complicated context of the attitude towards the Holocaust in Lithuania currently, indicates that it is not ‘Never Again’ which seems to be rather wishful thinking, sadly, but it is ‘Never Too Late’ to learn and to admit. And to put that absolute pain and horror into one’s own heart, Jewish or not, – which is the only recipe for decency.
“It is not ‘us’ and ‘them’ any longer…”
I cannot help to compare the March in Moletai with another recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of another awful crime of the Shoah, the Kielce pogrom in Poland. Despite many efforts to run a representative event of commemoration by those who care, we saw only few people in attendance, mostly the foreign relatives of the survivors of that absolutely black page of the history of the Holocaust in Poland. In presence there was just one low-rank official from the administration of the president of Poland who did not say a word at the small, short, extremely sad and almost non-existing ceremony. At the very same day of that utterly shameful episode, the minister of education of Poland has made herself internationally infamous calling a very well known and documented factual side of that pogrom in Kielce ‘a matter of an opinion’ on the Polish TV, to the visible shock of the presenter.
For some reason, the acting Polish authorities very persistently neglecting the core element in the current perception of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust legacy: that the truth about that terrible, relatively recent past is badly needed for the societies in which both the war crimes and moral atrocities had been committed. Without putting the record on the Shoah straight, the societies in those countries would be morally corrupt and severely maimed integrity-wise. Thus, they will be not resourceful, not prone to efficient development; human-wise, they will be effectively disabled.
Back to Lithuania, the March of Living in Moletai has been true to its name, and it is really encouraging. Among the comments on my first reaction to the March, there has been the one from a young Lithuanian journalist who is interested in history and its lessons: “This is a historic day. From today one, it is ‘us’ in Lithuania, and not anymore ‘us’ against ‘them’”. I personally find this kind of development precious.
At the Pit in Moletai. Photo (C): Viktor Tomrak
From behalf of mine and my husband’s extended family, a half of which are Litvaks, big Thank You to everyone who conceived, organised, and put all those noble efforts to awake the others; to those who participated in the Moletai March in Lithuania on August 29th, 2016. Thank you for your conscious effort to overcome indifference and oblivion under the circumstances in which such effort had been needed. Thank you all for every stone put on the places commemorating annihilated 2300 Jewish people there, for their photographs, their names, for their souls which had been released from that pit now.
Inna Rogatchi (C)
August 30th, 2016
Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar, film-maker, and public figure, co-founder and president of The Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchifoundation.org She is the author of internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal –www.rogatchifilms.org, series of historical analyses on Raoul Wallenberg, and of the forthcoming book on the Post-Holocaust Legacy and its Challenges.
In 1990, Russian president Boris Yeltsyn did quite unusual for the Soviet and post-Soviet ruler deed: he admitted the guilt of the Soviet regime. The matter was the massacre of the Polish officers in Katyn by the Soviets in 1941. Yeltsyn was courageous enough to hand to the Polish side highly classified documents from the Presidential Archive, specifically designated body to keep the most sensitive documents throughout the Soviet history safely locked there.
If there is something that Russian authorities are still keeping on Raoul Wallenberg case, the file, most likely, is to be at this very place.
At the time of establishing The Presidential Archive in 1991, in incredible haste and complete chaos amidst collapsing Soviet Union, the main thinking about it was to grab and remove the most important cases – as Katyn massacre and presumably Wallenberg case – from all existing in late Soviet Union archives, including those of the KGB and military intelligence, into the one place, to seal all the most sensitive secrets, and subordinate those explosive materials placed in large sealed envelopes to the only person who would be the arbiter on whenever to unseal the envelopes in question, when, and under which circumstances. That person would be a president of the Russian Federation.
I was a witness of the process, as I was working on many of hastily de-classified for a short period of time documents from all periods of the Soviet Union in a strong team of international researches and diplomats. We regularly saw the documents of extra-ordinary importance piled in disorder all over deserted compound of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow.
We have learned that the Presidential Archive has been established in a hot panic that overwhelmed the Soviet leaders at the abrupt end of the regime. We were explained by readily co-operative and palpably nervous men that the idea of the Presidential Archive is to make it small, compact and easily movable; so only the cases of the extra-ordinary importance had been selected there.
We have learned on the documents with four degrees of secrecy, with stamps on the pages of the originals: Secret ( secretno in Russian), Completely Secret ( sovershenno secretno ), Special Importance ( osobaja vazhnost ) , Special File ( osobaja papka ). The documents bearing all four stamps on its front page were at sole disposal of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, the nerve centre of the Soviet regime.
Yet atop of that, there is also documentation of a superior secrecy. Such documents are stored in a form of sealed packages and this highest form of secrecy in Russia is known as ‘sealed package’. Those packages are numbered. The Katyn package had number 1 written on it by hand. The package that contains the original materials on the Soviet-German pact preceding the Second World War is known as package 34 – which Mr Gorbachev
wanted to destroy, according to his closest aides who did not dare to do such a thing.
The envelope with what’s left in the Wallenberg dossier should be among those numbered sealed packages. In 2000, after the decade of hardly fruitful co-operation of the Russian-Swedish Raoul Wallenberg Working Commission, the Russian officials provided their Swedish counter-parts with the document that meant to be the proof that they did everything possible in order to trace the existing documentation on the case. The document was a protocol of the supposed to be a nation-wide search for the documents related to the Wallenberg case in all Russian archives. All of them, except the Presidential Archive.
There are repeated claims by the Russian officials insisting that the Wallenberg File was destroyed. In the realities of the Soviet security apparatus, however, it was hardly possible to destroy an entire file, a cache of documents. In all probability, such exceptional documents as the original of the letter that poor Raoul had written to Stalin from his cell at the Lubjanka prison, would not have been destroyed under any circumstances.
The idea of establishing in 1991 the archive of inaccessible documents in rapidly collapsing Soviet Union had been quite useful for the country’s leadership, seemingly. In the case of Raoul Wallenberg, it did work for twenty five years by now. Being added to forty six previous years, from the Russian perspective, it worked for them for 71 year and 8 months.
In August 2016, international media has reprinted basically one story about published in Russia in May 2016 diaries of Ivan Serov, notorious head of the KGB and GRU in 1950s and early 1960s, claiming it as ‘the discovery that would end the mystery of Raoul Wallenberg in Russia’. It is hasty and naive reaction, playing on the Russian authorities’ hand perfectly.
[ On the photo: Guy von Dardell, the brother of Raoul Wallenberg, in Moscow, at the Lubjanka Square, in front of the KGB head-quarters. 2009. Credit: SIPA Press].
