Estonia Hasn't Come to Grips with Its Nazi Past

Roundup: Talking About History

Anna Badkhen, in the SF Chronicle (Feb. 15, 2004):

When the United States stripped Michael Gorshkow of his American citizenship and forced him to leave his Florida home 18 months ago, a federal judge said there was no doubt Gorshkow had helped slaughter at least 3,000 Jewish men, women and children during the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe.

But now, surrounded by the quaint medieval steeples and tranquil snow-swept farmland of his native Estonia, Gorshkow, 80, is a free man, and his case has barely stirred the interest of prosecutors in this tiny Baltic nation.

International Jewish groups say at least 17 unpunished Nazi war criminals may be living in Estonia, but investigators have not brought charges against a single one.

Experts say the reluctance to prosecute accused Nazi war criminals such as Gorshkow reflects Estonia's lingering ambivalence about the 1941-44 Nazi occupation.

Many Estonians continue to regard the occupation as an attempt to liberate their country from the rule of the reviled Soviet Union, which annexed the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940.

"Estonia is one of the countries that are in deep denial," said Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which hunts down Nazi war criminals. "They think they have nothing to do with this, that the Holocaust didn't happen there, that they have nothing to regret and nothing to apologize for."

Experts say Estonia's lack of political will to prosecute war criminals undermines its attempt to portray itself as a nation that shares Western values. Estonia is scheduled to join the European Union on May 1 and to become a NATO member in the summer.

But Anatol Lieven, an expert on the Baltic states at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., said Estonia's reluctance to address its role in the Holocaust "raises the question of how far the whole adoption of the Western persona (is) genuine and deep-rooted" or whether it could "evaporate again after they join the EU and NATO."

Having experienced the terror of the Soviet occupation, when thousands were deported to Siberia, many Estonians welcomed the arrival of German troops in 1941.

They voluntarily joined Nazi police and army units and helped exterminate not only Estonia's tiny Jewish community but tens of thousands of Jews brought here from other Eastern European countries to be slaughtered or interned in camps such as Vaivara, Klooga and Lagedi.

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Mike Pellerin - 5/22/2005

Fact of the matter is, Estonia isn't the only country who, through its apathy and indifference, has granted absolution to those of its aging sons and daughters who had once elevated mass murder to a science.

And Gorshkow wasn't the last Nazi war criminal with blood on his hands to have been given refuge in the U.S. spanning nearly 60 years. He, and thousands like him received the benefits which come from an apathetic public (first in Estonia, and later in America), U.S. congress (and now the Estonian Government), and Office of Special Investigations (O.S.I.) (for which there is no Estonian equivalent) which has had a congressional mandate to identify and deport his kind now for nearly 30 years.

When on the one hand the U.S. slips into bed with the Sudanese government for its support on the U.S. war on terror, while engaging in rhetorical gymnastics over whether or not the word Genocide applies to what the Sudanese militia are doing to the civilian population in Darfur, thousands are being slaughtered and millions displaced from their homes, can the apathy of the Estonian Government over the prosecution of Gorshkow come as any real surprise?

Bad things happened, both in Nazi occupied Estonia, and throughout Europe, facilitated by an apathetic public. When the war was over, and the blood they shed had long since crusted, many of Hitler's butchers came to what remains an apathetic America.

Fact of the matter is, our congress had been out to lunch on the subject of nazi war criminals in America for nearly 30 years, until two (2) members with a conscience finally developed a mechanism to identify and deport them. It was a special unit created within the Department of Justice which became known as the O.S.I. (Office of Special Investigations). And since the early 80s O.S.I. was responsible for identifying and deporting people like Gorshkow.

Unfortunately for justice, the O.S.I. itself has been reluctant in its prosecutions, particularly against those like Gorshkow from Belarus and the Ukraine who came and are here in much greater numbers.

Is it really any wonder why Gorshkow is left to live out the remainder of his life in peace in Estonia, untouched by the Estonian Government, amongst an apathetic, if not grateful anti-Semitic Estonian population, in a country eviscerated of nearly all of it's pre-war Jewish population?

The time has long since passed when those communities who long identify with and claim, if only indirectly, exclusivity in their loss and suffering, identify themselves with the losses and suffering of others. For not until those as one of a group within the human community see themselves as part of the whole of humanity, will we diminish the likelihood of genocide, and realize a significant diminution in the apathy of the `good' among us, who facilitated such profound evil through silence.

Let it be known, that those like Gorshkow, whose hands are stained with the indelible blood of innocents, no matter who they are, no matter what their nationality, ethnicity, or religion, no matter what their rank, or position in life, no matter where or how well they hide, sooner or later, someone will come along and uncover the truth, and press for their prosecution. Those of conscience and long memory, will neither forget who he is, nor what he had done. He should find no rest through humanity's apathy and indifference, and should be hunted to his grave. For it is in prosecuting those like Gorshkow, that humanity will construct the ultimate memorial to those who perished, and develop a meaningful deterrence to those who would follow in his footsteps, through the prosecution of their persecutors.

/s/ Mike Pellerin

gabor szirko - 12/9/2004

One last remark: in estonia, we celebrate the day of holocaust to commemorate all peoples who have suffered from violence (jews, indians, ourselves etc).

gabor szirko - 12/9/2004

Hello from Estonia.

It is interesting how people very far from understanding estonia, who know nothing about estonia, tend to criticise
this country in the "jewish matter" as this problem is named in eastern europe.
The estonian jewish community does not have ANY demands to estonian people or legislators regarding the issues of the holocaust in estonia.
I think i am quite right when i say that Efraim Zuroff is causing more harm to the jewish community in Estonia than anyone else these days (except for Ariel Sharon maybe :)