Too Much Reality: Putin's Invasion Inevitably Surfaces Europe's Dark PastRoundup
tags: Holocaust, Ukraine, European history, antisemitism, Eastern Europe
Jim Sleeper is the author of "Liberal Racism" (1997) and "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York" (1990).
"Humankind cannot bear very much reality," T.S. Eliot once noted. Americans, especially, have what the historian Louis Hartz called a "vast and almost charming innocence of mind." But we can't afford any willed innocence about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin has reduced Russia to a failed state that runs on thuggery, cyber-piracy, gas and war, and all this has been getting cover from Putin's longtime sycophant Donald Trump and his Republicans, not least through the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference. Putin must be stopped by force, and his American apologists must be thoroughly discredited, much as Hitler and Mussolini and their American apologists and collaborators were, even if doing so requires pain and sacrifice from the rest of us.
What T.S. Eliot called "very much reality" doesn't stop there.
Putin has suggested that Russian forces will round up and kill anyone who resists the invasion. He is trapped in the past, mourning the Soviet Union's collapse, whose redress, he believes, will be his legacy to Russia, it isn't hard to imagine Russian soldiers collecting Ukrainian resisters, including civilians in street clothes who fired guns or threw Molotov cocktails at Russian troops, and massacring them on Putin's orders.
Soviet soldiers did precisely that, on Joseph Stalin's orders, in April and May of1940, when they massacred nearly 22,000 Polish army officers, police, landowners, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests and left them in mass graves. (Many of the victims were Ukrainians and Jews, including the chief rabbi of the Polish Army.)
Of course it's true that most mass killings in Eastern Europe in that period, including the horrific massacres in Kharkiv, now Ukraine's second-largest city, were committed not by Russians but by the German occupiers after 1941. It's also true that many in the Soviet republics, such as Ukraine and the Baltic countries, welcomed the Germans at first as their liberators from the Soviet boot, and that many of their citizens collaborated with them in murdering Jews.
Photos taken by the Nazis in Ukraine in 1941 to document what they and some Ukrainians were doing, too horrifying for me to display here, can be seen easily enough at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. We don't know whether Putin could do anything similar to Ukrainian resisters.
I admit to being sensitive about this. Although my Lithuanian-Jewish grandparents came to America in 1909, they had siblings, cousins and elders who were terminated in 1941, in much the same way as the mass killings in Ukraine.
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