Christopher HaleHitler's Foreign Executioners: Europe's Dirty Secret

Alleging (Alleging “Red Equals Brown”)Making genocide excusable?

There are many points of contention over the legacy of WWII in Eastern Europe. The Holocaust is a horrific, tragic, and uniquely defining piece of that history. Yet—without diluting the significance of the Holocaust in the least—it was neither the first, nor last, totalitarian-conducted genocide on that soil. The peoples of Timothy Snyder's "bloodlands" have been striving for 78 years, ever since Stalin partitioned Poland as Hitler's ally[1], for recognition of the war crimes and genocide—torture, murder, and mass deportations—the Soviets inflicted upon their peoples. Actions which continued well after WWII was over.

One of the great challenges of the post-Soviet era has been the continued rehabilitation of Stalin and his repressive state instruments, including the notorious NKVD, by Russian authorities. This has only moved the goal of united international recognition of Stalin's war crimes even further into the future.

The 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as follows:

"...genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Absent from these groups are those defined by classes, such as economic status, occupation, political affiliation, or civil service position—classes which defined the majority of the USSR's deportations and murders of Baltic and Eastern European citizenry. And why is the destruction of these groups not considered genocide? Because they were removed from the definition so as to prevent the USSR vetoing the entire proceedings. Twenty-five years since its formal dissolution, the USSR still stands squarely in the path of an honest reckoning of Soviet aggression against its neighbours and their citizenry. A pattern which the current Russian regime has carried on with its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

There are those, however, that believe that any claims to genocide by Stalin on the part of the Baltic and Eastern Europeans is an attempt to pervert history to diminish the Holocaust and to rehabilitate those who supported its genocide of their neighbours, that the extermination of Eastern Europe's Jewry, in the words of Efraim Zuroff, was made possible by "fanatic support by the native population."[2]—a history the Eastern Europeans are now attempting to white-wash and bury. Hale accepts this thesis in its totality in his preface.

1In 2008 many of the far-right parties of Europe backed the Prague Declaration on Conscience and Communism. This was hatched up by Baltic scholars and politicians. Its authors demand that the European Union ‘equally evaluate totalitarian regimes’. In other words, the crimes of the Soviet regime and the Nazi Holocaust should have equivalent moral status. This is often summed up by the slogan ‘red = brown’. The Prague Declaration proposes replacing Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January with a ‘Day of Remembrance’ to be held every 23 August, the day on which the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939. 2This ‘equal evaluation’ may appear seductive. After all, how often does one hear that ‘Stalin was just as bad or worse than Hitler’. But the apparently reasonable claim that ‘there are substantial similarities between Nazism and Communism in terms of their horrific and appalling character and their crimes against humanity’ is not what it seems.[3] 3The authors of the Prague Declaration grossly distort the historical record and seek ultimately to tear down the unique moral status of the Holocaust. The concept of ‘double genocide’ lumps together heinous Soviet practices such as summary execution, deportation, imprisonment and loss of employment with the deliberate and planned attempt to liquidate an entire human group. Soviet crimes should indeed be properly memorialised, but they are not equivalent either in intent or result to the ‘Final Solution’. The consequences of rendering the crimes of the Soviet Union equivalent to the German Holocaust are already becoming clear in many Eastern European nations. In the Baltic States, Hungary and Ukraine 4it is now commonplace to hear politicians imply that wartime collaboration with the Third Reich should no longer be regarded as a moral catastrophe – a stain on the nation. Instead collaboration is increasingly reinterpreted as a pragmatic means to oppose the destructive power of the Soviet Union. 5This inevitably means that the tens of thousands of men who volunteered to serve the German occupiers as policemen and soldiers can be reinvested as heroic nationalists – no longer vilified as collaborators in genocide. Compelling evidence that this historical lie has begun to take root in Europe can be observed every 16 March in the capital city of Latvia.

