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The Liberation of Auschwitz: Playing the Blame Game

Peace among the nations of Christendom depends upon putting the Fatherhood of God before the Fatherland, and the Mother of God before the Motherland.

Men, women and children are seen behind barbed wire after the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945 in Oswiecim, Poland. (CNS photo/Yad Vashem Archives via Reuters)

On January 27, 1945, advancing Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz concentration camp. Today, 75 years after the event, wars are still being fought over who was responsible for World War Two and the many atrocities which were its consequence. Although the current war is one of words, it has the potential to plunge the world into renewed armed conflict.

The present war of words began last September with the passing of a resolution by the European Parliament condemning the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. This unholy alliance between twin evils preceded the German invasion of Poland only a week later, the two events being obviously connected in terms of realpolitik. Two weeks after the Germans invaded from the west, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Having crushed the courageous Polish resistance, the two totalitarian regimes divided the conquered nation between them, annexing each half to their respective political empires.

Although the foregoing is indubitably true, we should not be blind to the realpolitik behind the European Union’s resolution, which was intended as a provocation to Russia. Unsurprisingly, and to its credit, Russia prefers to remember its role as an ally of the West in the war to liberate Europe from the Nazis and not its earlier role as an ally of Hitler. For those who are unfamiliar with the history of World War Two, the Nazis reneged on their alliance with the Soviet Union, invading Soviet territory in June 1941.

Responding with reactionary short-sightedness to the European Union’s provocation, Vladimir Putin sought to deflect criticism of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by accusing Poland of flirting with the Nazis prior to the War and by stressing the Soviet Union’s role in “liberating” Poland from the Nazis in 1944 and 1945. Considering the raping, pillaging and murder which accompanied the Soviet advance through Poland, coupled with the decades of Soviet and communist tyranny which followed, the Poles were understandably infuriated by President Putin’s historical revisionism.

Matters have worsened in recent weeks, as tensions between Russia and Poland have intensified. Last week, Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, refused to attend the international event in Israel commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz as “a protest against the distortion of history by the Russian President”. No doubt, and understandably, the protest was also triggered by the fact that President Putin had been invited to speak at the commemoration, whereas President Duda had not been. Under the circumstances, it could be argued that the Polish President had little option but to withdraw from the event in Israel thereby handing the Russian President a symbolic victory.

And yet President Putin’s victory could well be of the pyrrhic variety, signifying an ultimate lose-lose scenario. It does not serve the interests of either Russia or Poland to be sabre-rattling at a time when peace between the two countries portends prosperity for both. On the other hand, the heightening of tensions serves the interests of the European Union and its liberal-globalist allies, as well as the interests of those neo-conservatives who are seeking a return of the Cold War. How is this in Russia’s interest? In this sense, could we not suggest that President Putin had played into the EU’s hands when he responded to the European Parliament’s resolution in the manner that he did? The Russian bear, when baited, had certainly lashed out angrily but, and to switch metaphors, had he not also been caught like a fish, hook, line and sinker?

Having diagnosed the problem which, if it escalates, could become dangerous on a global scale, let’s suggest a possible solution. It is, in fact, a solution which has already been put into practice, and by President Putin himself, so it’s only necessary for the Russian President to restore his previous and proper focus on what it means to be Russian in the twenty-first century. At the heart of this healthy focus is the absolute necessity of Russia separating herself psychologically from the Soviet Union. President Putin has expressed this necessity himself on numerous occasions. He has held up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a national hero and as an example to all Russians. Under President Putin’s watch, Solzhenitsyn’s anti-Soviet and anti-communist classic, The Gulag Archipelago, has been made compulsory reading in all Russian high schools. It would be even better were Solzhenitsyn’s epic war poem, Prussian Nights, to be added to the curriculum in all Russian schools. This grippingly candid account of the atrocities committed by the Soviet Army on its march of vengeance across eastern Europe in the final months of the War should be part of the Russian collective consciousness.

It would also be good were President Putin to insist that the Red Army of the Soviet Union is not synonymous with the Russian army. “Its officers were mostly Russian,” writes historian Norman Davies, “but privates were recruited from all republics of the Soviet Union. In 1945, a huge wave of young recruits from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan tramped through Poland.” Professor Davies’ Polish father-in-law witnessed the Red Army’s march through Poland, commenting that “the whole of Asia was marching”. This was not a Russian army but a Soviet imperial army of many nations, marching under an atheist flag.

