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Obama at Buchenwald

I do realize that President Obama was in Buchenwald yesterday to celebrate the concentration camp’s liberation by American troops in 1945. He might, however, have given more than a split second’s attention to what happened at that camp immediately after that liberation. During the Soviet occupation of Buchenwald and the surrounding area, between August 1945 and February 1950, more than 28,000 people remained captive there, imprisoned under a regime almost indistinguishable from that of the Third Reich. More prisoners were interned in Sachsenhausen, and there were at least four other large Soviet concentration camps in eastern Germany as well. Some of these prisoners were former Nazis. But many, if not most, were arrested for their opposition to the imposition of Soviet-style communism on East Germany – or else, in true Soviet tradition, they were arrested for nothing at all. Those thousands who died – of starvation, of epidemics – surely deserved more than a brief mention by Obama.

I could make a similar point about the president’s decision to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day this year, as opposed to, say, the 70th anniversary of the joint German-Russian invasion of Poland in September 1939, which in fact marked the beginning of the war. So far, there is no hint that the president, nor any other senior U.S. official, will attend the commemoration in Poland this fall.

One would think that, after all this time, we would have discarded our slanted recollection of the war. Yet most Americans still think the war ended at D-Day, and still think it concluded with the triumph of democracy in Europe. In fact, most of the fighting took place on the Eastern front, where the decisive battles were Stalingrad and Kursk. And for at least half of Europe, the war did not end in the triumph of democracy at all, but in a new form of totalitarianism.

Yes, we shut down Hitler’s concentration camps. But we also allowed Stalin’s to grow far larger: in the late 1940s they expanded numerically and geographically, not only in the Soviet Union but across central Europe. In fact, the end of the Second World War provides an excellent lesson not in the unqualified goodness of Americans, but in the unintended consequences of military action: Once you start violence, you never know how it is going to end. Which is also a lesson with contemporary significance.

By Anne Applebaum  | June 6, 2009; 6:20 AM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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Is this woman for real?

Posted by: dollyq | June 6, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Is this woman for real?

Posted by: dollyq

why would you ask that ?

Posted by: mihirsamel | June 6, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

some please explain to applebaum why we didn't Defeat Evil once & for all in 1945......

Posted by: rjb151 | June 6, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Good grief, Anne. There's only so much time in a day. This commentary comes across as seriously petty.

Posted by: dailyfare | June 6, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it was a terrible tragedy for Eastern Europe and the world that the war ended with Stalin's horrendous regime in control of half of Europe.

But you also might mention that the Soviets lost 28 million people in that fight (we lost less than in our Civil War on all fronts --- a proportional loss to us today would be 52 million!Those are atomic-war-magnitude numbers. ) and, in the words of that notorious Red-lover Winston Churchill "tore the guts out of the German Army". The Russians had no small scores to settle with the Germans; however brutally they did it, if not excusable, their reaction is at least understandable.

Historical judgments are easy if you ignore the details. Applebaum would have done better to keep her semi-ignorant musings to her dinner table. It's hard to believe that she actually gets paid for this sort of stuff.

Posted by: jprfrog | June 6, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with dailyfare. Is this lady somehow blaming the invasion of Poland et al. on the United States? I have a supreme dislike of the revisionist historians who corrupt the facts on the ground to support their misguided worldview. This piece was some quality drivel.

Posted by: mjwies11 | June 6, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I really agree with dailyfare...fer crying out loud, really petty.

Posted by: Kim1 | June 6, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Well Anne ,
Do mention the allied bombing of German cities , especially the targeted bombing of civilian areas . No party in the WW2 can claim a righteous stand. Everyone schemed against each other . Its open knowledge that Stalin made a [act with Hitler simply as UK , France were appeasing the latter with a hope that he may turn East . It was convenient to let the Nazis & Reds destroy each other.
Oh & as far that 10 th anniversary of invasion is concerned ,Us leaders have igonred the event , but just guess whos being invited ?? Your favorite Putin himself. So now are you gonna oppose his visit ? ill be watching .