Analysis

We have addressed elsewhere Efraim Zuroff's “canard of equivalency” and his advocacy that the Shoah was the sole genocide of WWII. Nevertheless, there are points to be made regarding Hale's version of the same and his narrative leading up to his protesting at the annual Latvian Legionnaire commemoration.

Contention versus Fact  
Hale immediately launches into neo-Nazi plot denigrations ("far right...hatching..."), fabricates non-existent text in the Prague Declaration, and imagines a plot seeking to tear down the unique and horrific status in human history of Hitler's industrialized extermination of Europe's Jewry. There is one use of the word "equal" in the declaration: "ensuring the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination of victims of all the totalitarian regimes." Meaning, the lives of the victims of totalitarianism have equal value in the view of history and society and their loss affects us equally. Surely Hale is not arguing that those dead by Stalin's hand are less of a loss to humanity, less worthy of our sorrow, than those dead by Hitler's.

As before, Hale approaches the entire issue from the mistaken perspective that the argument is over the relative depravity of Hitler and Stalin at some conceptual immorality level disconnected from their victim, missing the key point: "Stalin was just as bad or worse than Hitler" for the victims who suffered at their hand. Stalin's goons came in the early morning of June 14, 1941 to take entire families away in the first large-scale single mass deportation in the Baltic States, ripping them apart, sending women and children—and infants—to labour camp settlements and men to GULAG camps even north of the Arctic circle. There are stories of those men packed standing-room-only in cattle cars, those dying on the way from lack of food and water having their bodies tossed out by the railway tracks, then, once arriving at the end of the line, being forced-marched to the camp. Of a cattle car-full of men at the outset, a single man left alive. Were those dead less deserving of life than Hitler's victims? Would Hale have us mourn them less?

Absent from the telling of the history of the genocide of Jewry in WWII is that Jews, proportionally, suffered greater losses than any other ethnic group in Stalin's deportations of the Baltic States' citizenry—leaving them unprepared to organize and respond to Hitler's invasion a week later of their countries in turmoil. Russo-Soviet history speaks only of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Hale appears to be arguing that

  1. calling anything else concurrent with the Holocaust a genocide could be taken to mean it, too, was a mass murder of an imagining and execution as horrific as Hitler's,
  2. therefore one can not name it so.

Hale would have the reader believe that one cannot raise Stalin's crimes against Eastern Europe and, by extension, Ukraine earlier, to a status of genocide without tearing down the unique status of the Holocaust. It is Hale who tarnishes the memory of the Holocaust by reducing it to a pawn in a contest of political name-calling, invoking its name to contend Stalin's crimes against humanity before during, and after WWII constitute some sort of junior varsity of moral corruption.

It is worth noting that Zuroff contends Stalin did not inflict genocide upon its western neighbours.

Here we have the heart of Hale's meme, that any cooperation with Nazi Germany, including Latvians using German guns to fight the reinvading USSR, is a "moral catastrophe." It's easy to sit on the sideline and judge. What even constitutes "collaboration"? Let's take the story of an assistant postmaster—mail, telephone, telegraph—in the town of Talsi.
  • The Soviets invade. They take over your parent's house as barracks. They shoot the postmaster and install a Soviet incompetent, your co-workers "disappear," and you are kept on and alive only because they need someone to run the place. You and the replacements (Jews, opening them to later charges of being Stalin's scab labour) work with Red Army rifles at your backs, listening in and reporting on every conversation. The day before the first mass deportation, word is overheard on a phone conversation, a (Jewish) replacement tells you to not go home that night. Early the next morning, your family is taken to Siberia.
  • You and your husband hide in the woods and live off the land, unsure what to do. The Germans invade a week later. You return home, family gone. The first thing you did after returning home is to clean out your parent's house, shovelling piles of filth and human excrement out the windows. The Germans soon barrack themselves in your cleaned-out parent's house, but at least they are sanitary. You return to work. Your Jewish co-workers have disappeared but there is no word out in the countryside of what the Germans are actually doing. People "disappear" during occupations, this has already been the way of life for a year under the Soviets. Meanwhile, your name appears on a recovered list of future deportees.
By Hale's measuring stick, this person didn't survive two occupational regimes, they collaborated with both, doubling their guilt. When multiple powers invade your homeland in war, this is not an exception, this is the norm.>.
Hale tars those who fought on the Eastern Front against the re-invading Red Army with the same brush as Holocaust collaborators. Following on to the implication Hale alleges above, no one has ever suggested that collaboration in the Holocaust is excusable for any reason. Hale manufactures bogus moral constructs, puts words into the mouths of others, and then vilifies them.