General Serov and His Diaries
One needs to understand the place of general Ivan Serov in the Soviet totalitarian machinery in the key periods of its and the world’s history, from the end of 1930s through mid-1960s, to grasp what the publishing of his diaries means. Ivan Serov was the one of the most cruel and most efficient leaders of the NKVD, KGB and GRU. During 24 years of his active career, from February 1939 until March 1963, he occupied the most crucial positions in the Soviet punitive apparatus, being the highest official in charge with GULAG, and the chief NKVD representative in Germany after the end of the war.
He was the first chairman of the KGB after Stalin’s death and Beria’s arrest, and then the head of GRU, very able Soviet military intelligence, under Khrushchev. If not the case of colonel Penkovsky, the Western super-agent in the heart of the Soviet military intelligence, his boss Ivan Serov would be ruling the Soviet intelligence apparatus for long years to come.
Ivan Serov was a fearsome man. He played a pivotal role in organising the criminal extermination in 1941 of thousands of the Polish officers who were forcibly moved by the Soviets to Ukraine for the purpose of their brutal extermination. Many years later, being disagree with Yeltsyn’s decision to apologise to Poland for the Katyn massacre, he went on bragging : ‘Although I have organised ( in Ukraine) the liquidation of the Poles in much more substantial quantities that it had been done in Katyn, no one ever could incriminate me and us ( the regime) anything on that’, – he was saying, according to the account in his thorough historical biography by well-known Russian historian Nikita Petrov ( “The First Chairman of the KGB Ivan Serov”, 2005).
General Serov was the top Soviet specialist on deportations, and the author of a special instruction on how to prepare and execute mass deportation. That contribution of his was highly praised by the central Soviet authorities, and is understood to be used widely as practical guide-line all throughout the massive wave of sweeping deportations both inside and outside USSR under the Stalin reign.
Ivan Serov also took a personal participation in the politically motivated ethnic cleansings and did it eagerly: in Poland before the WWII and inside the Soviet territory during the war. He was responsible for massive cleansing of the Soviet citizens within the Soviet territory close the front lines that was moving in correspondence with the German offensive. He earned the rare and the one of the highest Soviet military rewards, Suvorov Banner of the First Degree, for the mass deportation of thousands of people from the Soviet
Caucasus Republics in 1944. He was the highest NKVD representative in the Soviet sector of Germany after the end of the war.
Serov was in charge with little reported massive operation conducted by the USSR in all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, with total arrest of all ethnic German males from 16 to 60-years old and sending them to the Soviet Union as prisoners and forced labour. Those hundreds of thousands of men were not German citizens. He played a very visible, if not central role in the harsh suppressing of the Hungary Uprising in 1956.
It worth of noticing that Serov was not professional military man. He was exceptionally cruel apparatchik, the one of the key-figures characterizing the cannibalistic nature of the Stalin regime.
[Photo: general Serovs gets award from Molotov. Archive photo ].
Operation ‘Suitcase’: Timing & Aiming
In May 2016, a series of events was organised in Moscow. The events were highly-profiled and covered in the Russian media at its best. But somehow, it did not catch the eye of the Western media, which came as disappointment to the Russian side.
Firstly, on May 11th, there has been a presentation of a new book at the Russian Military-Historical Society. The Society is a top body in Russia, with articulated patriotic agenda. It is patronised by the Russian authorities and is funded by the state, with a special article in the Russian state budget for the body exclusively.
Then, in two weeks time, the exhibition has been opened at the new Museum of Military History ( opened in 2015 ). The title of the exhibition was “Ivan Serov. A Man of the Epoch”, and it was opened by the Russia’s minister for culture Vladimir Medinsky. Medinsky who is known as a keen amateur military historian and a proud adept of Stalin, was instrumental in re-creation and state funding of Russian Military-Historical Society. He made it possible for the Museum to get a prestigious place and building in Moscow, just next to the Tretjakov Gallery, so many people do believe that the new Museum is a part of the world famous art collection.
The exhibition was done on a top level. It presented the vanished figure of general Serov in pain-staking detail and reverence: his uniform, his official passes signed by Stalin, a myriad of his Soviet military and state decorations, a museum installation of his restored office, tens of photographs of him with entire Soviet elite. A figure of general Serov had been literally taken from oblivion and presented at the state level now, with deep respect, if not an admiration.
A public presentation of the general Serov’s diaries book also had a place at that state-level ceremony. Minister Medinsky was announced as a patron of a public side the whole project, not surprisingly. There had been focused effort to draw as much attention to the publication of the Serov’s diaries, as possible. In all the speeches and followed media reports we heard nothing but ‘sensational discovery’, ‘true detective story’, ‘thriller’s plot’, ‘unprecedented discovery’, etc. But in a good old Russian tradition, the public there tends to treat anything what is promoted by the state so emphatically with a good pinch of scepticism. As it turned in this case, with a good reason.
On the cover of a thick 704-pages volume, additionally to its title and the name of Serov, there is an extra-line: “The Alexander Khinshtein’s Project”. As it happened, the diaries of the first chief of the KGB and head of the GRU had been ‘read and edited’ and actually written for the book by Mr Khinsthein. This detail did not ring any bell in the West. But it did in Russia where Khinshtein is known not only as the MP, but also as the journalist who had been very close to the KGB, openly so in the beginning of his career.
Those are not ‘speculations’. Khinshtein has a wise policy of not denying the very well known fact, but instead proudly declaring such co-operation and his support of the Russia’s (and previously late Soviet) security and intelligence services.
“There is one thing when people are thinking that they would be reading Serov’s own text, and it is totally different when they realise that they will be reading the text of Khinshtein’s. And Khinshtein, of all people”, – the experts on the Russian intelligence history were discussing on ever popular Echo of Moscow debate ( Ivan Serov’s Diaries. Year 1941. Dilentants programme. Historian Boris Sokolov speaks to publisher Boris Dymarsky. Echo of Moscow, July 14, 2016).
There should be no mistake: the published recently book presented as a genuine diaries of general Serov, is the result of the thorough work of the close to the Russian security services journalist who had edited the materials and presented it in his own way. The title on the book’s cover thus is quite correct: it is the Alexander Khinshtein’s project. And his friends, colleagues and soul-mates’, too.
The discovery of such utterly delicious historical material as the trove of diaries of Ivan Serov was presented to the public in the following way: the Serov’s grand-daughter absolutely accidentally found the treasure hidden in the wall of her grandpa’s garage when she decided to renovate the place that she has inherited in 2012.
