The Taboo against Truth, by Ralph Raico - The Unz Review
Holocausts and the Historians
Speaking truth to power” is not
easy when you support that power. Perhaps this is the reason why so few Western
historians are willing to tell the whole truth about state crimes during this
Last fall [1988 —Ed.] the
Moscow News reported the discovery by two archaeologist-historians of mass
graves at Kuropaty, near Minsk, in the Soviet republic of Byelorussia. The
scholars at first estimated that the victims numbered around 102,000, a figure
that was later revised to 250–300,000. Interviews
with older inhabitants of the village revealed that, from 1937 until June 1941,
when the Germans invaded, the killings never stopped. “For five years, we
couldn’t sleep at night because of all the shooting,” one witness said.
Then in March, a Soviet
commission finally conceded that the mass graves at Bykovnia, outside of Kiev,
were the result not of the Nazis’ work, as formerly was maintained, but of the
industry of Stalin’s secret police. Some 200–300,000 persons were killed at
Bykovnia, according to unofficial estimates.
These graves represent a small
fraction of the human sacrifice that an elite of revolutionary Marxists offered
up to their ideological fetish. How many died under Stalin alone, from the
shootings, the terror famine, and the forced-labor camps, is uncertain. Writing
in a Moscow journal, Roy Medvedev, the dissident Soviet Marxist, put the number
at around 20 million, a figure the sovietologist Stephen F. Cohen views as
Conquest’s estimate is between 20 million and 30 million or more, while
Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko suggests 41 million deaths between 1930 and 1941.
By everyone’s account, most of
the victims were killed before the United States and Britain welcomed the
Soviet Union as their ally in June 1941. Yet by then, the evidence concerning
at least very widespread Communist killings was available to anyone willing to
If glasnost proceeds and if the
whole truth about the Lenin and Stalin eras comes to light, educated opinion in
the West will be forced to reassess some of its most deeply cherished views. On
a minor note, Stalinist sympathizers like Lillian Hellman, Frieda Kirchwey, and
Owen Lattimore will perhaps not be lionized quite as much as before. More
important, there will have to be a reevaluation of what it meant for the
British and American governments to have befriended Soviet Russia in the Second
World War and heaped fulsome praise on its leader. That war will inevitably
lose some of its glory as the pristinely pure crusade led by the
larger-than-life heroes Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Inevitably, too, comparisons with what is commonly known as the Holocaust will
The “Dispute of Historians”
Such comparisons have been at
the center of the raging controversy in the Federal Republic of Germany that
has been labeled the Historikerstreit, or dispute of historians, and has now become an international
cause célèbre. It erupted primarily because of the work of Ernst Nolte, of the
Free University of Berlin, author of the highly acclaimed Three Faces of Fascism, published in the United
States in 1966. In several important essays, in a large book published in
European Civil War, 1917–1945, and in a volume of responses to his critics, Nolte
declined to treat the Nazi massacre of the Jews in the conventional fashion.
These graves represent a small
fraction of the human sacrifice that an elite of revolutionary Marxists offered
up to their ideological fetish.
He refused, that is, to deal
with it metaphysically, as a unique object of evil, existing there in a small
segment of history, in a nearly perfect vacuum, with at most merely ideological
links to racist and Social Darwinist thought of the preceding century. Instead,
without denying the importance of ideology, he attempted to set the Holocaust
in the context of the history of Europe in the first decades of the 20th
century. His aim was in no way to excuse the mass murder of the Jews, or to
diminish the guilt of the Nazis for this crime dreadful beyond words. But he
insisted that this mass murder must not lead us to forget others, particularly
those that might stand in a causal relationship to it.
