Easy National Amnesia

Brief Associated Press story in Metro Ottawa, June 23, 2012. Summary sidebar set of stories, easy to miss:


Members of Poland’s Jewish community and other Poles have marked the 70th anniversary of the first deportations from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, with a memorial march through the city. There have never been major commemorations for the start of deportations to death camps on July 22, 1942.

Went to find a larger story. Found the longer version in the Washington Post:

Poland marks 70th anniversary of first deportations from Warsaw ghetto with memorial march

WARSAW, Poland — Poland marked the 70th anniversary of the first deportations from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 with a memorial march through the city.

Although Poland regularly marks major Holocaust anniversaries, like the liberation of Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, there have never been major commemorations for the start of deportations to death camps on July 22, 1942.

Hundreds from Poland’s Jewish community and other Poles gathered at Umschlagplatz, the site in Warsaw where Jews were loaded onto trains bound for Treblinka. They then walked as a group to a former Jewish orphanage named after Janusz Korczak, a Jewish educator who had the chance to escape the Holocaust, but instead chose to die with the children under his care.

Participants carried colorful ribbons bearing the first names of children who died in the Holocaust and tied them to a fence at the orphanage.

The event was organized by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which wanted to pay homage to all those who were transported from the Warsaw ghetto, while also focusing especially on Korczak and the suffering of children.

Pawel Spiewak, director of the institute, said he has seen a tendency to commemorate events in which people rose up bravely against Nazi German cruelty, but that it’s also important to remember those who had no way to defend themselves.

Poland, like many Eastern European countries, was complicit in the attempted genocide of Jews by Germans. The efforts at commemoration of various Holocaust events, as is the case, regularly, in Poland, is very important. One country that was equally complicit, Ukraine, only started to commemorate the Holocaust in 2012. Searched “Holocaust commemoration Ukraine”, and this is the first hit that came up:

Holocaust Memorial Vandalized In Western Ukraine
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
March 22, 2012

A memorial of victims of the Holocaust has been vandalized by unknown individuals in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv.

The Sholom-Aleikhem Society of Jewish Culture in Lviv* said its activists found the memorial and some plaques on it covered with blue and red paint on March 21.

Graffiti insulting Jews and Ukrainians was also painted on the memorial’s walls.

Police were called to the site of the incident, and the activists said they plan to file an official complaint with the local Interior Ministry office.

Between 1941 and 1945, some 1.4 million Jews were killed in Soviet Ukraine by Germany’s Nazi regime and some organized auxilliary units.

Ukraine officially marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day for the first time on January 27 this year.

With reporting by Interfax and rbc.ua

Where “insulting Jews and Ukrainians”…one can’t be both Ukrainian and Jewish?

Remember being shocked by this “just hooliganism, not anti-semitism” story from Kiev, in 2002:

Youths Attack Synagogue in Ukraine
by Tim Vickery (AP, April 14, 2002)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – A crowd of about 50 youths attacked the central synagogue in Kiev, beating three people with stones, hurling bottles and breaking windows, the rabbi said Sunday.

Kiev’s chief rabbi, Moshe-Reuven Azman, said the mob marched down the Ukrainian capital’s main boulevard shouting “Kill the Jews!” before attacking the synagogue shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday.

The assailants knocked the rector of Kiev’s yeshiva to the ground and beat him with stones, Azman said. The rector, Tsvi Kaplan, was hospitalized overnight and released Sunday.

Azman said his own 14-year-old son, Jorik, and a security guard were also injured and that the attackers broke 20 windows in the synagogue.

“I call this act a pogrom,” Azman said. “It’s a miracle that it was not worse.”

The attack occurred after Saturday evening services, and many worshippers had already left the building.

“We didn’t understand what was happening. All of a sudden, we saw a crowd running toward us with rocks,” Azman’s son Jorik told Russia’s NTV television.

Broken glass covered the floor of the synagogue Sunday, and police stood guard outside.

Police denied the attack was anti-Semitic, saying it was a case of soccer-related violence. A soccer game had just ended at a stadium near the synagogue.

“The act was not motivated by anti-Semitism, but was an act of brutal hooliganism,” Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Most of the attackers had fled when police arrived about 20 minutes after the synagogue alerted them, Azman said. Police detained eight people, all soccer fans aged 18 to 20, Echo of Moscow radio reported.

Attacks on ethnic minorities by rowdy soccer fans, many with shaved heads, are fairly common in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, where anti-Semitism is widespread.

There has been a wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France and other European countries this month amid Israel’s offensive in the West Bank.

Azman would not speculate on whether the attack was linked to tension in the Middle East, saying only that it was prompted by “the general situation.”

Well, at least there was a conviction and sentence, though even there people seemed to want to accuse Jews of exaggerating matters:

Synagogue attack ringleader jailed for 4 years
Kyiv Post, March 13, 2003

In the first criminal conviction under the nation’s decade old hate-crime law, a Kyiv court hands down a jail term to the leader of a gang of youths who carried out a widely publicized attack on the capital’s central Brodsky Synagogue in April 2002.

The criminal conviction of 27‑year‑old Kyiv‑resident Dmitry “Demyan” Volkov by the Pechersk District Court is said to have been the first under the country’s hate‑crime law since it was adopted a decade ago.

“While Article 161 of the Criminal Code has been used in criminal cases against publishers of anti‑Semitic newspapers and magazines, none of those cases have resulted in criminal conviction,” said Nickolai Butkevich, research and advocacy director of the Washington‑based Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

After a soccer game at Dynamo Stadium last April 13, a mob of about 50 youths began breaking windows in stores along Khreshchatyk in downtown Kyiv before making its way to the Brodsky Synagogue, where Saturday evening prayers had just ended.

According to the Chief Rabbi of Kyiv Moshe‑Reuven Azman, the youths were shouting “Kill the Jews!” as they hurled stones at the synagogue, breaking 20 windows. They then proceeded to beat up a security guard, the rector of the synagogue’s yeshiva and the rabbi’s eldest son, Yorik.

Most of the attackers had fled by the time police arrived and while eight individuals were detained at the scene, it was not until August that the authorities caught up with and arrested Volkov in Poltava.

Azman and the Jewish community immediately labeled the attack a pogrom, and it quickly received worldwide media attention. Community members, including Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, say that strategy of publicizing the episode was effective in forcing the authorities to take the matter seriously.

“We immediately held a press conference and announced that a pogrom had taken place,” Dolinsky said. “We made that statement despite the fact that the Interior Ministry had already tried to play down the attack as a simple act of hooliganism by a bunch of soccer fans.”

Dolinsky said the conviction of Volkov and several other accomplices who received suspended sentences proved the community had taken the correct course.

“We accept the court’s decision and we salute it,” he said. “The decision serves as a clear warning to others who might be tempted to commit similar acts of violence against the Jewish community. It’s a good decision for Ukraine.”

Butkevich said that apart from the seriousness of the Brodsky attack, the publicity generated was critical in securing criminal convictions.

“Despite some initial reluctance on the part of the Interior Ministry to admit that it was an anti‑Semitic attack, the authorities overall reacted appropriately,” Butkevich said. “The president condemned it, arrests followed quickly, and suspects have been convicted of a hate crime, not some sort of vague ‘soccer hooliganism’ that would have swept the problem of anti‑Semitism in Ukraine under the rug.”

Rabbi Azman also considers that the convictions mean justice has been done.

“It’s a victory for Ukraine,” he said. “It shows that all nations can live in Ukraine in peace and that those who want to destroy the good relations between Jewish people and the rest of the population are acting outside the law.”

Azman said the authorities organized security for the synagogue in the months following the attack and continue to provide extra security during major holidays.

State authorities, however, appear to be downplaying the groundbreaking conviction.

The Interior Ministry has issued no statement regarding the trial, and its press service on March 12 referred inquiries from the Post to the administration of the Perchersk District Court. The court, in turn, referred questions back to the Interior Ministry. Details regarding the length and nature of the trial as well as the background of Volkov and the others convicted along with him remain scarce.

Volodymyr Kulyk, a fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies in Kyiv and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that the lack of publicity about the conviction may stem from the delicate balancing act the authorities have been trying to perform.

On the one hand, he said, Ukraine is trying to show itself as a progressive and tolerant society in the eyes of the world and the human‑rights organizations that monitor its progress. On the other, it is trying to heed the views of the majority of the population.

Kulyk referred to criticism in some Ukrainian media of the strong position taken by the synagogue following the attack and the response of the Russian and international media. He said many Ukrainians felt the international media had blown the episode out of proportion.

“Many people were outraged and felt the Jewish community was relying on the old stereotypes of Ukraine as an anti‑Semitic state,” Kulyk said. “I know some Jewish activists who firmly denied there was any ethnic dimension to the attack.”

Kulyk said the government probably felt it had to balance its reaction and satisfy all parties as much as possible.

“I would say the government tried to do both things: to investigate the situation as soon as it was possible to do so but also to take into account the popular sentiment that the attack was not specifically anti‑Semitic,” Kulyk said.

The more an historic atrocity is commemorated, particularly by those involved in same, the less likely it is to happen again. In Canada, in was only in 2011 that there was any commemoration of the heinous 1939 government act of turning away the MS St. Louis, an ocean liner with nearly 1,000 Jews on board, on the basis that “none is too many”. The commemoration is by way of a memorial in Halifax, rather than by way of any degree of regular national recognition.

Too easily out of memory; too easily out of history. For individuals and nations, a need to be mindful of past negatives, as well as positives.

* The correctly spelled and proper name of the society is the “Sholem Aleichem Jewish Culture Society in Lviv”, which operates the Sholem Aleichem Jewish Culture Centre in that city. The society is one of several in the world named in honour of Ukrainian secular-humanist writer Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich (1859-1916), who wrote under the name Sholem Alecheim. Of his many works, among his best known are his stories of Tevye the Milkman, which formed the basis for the later musical Fiddler on the Roof. The objective of such societies is the preservation of Jewish culture in a secular world.
Postscript, July 29, 2012: In Poland, 2012 is the Year of Janusz Korszak, by virtue of a unanimous resolution of the Polish Parliament, passed in September, 2011. No memory fade.

Postscript, July 30, 2012: Lviv, Ukraine, where there was the recent desecration of the memorial to victims of the Holocaust, as noted above, has a close history of complicity with the Holocaust: see Lviv Pogroms.

About brucelarochelle

This entry was posted in Anti-Semitism, Canadian History, Genocide, Holocaust, Poland, Ukraine, War and Remembrance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s