The organisers of the Serov-show were so generous, as to exhibit the suitcases in question, along with the genuine type-writer on which Serov’s wife was typing her husband’s memoir, lovingly arranging the manuscripts from the trove in a garage wall inside the suitcases at the exhibition.
The secrecy was supposed to beef up the interest to the story, and the minister himself was not tired to remind that ‘to have a diary it was absolutely impossible thing for a Soviet security official, as anyone who would do such a thing would be facing military tribunal”. So, general Serov, the steel-disciplined boss of both the KGB and the GRU had been suicidal to keep the diaries knowing the risk?.. It is amusing to observe the Russian top officials sometimes.
There are many intelligence professionals in Russia who had been analysing the story known now as ‘Operation ‘Suitcase’ wittingly and ironically. Some of them calculated that for the laying the suitcases presented to the public into the wall, the wall in its width should be 90 cm at very least which was not the case in a garage walls in the Soviet Union, even for the boss of the KGB. “Ridiculous, and so hapless”, – was the verdict of the pros’ community in Russia.
Also, any expert on intelligence does know the way and form of preserving information in Russia, doubly so, personal information and notes, and when it comes to such high-profile security official, as Ivan Serov was. Maybe in twenty years time such funny explanations would do for the Russian public in the way, as it did for the Western media now. But until the time when people in Russia who are still remember the Soviet realities are alive, Medinsky, Khinshtein and their team do not stand a chance to fool their own people. Sorry, guys.
It is known that bitter general Serov who had been ousted from his operative positions and was even deprived his membership in the Communist party ( which was severe and menacing punishment in the USSR) was quite jealous after the publication of the Marshal Zhukov’s memoirs, and the attention it has grabbed both in the USSR and internationally. Serov was bragging in the family circles that he ‘would be able to write a memoir that would certainly beat the one by Zhukov, as he does have a lot to tell about many things’ ( Nikita Petrov, “Ivan Serov, the First Chairman of the KGB”, 2005). You bet he would.
Given the amount of the Serov’s highly incriminating knowledge, then the KGB Chairman Andropov had alarmed the Soviet Politbureau on possible another memoir scandal, after the one that they had with the Khrushchev’s memoir. Andropov had his personal interest in that matter, too. During the extremely cruel crush by the Soviets the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the future long-termed head of the KGB and short-termed leader of the USSR Jury Andropov was the Soviet Ambassador to Hungary. He was known for his personal involvement into massive Soviet repressions in Hungary during and after the Uprising. But it worth to remember that in practical terms and reality Andropov was a subordinate to general Serov who had been the real master of the Soviet repressions in Hungary in 1956. Andropov was the least person interested in the appearance of any memoir by his previous boss-de-facto.
It is known that Serov was summoned to the Central Committee office at Staraja Ploschad in Moscow and have got quite a harsh lecture there on inadmissibility of even a thought of any kind of memoir issued by him. The episode occurred in 1971. Serov fully understood the message, and it could be plausible to think that whatever he had in a written form as a working material for his would-be memoir, he had packed and stocked away, – but not to wall it up into a wall of a garage. Yet more plausible is that he had been ‘recommended’ to surrender his materials to ‘a safe place’ where the state would have take care on them. Most likely, it is what really had happened with the Serov’s papers. In those now famous suitcases, of course.
There had been discrepancies in the family’s story accompanying the official show around ‘the discovery’. Initially, Serov’s grand-daughter Vera was telling on ‘accidental founding of two suitcases’ and ‘a half of year’ of the time that she needed for scanning it all personally. A bit later, a different version appeared – now there was ‘three suitcases’ and ‘a year’ that the scanning took. Those are not small details. Those are the details which had been altered, thus casting a doubt of the ingenuity of the Vera Serov’s public version of her story.
[Photo: Vera Serov posing at the installation at the Ivan Serov exhibition. Moscow, May 2016. Russian Media, Open Sources].
Analysing all the factors, many intelligence experts have expressed the opinion that in a high probability the volume advertised as genuine diaries of general Serov is the official version prepared by the Russian authorities. The question is why now? And what for, in general?
Characteristically, in the 704-page book, there is hardly anything new stated. The book is full of carefully selected details of general Serov’s meetings, attendances, discoveries – such as the bodies of dead Hitler, Eva Braun, and the children of Goebbels. Which is not a small thing for historians, of course, but his role in Berlin in 1945 had been known previously, as he was the one who called Stalin to report on his discovery of the corpses in the Hitler’s bunker.
There is only one story from the 704-page book promoted as ‘sensational’ that did catch an eye of the Western media, the story on Raoul Wallenberg.
In the Serov-Khinshtein’s book, there are few short entries regarding Wallenberg. Some of them are certainly worthy of attention, given the omerta that both the Soviet and the Russian regimes are still keeping on Raoul Wallenberg for more than 70 years. In the book, it is stated by general Serov in the interpretation of Khinshtein that “based on the reports by the top NKVD officials, Stalin and Molotov were interested in using Wallenberg as a witness of the Soviet side at the Nuremberg Trial”; that Soviets ‘ had agreed with American side’ on the appropriate for them spectrum of issues which would – and would not – be presented at the trial; that after such agreement, “after the end of the Nuremberg trial, Raoul Wallenberg has lost its value” ( for the Soviet regime and its leaders); that infamous head of the Soviet NKVD special Lab that was designated for killings by poisoning ‘Maironovsky and the staffers of his special lab has confirmed that in 1946-1947 they has liquated a number of the foreign prisoners who were kept in the inner Lubjanka prison and in Vladimir prison. They did not remember concrete names’ though. And that former minister of the Soviet security Abakumov who was later arrested and shoot in the Beria-related purge, ‘did confirm during his interrogations the liquidation of Raoul Wallenberg namely. He ( Abakumov) was referring to the direct instructions of Stalin and Molotov whom both he briefed on the case regularly’.
In the final entry on Raoul Wallenberg, the book states that many years after, being retired, general Serov had unofficial meeting with a senior Soviet official ( whose name he promised not to reveal). In their discussion, the official asked general: “Could it be possible that Wallenberg might be kept in (the Soviet ) prison institution under the assumed name today?”. I replied that my people had conducted the most thorough check, and I have no doubt that Wallenberg has been liquated in 1947” ,– is written in the book.