Briefly, Nolte’s thesis is that
it was the Communists who introduced into modern Europe the awful fact and
terrifying threat of the killing of civilians on a vast scale, implying the
extermination of whole categories of persons. (One Old Bolshevik, Zinoviev,
spoke openly as early as 1918 of the need to eliminate 10,000,000 of the people
of Russia.) In the years and decades following the Russian Revolution,
middle-class, upper-class, Catholic, and other Europeans were well aware of
this fact, and for them especially the threat was a very real one. This helps
to account for the violent hatred shown to their own domestic Communists in the
various European countries by Catholics, conservatives, fascists, and even
Nolte’s thesis continues: those
who became the Nazi elite were well-informed regarding events in Russia, via
White Russian and Baltic German émigrés (who even exaggerated the extent of the
first, Leninist atrocities). In their minds, as in those of right-wingers
generally, the Bolshevik acts were transformed, irrationally, into Jewish acts,
a transformation helped along by the existence of a high proportion of Jews
among the early Bolshevik leaders. (Inclined to anti-Semitism from the start,
the rightists ignored the fact that, as Nolte points out, the proportion among
the Mensheviks was higher, and, of course, the great majority of the European
Jews were never Communists.) A similar, ideologically mandated displacement,
however, occurred among the Communists themselves: after the assassination of
Uritsky and the attempted assassination of Lenin by Social Revolutionaries, for
instance, hundreds of “bourgeois” hostages were executed.
The Communists never ceased
proclaiming that all of their enemies were tools of a single conspiracy of the
The facts regarding the
Ukrainian terror famine of the early 1930s and the Stalinist gulag were also
known in broad outline in European right-wing circles. When all is said and
done, Nolte concludes, “the Gulag came before Auschwitz.” If it had not been
for what happened in Soviet Russia, European fascism, especially Nazism and the
Nazi massacre of the Jews, would
most probably not have been what they were.
The Onslaught on Nolte
Nolte’s previous work on the
history of socialism could hardly have made him persona grata with leftist
intellectuals in his own country. Among other things, he had emphasized the
archaic, reactionary character of Marxism and the anti-Semitism of many of the
early socialists, and had referred to “liberal capitalism” or “economic
freedom,” rather than socialism, as “the real and modernizing revolution.”
The attack on Nolte was
launched by the leftist philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who took issue not with
Nolte’s historiography — his essays showed that Habermas was in no position to
judge this — but with what he viewed as its ideological implications. Habermas
also targeted a couple of other German historians, and added other points, like
the plan to establish museums of German history in West Berlin and in Bonn, to
the indictment. But Nolte and his thesis have continued to be at the center of
the Historikerstreit. He was accused of
“historicizing” and “relativizing” the Holocaust and chided for questioning its
Several of the biggest names
among academic historians in the Federal Republic, and then in Britain and
America as well, joined in the hunt, gleefully seizing upon some of Nolte’s
less felicitous expressions and weaker minor points. In Berlin, radicals set
fire to his car; at Oxford, Wolfson College withdrew an invitation to deliver a
lecture, after pressure was applied, just as a major German organization
dispensing research grants rescinded a commitment to Nolte under Israeli
pressure. In the American press, ignorant editors, who couldn’t care less
anyway, now routinely permit Nolte to be represented as an apologist for
It cannot be said that Nolte
has demonstrated the truth of his thesis — his achievement is rather to have
pointed out important themes that call for further research — and his
presentation is in some respects flawed. Still, one might well wonder what
there is in his basic account to justify such a frenzy. The comparison between
Nazi and Soviet atrocities has often been drawn by respected scholars. Robert
Conquest, for instance, states,
For Russians — and it is surely
right that this should become true for the world as a whole — Kolyma [one part
of the Gulag] is a word of horror wholly comparable to Auschwitz … it did
indeed kill some three million people, a figure well in the range of that of
the victims of the Final Solution.
Others have gone on to assert a
causal connection. Paul Johnson maintains that important elements of the Soviet
forced-labor camps system were copied by the Nazis, and posits a link between
the Ukrainian famine and the Holocaust:
The camps system was imported
by the Nazis from Russia.… Just as the Roehm atrocities goaded Stalin into
imitation, so in turn the scale of his mass atrocities encouraged Hitler in his
wartime schemes to change the entire demography of Eastern Europe … Hitler’s
“final solution” for the Jews had its origins not only in his own fevered mind
but in the collectivization of the Soviet peasantry.
