How Bulgaria avoided the Holocaust

Bulgaria and the Holocaust

 

After WWI, Bulgaria had territorial aspirations: it wanted to regain Macedonia, Thrace and southern Dobrudja, provinces it had lost after the war. These territorial grievances led the Bulgarian government to become closer to the Nazi regime. In order to rejuvenate its economy, Bulgaria traded heavily with Germany, which accounted for 70 percent of the country’s foreign trade. (See Holocaust: A History, Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt, New York: Norton, 2002, 180). Once Bulgaria’s economic interests brought it within Germany’s orbit, it became obliged to align its political interest with Fascist ideology. King Boris III appointed Professor Bogdan Filov, a Germanophile, as prime minister, who in turn appointed the leader of the Bulgarian Ratnik (Fascist) Party, as minister of interior. Hitler rewarded Bulgaria for its loyalty by forcing Romania to give back southern Dobrudja. This in turn made the Bulgarians even more receptive to the Nazis. This rapprochement between Bulgaria and Germany did not bode well for the country’s Jews.

In the fall of 1940, the Bulgarian minister of interior proposed a law modeled after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, called the “Law for the Defense of the Nation,” which discriminated and disenfranchised Bulgarian Jews. King Boris III himself signed this law. However, remarkably, the feelings of the Bulgarian citizens prevented the regime from falling into step with the harsh measures that would destroy the Jews of Nazi-controlled and Nazi-allied Europe. Apparently, the Bulgarian people never considered the 50,000 Jews in the country—a very small percentage of its population—as a problem. According to historian Deborah Dwork, the Bulgarian Lawyers Association wrote an open letter protesting the anti-Semitic laws. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also took a stance against discrimination, stating that the people of Bulgaria “shouldn’t admit injustice and violence against others” (Holocaust: A History, 181). At this point, the government of Bulgaria heeded the predominant views of its people and did not enact the discriminatory measures against its small Jewish minority. Bulgaria is a wonderful case study of how the just views of a population can make a big difference in preventing government-mandated injustice and even genocide.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Introduction to Holocaust Memories

Introduction

 

Nearly eighty years have passed since the Holocaust. There have been thousands of memoirs, histories and novels written about it, yet many fear that this important event may fall into oblivion. As Holocaust survivors pass away, their legacy of suffering, tenacity and courage could be eventually forgotten. We cannot take Holocaust memories for granted. It is up to each generation to commemorate the victims, preserve their life stories and help prevent such catastrophes. These were my main motivations in writing this book, Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films that, as its title suggests, includes over sixty reviews of memoirs, histories, biographies, novels and films about the Holocaust.

It was difficult to choose among the multitude of books on the subject that deserve our attention. I made my selections based partly on the works that are considered to be the most important on the subject; partly on wishing to offer some historical background about the Holocaust in different countries and regions that were occupied by or allied themselves with Nazi Germany, and partly on my personal preferences, interests and knowledge. Because many of the memoirs share geographical and historical contexts, there is some overlap in the background information offered in these reviews. I have tried, however, to keep repetition to a minimum and highlight the unique and valuable contribution of each narrative.

This book offers a general audience, and particularly high school and college students, insight and information into the suffering of nearly six million Jews as well as millions of Gypsies, Poles, Russians and other groups that were considered to be “subhuman” and oppressed by the Nazis. I present the works of others—victims, historians, biographers, fiction writers and cinematographers—to incite readers to return to these invaluable sources. Furthermore, in order to provide more background into the suffering of the victims, I also offer information about the victimizers: particularly the rulers, politicians, propagandists, military leaders and “ordinary men”, to use Christopher Browning’s phrase, who perpetrated the Holocaust. This is why Holocaust Memories includes reviews not only of Holocaust memoirs, but also of books that focus on Fascist regimes and their leaders in various countries that enacted genocide or other crimes against humanity.

This book is organized in terms of four main topics: part one consists of the introduction and theoretical framework (Hannah Arendt and totalitarianism); the second part offers an analysis of the perpetrators and Jewish victims of the Holocaust in different countries in Europe; the third presents other victims of the Holocaust (the Poles, the Gypsies, Russian prisoners of war), and the fourth section covers other genocides (in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Rwanda and North Korea).

Raul Hilberg’s monumental studies of the Holocaust, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985) and Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 (HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), inform many of my reviews, not only in content but also in approach. The historian Robert Jay Lifton rightly calls Hilberg “one of the great scholars of our century. Perhaps more than anyone else, he has exposed the behavior and thought processes of ordinary people carrying out a genocidal project” (front cover of Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders). Although my book does not offer a history of the Holocaust per se, I review numerous history books that deal with the victims, perpetrators and bystanders of this catastrophe. The works of historians such as Raul Hilberg, Christopher Browning, Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor, Alan Bullock, Robert Conquest, Timothy Snyder and Robert Jay Lifton inform the background I offer in my discussions of Holocaust memoirs, histories, novels and films. In these reviews, I present a wide range of narratives about the Holocaust in all of what Hilberg calls its “stages of operation”: starting with the racial definition of what constitutes a “Jew”; to the Jews’ exclusion from society and the expropriation of their money and property; to their concentration in certain areas and eventually in Jewish Ghettos; to the exploitation of their (slave) labor and, ultimately, to their annihilation through mass shootings, starvation, medical experimentation and death camps. (See The Destruction of the European Jews, 267).