We could help to the book’s editor: the meeting described above had a place in 1987, three years before the Serov’s death. His vis-a-vis was the member of the last Soviet Politbureau Alexander Yakovlev who had been very close to Gorbatchev and was an architect of the Soviet ‘perestroika’. Yakovlev was double-checking the facts before his meeting with Academician Sakharov who shortly before that was released from his exile. Andrey Sakharov, the conscience of Russia, was extremely taken and involved into the efforts to shed the light into the destiny of Raoul Wallenberg ( as I have written on the subject previously, citing my conversations with Sakharov’s widow, Elena Bonner, in early 1990s – Inna Rogatchi. Restoration of Heart. Thinking on Raoul Wallenberg. Materials of The Art of Impossible, the International Raoul Wallenberg Conference and Roundtable. Raoul Wallenberg International Initiative ( RWI-70 ). Budapest, May 2016; https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1625478441076964&id=100008444714060; and http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/212598 ).
These statements are not new, for the experts. The information of murdering Raoul Wallenberg by poisoning him in the murky Lab Number 12, the Maironovsky Lab, appeared for the first time in the memoirs by general Sudoplatov in co-authorship with highly reputed American historians Leona and Jerrold Schecter in 1994. In his recollection, the most important Soviet spy-master did not elaborate on the reasoning of the Wallenberg’s murder.
That reasoning had been thoroughly analysed in quite authoritative book by Lev Bezymensky, The Budapest Mission: Raoul Wallenberg. The book published in 2001 had been the first, and to the best of my knowledge, the only book in Russia solely devoted to the subject. Characteristically, it was published in 2001, just after the end of the Yeltsyn’s rule. It would be hardly possible to publish anything like this book on a later stage. Lev Bezymensky knew what he was talking about. He was a well-known expert on German history who had been close to the top Soviet military and security authorities during whole his career. During the Second World War, he was the translator for the highest Soviet military command at the interrogations of Marshal Paulus, and later on, at the interrogations of Goering, Keitel, and the other top imprisoned Nazis. It was in the Bezymensky’s book that the quite well reasoned explanation of the murder of Raoul Wallenberg after the end of the Nuremberg trial had been published for the first time back in 2001.
The few notes on Wallenberg mentioned in the Serov-Khinshtein’s book now, is a compilation of the previous revelations by two major sources, general Sudoplatov and Lev Bezymensky. From a point of view of a historical observer, it looks as general Serov sort of ‘stamped’ the Sudoplatov and Bezymensky’s statements, made twenty two and fifteen years ago in retrospect, with his confirmatory verdict: “Correct” ( Verno in Russian).
There is one interesting detail with regard to the timing of the book’s publishing now. The first presentation of the book, for the members of the Russian Military-Historical Society, was organised a week before serious international event, The Art of Impossible, The International Raoul Wallenberg Conference and Roundtable organised in May 2016 in Budapest. The conference was the results of the efforts by The Raoul Wallenberg Initiative ( RW-70) and the Wallenberg family – http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/212598
The exhibition and public presentation of the Serov’s diaries had happened in Moscow a week after the conference in Budapest. The conference had been carried on at the high international level, with participation of many Ambassadors of the key countries involved in the Raoul Wallenberg story ( but Russia), and such legendary figures as the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the mentor of Vaclav Havel, and the first Chairman of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Karel, Prince of Schwarzenberg, and former Minister for Justice of Canada Irwin Cotler, as well as the author of the critically important new biography of Raoul Wallenberg Ingrid Carlberg.
[Photo: Karel Schwarzenberg speaking at the Raoul Wallenberg conference. Budapest, May 2016. (C) Inna Rogatchi].
The conference was covered prominently in the international media, not only during, but also before and after its occurrence. The next stage of this international initiative is planned, as it was announced, as the visit of the selected Raoul Wallenberg Initiative committee to discuss the progress with the Russian authorities in Moscow in October 2016.
Additionally, the Wallenberg family, being tired and exhausted, has decided to ask the Swedish authorities to declare Raoul dead, and this act of closure from their side is expected to happen in the autumn this year.
Despite all the fanfares of the Operation ‘Suitcase’, it did not arise any interest by the Western media initially. After two and a half months, in early August 2016 the article on the topic has finally appeared in The New York Times. The article had been written by Neil MacFarquhar, the Chief of the NYT bureau in Moscow from 2014. MacFarquhar who has spent the most of his life in the Middle East, is known as a versatile expert on the Middle East, but he had been unknown for his works on the history of the Second World War, or Raoul Wallenberg, or Russia, for that matter, before just a two years ago. Two Russian journalists had contributed to the NYT story, very helpfully.
Also interestingly, the previous NYT article on Raoul Wallenberg had appeared in New York Times four and a half years ago, in January 2012. And in general, the NYT lists just four articles on Raoul Wallenberg that they had published since 1952, including the latest story, the one of them covering a musical on the Wallenberg’s life.
In a classic scenario, the publication in the NYT had mushroomed in no time: Daily Telegraph, Le Point in France, German Focus, many Israeli media, Politiken in Denmark, Svenska Dagbladet, Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, Argentine newspapers has all practically re-printed the initial story in the first couple of days.
Symptomatically, no other topic of the 704-page book by Serov-Khinshtein had been picked up by the international media. Nothing else at all.
The message went through world-wide, the one and the same, from the visible international media-source. In the text-books on intelligence and the classics on its history – such as the books of the distinguished professor Christopher Andrew – this chain of events has its definition as ‘an active measure’. In the case of Operation ‘Suitcase’, it has been conducted in a classic way. Congratulations, comrades.
Personally, after years of looking into the matter, researching it, and talking with many key people and experts, I do believe that Raoul Wallenberg who, extremely deservingly, was called The Conscience of Sweden, and had been posthumously made a honorary citizen of the USA, Canada, Israel, Hungary and Australia, had been unlawfully kidnapped, arrested and detained as anonymous prisoner in the USSR on the direct and personal order by Stalin. I also am of an opinion that Stalin had a very clear plan to keep Raoul until the Nuremberg Trial as the possible counter-witness for the Soviets, in the case they would not be successful in convincing the American Administration of the time not to include into the trial’s agenda such impossible for them matters as their secret protocols with Hitler and the Katyn massacre.
As they succeed in that, poor Wallenberg has become easily expendable ‘collateral damage’ in their eyes, also because the position of the Swedish authorities on the matter had been just unimaginably weak and servile. The Soviets had had a very well grounded impression at the time that nobody cared and would make a scandal over Raoul. There had been no problem for Stalin to order his ‘liquidation’, in their casual term for murdering people, most likely, at some stage in 1947.
In the following years, in my understanding, Khrushchev needed that explosive material – on who issued which order – in his internal fierce intriguing at the highest level of the Soviet power; it is known that he kept the Wallenberg case’ documentation for his wrestling with Molotov. During the 18-years-long reign of Brezhnev nothing ever happened with regard on the acknowledging any mistakes of the past, not to mention crimes. Andropov was continuing the line even more fiercely, and Gorbachev who was eager to destroy the entire package Number 34 with secret Soviet-German pre-Second World War protocols, was not the person who would have a stomach to admit the truth of the crime of such screaming proportion.
