On Holocaust Memorial Day, vigilance is needed against fascism’s modern heirs / Morning Star (UK)

Auschwitz-Birkenau | Photo credit: Marcin Czerniawski – Unsplash

THIS week, when atomic scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to midnight, they were referring to the very real threat of nuclear war.

But as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, we must recognise that with nationalism, racism and Holocaust revisionism all on the rise, there are other senses in which Europe is edging closer to midnight.

January 27 marks Holocaust Memorial Day because it was the date of the liberation of the largest of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz, by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.

But the Holocaust started well before the Nazis decided on industrialised mass murder in gas chambers. The slaughter began as the German war machine moved east in 1941.

Tsarist anti-semitism had confined Jews to a “pale of settlement” in the west of the Russian empire, precisely the areas — including Ukraine — that would be occupied by the Wehrmacht. More than a million Ukrainian Jews were killed in the second world war, most not gassed but shot by Einsatzgruppen SS paramilitary death squads that followed the German soldiers.

Ukraine is a battlefield again and accusations of fascist barbarism fly thick and fast.

For Western pundits like Simon Tisdall or Timothy Garton-Ash, Vladimir Putin is a fascist menace who, like Hitler, must be fought to the finish rather than appeased.

Western war propaganda has tended to portray every passing adversary as Hitler — any reluctance to wage war against Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gadaffi was derided as an echo of Munich — but the stakes when it comes to Russia, the world’s largest country and possessor of its largest stock of nuclear weapons, are immeasurably higher.

Moscow for its part accuses Ukraine of being a fascist state, pointing to the openly neonazi ideology of units like the Azov Battalion, at the demolition of monuments to the victorious Red Army and the state glorification of Nazi collaborators the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and Stepan Bandera.

It is true that the post-Maidan regime in Ukraine has sought to rewrite the history of the second world war, from post-coup prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s 2015 claim that “the Soviet Union invaded Ukraine and Germany” to the law defining the UPA as “independence fighters” and making questioning the “legitimacy of their actions” — which included the murder of 100,000 Jews and Poles — a criminal offence.

But it isn’t the only one. Drawing the battle lines against Russia involves sanitising far-right regimes across Europe.

Poland’s pressure on Berlin to supply tanks to Ukraine sees it rehabilitated as a state of the democratic “front line” — as, distressingly, did its standoff with Belarus over refugees last winter, when it protected “European democracy” by forcing freezing asylum-seekers back across a barbed-wire border in the forest.

Warsaw’s attacks on women’s rights, its alliance with openly anti-semitic nationalists and its ban on historians referring to Polish complicity in the Holocaust lie forgotten.

Italy’s prime minister comes from a group directly descended from Mussolini’s Fascist Party — yet again, liberals are happy to ignore this.

The Putin threat means we should not trouble ourselves that “some Italians take a lenient view of the Mussolini era,” Garton-Ash assures us.

But Europe’s march right has grim consequences for refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and black communities facing rising racist violence.

Britain is no outlier here. As Holocaust survivor Joan Salter pointed out in a courageous confrontation with Home Secretary Suella Braverman this month, the government’s language on refugees and asylum-seekers drips poison: and those urging we turn the boats away today are the heirs to those who closed the door to Jewish refugees as Hitler’s armies occupied Europe.

As we remember the millions of Jews and Roma murdered by the Nazis, the words “never again” could barely be more poignant. The fight against fascism is not ancient history. It is our urgent task today.

Moning Star: The People’s Daily (UK), January 27, 2023, https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/

May 9th, a milestone of the Great Antifascist Victory of the Peoples / A statement by the Secretariat of the European Communist Initiative

In a statement about the 77th anniversary of the Great Antifascist Victory of the Peoples, the 9th of May, the Secretariat of the Initiative of Communist and Workers’ Parties issued the following statement:

We proudly commemorate 9 May, a milestone of the Great Antifascist Victory of the Peoples. We pay tribute to the millions of people who sacrificed their lives, fought with guns in their hands, and struggled against the fascist imperialist Axis of Germany–Italy–Japan and their allies. 

We honour the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union and the glorious Red Army, which suffered 20 million casualties, and the invaluable contribution of the Communist Parties that led the national liberation and anti-fascist movements around the world.