Nick Eberstadt, an expert on
Soviet demography, concludes that “the Soviet Union is not only the original
killer state, but the model one.” As
for the tendency among European rightists after 1917 to identify the Bolshevik regime
with the Jews, there is no end of evidence. Indeed,
it was an immensely tragic error to which even many outside of right-wing
circles were liable. In 1920, after a visit to Russia, Bertrand Russell wrote
to Lady Ottoline Morell:
Bolshevism is a closed
tyrannical bureaucracy, with a spy system more elaborate and terrible than the
Tsar’s, and an aristocracy as insolent and unfeeling, composed of Americanised
But, despite the existence of a
supporting scholarly context for Nolte’s position, he remains beleaguered in
his native land, with only isolated individuals, like Joachim Fest, coming to
his defense. If recent English-language publications are a reliable indication,
his situation will not improve as the controversy spreads to other countries.
Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?
The recent work by Arno J.
Mayer, of Princeton, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? is
in some respects informative; above
all, however, it is a perfect illustration of why Nolte’s work was so badly
The great crime that is today
virtually forgotten was the expulsion of the Germans from their centuries-old
homelands in East Prussia, Pomerania, and elsewhere. About 16 million persons
were displaced, with about 2 million of them dying in the process.
We can leave aside Mayer’s
approach to the origins of the “Judeocide” (as he calls it), which is
“functionalist” rather than “intentionalist,” in the current jargon, and which
provoked a savage review. What
is pertinent here is his presentation of the killing of the European Jews as an
outgrowth of the fierce hatred of “Judeobolshevism” that allegedly permeated
all of German and European “bourgeois” society after 1917, reaching its
culmination in the Nazi movement and government. This approach lends support to
The problem, however, is that
Mayer offers no real grounds for the bitter hatred that so many harbored for
Bolshevism, aside from the threat that Bolshevism abstractly posed to their
narrow and retrograde “class interests.” Virtually the only major Soviet atrocity
even alluded to in the 449 pages of text (there are, oddly and inexcusably, no
the deportation of some 400,000 Jews from the territories annexed after the
Hitler-Stalin pact. Even here, however, Mayer hastens to reassure us that the
policy was “not specifically anti-Semitic and did not preclude assimilated and
secularized Jews from continuing to secure important positions in civil and
political society … a disproportionate number of Jews came to hold posts in the
secret police and to serve as political commissars in the armed service.”
The fear and loathing of
Communism that Poles, Hungarians, and Romanians, for instance, felt in the interwar
period, strongly endorsed by their national churches, is qualified by Mayer as
an “obsession.” With Mayer, fear of Communism is always “obsessional” and
limited to the “ruling classes,” prey to an anti-Bolshevik “demonology.” But
the recourse to clinical and theological terms is no substitute for historical
understanding, and Mayer’s account — Soviet Communism with the murders left out
— precludes such understanding.
Consider the case of Clemens
August Count von Galen, Archbishop of Münster.
As Mayer notes, Galen led the
Catholic bishops of Germany in 1941 in publicly protesting the Nazi policy of
murdering mental patients. The protest was shrewdly crafted and proved
successful: Hitler suspended the killings. Yet, as Mayer further notes, Archbishop
Galen (deplorably) “consecrated” the war against Soviet Russia. Why?
To cite another example:
Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, was an opponent of murdering the Jews
and attempted, within his limited means, to save the Jews of Budapest. Yet he continued
to have his troops fight against the Soviets and alongside the Germans long
after the coming defeat was obvious. Why? Could it possibly be that, in both
cases, the previous bloody history of Soviet Communism had something to do with
their attitude? In Mayer’s retelling, Crusader murders in Jerusalem in the year
1096 are an important part of the story, but not Bolshevik murders in the 1920s
Allegations of Soviet crimes do
appear in Mayer’s book. But they are put in the mouths of Hitler and Goebbels,
with no comment from Mayer, thereby signaling their “fanatical” and
“obsessional” character, e.g., “the führer ranted about bolshevism wading
deeper in blood than tsarism” (actually, Hitler’s claim here is hardly
In fact, it seems likely that
Mayer simply does not believe that there were anything approaching tens of
millions of victims of the Soviet regime. He writes, for instance, of “an iron
nexus between absolute war and large-scale political murder in eastern Europe.”