Yeltsyn could do it, as he did with Katyn massacre, but after his bold gesture, he was so severely criticised for invoking ‘a shame’ onto the country that he has decided to take a pause in those revelations. Symptomatically, the last official effort to uncover the truth on the Raoul Wallenberg’s destiny, the creation of the Russian-Swedish Bilateral Working Raoul Wallenberg Commission has occurred and was carried on in the decade of the Yelstsyn’s rule, and it was shut down when this rule came to the end.
But even then, the work of the Commission had been very difficult, stagnated, met with numerous obstacles permanently, and turned out to be frustrating and fruitless experience. And then unorthodox, but human Russian ruler Boris Yeltsyn was gone. The rest is known.
During the last sixteen years, from 2000 onward, there had been no news from the Russian official sources on the destiny of Raoul Wallenberg whatsoever. Until the publication of the Serov’s diaries, the cognition of the ‘Operation ‘Suitcase’.
Characteristically, on the occasion of the book’s presentation and the opening of the exhibition on the life of general Serov, the Russian minister of culture, influential in his country Vladimir Medinsky, made the following statement regarding the key role played by Serov in mass deportations of many people of the USSR and the Eastern and Central Europe: “How everyone from us would behave when finding itself at his place, upon receiving the order to deport people? Would somebody start to discuss such order?..” ( quoting from Moscow Komsomoletz newspaper #27111 report, May 27th, 2016). This line does not need a comment. People often could be self-revealing; sometime, in a charming way, sometime, in horrific one. The point here is that Medinsky was absolutely genuine in expressing his views.
The message from the Russian official side is clear: they are hopeful that with the useful international pick-up of the Serov’s statements in his diaries, the matter on all those so tiring inquires on Raoul Wallenberg’s destiny will be closed now. It is quite obvious that Mr Medinsky and MP Khinshtein are not the main players there. Willingly and loyally, they are serving their master who, being a pragmatic enough person does realise that the state of Russian Federation just cannot sit on still open question of Raoul Wallenberg’s destiny indefinitely.
In a further unfolding of this easily readable scenario, some weird appeals to the current Russian Tsar started to appear in public from the sources who, for some reasons, are ignoring very well existing family of Raoul Wallenberg and the family’s wishes. Those people have decided to beg the Russian president, literally, to ‘let them to bury Raoul’ – when everyone knows perfectly well that murdered Wallenberg had been cremated instantly and even his ashes do not exist.
In the same addressing, the people who issued it either being utterly naive, or because of the other reasons, wrote the following: “We are certainly not seeking an investigation into the circumstances of Wallenberg and Langfelder´s detention and disappearance. These events occurred long ago amidst a particular historical context, in the wake of humanity´s bloodiest war. Our sole aim is to bring closure to a human tragedy” ( The Open Letter to the Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation , August 9, 2016 – http://www.raoulwallenberg.net/wallenberg/fate/mr-putin-let-us-bury-raoul-wallenberg/ ) . The signatories of the letter did take a good care for publicising their utterly servile addressing to the Russian president internationally. This is exactly the tone and the message that the Kremlin today would like to hear on the Wallenberg case, and this is exactly the aim of all their elaborated, but not exactly fine, recent operation on the matter.
But Russian authorities are wrong in their intention to close the matter in this currently promoted motto, in indirect and convenient for them way. The crime committed against Raoul Wallenberg has been so hideous, and the handling of the matter by all consequent Soviet and Russian regimes had been so unpardonable that the Russian state does have the obligations before the Wallenberg family and the Kingdom of Sweden.
The Russian Federation has to admit officially the crime committed by the Soviet authorities against the Swedish diplomat and the hero who did save tens of thousands of people from the Holocaust.
They also have to apologise for unlawful detention, kidnapping, imprisonment, and premeditated murder of Raoul Wallenberg, the innocent Swedish citizen.
They have to compensate this hideous crime in a full measure. The immediate family of Raoul Wallenberg, his parents and his brother, did spend a fortune during seven decades of fruitless, desperate search for their son and brother. The family is entitled to full compensation against the crime committed by the Stalin regime and concealed by the all consequential governments of the Soviet Union and Russia till today, with an equivalent of the certain sum elaborated by the team of the international lawyers, for every year since the Raoul’s kidnapping until the moment of the official admitting the crime and its concealment by the government of the Russian Federation, and the issued by them the official state apology.
There is also would be logical to expect from the Russian state their official apology for 72 years of consistent, cruel, inhuman lies with regard to Raoul Wallenberg and his destiny. But I am not as naive, as some of my colleagues in those Western media who did swallow the hook of the ‘Operation ‘Suitcase’’ without a second thought. When it comes to morality, respect and behaviour, one should not expect too much from the Kremlin, as we have learned from the history so painfully.
We are getting the message from Moscow, naturally. It is too clear one not to. We know that Raoul Wallenberg, most likely, is dead for sixty nine years by now. But it will be yet another betrayal of that outstanding man, that champion of the humanity whose shining soul is still warms up the millions, to give in his memory in the way prescribed for us by the Kremlin.
According to the UN convention on Human Rights, the crimes against humanity have no period of limitation. The murder of Raoul Wallenberg by the Soviet state is certainly such crime. In this case, justice can and shall be applied. It is applicable via triple action to be conducted by the Russian authorities: admission, apology and compensation. Until all these three elements would be implemented, between Russia and Raoul Wallenberg it will still be the same as it was during past seventy two years – the unfinished business.
Inna Rogatchi (C)
Dr Inna Rogatchi is the author, scholar, film-maker and the president of The Rogatchi Foundation. Among her work on the modern history, she has published and taught a special course Analysing the Totalitarianism: Documents from the Soviet Archives; authored The Opaque Mirror book that analyses psychological aspects of the intelligence in the USSR; authored several documentaries on the history of the Soviet and American intelligence operations during the Cold War, including internationally acclaimed The Morning After the Cold War film. Her recent film is The Lessons of Survival: Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal that also addresses the destiny of Raoul Wallenberg – www.rogatchifilms.org
The essay is based on the presentation made by Dr Inna Rogatchi at the Jewish Cultural Heritage conference at the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2016.
