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Editorial: The historical record matters when we mark Holocaust Memorial Day

TODAY thousands of events will take place worldwide to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex by the Red Army.

The murder of six million Jews, millions of Soviet prisoners of war, hundreds of thousands of Roma and many gay and disabled people by the nazi regime and its collaborators is far from history’s only example of genocide, but the calculated and systematic approach to a project aimed at exterminating entire races was unique. It justifies global commemoration of this as the most horrendous crime committed by any government in history.

Fighting Holocaust denial means maintaining an accurate historical memory. The concerted effort to rewrite the history of the second world war to portray our wartime ally the Soviet Union as jointly complicit with nazi Germany in starting the conflict is dishonest and dangerous.

The fact is that nazi Germany would not have been defeated were it not for the Soviet Union — 80 per cent of all German military casualties during the war were on the Eastern Front, and it is no disrespect to the heroes of the D-Day landings to note that the 58 Wehrmacht divisions in the west were dwarfed by the 228 divisions deployed at the same time against Operation Bagration, the Soviet advance from the east.

The Soviet peoples also paid the highest price for victory, with 27 million lives lost — more than one in seven of the country’s entire population. To dismiss this tremendous sacrifice on the part of millions of Red Army soldiers or to portray them as oppressors no better than the nazis they fought, as is now commonplace in Ukraine, Poland and a number of other eastern European countries, is a shameful insult to their memory.

The bid to present communism and fascism as twin “totalitarian” ideologies is also an insult to the communist partisans and Resistance fighters — “the bravest of the brave,” in the words of late Labour leader Michael Foot — who dominated the underground resistance to nazi occupation and fascist regimes in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Czechoslovakia and France among other countries.

The motives for rewriting history in this way are to rehabilitate fascists and legitimise modern far-right movements that pose a direct threat to ethnic minorities.

The most obvious example of this is Ukraine, where nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, whose Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists participated in the Holocaust and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles, is now feted as a national hero of the opposition to the Soviet Union.

He is not the only anti-semitic murderer honoured by the Ukrainian regime. Since 2016 the country has observed annual minutes of silence on the anniversary of the assassination of Symon Petliura, a Ukrainian nationalist who fought against the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war who organised pogroms that killed an estimated 50,000 Jews. 

It is not a coincidence that the Anti-Defamation League found last year that anti-semitism has risen sharply across eastern Europe in the last two years. Because Ukraine is not alone. Poland has passed laws against referring to the role of Polish collaborators in the Holocaust. Lithuania is now debating a similar ban. Monuments to the Red Army liberators of Europe are torn down and defaced while fascist regimes from Hungary to Italy are being rehabilitated.

And recognising the uniqueness of the nazi crime is also vital because of what the victory over fascism led to — the establishment of the United Nations and the framework of international law.

The trials at Nuremberg expressed a worldwide desire to build a world governed by rules and in which differences were resolved by negotiation rather than armed conflict. As respect for that rules-based order disintegrates, with the United States and its allies claiming the right to flout them, the world is becoming a much more dangerous place.

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