We are inspired by the Antifascist Victory of the Peoples and strengthen our daily struggle against the EU and bourgeois governments, against all those who provocatively attempt to distort9 May and turn it into “EU Day”. We continue in defiance of those who try to turn black into white by equating communism with the monster of fascism and falsifying History so that the peoples, especially the youth, forget the Antifascist Victory of the peoples and its historical lessons.

The Second World War, like the first one and the current war in Ukraine, is a result of imperialist contradictions and competition for the re-division of markets and spheres of influence. The people pay a heavy price for the condemnable Russian invasion of Ukraine, like the previous US-NATO-EU interventions that led to it: dead and wounded people, refugees, extremely expensive energy and fuel, and high prices. The pretexts used by imperialists of the bourgeois classes for the imperialist war in Ukraine are accompanied by anti-communism, unhistorical sermons, and alleged slogans of de-Nazification. The history of the Antifascist Victory of the Peoples and overall of the Second World War clearly proves that Nazism–fascism is a creation of the capitalist system itself. That is why the struggle against fascism is inseparable from the struggle against the capitalist system that gives rise to it. We repel the attempt made by bourgeois forces to arrogate the anti-fascist struggle and Victory of the peoples. Their utterly false and hypocritical “anti-fascism” is replete with anti-communism.

That is why today the right side of History is found in the camp of the peoples against the camp of the imperialists; it is found in the struggle in every country against the imperialist war in Ukraine, the struggle for the immediate cessation of the participation and involvement of each country in the imperialist war.

We draw lessons from the Great Antifascist Victory. Socialism once again proved its superiority by the indisputable fact that in the same territory where the massacre of peoples is taking place today, different peoples and ethnicities had been living together for decades in the USSR. We continue with the unshakable belief that socialism is timely and necessary, that it is the only answer to the barbaric capitalist system, which gives only poverty, wars, and refugees.


In Defense of Communism, May 8th, 2022, http://www.idcommunism.com/

What we were unable to shout out to the world / A talk by David Rosenberg

Suppression of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Captured Jews escorted by the Waffen SS, 1943

HOLOCAUST memorial events enable us to acknowledge and remember who and what was lost to the world, and learn from individuals’ personal experience.

The Nazis’ final solution attempted not only to wipe out a people, but erase a culture and civilisation — Yiddish culture.

But I am proud to use the Yiddish words of anti-Nazi resisters — “mir veln zey iberleben” — we will outlive them, and “mir zaynen do” — we are here!

Nazism was defeated in 1945, but the authoritarian, ethno-nationalist ideas that fuelled it are still aimed against targets in different countries.

Our responsibility is to expose them and build an inclusive, united resistance to those ideas today, drawing inspiration from those who fought fascism before us.

The Holocaust happened in the real world, within a capitalist system that reduced human beings to enslaved, disposable units of production, creating profits for companies that developed and packaged and installed poison gas.

This economic system channelled the skills of trained architects, engineers, scientists, physicians, administrators … to create factories of death that deprived the world of the talents and potential of millions of other human beings whom they labelled as inferior.

That’s my analytical framework, but my focus tonight is on resistance, and creators of memory, knowledge and hope through collective action.

In 1987, I attended a conference in New York, of around 50 participants, marking the 90th anniversary of the Jewish Socialist Bund which, together with Polish Socialist Party leftists, led the physical and ideological struggles against Poland’s far-right forces of the 1930s.

I met survivors who had been ghetto resisters and partisans in the forests. In one session we heard from Wladka Meed, a quietly spoken woman, whose mother, brother and sister were among more than 900,000 Jews and 2,000 Romani Gypsies murdered at Treblinka, a number exceeded only by Auschwitz, whose liberation we mark this week.

Wladka joined the Bund’s youth movement in Warsaw at 14 years old. In her early twenties she was part of a network, mainly women, collectively known as “couriers,” who lived beyond the ghetto with false papers.

They travelled around Poland under the Nazis’ noses smuggling themselves in and out of ghettos, delivering forged identity cards, messages, underground newspapers, and later, guns, grenades and other weapons.

The resistance fighter Marek Edelman remarked that most importantly she delivered hope to those walled off from the world.