A Catalogue of Paradoxes Dr. Inna Rogatchi (C), June 2016, The Rogatchi Foundation Essay based on the presentation at The JEWISH CULTURAL HERITAGE CONFERENCE, the POLIN MUSEUM, WARSAW JUNE 8-10, 2016 Top Illustration: Inna Rogatchi (C). Our Memory. Lithuania. 2014 Written for Israel National News
INTRODUCTION The legacy of Post-Holocaust is a multi-faceted phenomenon. It both objective and subjective; it both an origin and a consequence at the same time. There is no surprise that such complicated in structure, multi-sourced in the origin, changing in its appliance phenomena is full of challenges that we are facing daily and in an accelerated motto. Due to the complexity of these phenomena, when looking into the post-Holocaust legacy challenges closer, we could see there a maze of paradoxes. Here, I choose to speak about five of the most essential of them.
PARADOX 1. REMEMBERING BY NON-WITNESSES.
The origin of this phenomenon is objective, it is time-passing. We all are aware of the standing fact that the Holocaust survivors are passing away, very sadly; and the age of those who were children during the WWII is very senior, indeed. My mother who would be 84 now, was 8-eight old during the war and remembered it as her quite-essential forming experience utmost deeply till the rest of her life; Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is 79 today, and although he was just a four-year old boy, he has the first-hand experience imprinted and engraved into his memory for ever. Scientifically, a child remembers the events of his life assuredly from the age of 5; in some rare cases, some separate events could be remembered well when a child has witnessed it being age 4 and possibly 3, but certainly not earlier. On this ground, the age of the children of the WWII who would remember the events firmly and consistently, is around 80 years old today.
And even for the second generation, we all are over 50, and in prevailing numbers are around and over 60- years old – which gives you a pretty solid food for thought and quite articulated call for action – for those of us who have the principle and convictions that not allow us to forget, to through away that very uncomfortable, highly disturbing but quite essential part of our psyche.
The challenge here is quite obvious and straightforward one: how one could remember the things that he or she did not witness? The challenge invokes not only philosophical dimension, and not even just psychological one – because you could have a suitable assumption for the first and a sufficient training for the second. But it does invoke neurophysiology aspect, as well; the one which borders on the edge of impossible.
The challenge we are facing today and will face in the coming years with astronomically progressing speed is: how will you make a person who has no clue on the town of Oswieciem, or village of Treblinka, or the realities of life of Jewish Warsaw in late 1930s, to remember, to feel, to comprehend with a qualities of a first-hand witness, what has really happened there?
This is not a theoretical question as our life today shows us with a crystal clear clarity. Without ours and the next generations’ ‘first-hand’ remembering of what has been done to our mothers, grandfathers, and then more elder generations of our families, in the enlarged meaning of it, to our all’ one family, we will endanger our humanity seriously.
What to do? How to meet this challenge?
I am working in this field for many years, and on all continents, practically. My personal response to that is honest, calm, and detailed recall of the Holocaust events in all possible ways: books, films, exhibitions, excursions, special events. My ‘recipe’ for making our memory on that of a quality of a first-hand witness is as much chronicle and documentation as possible; photographs, artefacts, subjects and objects, and of course, the oral history of the Holocaust.
Was not it enough of all of this being produced and presented, one could argue? No, it was not – I would respond.
Just a few samples of it from many: father Patrick Dusbois who is working tirelessly in Ukraine for the last 25 years collecting witness evidences of what has happened there still discovers piles of new materials, and has it in such quantity, he says privately, that it would be enough for several books. During my presentations world-wide, practically in every audience on all five continents, there are always people, and sometimes there are many of them, who are telling extraordinary family and personal stories. I am of a strong opinion that every single story of every single person experienced the Holocaust shall be recorded in detail. In this way only we would be able to preserve not just our memory, but our decency.
Art and reflecting is important for our comprehension of the Holocaust and our living through post-Holocaust, but I personally do believe that there is nothing that matches chronicle, the real people, and facts.
As a sample of such badly needed responses to the challenge of remembering by non-witness, I would call the recent, released the last year, return to the public domain of the Hitchckok’s footage of the liberation of the death camps undertaken by Dr Toby Haggith from the Imperial War Museum, London. As it became known, Dr Haggith was struggling very seriously for the releasing these tapes which Hitchckok himself had no stomach to work on. For making the public appearance of the revived unique footage possible, Toby Haggith was fighting as a lion, to his highest credits. But when he won, and the world just had to show it to us in a chain-reaction motto engaging all major world TV channels, we were presented with exactly what I am talking about here: an eye-witness account of the things which are indescribable.
And then you saw there the footage of the Germans, those ordinary citizens, not the ones in uniforms, who were paraded by the British troops through some of the camps, to have a look on what had happened just now, just there, in their serene alpine neighbourhood. Have you noticed from that footage on how the German population behave? They did not watch. They marched indifferently, stubbornly, all looking absolutely straight ahead, to their neighbour’s back of the head in front of them, not to the right, and not to the left where the victims of their brothers and husbands were piled off in a cadavered form, not for a second. And please do not try to tell me that those poor ordinary people were afraid, or shocked, or shamed. Because I saw the footage many times, examining it in detail. They were not interested. Period. Not at the day, and not at any other given day all five and a half years of the ongoing crime again humanity committed so enthusiastically by so many of them.
Thanks to the Toby Haggith’s effort, seventy years on, we all were placed into the May 1945 days of the liberation of the hideous Nazi death camps. We were injected with that rapidly vanishing witness’ memories in a powerful but also measured and thoroughly thoughtful way. Anyone who saw these films, even by chance, of any age and in any country, hardly would forget – such is mechanics of human psyche and memory. And here is an exemplary response to that very serious challenge, on how non-witnesses could be helped to remember.
PARADOX 2. TAKING SIDES WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING.
This is an interesting and deep consideration and concern to which I am indebted to my friend great Karel Schwarzenberg, the one of the last scions of humanity among us, in my perception.
Recently, long-termed Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, current Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Czech parliament, the mentor of Vaclav Havel and the first ever Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights after the fall of the Iron Curtain, has told me: “The one of the most overseen phenomenon of the post-Holocaust was that even when the German youth, after decades of stoned silence by their families, has learned something about the horrors committed by their fathers and grandfathers, thousands and thousands of young people has rejected those horrific deeds – and the both generations of their families with it – without real understanding of what had had happened; what has been committed, how, by whom, why, what for, how it all had been orchestrated, who did accomplish these hideous crimes in entire Europe and for what purposes. This core moment – rejection without real deep understanding – was a crucial gap which has echoed in many ways and forms not only back in 1960s, but also all the decades since then. And if we would not do something about it now, it will be the case tomorrow, too”. I cannot agree more with the one of the great humanists of our times.
