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Holocaust Revisionism, Ultranationalism, and the Nazi/Soviet "Double Genocide" Debate in Eastern Europe

Dovid Katz, Editor, and Chief Analyst, Litvak Studies Institute, Vilnius

Date & Time

Mar. 7, 2011
11:00am – 12:00pm ET


The "Double Genocide" debate is prompted by a "movement in Europe that believes the crimes—morally, ethically—of Nazism and Communism are absolutely equal, and that those of us who don't think they're absolutely equal, are perhaps soft on Communism," argued Dovid Katz, Editor, www.defending and Chief Analyst, Litvak Studies Institute, Vilnius. At a 7 March 2011 Kennan Institute discussion, Katz explained the evolution of the debate, the actions of institutions that subscribe to the theory, and the impact they have on European politics today.

"The background to all this is that the three Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—have a somewhat unique position in Holocaust history," Katz explained. The Baltic States, annexed by the Soviet Union and then invaded by Nazi Germany during World War II, all experienced persecution from both regimes. The speaker noted that the region's Jewish population was particularly hard hit—in all of Europe, the percentage of the Jewish populations killed during World War II was highest in the Baltic States, because of the massive voluntary participation by locals in the actual killings.

The "Double Genocide" movement is a relatively recent initiative (though rooted in older apologetics regarding the Holocaust) that seeks to create a moral equivalence between Soviet atrocities committed against the Baltic region and the Holocaust in European history. Katz noted that the "Double Genocide" debate has garnered political traction/currency since the Baltic States joined the European Union in 2004. Since joining the EU, the Baltic States have attempted to downplay their nations' massive collaboration with the Nazis and to enlist the West in revising history in the direction of Double Genocide thinking. An important part of that effort has been for lawmakers to highlight the crimes committed by Soviets in the Baltic region during and after World War II. In 2008, lawmakers from the Baltic States, , among other new-accession European Union states, played a pivotal role in a January 2008 conference in Tallinn, Estonia, and then in June, 2008, in proclamation of the "Prague Declaration" which attracted wider support.

A major criticism of this movement is that Soviet crimes, while terrible, should not be equated to the crimes Nazi Germany inflicted throughout Europe, particularly genocide. Critics of the "Double Genocide" theory argue that its supporters are obfuscating (and downgrading)the Holocaust, without necessarily denying a single death. Conversely, those who subscribe to the idea of "Double Genocide" perceive their critics as sympathetic to Soviet rule, culturally pro-Russian, or soft on Communism.

Katz noted that the "Double Genocide" initiatives promote the anti-Communist cultural memory of Soviet occupation over the anti-fascist memory of Nazi Germany's invasion. More ominously, according to Katz, is the role Jews play in this revised history. Under "Double Genocide," Jews (now extinct over vast swathes of Eastern European territory), cease to be seen as the victims of Nazi extermination, and instead are portrayed as among, if not the leading, perpetrators of Soviet occupation. It is an ideology that overlooks, if not encourages, anti-Semitism within the populations of those states pursuing "Double Genocide" policies today. He believes these efforts go hand in hand with a special brand of antisemitism in Eastern Europe that is ominously growing, but is often blocked from foreign view by major efforts of state bodies concerned with international image-making, working in tandem with unsuspecting western governments, often in the context of wider East-West geostrategic concerns.

In conclusion, Katz expressed little hope for positive change, on the ground in Eastern Europe, in terms of the current political situation surrounding the "Double Genocide" debate, noting that the intellectual and academic forces with the power to oppose the movement do not speak up out of fear for their careers. He recommended that states in the region honor the victims of Communism and expose the evils of Communism as unique issues, "without the equals-sign."

By Amy Shannon Liedy
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute



Dovid Katz

Editor, www.defending and Chief Analyst, Litvak Studies Institute, Vilnius
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The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

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