The visit to Israel of a foreign prime minister used to be a big deal. That’s why there were so many photos of Burmese head of state U Nu’s visit in the early sixties. Those days, however, are long gone and today when most prime ministers visit us it’s usually of little or no interest to anybody and they get almost no coverage unless they are major world figures.
That would help explain why I only found out Tuesday morning that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was to be touring Yad Vashem that day.
Ostensibly, that is no occasion of any particular significance, and the visit is more or less a pro forma requirement for any head of state coming to Israel in that capacity, especially if he or she has never been here before. But that is not true in the case of the Estonian leader, who heads a country that is suffering from a severe Baltic variant of post-Communist Eastern European Holocaust amnesia. This is an intellectual disease whose four main characteristics are a systematic minimization of crimes by local Nazi collaborators, a distinct lack of political will to prosecute and punish such individuals, a tendency to glorify locals who fought alongside the Nazis – in Estonia’s case in Waffen-SS units – and a determination to promote the historical canard of supposed equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.
In the last two years alone, during which Ansip was prime minister, several events took place in Estonia which clearly reflect these disturbing trends in Holocaust revisionism. A good place to begin is the yearly gatherings of veterans of the Estonian Waffen-SS units at Sinimae on the last Saturday in July, which attract SS veterans from all over Europe, many from countries in which such gatherings are forbidden. Needless to say, such meetings are not being held to organize mass confessions of guilt or expressions of deep remorse for fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in human history.
On the contrary, these meetings are part of a campaign to portray these Waffen-SS fighters as heroes fighting for Estonia’s freedom, even though their German masters had absolutely no intention of ever granting any of the Baltic countries independence. Even worse, this past February 14th, the Estonian Parliament passed the “Valentine Day’s Law,” which granted these men status as freedom fighters, officially “repressed by the Soviets,” a status which bestows all sorts of financial benefits, in this case to those who fought for a victory of the Third Reich.
In October 2011, the Estonian authorities announced that they were closing their investigation of Mikhail Gorshkow, an Estonian citizen who served with the Gestapo in Belarus and was implicated in the mass murder of approximately three thousand Jews in the destruction of the Slutzk Ghetto. After the war, Gorshkow had escaped to the United States, where he was stripped of his American citizenship for concealing his wartime collaboration with the Nazis. Following his return to Estonia and under pressure from abroad, an investigation was initiated by the Estonians, but was ultimately closed due to a doubt regarding his identity, a result which appears quite strange given the legal measures taken against him by the Americans, who unequivocally confirmed his identity in the process.
Given the total failure hereto of the Estonian judiciary to bring a single Estonian Nazi war criminal/collaborator to justice, the result of this latest case comes as no surprise. Much stronger cases, such as those of Estonian Political Police operatives Evald Mikson and Harry Mannil also came to naught despite abundant evidence of participation in war crimes, especially in the former case in which Estonian officials actually issued a statement claiming that Mikson was not guilty of any crimes, least of all against Jews.
Another illustration of the attitude to the events of World War II in Estonia was an event held in Viljandi in June 2011 to commemorate the German invasion in June 1941, which marked the beginning of the systematic implementation of the Final Solution. In the words of Jaanika Kressa, one of the local organizers, “The arrival of the Germans is considered the liberation of Estonia…The situation of the Estonians became normal again.” If the mass murder of their Jewish fellow Estonian citizens is their view of “normal,” obviously something is very wrong in Estonia.
One of the reasons that little attention is paid to Estonia in connection to the Shoa is that the prewar local Jewish community was extremely small, 4,500, and most of them, 3,500, were either deported by the Soviets or able to escape from the country before the Nazis arrived. But that is only part of the story. The overwhelming majority of those who lived under the Nazi occupation were murdered by the Germans with the very active participation of their Estonian collaborators. In addition, many thousands of Jews were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps in the country guarded by Estonians, and local Security Police units participated in the persecution and murder of Jews in Belarus and Poland.
Until now, the State of Israel has generally refrained from playing a leading role in the fight against Holocaust distortion and revisionism in Eastern Europe, and especially in the Baltics. Prime Minister Ansip’s visit to Israel is a very opportune time to change that policy and start treating its obligations in this regard much more seriously.