The nature of this paradox is that people are more often than not are inclined to jump into the taking sides without real understanding of the processes they are identifying with, or opposing to.
The application of that known psychological and social phenomenon to the post-Holocaust issues is illustrious. The reality in which thousands of people in Germany and elsewhere jumped to the quite natural and understandable rejection of the deeds of their fathers and grandfathers turned out to be far more complicated and shallow that one could expect. Those thousands of people acted impulsively and on the right direction, but they did lack the knowledge, the understanding, the detail. They also lacked analysis, statistics, chronology which would allow them to see the process of its origination and development – thus to bring the real understanding of what Nazism really was, why it has become so devastatingly successful, and why it has to be rejected.
This is this very lack of understanding has led, in fact, to repetition of many of the a la Nazism sub-phenomena that we are witnessing today. It has made the repetition easy. Today, those sub-phenomena are mushrooming and re-appearing as if nothing ever happen. The most recent sample of many is the presidential elections in Austria, and how extremely close to the victory there has become the leader of the Austrian extreme right-wing far-nationalists. Did not Vienna have got enough of them?..
The other telling samples are the massive neo-Nazi organisations and movements in Hungary, Poland, Greece, not to speak about Germany itself – it is all there, again, as nothing ever happened, despite the fact that all those countries did know the Nazi evil to the face, and very painfully so.
Where from the modern and current neo-Nazism gets its nourishment, so to say? How on the earth it has become not just possible, but also officially and serenely acceptable that a regular norm of copyright is applied to such manual for evil-in-action as Mein Kampf? Why we never learn? Because many of us never bother to understand.
With Mein Kampf, quite expectedly, just a few weeks after the publication of ‘a careful’ edition with commentaries, the first one after a 70-year’ ban in Germany, there are the line of rapidly appearing eager German publishers who are about to start to produce ‘a genuine’ Adolf’s product, not bothering with any commentaries, of course. They will be hitting the market any day now, and the German ever slow legislation – which was good 70 years late to bring to court-rooms as many, as 90% of the Nazi criminals – just think about this fact along – is ‘thinking about examining the legality of the publishers’ intentions’. If the subject would not be Mein Kampf, it would make a good joke, indeed.
There was no precedent before the Nuremberg Tribunal, but there has become the one after it. In the very same motto, there could be no precedent in the super-state of Bavaria for freezing a copyright indefinitely, but there could become one if the question is the manual for the crimes against humanity written by the premium cannibal among the Homo Sapienses. Why no one among the people who were able to act in this only possible way, did not do it?
The issue with the effective ban of Main Kampf indefinitely has to be dealt with, there are the ways of the international law to do it, and it should be done without any further delay. Otherwise, the numbers of the neo-Nazis in Europe will be rising up rapidly and very soon.
One could argue on the matter that Mein Kampf has been all the time available in the USA in English, that you are not preserving good by barriers, etc. We are hearing these songs all the time.
Those arguments are not justified, in my opinion. I do think that after the Holocaust, it is absolutely clear that Mein Kampf has no right for existence, in USA or anywhere else. And yes, sometime, we have to put barriers before evil, and you have to be firm in doing it, otherwise good will be defeated. As it was, so awfully obviously, from 1933 through 1945.
All these recent realities of a strong recovering of neo-Nazism, all these manifesting repetitions of the murky past has become possible not only and just due to a human nature which does not like learn much, really, and loves to repeat its own mistakes. That vicious and very dangerous repetition to large extent has become possible because of the phenomenon of taking sides in 1960s and 1970s without scrupulous understanding of the processes of the ultimate success of Nazism back in 1930s and 1940s. Then thousands of people who were ashamed or indignant of their fathers’ crimes during the Holocaust did not come to think that it was necessary to analyse it in painful and meticulous detail.
Can we respond to this serious challenge? We surely can. We can start to implement the analyses of the process of the Nazism success story as a mandatory part of our Holocaust and the WWII curriculum in modern history, starting from the schools and continuing in colleges and further on in universities.
I do think that the very product of our education on Holocaust has to change; it has to become much more analytical, deeper and multi-sided, and we must waste no time in the implementation of this new approach. We have lost quite a lot of time in teaching the understanding of the core of Nazism already.
PARADOX 3. UNDERSTANDING BY CORRESPONDENCE.
How can one understand the total annihilation of millions without crime, and reason? It is quite clear that without UNDERSTANDING of the process and what’s beneath it, the progress of our society on the way of securing humanity would not be possible as such.
For many years, there has been consensus among the educators in many countries that the trips to the Nazi camps are the most efficient, if not only, mean of such education, the source of ‘antidote’ to the hideous crimes of blatant racism and violent anti-Semitism.
To the surprise of many, nowadays some educators started to debate the necessity of such trips. They are coming with various arguments, most of them are financial and managerial ones – and none of it is serious. The produced reasoning is just a pretext to quit the trips. Some teachers and managers of the schools, surprisingly being from Israel, are seemed to be bored with ‘the routine’. In my opinion, there hardly can be anything more short-sighted, egoistic and simply shameful on behalf of a teacher than his or her refusal to take his pupils to the Nazi camps, irrelevant of the reasoning.
If these decisions will be implemented, it would have double-firing effect and double-edging consequence: with abortion of such trips, we would deprive new generations of an unique possibility to see by their own eyes at least the places, and to be explained and shown alive some of the circumstances in which the victims of the Shoah had been treated and exterminated. Being unable to seeing the places of the mass extermination, new generations will grow more and more distant and aloof to the Holocaust theme and meaning very rapidly. It is extremely unfortunate and in my opinion, dangerously wrong decision by the part of the educators who has started their selfish and so very shallow campaign.
In a contrast with that inconceivable idea is another, the opposite one – the idea of making the trip to the Nazi camp a mandatory for every EU-member country, to start with, and their school systems. I am propagating the idea for years by now, and the responses I have met so far, are very telling. To put it very briefly, whatever reasoning is provided, the reluctance to make the educational trip to a Nazi camp by the prevailing number of Europeans is truly astonishing. Still, I have no intention of giving in on such principal matter. I will try to pursue the necessity of it throughout the maze of the European Parliament, and I do hope to make it institutionalised.