Since the Nazis targeted European Jews as their main victims, my book focuses primarily on them. At the same time, since the Nazis also targeted other groups they considered dangerous and inferior, I also review narratives about the sufferings of the Gypsies, the Poles and other groups that fell victim to the Nazi regimes. As Hilberg aptly puts it, “The Nazi destruction process was, in short, not aimed at institutions; it was targeted at people. The Jews were only the first victims of the German bureaucracy; they were only the first caught in its path” (The Destruction of the European Jews, 268). Had Germany won the war, there’s no telling how many more millions would have fallen victim to their race wars. The signs that the Poles and the Slavs would have been the Nazis’ next targets for extermination were apparent long before the end of WWII.

In the last section, I review books and films that discuss other genocides and crimes against humanity, including the Stalinist mass purges, the Cambodian massacres by the Pol Pot regime and the Rwandan genocide. In so doing, I emphasize that history can, indeed, repeat itself, even if in different forms and contexts. Just as the Jews of Europe were not the only targets of genocide, Fascist regimes were not its only perpetrators. If there’s one common thread among such diverse human catastrophes it’s totalitarian institutions. This is why Holocaust Memories also includes an analysis of Hannah Arendt’s groundbreaking The Origins of Totalitarianism. The ethos of mass murder is often initiated from above by authoritarian regimes and disseminated to ordinary citizens through propaganda, indoctrination and terror. The spread of Fascism and Communism during the 20th-century, culminating in the Great Terror and the Holocaust, offers a stark warning to posterity. For as long as we will allow totalitarian regimes and their evil leaders to take root in our societies, we will continue to remain vulnerable to the unspeakable destruction they can cause.

Although I’m writing a book called Holocaust Memories, I was born generations later and have no personal memories of the Holocaust. I have vivid childhood recollections of totalitarianism, however, under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania: snippets of my family’s past and the struggles endured mostly by my parents, which I revisited and wrote about in my first historical novel, Velvet Totalitarianism (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2009). In this book, I’m going two generations back in time, to the painful memories of the Holocaust that my grandparents only alluded to. It’s mostly their silence that speaks to me now, decades later. I never found out all the details of what happened to my paternal grandfather during the Holocaust in Romania: when and where he was thrown off a train when sent to a forced labor camp by the Antonescu regime during the 1940’s, as so many young Jewish men were at the time. All I know is that he survived that fall but walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

My grandparents’ survival of the Holocaust in Romania intrigued me enough to start reading scores of books on this subject. I wondered: how could hundreds of thousands of Jews manage to survive in a country that was so virulently anti-Semitic at the time? I learned about Ion Antonescu, the Romanian authoritarian ruler, and his changing and opportunistic policies, which created the apparent paradox of a large number of Jews surviving a pro-Nazi regime that despised them. I also learned about the heroic actions of the Jewish leader Wilhelm Filderman, who never stopped trying to negotiate with Antonescu a livable situation for Romania’s Jews. From there, I became interested in exploring deeper what happened to the rest of the European Jews during the Holocaust, nearly six million of whom were obliterated from the face of the Earth and never got the chance to share their tragic stories. This book is dedicated to them, to the survivors who lived with traumatic memories that continued to haunt them, and to the new generations of readers who want to learn about history’s darkest past.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Between Fanaticism and Terror: Hitler, Stalin and The Noise of Time

During WWII much of Europe was caught in a vice between fanaticism and terror; between Hitler and Stalin. The plight of tens of millions of people falling victim to Stalinism on the one hand and Fascism on the other is eloquently captured by Gustaw Herling, a Polish prisoner in the Soviet Union: “I think with horror and shame of a Europe divided into two parts by the line of the Bug, on one side of which millions of Soviet slaves prayed for liberation by the armies of Hitler, and on the other millions of victims of German concentration camps awaited deliverance by the Red Army as their last hope” (A World Apart, 175-76). The similarities between these two evil dictators obsessed with acquiring unlimited power are far greater than their differences. Yet it’s worth noting that the two tyrants selected their targets differently. Stalin’s purges covered every segment of Soviet society, almost indiscriminately: the Communist party; the Politburo; even the army, navy and air force during a period of time when preparations for war should have been a priority.

Julian Barnes, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, describes the arbitrary nature of Stalin’s Great Terror in his biographical novel about the composer Dimitri Shostakovich, The Noise of Time (New York and London: Knopf, 2016). Tellingly, the title phrase is borrowed from Osip Mandelstam’s memoirs, who himself died in a transit camp during the Great Terror of 1938. In personalizing the plight of millions by focusing on the tribulations of a single life—particularly that of a famous musician—Barnes illustrates that nobody was immune to Stalin’s subjugating power. Even the great Soviet General and Chief of Staff, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the composer’s patron, fell victim to Stalin’s paranoia during the purge of the military in June 1937.