To be fair to President Putin, these complexities of history can be difficult to disentangle. It is, for instance, understandable that Russians should feel intensely proud of their heroic victory at Stalingrad, which turned the tide of the war, much as Britons see the Battle of Britain, or as Americans see the Normandy beaches. It is appropriate and significant that the huge statue commemorating the victory at Stalingrad is named “The Motherland Calls”. Russians fighting the Nazis on the soil of their own country were not fighting for Stalin, still less for communism; they were fighting for their own homeland, for what many still call Holy Mother Russia, part of that civilization which is called Christendom.

If we are to have peace in central Europe, it will need to be built upon trust and upon mutual respect of each nation’s history and heritage. In Christian terms, it depends upon the loving of one’s neighbors. In the absence of such trust and understanding, we will have the sort of belligerent jingoism which makes the Motherland or the Fatherland an idol which is worshipped to the detriment of all peoples, not least the idolators themselves. Peace among the nations of Christendom depends upon putting the Fatherhood of God before the Fatherland, and the Mother of God before the Motherland. It is in praying for each other and not in preying on each other that the stability of the future depends.


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About Joseph Pearce 20 Articles
Joseph Pearce is the author of numerous literary works including Literary Converts, The Quest for Shakespeare and Shakespeare on Love,Poems Every Catholic Should Know (TAN Books) and Literature: What Every Catholic Should Know (Augustine Institute/Ignatius Press), and the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions series. His other books include literary biographies of Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A native of England, he is Director of Book Publishing at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review, editor of Faith & Culture, and is Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Visit his website at jpearce.co.

4 Comments

  1. This is a very thoughtful piece. I appreciate it and welcome it. But I have a few thoughts with which I would like to engage the author:
    >In 1939, The British and the French already had spread guarantees to Poland and numerous countries across Eastern Europe — guarantees they couldn’t redeem without a massive intervention (understandably unwanted by the nations of Eastern Europe, especially Poland) by the Soviet Union. The Poles were trying to play the “Great Power” role with Hitler, who wanted the return of Danzig and a security pact with the Poles against the Russians. Beck demurred. A British and French military delegation already was headed to St. Petersburg to discuss coordinated operations on the day the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed. It is difficult to see any malign malevolent intention of the Germans in all of this. As it turned out, it led to a moral and material catastrophe, but that is the kind of thing we only see in retrospect.
    < Much as I love the Poles, as heroic fellow Catholics, I fear that their governments are trying to play the "Great Power" role again — an attempt that got them into great trouble in the last three centuries. Today, they ostensibly do not have to fear their historic Germanic neighbors from the West, and Russia (except arguably Konigsburg) is no longer contiguous. So why antagonize Russia by playing the NATO card and doing joint military maneuvers with the US. Why, as truly murderous and raping as the Soviet occupation was, get bent out of shape when Putin (whose Soviet predecessors took Auschwitz) gets top billing at an Israeli commemoration of that event?

  2. Putin’s Russia is not Christendom, as Putin presently uses his air power to give cover to Iranian backed Lebanese Hezbollah and Afghan Fatimiyun Shi’a militias in Syria. Admittedly,he’s fighting against Erdoğan’s opposition forces, but for Assad’s regime. Putin is not about forwarding the interests of Christ and His Church but his own interests. I believe Mr. Pearce would agree that Mr. Putin can reject the Soviet past with his left hand and wreak Russian havoc all over the world with his right.

  3. Excellent observations all, Joseph. It’s interesting that the left had little interest in challenging the Russians when they called themselves the Soviet Union.

    Your reference to Christendom suggests what is, and has been, occurring in Europe. Atheistic Fascism, Atheistic Communism, and Atheistic Secular Fundamentalism all have the same enemy – Jesus Christ.

    The courageous long-suffering Poles are the equivalent of a Catholic Christian super-power. They survived abandonment by the West and oppression from the East and were instrumental in repelling past and current Islamic invasions of Europe. Beauty may save the world, but Poland may just save Europe – again.

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