But most of the large-scale Stalinist political murders occurred when the
Soviet Union was at peace. The massive upheavals, with their accompanying
terror and mass killings, that characterized Soviet history in the 1920s and
30s, Mayer refers to in almost unbelievably anodyne terms as “the general
transformation of political and civil society.” In other words, Mayer gives
every evidence of being a Ukrainian-famine, Great-Terror, and gulag
“revisionist.” This is an aspect of Mayer’s book that the reviewers in the mainstream
press had an obligation to point out but omitted to do so.
Mayer has no patience with any
suggestion that great crimes may have been committed against Germans in the Second
World War and its aftermath. Here he joins the vast majority of his contemporaries,
professional and lay alike, as well as the Nuremberg Tribunal itself.
Taboo War Crimes — the Allies’
If Soviet mass atrocities
provide a historical context for Nazi crimes, so does a set of crimes that few,
inside or outside the Federal Republic, seem willing to bring into the debate:
the ones perpetrated, planned, or conspired in by the Western Allies.
All mass murderers — all of the
state terrorists on a grand scale, whatever their ethnicity or that of their
victims — must be arraigned before the court of history.
There was, first of all, the
policy of terror bombing of the cities of Germany, begun by the British in
1942. The Principal Assistant Secretary of the Air Ministry later boasted of
the British initiative in the wholesale massacring of civilians from the air.Altogether,
the RAF and US Army Air Force killed around 600,000 German civilians, whose
deaths were aptly characterized by the British military historian and
Major-General J.F.C. Fuller as “appalling slaughterings, which would have
disgraced Attila.” A
recent British military historian has concluded: “The cost of the bomber
offensive in life, treasure, and moral superiority over the enemy tragically
outstripped the results that it achieved.”
The planned, but aborted,
Allied atrocity was the Morgenthau Plan, concocted by the US Secretary of the
Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, and initialed by Roosevelt and Churchill at the
Second Quebec Conference, in September 1944. The Plan aimed to transform
postwar Germany into an agricultural and pastoral country, incapable of waging
war because it would have no industry. Even the coal mines of the Ruhr were to
be flooded. Of course, in the process tens of millions of Germans would have
died. The inherent insanity of the plan very quickly led Roosevelt’s other
advisors to press him into abandoning it, but not before it had become public
(as its abandonment did not).
Following upon the policy of
“unconditional surrender” announced in early 1943, the Morgenthau Plan stoked
the Nazi rage. “Goebbels and the controlled Nazi press had a field day …
‘Roosevelt and Churchill agree at Quebec to the Jewish Murder Plan,’ and ‘Details
of the Devilish Plan of Destruction: Morgenthau the Spokesman of World
There are two further massive
crimes involving the Allied governments that deserve mention (limiting
ourselves to the European theater). Today it is fairly well-known that, when
the war was over, British and American political and military leaders directed
the forced repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Soviet subjects (and the surrender
of some, like the Cossacks, who had never been subjects of the Soviet state).
Many were executed, most were channeled into the gulag. Solzhenitsyn had bitter
words for the Western leaders who handed over to Stalin the remnants of
Vlasov’s Russian Army of Liberation:
In their own country, Roosevelt
and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our
Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity
stood out as astonishingly obvious … what was the military or political sense
in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin’s hands hundreds of thousands of
armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender.
Of Winston Churchill, Alexander
He turned over to the Soviet
command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them he also handed over
many wagonloads of old people, women, and children.… This great hero, monuments
to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered
to their deaths.
