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Nazi, Soviet Genocide Studies Need Not Compete

(Washington, DC --April 24, 2002) An expert on Central and Eastern said that studies of the Holocaust and of Soviet-era atrocities symbolized by the gulag need not compete. Michael Shafir, a senior analyst at RFE/RL, told an audience at RFE/RL's Washington, DC office earlier this week that "there is no reason why the Holocaust should not be compared with the gulag" unless the comparison would "deny or belittle either of them."

Shafir, who has also taught at the University of Tel Aviv and served as director of foreign news at Kol Israel, discussed his research on Holocaust denial in Central and Eastern Europe which he terms the use of "comparative trivialization." This is the willful distortion of the record and significance of the Holocaust, either by "'humanizing' its local record in comparison with atrocities committed by the Nazis, or through comparing the Holocaust with other experiences of massive suffering endured by local populations or by mankind at large." This methodology also attempts, Shafir said, to obliterate the difference between the victims of the Holocaust and victims of regularly occuring events involving violence.

While criticizing the efforts of those who attempt to negate the singularity of the Holocaust, Shafir also urged "historians, political scientists and social scientists" of the Holocaust to evaluate "whether we do not sin ourselves in trivializing other genocides." He continued, "There is no reason why the Holocaust should not be compared with the gulag... However, when the comparison is made for the purpose of denying or belittling either of them, and/or for that of obliterating that which is inherently unique to either the Holocaust or to the gulag, then one has ceased to look for similarities and has entered the odious minefield of historic negation."