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East European Perspectives: September 18, 2002

18 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 19


By Michael Shafir

A Slovak Case Of 'Symbolic Identity Creation'

Many similar tunes are played in the other former Hitler allies, Slovakia and Romania. Pavol Carnogursky, who was a senior official under Slovakia's Tiso governance, claims in a euphemism that the "first anti-Jewish manifestation" in his country was registered in January 1939 in Nove Mesto nad Vahom, when local Germans donned the uniforms of the Hlinka Guards and prevented non-Jewish customers from entering Jewish-owned shops. His memoirs, published after the fall of communism, were described as "spiced with unbelievably coarse anti-Jewish invective" (Mestan, 2000, pp. 105, 179). Carnogursky, who throughout the independence period of the fascist-clerical state held different high-ranking positions, had, among other things, been in charge of removing from schools Jewish and Czech children and replacing them with Slovaks displaced from lands lost to Hungary in 1938 (Cohen, 1999, p. 206n11). He is the father of Jan Carnogursky, who was Slovak premier in postcommunist federal Czechoslovakia between April 1991 and June 1992 and became leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a position from which he resigned in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2000), although he stayed on as Justice Minister. Family connections to Slovakia's wartime government aside, Jan Carnogursky very much faced the same problems of "symbolic identity creation" that other conservative parties face in postcommunist East-Central Europe. While on a visit to Jerusalem in February 1997, he said he distances himself from the "negative aspects" of the Tiso regime but added that one must make a distinction between that regime and the independent Slovak state. Nobody, according to Jan Carnogursky, is blaming Germany for the crimes of the Nazi regime. As for his KDH, he described it as "sociologically the successor of the Hlinka Slovak People's Party (HSLS)." He was genuine enough to admit that a clear denunciation of Tiso would amount to a loss of voters for the KDH (Mestan, 2000, p. 177). Pavol Carnogursky, in any case, is far from being the only Slovak to indulge in deflective negationism focused on the Germans. According to Gabriel Hoffmann, it was only after the visit to Slovakia of Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in 1942 that the deportation of Jews to extermination camps began (Mestan, 2000, p. 164). And, as we shall note, that measure, was the fault of the Jews themselves, according to Hoffmann and others in Slovakia.

A rather sophisticated formula for deflecting the blame (though not entirely) onto the Germans was found in Lithuania. Holocaust Day is marked in that country on 23 September, the day of the 1943 liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, rather than on 23 June, when the massacres of Lithuanian Jews were launched by Lithuanians BEFORE the arrival of the German soldiers in 1941 (Levin, 2000).

Romanian Deflective Negationism And The Communist Legacy
Romanian deflective negationism shares with Hungary the drive to transform the country into a victim, rather than a state sharing the Nazis' anti-Semitic ideological credo and participating in the perpetration of crimes. Unlike Hungary, however, the drive to do so in Romania dates back to communist times. In 1986, for instance, the Bucharest weekly "Luceafarul" was telling its readers that "the main feature of the Holocaust in northern Transylvania was anti-Romanian and not anti-Semitic" (cited in Braham, 1997, p. 51). After the fall of the former regime, a carefully selective collection of documents from the State Archives was published under the title "Romania, the Great Victim of World War Two" (Eskenasy, 1997, p. 291). The roots of the perception must once more be traced back to the communist period.

Ceausescu-era historiography depicted Romania as abandoned by the West and forced to enter the alliance with Hitler to defend what remained sovereign after the loss of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the Soviet Union following Moscow's June 1940 ultimatum, and the loss of northern Transylvania to Hungary as the result of the August 1940 "Vienna Diktat." While acknowledging on rare occasions the plight of Jews, the role played by the Antonescu regime in the decimation of the Jewry independently of the Germans was passed over in silence, emphasis instead being put on Antonescu's refusal to hand over Romanian Jewry to the Germans. "Despite repeated pressure exercised by the Hitlerites on the Romanian government and on Marshal Antonescu in particular," historian Aurica Simion was writing in 1979, "he never permitted the Nazis to implement the 'Final Solution' on [those] Jews WHO WERE ROMANIAN CITIZENS" (Simion, 1979, p. 132. Emphasis added). The extermination of Bessarabian, northern Bukovinian, and of Jews on Soviet territories under the jurisdiction of the Romanian army was thus ignored -- not to mention the fact that some Romanian citizens of Jewish origins from Moldova and southern Bukovina were also transported and perished in Transnistria camps, or the fact that Jewish Romanian citizens WERE deported to Transnistria (though they were eventually allowed to return).

Gheorghe Zaharia and Nicolae Copoiu, both high-ranking staff of the Communist Party's Institute for Historical and Sociopolitical Studies, were shortly thereafter claiming that the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Romania was as low as 3,500. For this purpose, they engaged in what can be called "historical gerrymandering": In their eyes, the territories of Bessarabia and Bukovina, which had been regained from the Soviet Union in 1941, were rightfully Romanian, but the Jews there were not Romanian by right. From a technical-legalistic perspective, this was actually true, since many Jews all over Romania had lost citizenship as a result of the Nuremberg-like legislation implemented since August 1940. Zaharia and Copoiu acknowledged that 68,000 Jews had allegedly perished in camps but claimed that these had been moved "by the Nazis" from Romanian jurisdiction in Transnistria to territories beyond the Bug River, where "they had been exterminated by the Gestapo, or had died as a result of epidemics or the absence of medical and prophylactic care" (cited in Eskenasy, 1994, pp. 189-190).

That was not the only instance of communist deflection of guilt to the Germans. Nicolae Minei had acknowledged in 1978 the deportations to Transnistria, but claimed that they had never been motivated, "not even secretly," by any "intent to exterminate those affected." The victims, he wrote, perished for three main reasons. First, "abuses" committed by the local authorities" who had "embezzled funds allocated for the acquisition of food" (the national identity of the alleged embezzlers went, however, unmentioned). Second, "criminal excesses of degenerate elements belonging to the watching and supervision organs" (ditto); and, finally, "the intervention of the Nazi Einsatzkommando assassins who, while withdrawing from the East, forced their way into the camps, and exterminated the inmates" (Minei, 1978, p. 25).

The Postcommunist Aftermath In Romania
In the postcommunist period, at least two Romanian historians have acknowledged Romanian responsibility for the perpetrated massacres. Dinu Giurescu (1999, pp. 70, 91) concludes that 108,000 Romanian Jews were exterminated by Romanian authorities, but his figures do not include the extermination carried out among Ukrainian Jews; Florin Constantiniu (1997, p. 394) approximates the destruction (apparently of both) at "some 200,000." Historian Andrei Pippidi tends to accept as more accurate the estimate of 120,00 by German historian Christa Zach (Zach, 1991; Pippidi, 2000, pp. 241 and 2001, p. 15). Jewish historians of Romanian origin residing in the United States or in Israel produce figures that are considerably higher. Radu Ioanid (2000, p. 289) estimates that some 250,000 Jews (as well as some 20,000 Roma) perished at the hands of the Romanian authorities; whereas Jean Ancel comes up with an estimate of 410,000, of which 170,000 are Ukrainian Jews (Ancel, 1998). Finally, Raul Hilberg's estimate is of 270,000 (Hilberg, 1994, Vol. 3, p. 1300).

The "deflecting guilt onto the Germans" approach was not abandoned after the change of regime, being embraced by both nationalist historians and nationalist politicians. For example, General Ion Alexandru Munteanu, director of the Bucharest State Archives until November 1991 and a close friend of Corneliu Vadim Tudor until his death in 1995 (see Shafir, 1997, pp. 377-378), was writing that "what happened in Eastern Moldova [i.e. Bessarabia] and in Transnistria in 1941-1943" had been exclusively the responsibility of the Germans. Similarly, historian Maria Covaci, co-author of a communist-era published tale of the Iasi pogrom (see below), writing in the weekly "Europa" in 1991, could claim that: "With regard to the fate of the Jews in the camps in Transnistria, some of them died because of the war, epidemics, and the massacres perpetrated by the SS and the Nazi Todt Organization. The Romanian army did not commit any massacres or pogroms" (both cited in Eskenasy, 1994, p. 215). This is basically the argument also produced in 1998 by Alex Mihai Stoenescu, a writer who worked for the Romanian Defense Ministry's Public Relations Department, in a volume entitled "The Army, the Marshal and the Jews." Stoenescu claims that the Iasi pogrom could only occur because Antonescu had made the mistake of "practically ceding" Romanian sovereignty in the town to the Germans on the eve of the war and that "the German secret services, as well as the Todt division units, acted as if they were at home" (Stoenescu, 1998, p. 28).

Politicians were no different. For example, Petre Turlea, representing in the parliament the postcommunist National Salvation Front (FSN) "successor party," was claiming in June 1991 that only 3,233 Jews had been murdered in Iasi and responsibility for the deed squarely fell on the "special repression troops of the German army" ("Azi," 15 June 1991). Turlea in the same year initiated a motion that resulted in the parliament's raising with a minute of silence a tribute to Antonescu's memory on the eve of the anniversary marking his execution. He eventually moved from the Democratic Front of National Salvation (FDSN), as the FSN was now called, to the ultranationalist formation of the Party of Romanian National Unity, considering that the FDSN was not nationalist enough (Shafir, 1997, pp. 360-361). Yet two years later, FDSN Senator Gheorghe Dumitrascu was displaying the same deflective interpretation of Romania's recent history as Turlea had done earlier, and was attacking in the PRM weekly the late Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen, accusing him of "creating anti-Semitism" in Romania by faking Jewish sufferance in the country. "I can well understand," Dumitrascu noted, that "some reprisals [against Jews] were carried out in Iasi, but they were not committed by us, but by the Hitlerites" ("Romania mare," 28 May 1993). Both Turlea and Dumitrascu, one should add, were also university history professors.

* This article is part of the study "Between Denial and 'Comparative Trivialization': Holocaust Negationism in Post-Communist East Central Europe" originally published in ACTA, no. 19/2002 and is reproduced with the permission of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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