Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The “Final Solution in Riga”: Exploitation and Annihilation 1941-1944

Slavic Review: Andrej Angrick and Peter Klein, The “Final Solution in Riga”: Exploitation and Annihilation 1941-1944, New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009.

Within the covers of this 500 page tome one finds two books: one short, one long. The long one is about the fate of 24,000 Central European Jews who were transported to Latvia in the fall of 1941 and thereafter. The shorter one is about the Holocaust in Riga and the Latvian role in it. The long study consists of eighteen chapters that include detailed documentation of transports from Central Europe to Riga, and their life and death in Latvia. While the study of the European Jews is exemplary, when authors write about the native Latvians, specifically in the chapter “From Pogroms to the Establishing the Ghetto,” they lose their empirical approach, rely on folklore, clichés, and glosses of Nazi propaganda. Without debating alternative evidence, the authors argue that the Latvians were ready to kill Jews before the German had occupied the country and before the Germans had given an order to kill them.

To bolster their conclusions the authors mostly rely on evidence that Nazi spokesmen and activists already declared at the time of the Holocaust. As a keystone of their argument they cite the observations of certain Hans Krauss, a member of the Einsatzgruppe, the killing unit in Latvia, who argues that since the Latvians considered Jews to be allies of Communists and had supported the deportation of Latvians to Siberia:…“horrendous acts of cruelty took place, for which the Latvians…made the remaining Jews responsible. This explains why Jews were arrested by Latvians…locked up and in part shot.” The authors seem to be unaware that the above viewpoint was part of Nazi propaganda that they began to push on the world and themselves even before the killing of Jews had began.

Are we doomed to continue to think like the Nazis?

I shall forgo to parse the reasons why the authors find the Nazi “authorities” so believable, only to say that no anti-Nazi sources or evidence were advanced to test the veracity of the Nazi ones. For example they could have reached for help to the German legal judgments in the Arajs case at Hamburg and ones in the Graul case at Hanoover. There are also hundreds of Soviet court records in Riga in which Angrick and Klein could have tested the truth of Nazi propaganda.

One of the untested premises in Angrick and Klein’s work is whether Latvian opinion of Jews in 1941 was identical to that of Nazi propaganda slogan, namely that Jews were Bolsheviks. The authors call it a cliché, as if that would be a good reason to believe it. They also call it traditional anti-Semitism. On both accounts the authors are wrong. Traditional anti-Semitism was more along the lines of Protocols of Zion, “blood libel”, or that the Jews had killed Jesus..To proclaim that Jews were Bolsheviks was the pillar of Nazi propaganda in 1941, the big lie, one that Nazis at the beginning of the war unleashed as a flood on Eastern Europe. Before that the slogan was known among royalists during the Russian Civil War. For Latvians in 1941 to believe, although some allowed to be persuaded by the Nazis, that Jews were Bolsheviks would have been counter factual: There were no Jews in Soviet Latvian government, very few in the NKVD, and a small number in the Party. And they had nothing to do with deportation of Latvians. For historians to push Nazi clichés on Latvians, even if done in ignorance, shows a lack of tact. The Latvian role in the Holocaust is thoroughly covered and if ever the authors will see a light at the end of a tunnel of clichés, they should at least attempt to temper their Nazi opinions with some Latvian ones.

The authors have not fully made up their mind whether the Holocaust was a crime of passion or of organization. The former they tend to assign to Latvians, the latter to Germans. Not that all German historians are cut of the same cloth but many of them have problem in discussing the role of those people in the Holocaust, whom the Nazis called “natives”.

While the German poets already in 1947 established GRUPPE 47 to purge Nazisms out of German language, the historians to date have been reluctant to carry out a similar self-cleansing. For example, the authors of this volume missed the opportunity to examine the meaning of the Nazi use of “pogrom”. Enough said. A book review is not the proper venue to deliver a tutorial on an arcane and complicated topic. In short, I must reject Angrick and Klein’s description of Riga in July 1941, as conceptually and factually faulty. Their version of the events and use of terminology would ask of me to make a major accommodation with shards of National Socialism. This problem perchance may not be as well understood in the centers of former and present empires, as it is in the former colonies, the objects of German domination.

Andrew Ezergailis, Ithaca Collegess Andrew Ezergailis is a retired Professor of History, author of The Holocaust in Latvia (1996), The Stockholm Documents: The German Occupation of Latvia (2002), and most recently The Nazi/Soviet Disinformation About the Holocaust in Latvia (2005).

Source: Holocaust Archive of Latvia Usa

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