Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7.1 (2006) 159-162
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To the Editors
Russian Academy of Sciences
Staromonetnyi pereulok, 29
The title of Professor Karel Berkhoff's reaction piece, "The Mass Murder of Soviet Prisoners of War and the Holocaust: How Were They Related?" (Kritika 6, 4 : 789–96) gave me great pleasure. It addresses one of my key research interests.
I approached this problem from the standpoint of the prisoners themselves and so was quite unprepared for Berkhoff's accusation that I took too long to mention them in my article ("First Victims of the Holocaust: Soviet-Jewish Prisoners of War in German Captivity," Kritika 6, 4 : 763–87). The argument that Soviet prisoners of war as a group were victims of National Socialism seems to me so self-evident that in 2001–3 I even ventured to practice history as an applied discipline. But my fight in a German court (and without the slightest support from any political lobby!) for their right, earned through historical suffering, to be awarded the status of Nazi victims and to receive appropriate compensation at the end of the day ended in nothing.
It seems to me that Berkhoff's reaction combines two lines of polemic: one that lies outside the problem of the Holocaust and the other within it.
Berkhoff suggests that I isolate the Jewish Holocaust from that of non-Jewish ethnic groups. He notes that the criminal orders of the Wehrmacht and the SS envisioned repression directed not only against Jews but against Asiatic peoples, Mongols, and so on (by the way, elsewhere I, too, have used the same German propaganda leaflets). He proposes that the anti-Russian racism of Germans led to the genocidal massacre of Russian prisoners of war under the slogan "the more of them killed, the better."1 All this is true, but I would caution against understanding "Russian" in the context of German documents in circulation as an "ethnic group" per se (as opposed to "Ukrainian," for example); in most cases, this was the traditional designation not even for Slavs but for all Soviet citizens. Even the grim [End Page 159] long term demographic program for Russia set forth in "The General Plan for the East" (Generalplan Ost) cannot obscure the pan-European fact that the Germans engaged in the massive physical obliteration by race (ethnicity) not of Russians, Mongols, or Asiatics (on the contrary, all these groups were used in collaborationist military formations) but of only two ethnic groups—Jews and Gypsies—and among prisoners of war, only one: Jews.2
Berkhoff correctly senses that my treatment of the Holocaust as the systematic, race-based destruction of the Jews by regular German army units flies in the face of traditional arguments that place it in the context of all anti-Jewish incidents in Germany, beginning in 1933. Personally, I see no sin in my failure to adhere to the scholarly consensus on the Holocaust (more specifically, my refusal to enter into this consensus): the traditional Germanocentric treatment seems to me both inaccurate and lacking in content.
Citing the authority of the U.S. Library of Congress subject classification, which dates the Holocaust to 1939–45, is far from convincing. Was this classification really developed by an international forum of historians who, after examining all facets of the problem and engaging in intense and productive discussion, settled on this specific decision? Of course not. It is the product of work by a small group of professional librarians whose recommendations serve the interests of nothing but bibliographic expediency.
If we are to include in the Holocaust all that occurred in Germany between 1933 and 1939, then we should also include the anti-Jewish pogroms and deportations in late 19th- and early 20th-century Russia—the other country of state antisemitism. Then one would have no grounds to object when one hears expressions such as: the antisemitism of Stalin's last years represented a "second Holocaust."
To this one cannot fail...