By some miracle or good fortune, Shostakovich’s life is spared by Stalin. But the composer’s reputation isn’t, rising and falling with the vicissitudes of the Soviet regime, which the narrator calls “the Power”. In 1936, Shostakovich suffers a humiliating reprimand for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, deemed by Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper and propaganda mouthpiece, to be representative of the “fidgety, neurotic music” of the bourgeoisie. Although later Stalin personally calls the composer on the phone and undoes some of the damage to his reputation, Shostakovich, along with millions of Soviet citizens, lives in constant fear of the dictator’s arbitrary—and often fatal–displays of power.

Success and failure have a way of boiling down to the same thing in totalitarian regimes, which subsume artistic merit to ideological whims and injunctions. Even after Stalin’s death, during Nikita Khrushchev’s milder authoritarian regime, when the composer is pressured to join the Communist Party in order to become the Chairman of the Russian Federation Union of Composers, Shostakovich feels almost as humiliated and harangued as he did when he was vilified by Stalin’s acolytes in Pravda. In channeling the character of Shostakovich so compellingly and revealing with a keen sense of irony the arbitrary nature of Soviet totalitarianism, Barnes depicts its inner workings as well as those who had suffered its effects first-hand: authors such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Eugenia Ginzburg.

By way of contrast to Stalin’s arbitrary purges, Hitler honed in on one main target: the Jews. His single-minded focus on destroying the Jewish people could only be called, in his own words, “fanaticism”. He remarked: “Any violence which does not spring from a firm spiritual base will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook” (Mein Kampf, 171). There are many hypotheses concerning what might have caused Hitler’s hatred of the Jews, ranging from psychological to sociological and biographical explanations. These speculations, however, only make sense in hindsight. Nothing in Hitler’s adolescence, when pathology usually shows up, gave any obvious signs of the tremendous anti-Semitic hatred that would later dominate his life.

Biographers state that Hitler was a mediocre student, receiving poor grades in physics, mathematics and German. He performed better in art, but wasn’t original. As a young man, he pursued his floundering artistic career in Vienna for about six years. Some state that Hitler’s anti-Semitism grew out of his frustration with being rejected by the prestigious Vienna Art Academy. They surmise that he blamed his failure on the Jews. While there may be some truth in this conjecture, there’s evidence to the contrary as well. Hitler continued to sell his art and make a living from its sales, supplemented by funds from his family. Interestingly, as Raul Hilberg points out, “Apparently, two of the [art] dealers were Jews” (Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, 4).

WWI seems to have been a major turning point in Hitler’s life. But even then nobody could have guessed that this mediocre soldier would rise to absolute power and wield death and destruction throughout Europe. Hitler was decorated the Iron Cross First Class during the war, but only the second or third time that he was recommended for it: incidentally, by a Jew (Lieutenant Gutmann). At the end of WWI, Hitler was gassed and spent a considerable period of time recuperating in a military hospital. There he had time to contemplate what might have brought about the humiliating defeat of Germany in WWI. After the war, Hitler took a course in Pan-Germanism and became more radicalized in his anti-Semitism. Adolf Gemlich, a German army soldier wrote Hitler a letter asking him about the importance of the “Jewish Question”. Hitler wrote Gemlich a response that prefigured the major themes of Mein Kampf, his autobiographical treatise written in prison and published in 1925-26. He distinguished between an anti-Semitism based on reason, or what he called a “rational” and “scientific” anti-Semitism, which would have staying power, and an anti-Semitism based on emotion, manifested by pogroms. Only the former, he stipulated, could efface the Jews from the face of the Earth. (For more information on Hitler’s letter, see the Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/adolf-hitler-s-first-antisemitic-writing)

This letter, and particularly the delineation of a systematic and “scientific” anti-Semitism, earned Hitler a reputation on the “Jewish Question” among anti-Semitic radicals opposed to the Weimar Republic. So to return to our earlier question: why did Hitler target the Jews as the main scapegoat and object of his vitriol? He offers a direct answer to this question in Mein Kampf:

 

“The art of leadership as displayed by really great popular leaders in all ages, consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary… Where there are various enemies…it will be necessary to block them all together as forming one solid front, so that the mass of followers in a popular movement may see only one common enemy against whom they have to fight. Such uniformity intensifies their belief in their own cause and strengthens their feeling of hostility towards the opponent” (Mein Kampf, 110).

 

This statement reflects the cold and calculated reasoning Hitler alluded to as early as the note of 1919. He targeted the Jews as his scapegoats and victims for strategic reasons. Hitler’s explicit intent was to simplify the root of Germany’s social and economic problems to the Jews—considered outsiders in most European countries–and coalesce all forces and people against this common enemy. His choice wasn’t primarily a matter of genuine emotion, nor only of pathological hatred. As for Stalin during the Great Terror, it was primarily the product of an insatiable and malicious will to power. This answer–which boils down to power for its own sake–could have never offered a satisfactory response to the question scribbled by victims on cell walls, in prisons, concentration camps and gulags; a question which still echoes to this day: “Zachto—Why?”

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction