Friday, June 8, 2012

Eastern European Attitudes to the Holocaust

Source:  Operation Last Chance:  One Man's Quest To Bring Nazi Criminals To Justice, pp 100-1

The dedication ceremony at Ponar was, in that respect, a litmus test for the intentions of the Lithuanian government in regard to a whole range of Holocaust-related issues that it, and its fellow post-Communist democracies, was forced to face, almost immediately in the wake of independence.   Under different circumstances, these issues would not have been granted priority, but several factors considered critical by these new East European states catapulted Holocaust-related subjects to near the top of the political agenda.  For fear of the Russians, all of these governments viewed membership in NATO and the European Union as their primary foreign policy objectives, and virtually all of them believed that their success in achieving these goals would be seriously influenced by their relations with the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Inn other words, the paths to Washington and Brussels went through Jerusalem.  I twas clear to these leaders, however, that to enlist Jewish assistance, they would have to mend their fences with the Jewish people (represented primarily by Israel, American Jewry, and their own local Jewish communities), a critical element of which involved dealing with the crimes of their compatriots during the Holocaust.  In essence, these countries faced six major issues directly connected to the destruction of European Jewry.

1.  acknowledgement of guilt and apology for crimes;
2. commemoration of the victims,
3. prosecution of perpetrators,
4. documentation - rewriting the historical narratives
5. education - writing new textbooks, and
6.  restitution

In retrospect, as someone who has devoted a large part of the past 18 years to the issues in post-Communist Europe, I would distinguish between the issues that proved to be relatively easy, such as the acknowledgment of guilt and commemoration, and those that have proven to be the most  difficult, such as prosecution and resititution.  Practically all East European leaders were willing to acknowledge the pariticipation of their compatriots in the Holocaust crimes, apologize for them,and express deep regret, but very few, if any, invested any real effort in seeing to it that those still-unprosecuted Holocaust perpetrators would be brought to trial.  Another important point, especially from my perspective, is that of all these issues, only one, prosecution, is time-sensitive and must be dealt with while the murders are still alive.  All the others, including restitution, should obviously be dealt with promptly, but if worse comes to worst can be postpone and initiated at a later date.

pp 122-125  Edvald Mikson/Hinriksson

Advised by Hebrew University Professor Dor Levin to contact me, he [Yaakov Kaplan] sent me information rgarding Mikson's Icelandic name (Edvald Hinricksson) and details of his crimes, including the alleged rape and murder of 14-year-old Ruth Rubin, the niece of the famous Zionist leader Chaim Arlozoroff.  In Kaplan's words, "It is unthinkable that the son of a bitch will continue to live in peae and tranquility."
Contrary to our expectations, we were granted access to the voluminous Mikson files in the KGB archives, which contained tens of witness statements on crimes committed by Mikson while he led the Omakaitse in the Vonnu district, including testimony from seven individuals who had seen him personally commit murder.  Johannes Sooru, for example, related how Mikson had shot a young man from Piirsare and then decided that every third prisoner being held by the Omakaitse in Vonnu would be executed by his men.  Raimund Punnar confirmed that the executions took place and described how Mikson had shot many of the victims himself.  The most horrific testimony was that of Hilka Mootse, who described how Mikson had raped a Jewish mother and her daughter:

"While arrested in the Vonnu rural district I saw together with other prisoners through a window in the basement how Mikson with a group of other Omakaitse members, about six or seven men, took two Jewish women out to the street, a mother aged about 40 and her daughter who was 17 or 19 years old, stripped them naked, put chains on their necks, tied their hands behind their backs, and began to make fun of them.  The guards dragged the women on the ground, forced them to bend down and eat grass, then pushed them to the ground and raped them.  I saw how Mikson raped the women first, and after him all the other guards did so as well.  The women broke down, then they were dragged behind a shed and executed by shooting."

page 209-10  Sandor Kepiro

Artur Rosenstein was only 6 years old at the time, but he remembered it all.  Years later, he could recount all the details of the horrible day - January 23, 1942 - when he and his parents were marched to the banks of the Danube to be shot by the Hungarianss.  To this day, this event in Novia Sad is referred to as "the Razzia", or the raid.

The operation had commenced two days earlier, as the Hungarian army and gendarmerie combed the area around Novi Sad, arresting and murdering Jews, Serbs, and Gypsies in the region, ostenibly as a reprisal against the local resistance to their occupation of the Voivodina province of Yugoslavia.  On the third day, January 23, the Hungarians began the operation in the city, which was divided into sections, each with a Hungarian officer in charge of the roundups in that area.  Thousands of men, women and children were taken to Sokolski Dom, the main cultural insitutution of the town, to be interrogated, after which their fate was decided.  Some lucky people were released, but thousands of others were marched to the Danube to be shot.  The temperature that day was minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Hungarians had to bring in a cannon to break the ice on the river so that those shot, but not killed, would drown in the freezing Danube.

Artur Rosenstein was in the crowd with his parents, carried in his father's arms.  They advanced slowly in rows, walking toward their own death.  Soon, it would be their turn to be shot.  "When the Hungarian police came to look for us, they told us to take only the bare minum, and they took us in small groups to the banks of the Danube," he recounted to me in a crowded Budapest cafe 64 years later.  "There was a large crowd there.  In the distance, we heard the sound of machine guns.  We were queuing up, waiting out turn to be killed."  They had not more than a quarter of an hour left to live.  Suddenly, a plane landed.  Officers got out.  They spoke a lot, shouted.  The order was given to stop the executions, and the Rosensteins' lives were saved.  But when they returned home, they found the corpses of Artur's grandfather and his wife, who had been murdered.  In total, during those three days of horror, 3309 Jews, Serbs and Gypsies were killed in the region, including 141 children.  In Novi Sad (Ujvidek in Hungarian), two-thirds of the victims were Jewish.

Polgar page 183

In mid-February 2006, I was in Melbourne to deliver the Annual Hans Bachrach Memorial Oration as a guest of AIJAC and the Jerusalem College of Technology and had the opportunity and privilege to meet Susanne Nozick in person and hear her story.

In the winter of 1944-45, she and her mother were caught hiding in a hospital in Budapest, trying to pose as non-Jews, and were taken to the cellar of Arrow Cross headquarters at 60 Andrassy Street, where they were repeatedly beaten, tortured and raped over the course of three days, along with dozens of other Jewish and Gypsy prisoners.  The Arrow Cross guards forced they Gypsies to rape the Jewish women prisoners, some of whom, like Nozick, also had sticks shoved into them by the guards.

Throughout this entire ordeal, all the prisoners were kept naked.  After three days, during which quite a few of the prisoners had died, 40 to 50 of those still alive, including Nozick and her mother, were marched naked to the banks of the Danube under the guard of Arrow Cross men.  There they were shot, and all of them fell into the river, Susanne Nozick, who luckily was not wounded, was the only survivor.  She merged from the river after all the Arrow Cross had departed the scene.  She was found by Hungarian soldiers who eventually brought here to the Budapest ghetto, which was liberated three days later by Soviet troops.

[Sakic- Croatia 140-141]
As it turned out the decision to prosecute Sakic did not exist in a vacuum.  Croatia was extremely anxious to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, which it considered critical to its main foreign policy objectives of joining NATO and European Union, and the prosecution of Sakic was clearly perceived in Zagreb to be part of the price, besides the obligatory acknowledgement of Holocaust guilt and requisite and the political circumstances for what turned out to be the most significant trial of a local Nazi war criminal in post-Communist Europe was absolutely perfect.

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