Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hitler Versus Stalin, Who Was Worse?

When during a cable TV interview I was asked how I felt about Stalin
versus Hitler, German army versus Soviet army, I answered that although
upon chasing the fleeing German army, the Russians killed many partisans
on sight, I never felt the same animosity toward the Russians as I felt
toward the Germans. After all, the Russians had lost 25 million people
during the war, and war is always ugly and unpredictable. "On the other
hand," I said, "Stalin had killed more people than Hitler, but he killed
his own". This was not only picked up by my interviewer, Doug Holder,
who at once asked me whether the Jews and Gypsies had not been Germans.
To which I answered, of course, they were Germans. This same remark was
also picked up by a Roma lady, who posted that comment on a website not
my own. So what did I mean?

First, I was simply repeating what had been ingrained into me since
childhood in Europe, and I had left it in my mind untouched. I believe I
also found it written in books comparing the two dictatorships. I myself
was struck that I had never really thought about this issue, especially
since I firmly believe that if you live in a country, fought for what
you consider your country as so many German Jews and Gypsies had, you
are certainly a citizen of that country, and you should have equal
rights. I have since talked with several educated Europeans and an
American journalist, and I have come to the following interpretation of
what was commonly accepted as a statement in the Europe of the past.

Stalin killed his own, because communism had unified all Russians
minorities and ethnic Russians to be one people with equal rights, on
the surface. Stalin killed those who opposed his ideas and his regime,
no matter what their separate ethnic identities had been before Soviet

Hitler's ideology by contrast was about race. He wanted to create a
master race, catering to the romantic German notion of a 'greater German
space'. This dream festered in the German national mind ever since her
unification, through Bismarck, in 1860. Germany as a state was still
young in the thirties and remained extremely tribal. Germany's Jews and
Gypsies were not only of a different race, most were of a different
religion. Even a family like mine, although catholic like almost all of
Cologne, Germany, was looked upon as suspect, since we didn't look, nor
behaved like Germans, and we were of mixed blood. We never really
thought of ourselves as typically German. In fact many of us not only
resisted the Nazi regime by going underground during the war, but many
of us left Germany and changed passports as soon as the first
opportunity came along.

So, to my fellow Roma activists out there, let me clarify my feelings.
Now, that most of the former European countries are united into one
Europe, just as my family would not have differentiated between
mainstream population and German ethnic minorities, I now feel European
Roma and Jews are of course rightfully Europeans. They should have the
same rights, government protections and respect. They should also have
the right to preserve their own culture, the way of many other European
sub-cultures. I believe what we are witnessing now is a result of
remnants of that same primitive tribalism that scapegoats defenseless
minorities in times of economic downturns. But, although life is being
made unbearable, especially for many European Roma, now Europe's largest
ethnic minority, I am optimistic. I follow enough news reports to know
that within European governments and Human Rights organizations many are
fighting to repair this historical injustice. I believe this will come
to fruition in the end, for if this effort fails, so will European unity
and democracy. We do have to remain vigilant and united in our efforts
to fight for minority rights.

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