The great crime that is today
virtually forgotten was the expulsion starting in 1945 of the Germans from
their centuries-old homelands in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Sudetenland,
and elsewhere. About 16 million persons were displaced, with about 2 million of
them dying in the process. This
is a fact, which, as the American legal scholar Alfred de Zayas dryly notes,
“has somehow escaped the attention it deserves.” While those directly guilty were principally the Soviets,
Poles, and Czechs (the last led by the celebrated democrat and humanist, Eduard
Benes), British and American leaders early on authorized the principle of
expulsion of the Germans and thus set the stage for what occurred at the war’s
end. Anne O’Hare McCormick, the New York Times correspondent who witnessed the exodus of the Germans,
reported in 1946:
The scale of this resettlement
and the conditions in which it takes place are without precedent in history. No
one seeing its horrors firsthand can doubt that it is a crime against humanity
for which history will exact a terrible retribution.
McCormick added: “We share
responsibility for horrors only comparable to Nazi cruelties.”
Bringing All State Terrorists
In the Federal Republic today,
to mention any of these Allied — or even Soviet — crimes in the same breath
with the Nazis is to invite the devastating charge of attempting an Aufrechnen — an offsetting, or
balancing against. The implication is that one is somehow seeking to diminish
the Nazis’ undying guilt for the Holocaust by pointing to the guilt of other
governments for other crimes. This seems to me to be a thoroughly warped
In fact, all great states in
the 20th century have been killer states, to a greater or lesser degree.
All mass murderers — all of the
state terrorists on a grand scale, whatever their ethnicity or that of their
victims — must be arraigned before the court of history. It is impermissible to
let some of them off the hook, even if the acts of others may be characterized
as unique in their brazen embrace of evil and their sickening horror. As Lord
Acton said, the historian should be a hanging judge, for the muse of history is
not Clio, but Rhadamanthus, the avenger of innocent blood.
There was a time in America
when well-known writers felt an obligation to remind their fellow citizens of
the criminal misdeeds of their government, even against Germans. Thus, the
courageous radical Dwight MacDonald indicted the air war against German
civilians during the war itself. On
the other side of the spectrum, the respected conservative journalist William
Henry Chamberlin, in a book published by Henry Regnery, assailed the genocidal
Morgenthau Plan and labeled the expulsion of the eastern Germans “one of the
most barbarous actions in European history.”
Nowadays the only publication
that seems to care about these old wrongs is the Spectator (the real one, of course), which
happens also to be the best-edited political magazine in English. The Spectator has published articles by
British writers honorably admitting the shame they felt upon viewing what
remains of the great cities of Germany, once famed in the annals of science and
art. Other contributors have pointed out the meaning of the loss of the old
German populations of the area that is today again being fashionably referred
to as Mitteleuropa. A Hungarian writer, G.M.
Tamas, recently wrote,
The Jews were murdered and
mourned.… But who has mourned the Germans? Who feels any guilt for the millions
expelled from Silesia and Moravia and the Volga region, slaughtered during
their long trek, starved, put into camps, raped, frightened, humiliated?… Who
dares to remember that the expulsion of the Germans made the communist parties
quite popular in the 1940s? Who is revolted because the few Germans left behind,
whose ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railway
stations, today cannot have a primary school in their own language? The world
expects Germany and Austria to “come to terms” with their past. But no one will
admonish us, Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians, to do the same. Eastern Europe’s
dark secret remains a secret. A universe of culture was destroyed.
More remarkably still, Auberon
Waugh drew attention to the fervid support given by British leaders to the
Nigerian generals during the Civil War (1967–70), at a time “when the
International Red Cross assured us that 10,000 Biafrans a day were dying of
starvation,” victims of a conscious, calculated policy. His
observation was a propos of the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the nearly
universal execration of the Chinese leaders; it was a telling one.
In fact, both the Soviet and
Nazi mass murders must be placed in a wider context. Just as it is unlikely
that Nazi racist ideology of itself can account for the murder of the Jews —
and so many others — so Leninist amoralism is probably not enough to account
for Bolshevik crimes. The crucial intervening historical fact may well be the
mass killings of the First World War — of millions of soldiers, but also of
thousands of civilians on the high seas by German submarines and of hundreds of
thousands of civilians in central Europe by the British hunger blockade. Arno
Mayer makes the important point in regard to World War I that “this immense
bloodletting … contributed to inuring Europe to the mass killings of the
future.” He means this in connection with the Nazis, but it probably also holds
for the Communists themselves, witnesses to the results of a war brought about
by “capitalist imperialism.” None of this, of course, excuses any of the
subsequent state criminals.