Hale invents quotes from the Prague Declaration, wilfully ignores the work of historians when it runs counter to his prejudices, and denounces Latvians and others based on his personal inferences. Hale pursues an agenda, not scholarship.

Motivations

Researching Hale further reveals he attended the 2010 Latvian Legion commemoration in Rīga as a protester:

Recently we have been in Riga, protesting against the march of former Waffen-SS men and their Neo-Nazi friends who annually commemorate their comrades who fought in the ‘Latvian Legion’ recruited by Heinrich Himmler. What is the German reaction to such a political demonstration in favor of the fight of Latvians side by side with Hitler’s Wehrmacht and SS against the Red Army?...[4]

seeming to imply the Germans are being lax in denouncing the Latvians for their neo-Nazism and, by implication, for fighting against the Soviet anti-Nazi "liberators." Hale cannot claim to be a historian when he is blinded by the Waffen-SS Latvian Legionnaire uniform. Were Hale to look underneath, he would encounter the same Waffen-SS as Latvians guarding Allied POWs held in German camps. When the POWs expressed their surprise and thanks at being treated well, their guards identified themselves as Latvians, not Germans, and showed them the Latvian flags they wore under their uniform in hope of the day that Latvia would be free of both Russians and Germans.

Instead, Hale believes in complete Latvian loyalty to the Nazi cause; more importantly, any cooperation with the Germans is, as we quoted above, a "moral catastrophe." But Hale has gone even further in his denouncements and denigrations, viz. the opening of his opinion piece featured on the Defending History web site[5]:

O P I N I O N

by Christopher Hale

In Latvia, many of the police auxiliaries like Viktors Arājs for example went on to join the Latvian SS divisions – now referred to as the ‘Latvian Legion’. 6Military historians and some Eastern European nationalists argue that the SS police units and the Waffen-SS divisions had different roles and should not be bracketed together.
This is a bogus argument. The German war in the East was conceived as a racial war of annihilation. Any German affiliated military units took part in this war. The role of the police auxiliaries is very well known – but what is sometimes forgotten is that the non-German units of the Waffen-SS took a leading role in what Himmler called ‘Anti Bandit warfare’.
‘Bandits’ was a pejorative term for partisans – but the doctrine of SS ‘bandit warfare’ necessitated the frequent murder of civilians and any Jews who had survived the first waves of mass killing unleashed after June, 1941. German military reports invariably log the number of Jews killed in an anti partisan ‘action’ in a special category.

7So what led a Latvian, Ukrainian or Frenchman for that matter to willingly participate in the German ‘war of annihilation’ by joining a police battalion or a Waffen-SS division? I realised, of course, that 8it would be impossible to explain the motivations of tens of thousands of young men who joined the collaborationist factions that played such a terrible role in the murder of millions of Jewish civilians. 9Many were no doubt restless adolescents, thieves or psychopaths or all three at once. In that sense alone, this was a war like any other. Such men have been the flotsam and jetsam of armies from the beginning of recorded history. But the mercenary mentality only solves part of the puzzle.

10The Germans required these volunteers to not only betray their own nation but to take part in daily mass shootings of unarmed men, women and children. It is hard to imagine that this was not a very turbulent Rubicon to cross for many of the volunteers. ...