I have a 90-year-old friend in London who owes her life to Polish Catholic families who hid her, after she and her twin sister were smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto, but she owes her life also to Wladka, who visited regularly and made payments to those hiding her.

The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, today, has a permanent exhibition celebrating Emanuel Ringelblum who co-led a network of mutual aid societies organising underground soup kitchens, and secret educational and cultural initiatives with drama and poetry programmes.

But above all this exhibition highlights an underground research project he founded calling itself Oyneg Shabbes — “Society for the pleasure of the Sabbath.”

Its 12 co-workers documented and archived what was happening in the ghetto under Nazi occupation.

They had contact with around 60 others who, to protect the secrecy of the operation, knew few of the others. They distributed and collected questionnaires and notebooks to ordinary people.

When mass deportations began in July 1942, they recorded the destruction of the people, and sent that information out of Poland through clandestine routes.

Its archived materials were buried in metal boxes and milk churns. History, they say, is written by victors, but here it was described by victims on the eve of their destruction. Researchers are still making new insights based on those archives. The first cache was unearthed in 1946, the second in 1950.

Rokhl Oyerbach was one of the few members of the project who survived. She said there was a third cache that has not been found.

One of the people who buried the archive, 19-year-old Dovid Graber, was killed soon after in Treblinka, but his message survived with the material.

It said: “What we were unable to shout out to the world we hid underground. May this treasure end up in good hands, may it live to see better times. May it alert the world.”

The most significant physical resistance by Jews during the Holocaust took place over three to four weeks in the Warsaw Ghetto, but less prolonged acts of collective rebellion, inspired by Warsaw’s example, and informed by messages from couriers, took place in many ghettos, labour camps, concentration camps, even death camps.

The April 1943 uprising in Warsaw built on an earlier act of rebellion whose anniversary just passed. In January ’43, the Nazis tried to resume their mass deportation programme from the ghetto, but were assailed by gunfire from four different barricaded positions organised by a united fighting body, comprising Bundists, communists and left-wing zionists.

That body’s ammunition was boosted by a small donation of 10 pistols from the Polish Home Army.

The Nazis cut short their action. A few days later the Polish Home Army smuggled in 50 pistols and 55 hand grenades to the fighters which were used in the April uprising.

I want to finish with one more example of mutual aid in 1943 and a comment on solidarity actions in Poland today.

A Bund activist, Bernard Goldstein, describes the ghetto population and the fighters organisation making collective preparations for their final struggle: “We concentrated on the building of bunkers … hiding places for men and supplies. … Groups of inhabitants in a tenement or in neighbouring tenements organised, collected money, and hired engineers and technicians to supervise the building.

“The bunker took various forms … Sometimes it was a double wall, parallel to the old one, with enough room between the two for several people to wait out a raid. Access … might be through an old wardrobe … its side might be lifted … to allow one person at a time to crawl into the corridor between the walls. … sometimes the bunker was a double cellar, constructed by digging a tunnel under the old cellar and hollowing out a large cavern at the end of it … in some of the double cellars crude ventilation systems were installed as well as connections for electricity and water … tunnels were dug to connect one courtyard to another.

“Passages were connected through the cellars and the attics — a communications system which proved to be of great strategic value during the ghetto uprising.

“The entire ghetto worked with singleness of purpose … in the conviction that the final battle of annihilation was inevitable…”

Contrast that co-operation with the Nazi system of utilising people’s education and skills to build death factories.

Anti-racists in Poland today are challenging not only fascist groups but also racist state forces who have built a militarised zone on the Poland-Belarus border to keep out mainly black and brown asylum-seekers.

Fourteen Polish NGOs have united within Grupa Granica –– to help and support asylum-seekers who get through. It was heartening to read an activist explaining that they campaign today because they knew their grandparents had secretly helped Jews in the 1940s.

In 1948, Wladka Meed wrote a book in Yiddish, translated into English in 1972, called On Both Sides of the Wall.

It’s a harrowing account of resisters and collaborators, courage and betrayal — and many who were simply bystanders, who witnessed terrible injustices but did not intervene. Our job, as anti-racists and anti-fascists is to turn bystanders into upstanders.

Dr. David Rosenberg on a panel at Stand Up To Racism’s Holocaust Memorial Day event 2022

Morning Star (UK), April 19, 2022, https://morningstaronline.co.uk/