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World Affairs Journal: Germany and the Holocaust -- Part 2

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July 21, 2012, 6:17 p.m. | Op-ed — by Alexander J. Motyl

A Nazi SS-man inspects a group of Jewish workers in April 1943 in the Ghetto of Warsaw. In November 1940, the Germans established the Warsaw ghetto. The Jewish population still living outside was brought inside the special area, and the Polish living within the designated ghetto boundaries were ordered to move out. On November 15th no Jew was allowed to leave the Jewish precincts. In the Summer of 1942, about 300,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka. When reports of mass murder in the killing center leaked back to the ghetto, a surviving group of mostly young people formed an organisation called Z.O.B. (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, Jewish Fighting Organisation) calling for the Jewish people to resist. On April 19, 1943 the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought for nearly a month. But on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to killing centers or concentration camps. (FILM) AFP PHOTO
© AFP

Alexander J. Motyl

Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, as well as a writer and painter. He served as associate director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University from 1992 to 1998. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of Pidsumky imperii; Puti imperii; Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires; Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities; Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism; Sovietology, Rationality, Nationality: Coming to Grips with Nationalism in the USSR; Will the Non‑Russians Rebel? State, Ethnicity, and Stability in the USSR; The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929; and the editor of more than ten volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Motyl’s novels include Whiskey Priest; Who Killed Andrei Warhol; Flippancy; The Jew Who Was Ukrainian; and a work in progress, My Orchidia. His poems have appeared in Counterexample Poetics, Istanbul Literary Review, and New York Quarterly (forthcoming). He has done performances of his fiction at the Cornelia Street Café, the Bowery Poetry Club, and the Ukrainian Museum in New York. Motyl’s artwork has been shown in solo and group shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto; his art is represented by The Tori Collection.

Germans view the interwar period and World War II through the lens of Nazism and the Holocaust. Central and East Europeans view the interwar period and World War II through the lens of Nazism and Stalinism as well as the Holocaust and Communist genocides and atrocities. Their moral issues are infinitely more complex than Germany’s, whose can more or less easily be viewed in black and white terms as a struggle of good versus evil and victims versus victimizers. Some Central and East Europeans were unquestionably bad; others were unquestionably good. But the vast majority—and that includes most Eastern European Jews—existed in a zone of reality that was simultaneously black, white, and every shade of gray. Victims were victimizers and victimizers were victims. Heroes could be villains and villains could be heroes. Most important, the vast majority of people were neither heroes nor villains. They simply tried to survive in awfully complex circumstances that usually offered them the choice between a very bad outcome and an extremely bad one. Ask yourself this: What was the right thing for an East Central European to do during the war? Support Stalin against Hitler, support Hitler against Stalin, fight both, collaborate with both, or try to survive both?

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