Rule # 1: Whoever owns the history, has possession of the power.
That is why history is so often in dispute, why it is so often fought over. And that explains why people, especially those with leadership roles, create history.
Rule # 2: At all costs, avoid the role of perpetrator.
That is why history is so often re-written, often by perpetrators. It is better to be a victim than a perpetrator. It is better to be a bystander than a perpetrator.
This week commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
As we listen to the commemorative speeches delivered by the many dignitaries — presidents, prime ministers, 46 presidents, prime ministers and kings — gathered in Jerusalem to acknowledge this event, we must pay very careful attention to the details.
The numbers are clear. Most of the people, most non-Jews in Eastern and Central Europe during World War II, were bystanders. They lived in the areas where Nazis perpetrated their historically unprecedented, murderous campaign against the Jews of Europe. They were concerned about their own lives. There was also a significant number of Europeans who assisted the Nazis in their mass murder. But it was the silence of the masses of bystanders that enabled the murderers.
And now, these seventy-five years later, the realization of that fact still resonates and people assuage their guilt.
It is easier to explain to your children and grandchildren that you, yourself, were a victim than to explain that you participated in the evil, mass murderous policies of the Nazis. It is easier to say that you were simply silent worrying about your own life and the lives of your family than to say that you were involved. That you were complicit. This is also true as a nation.
Once you have adopted the label of bystander nation, it is easy to blur the lines and say that you were victims of the Nazis and their associates. It is easier than admitting that you watched, knowing fully the evil that was happening. Easier than admitting that you heard the screams, the stories, the reports and went about your daily life. This is true for a country as well as an individual.
We are witnessing a revision of history. Several world leaders, under the guise of paying tribute to this momentous event, are taking advantage of the world stage now to distance themselves from the Nazis and Nazi evil. Most blatant of all is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Putin is continuing a historical rewrite that has been part of the Soviet narrative since the end of World War II.
Seventy-five years later, Europe, and by extension the former Soviet Union, wants to embrace the role of victim. At the Auschwitz Memorial in Jerusalem, Russian President Putin said that 40% of the Jewish victims of the Nazis were Soviets. He said it with pride, almost boastfully. For the sake of historical honesty, we can all agree that between 26 and 50 million Soviets were killed in the War — many froze or starved to death. But Putin wants to transform all one hundred percent of Soviets alive during World War II into Nazi victims.
The Holocaust happened under the veil of World War II. That must be clearly understood. It was a policy of the Nazis. One cannot conflate the two. The purpose of the Nazi Holocaust was to murder all the Jews. First the Jews of Europe, then, all the Jews in the world.
Russia is deliberately forgetting an important historical event. They were not simply victims. They had an alliance with the Nazis. At the beginning of the war, they were even partners with the Nazis. On August 23, 1939, Russia and Germany signed a treaty called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact named after the foreign ministers of both countries, Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Vyacheslav Molotov of the Soviet Union.
The two countries agreed to simultaneously invade Poland from opposite sides. Germany invaded on September 1 and Russia on September 17. The plan was successful, they squeezed Poland. And in the aftermath, Poland, too, has rewritten history. Poland, where the most notorious of all Nazi death camps — most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau — has tried to transform itself into a country of victims.
For decades, first as Soviets and now as Russians, Putin and his country have conveniently forgotten the essential facts of the War. Russian leadership has chosen, instead, to emphasize Operation Barbarosa when, on Sunday June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
I will never forget the first time I heard this claim to victimhood. I was in what was then the USSR and a tour guide explained that the Soviets entered World War II in June of 1941. I tried to correct her. She did not believe me. She thought it was I who was creating history.
Rule # 3: Created memory is as strong as true memory. History that is re-written is even more powerful than actual, factual, history.
That is why it is important to catch revisionists and re-imaginers in the act. That is why it is so important to call them out and set the record straight.
History is not a game, it is power. Nietzsche wrote a spectacular essay in the form of a short pamphlet. I re-read it at least once a year. It keeps me honest. I recommend that every single person read it at least once. If you're not going to read it, at least remember its title. It is titled "The Use and Abuse of History."
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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