In the same motto as the trips to the Nazi camps are started to be questioned and doubted by the part of the educators, the March of Living is questioned in the same way, as well. We know about the cases – and the countries – which are struggling and fighting in order to prove the necessity of the March of Living, to continue to be funded for that unique and irreplaceable experience for thousands and thousands of youth. It is worrisome and unacceptable; and believe me, there are really some other good possibilities for saving money. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is attending the March of Living every single year, from the time of its conceiving in 1988. As far as I am awared of, it has never occurred to his mind to skip it – although one could just try to imagine what does it mean for a person who has lost his parents and almost entire family and who had been a child victim of the Shoah to get there repeatedly, a year after another. But Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau feels not only his responsibility to speak on the horrors committed during the Holocaust with appearing generations, he also feels his duty before his annihilated family and the millions of their co-victims. We just cannot abandon those souls in the ravines and dumps of all those camps. Why it is so difficult to understand it?..
PARADOX 4. BEAUTIFYING FACTOLOGY.
Revising history is an eternal phenomenon and an infectious ‘hobby’. It did not start with the Holocaust and it would not be ended with it. But there is a very distinctive moment in the activities of revising the Holocaust: those who are doing it are committed to beautify an absolute evil. This involves quite substantial, even ultimate, moral choice, too.
The efforts of the sort had started as soon, as the WWII has ended. But 70 years back, the mass of the fresh evidence, and the scale of what the Allies troops and then the world were facing, did not left that much room for the efforts to beautify the unspeakable atrocities. It was rather silenced, quite widely so, by practically all sides, for different reasons.
But as the time is passing, it makes us far and more far away from the deeds that once were regarded as undeniable.
Politically too, the straightforwardness of hard-core facts has been replaced today with ambiguity addressing us to ‘the deeds of the past’ and tolerating current very active efforts of re-writing the history of the WWII. Or keeping it hostage, actually – as the Russian leadership still does keep the hostage the truth about Raoul Wallenberg for more than 70 years now since he had been abducted by them in January 1945 in Budapest.
A very dangerous reality of today is that there is not just random efforts of some maniacal professors-in-denial as it has been the case of Irwing or some others alike, but we are seeing marches of the SS and Wermacht-veterans in the Baltic states for over 20 years by now, and we are hearing a total re-dressing the history making saints and freedom fighters from the Nazi collaborators in Ukraine today, in their inflamed, hasty and feverish search for new national identity, which is understandable – but why on the earth this new identity has to identify itself with the Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of unspeakable crimes?..
In the challenges like that, not only truth itself, but the pillars of morality are severely damaged, and it will have a very powerful, distortive and absolutely negative effect on the quality of society in a near future yet.
The fact of the day is that very unfortunately, we have now the generation formed during the last 25 years that saw the regular parades of the SS- and Nazi veterans whom they were prescribed to perceive as freedom fighters, as heroes. This is their objective, normal reality. They do not know anything else, any better. The utterly wrong choice of some and a weak position on that of the others has become the factor that has formed the objective reality for entire generation. This damage is incuperable. And, most likely, we would be having another generation raised on the new text-books that would represent the Volyn massacre as ‘a complicated matter’ and ‘an episode of the fight for the freedom of motherland’ in Ukraine which is a 45-million country in the centre of Europe, not 2-million Latvia in its northern corner. This challenge has to be confronted with full seriousness and without delay.
We are still here, we know, we remember, and it is our duty as of a decent human beings to oppose the efforts and policies of beatifying factology due of any reason, any at all.
PARADOX 5. LAUGHING AT THE HOLOCAUST
This is precisely because of the success of the active efforts to beautify factology, we are facing today truly unimaginable and simply shocking development in the post-Holocaust reality: laughing at the Holocaust, mocking the tragedy. This challenge transpires through arts, and I believe, it is extremely important point to address now, as this is having the place.
In 2015, the entire world has been shocked by the so-called art exhibition shown in Estonia that has been mocking the Holocaust in the most ugly and contemptuous way. Six out of eight so-called artists there were Polish. Some of them are known for their cruel manifestations of the lowest of lows of artists and human being for years.
It is also known that their exercises are accepted and exhibited widely enough – in Poland, in the USA and some other places. Germany, for understandable reasons, is declining and cancelling these attacks on humanity, repeatedly, in the most of the cases, but not all of them, notably. Venice Biennale which has lost the sense of reality – and taste – a long time ago, in my professional opinion, had accepted and exhibited some of it, as well. Those scandalous personalities had been also funded generously by all possible sources, artistic and state ones, and a lot of those are in Poland.
These repeated – and often accepted – efforts have nothing to do with freedom of expression, or any hint of art, however modern or experimental one might try to call it, too. These are the reflections of the new attitude to the Holocaust and its comprehension – not just denial, but the mockery of it, humiliation of the victims and the intent insult to millions, both those who were exterminated and those who are living today. They are also screamingly anti-Semitic, and thus are justified to be considered as an applied racial crime. This is the most dangerous and repulsive tendency which must be stopped immediately, and there is no more appropriate audience and institutions for that than the international educators, museum workers, art curators, all of those who are working in the field. In my opinion, we just cannot allow ourselves to get our own domain to be stained in such unpardonable way.
From the first day of that outrageous exhibition in Tartu back in February 2015 and until this very day, I never met a single person from any country, or profession, or nationality, or origin who would be indifferent to the mockery of the Holocaust committed by those so-called artists and their curators and organisers of that intent slap in the face of all the victims of the Holocaust, their families, and any other normal people. The only response I have met was a shock and terror of the people who just would not believe that such outcry has become possible. I did experience first-handedly that our public has been more adequate, more human, and more professional, for this matter, that we are – in particularly, those who has been supporting and encouraging those so-called ‘artist’ to commit a professional and moral crime, but also all those who went silent, or semi-justifying, on the matter. We do know what this kind of silence can do. We learned about it in the hardest way – did not we?.. But we still are trying to find an arty reasoning for a blatant outrage.
The challenges presented here are, in fact, serious tendencies in our society which has to be dealt with adequately and promptly. Today, we are facing dramatically new phenomena in both individual and collective psyche regarding the Holocaust that are challenging not only factology of the Shoah, but also an accepted human and moral stand on it. And this is the most vulnerable one from the challenges of the post-Holocaust legacy. We do have high responsibility to realise this and to make our own conclusions and decisions on how to treat it and what to do with this regard in order to preserve the dignity of memory. Because our memory, especially with respect to the Holocaust, is a living body which has to be protected, supported, and taken care of.
We do owe that much to those who were exterminated with such an efficiency and that pleasure of devouring beasts. I do believe that it is within a power of a normal humanity to prevent the clones of those beasts to re-appear among us.
Dr Inna Rogatchi is the author and film-maker, and the president of The Rogatchi Foundation. Her recent film is internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival. Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal, and her forthcoming book is The Post-Holocaust Legacy: Challenges & Responses.