Contention versus Fact  

Hale wants us to judge the Latvian Legion by the aims of the Nazi German regime, not by the Latvians' hope to recreate the miracle of their War of Independence. The Latvian Waffen-SS were purely front-line units—Hale is wrong to contend they conducted any anti-partisan activities including the murder of Jews. Even with the Germans making Arajs's unit part of the Waffen-SS to bolster the front line late in the war, not a single individual has ever been accused of a war crime in the service of the Latvian Legion. No Latvian Legionnaire cared for or about Nazi aims. After a year of brutal Soviet occupation culminating in families: men, women, children, infants being ripped from their homes only a week before the German invasion, the Russians were the mortal enemy. Indeed, the Russians had been the mortal enemy for four centuries, ever since their first major invasion in the 16th century under Ivan the Terrible—a scorched earth campaign destroying everything and killing all living things in its path. A chronicle of the time records that "over great stretches of the land no human voice could be heard, nor even the barking of a dog." But returning to the point at hand, the real question is, why would Hale dispute the assessments of uninvolved and likely objective military historians that Holocaust collaborators and the Waffen-SS were not one and the same? Because they don't conform to Hale's prejudice?

Latvians cared nothing for Hitler's "new Europe." Their dream was to free themselves of the Soviets, and then the Germans, as enshrined in Legion song. Hale also ignores that the Legion were largely conscripted. Any participation was based on the hope of staving off the Russian re-invasion—indeed, the Latvians held out in Courland until the end of the war, the only part of the Eastern Front the Soviets could not capture in wartime. Their heroism allowed ten of thousands of civilians to escape to the West.
Antisemitism is explanation enough for the Arajs collaboration unit, which numbered 300-500 during its participation in the Holocaust under German supervision, some 1,000-1,200 operating as an "anti-partisan" unit later in the war. Its atrocities have been documented, it members convicted. "Tens of thousands" did not kill "millions." Nor were these "young men." As the situation on the Eastern Front deteriorated, the Germans conscripted ever more age categories. By the end of the war, every Latvian male under the age of forty had been conscripted to serve at the front. Between them, the Nazis and Soviets "mobilized" over 100,000 Latvians each. Latvians meeting each other in combat refused to engage.
Hale labels Holocaust collaborators as the mentally depraved dreck of humanity and smears the uninvolved Latvian Legion Waffen-SS as the same. There is no "puzzle" of tens of thousands to solve.
This may well be a fair assessment of collaborator units subordinated to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) such as Arājs Kommando. But it has no bearing on the Latvian Waffen-SS aka Latvian Legion.

Agenda?

Hale denounces the peoples of the Baltics and Eastern Europe for attempting to equate their (non-)genocide at Stalin's hand to Hitler's industrialized extermination of Europe's Jewry. However, a simple reading of the Prague Declaration reveals Hale invents text and then attacks its signatories for his own personal inferences and fabrications.

Hale's "opinion" confirms an agenda-driven narrative. He attributes false motivations to justify describing those who only fought against the re-invading Soviets as being among "tens of thousands" of mentally deranged Eastern European Hitlerites.


[1]After Poland was fully occupied, Stalin held 51% of Poland's territory to Hitler's 49%.
[2]Efraim Zuroff, Beruf: Nazijäger. Die Suche mit dem langen Atem: Die Jagd nach den Tätern des Völkermordes, Ahriman, Freiburg 1996, p. 44 and following. (German edition of Occupation: Nazi Hunter)
[3]Hale cites http://praguedeclaration.org/ here. That page is no longer available, we have retrieved it as the next page in this series.
[4]1944 and 2010 – a Nazi historian and his student…, 1 April 2010, accessed 28 February 2016. LINK
[5]Myth, Violence, Genocide, 1 June 2011, accessed 27 February 2016. LINK

Updated: May, 2017

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