The Taboo Against Truth
[First published as "The Taboo Against Truth: Holocausts and the Historians," Liberty, September 1989.]
"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 century.
Last fall 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 conservative. Robert 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 listen.
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 emerge.
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 1987, The 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.
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 Social Democrats.
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 "world bourgeoisie."
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 "uniqueness."
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 Nazism.
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 Jews.
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 needed.
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 Nolte's thesis.
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 notes) is 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." Well, mazel tov.
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 Munster.
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 Soviet 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 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 and '30s.
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 controversial).
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 to by the Western Allies.
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 Corps 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 Judaism.'"
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 Solzhenitsyn wrote:
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 to Account
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 perspective.
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.
The Wider Context
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.
 Washington Post, Oct. 23, 1988.
 Robert Conquest in The Independent (London), Dec. 5, 1988.
 New York Times, March 25, 1989.
 New York Times, Feb. 4, 1989. Stephen F. Cohen, "The Survivor as Historian: Introduction," in Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: A Portrait in Tyranny, trans. George Saunders (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), p. vii.
 Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties (Macmillan: London, 1968), p. 533. See also note 2.
 Ibid., 213.
 Nolte's 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).
 The 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.
 Robert Conquest, Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps (New York: Viking, 1978), pp. 15–16.
 Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: Harper and Row, 1983), pp. 304–305. Johnson does not, however, provide any relevant sources for this claim.
 Nick Eberstadt, Introduction to Iosif G. Dyadkin, Unnatural Deaths in the U.S.S.R., 1928–1954 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1983), 4.
 See Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History (New York: Pantheon, 1988), passim.
 Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, II, 1914–1944 (Boston: Uttle, Brown, 1968), p. 172.
 See note 12.
 Mayer 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 prosperity.
 Daniel 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, 1982).
 Notes 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.
 J. 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.
 Max Hastings, Bomber Command (New York: Dial, 1979), p. 352.
 Fuller, The Second World War, p. 228.
 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.
 Anne Armstrong, Unconditional Surrender. The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War 11 (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.
 Aleksandr 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.
 Ibid., pp. 259–260.
 Alfred de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, p. xix.
 Ibid., p. 123.
 Many of Dwight Macdonald's essays critical of the Allies' conduct of the war were collected in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957).
 William Henry Chamberlin, America's Second Crusade (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950), pp. 304, 310, 312.
 G.M. Tamas, "The Vanishing Germans," The Spectator, May 6, 1989.
 The Spectator, June 10, 1989.
 On 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 Economics, III (1988), pp. 253–259.