In fact, all great states in
this century have been killer states, to a greater or lesser degree. Naturally,
the “degree” matters — sometimes very much. But it makes no sense to isolate
one mass atrocity, historically and morally, and then to concentrate on it to
the virtual exclusion of all others. The result of such a perverted moralism
can only be to elevate to the status of hero leaders who badly wanted hanging,
and to bolster the sham rectitude of states that will be all the more prone to
murder since history “proves” that they are the “good” states.
New York Times, Feb. 4, 1989. Stephen F.
Cohen, “The Survivor as Historian: Introduction,” in Anton
Time of Stalin: A Portrait in Tyranny, trans. George Saunders (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), p. vii.
Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan: London, 1968), p. 533. See
also note 2.
first essay to draw fire appeared originally in English: “Between Myth and
Revisionism? The Third Reich in the Perspective of the 1980s,” in an important
volume edited by H.W. Koch, Aspects of the Third Reich (London: Macmillan, 1985), pp. 17–39.
Some of Nolte’s contributions to the debate, as well as those of many other
writers, appear in the useful collection, “Historikerstreit”: Die
Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der
nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung(Munich: Piper, 1987). Nolte’s Der europaeische Buergerkrieg,
1917–1945. Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus (Frankfurt/ Main:
Propylen, 1987) has not yet been translated. His rebuttals to some of the
attacks are contained in his Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit. Antwort an meine Kritiker im
sogenannten Historikerstreit (2nd. ed., Ullstein: Berlin, 1988).
Nazis were responsible, of course, for the deaths of millions of non-Jews,
especially Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. The Jewish genocide, however, has
been the focus of discussion.
Arctic Death Camps (New York: Viking, 1978), pp. 15–16.
York: Harper and Row, 1983), pp. 304–305. Johnson does not, however, provide
any relevant sources for this claim.
Eberstadt, Introduction to Iosif G. Dyadkin, Unnatural Deaths in the U.S.S.R., 1928–1954 (New Brunswick,
N.J.: Transaction Books, 1983), 4.
Arno J. Mayer,Why
Did the Heavens Not Darken? The “Final Solution” in History (New York: Pantheon,
Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, II, 1914–1944 (Boston: Uttle, Brown,
1968), p. 172.
concludes that Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union was not intended as a step
toward “world domination,” but was the culmination of his plans to provide
Germany with the Lebensraum, or living-space, which he, in
his archaic way, believed was a prerequisite for German survival and
Jonah Goldhagen, “False Witness,” The New Republic, April 17, 1989, pp. 39–44. A fair statement of the differences
between intentionalist and functionalists can be found in Saul Friedlander’s
introduction to Gerald Fleming’s Hitler and the Final Solution(Berkeley: University of California Press,
would, presumably, have added to the book’s length, but the author could have
compensated by omitting his rehashings of well-known political and military history
in the period.
M. Spaight, cited in J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939–45. A Strategical and Tactical History (London: Eyre and
Spottiswoode, 1954), p. 222.
York: Dial, 1979), p. 352.
 Hastings,Bomber Command. The best short introduction
to the subject is the review of Hastings’s book by the gifted London journalist
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Spectator, Sept. 29, 1979, reprinted in Inquiry, Dec. 24, 1979. It was the
only review Inquiry ever reprinted.
Surrender. The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War II (1961; repro. Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood, 1974), p. 76. On the Morgenthau Plan, see ibid., pp. 68–77.
For the text of the plan, see Alfred de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam. The Anglo-Americans
and the Expulsion of the Germans. Background, Execution, and Consequences (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1977), pp. 229–232.
I. Solzhenitsyn, The
Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956. An Experiment in Literary Investigation, I-II, trans. Thomas P. Whitney
(New York: Harper and Row, 1973), p. 259n.
the British hunger blockade and its likely effect in helping shape Nazi
brutality, see my contribution, “The Politics of Hunger: A Review,”The Review of Austrian
III (1988), pp. 253–259.