Posted by: mihirsamel | June 6, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

contd...... The Russians did have East Europe under their control . Its easy to blame them for spreading dictatorship , but if you see from their point of view, they had lost 27 million of their own in this war, more than half of the total casualties in the war , more than 50 times the US casualties.!!!! Its easy to categorize Russians as aggressive towards the west ,but try seeing the story from their perspective & you will understand why they wanted a buffer between themselves & the West .There is no place for ideology here, just sheer survival !

Posted by: mihirsamel | June 6, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Pretty good article. It reminds Americans that their superficial grasp of history does not really comport with the reality of past events.

And that our choice in what we choose to "honor" in commemoration is quite shallow, as well. And sometimes reflects the kowtowing to special interest groups more than reality.

Why would Obama say D-Day saved mankind from the Nazis? It really didn't. It saved part of Europe from the victorious Soviets and the Red Army.

(All some Americans have is a stupid slogan..."If not for America and D-Day all you lowly French, Italians, Greeks and Brits would be speaking German. NO - it would have meant they would have been speaking Russian for a while.)

Why do all US politicians pay homage only to the Holocaust? And make solemn "pilgimmages" of US politicians to death camp tourist attractions almost de rigeur? Why not attend a ceremony to mark the 4 million Polish Catholics killed in WWII. A Gypsy memorial? A trip to Rwanda? Cambodia? A ceremony in Armenia marking the 1st 20th Century genocide. Or in Greece marking whole islands of Greeks cleansed and slaughtered to the last infant by the Red Pasha? The genocide of the Holmodor in Ukraine? When has a President or a MSM media channel or Hollywood movie spent any time on the Communist genocide and the Gulags and slave labor system that inspired the Nazis?
Where are the communist democide movies? TV shows? Only a handful, matched up against thousands of Holocaust-themed productions.

The answer of course is that Jews have money and power in America - the other special interest groups don't.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | June 6, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

The Soviet Union does not even exist any more in that old form. The key thing, however, is that this was a time for focusing on the horror the Nazis perpetrated on Jews. So easy for writers to pick at what politicians do. At the same time, if he has multiple messages then you journalists can choose which message to emphasize. Is that your secret wish perhaps? I don't mean to be cynical about journalists, but y'all have helped to fuel the rise of alternative forms of media.

On another day, we should address the evils of Stalin etc.

Posted by: leedynamo | June 6, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I think Obama was smart to pre-emptively ignore Appletree's insufferable more-PC-than-thou-dom.

Its the Israelis he's trying to save--not the victims of Stalin.

One nightmare at time, thank you.

Posted by: lichtme | June 6, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Hummm ... Another opportunity to take a swipe at President Obama.
I wonder what Ms Applebaum has to say about President Reagan's visit to Nazi cemetery at Bitburg where Waffen SS -- Hitler's execution squads during the Holocaust are buried.

I know,I know Reagan was duped, snow covered the grave stones.

Posted by: knjincvc | June 6, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

ChrisFord1 posted June 6, 2009 12:28 PM
"The answer of course is that Jews have money and power in America - the other special interest groups don't."

Whoa Chris!
The answer is even more simpler.
When it comes to history, Americans are ignorant. It doesn't matter if it's World history or American history most Americans do not have a clue.

Americans are more worried about teaching Darwinism vs. intelligent design than understanding history soooo America is doomed to repeat its mistakes.

In the age of "freedom fries" what should we expect?

Posted by: knjincvc | June 6, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Now I understand why President Obama refuses to read blogs, since some are written in hasty ignorance like Ms. Applebaum's. Indeed, Ms. Applebaum, by diminishing the horrors of Buchenwald and the brave warriors that lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago, you are the one who demonstrates a "slanted" view of evil.

How could you minimize the fact that Buchenwald symbolizes the murder of 6 million Jews at such camps and that the D-Day invasion at Normandy made it possible to end the genocide at the Nazi concentration camps and the horrible consequences of a world ruled by Nazi Germany?

Yes, Stalin was an evil man, equaling Hitler for that matter in the enormity of his evil even before World War II began. But Ms. Applebaum, we were not at war with Stalin and the Soviets during our struggle with Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, the evil Soviet helped us to defeat an evil Nazi Germany.

Stalin and Soviet Communists became an actual threat to the free world after the end of World War II, but we won our battle with Soviet Communism with much less blood shed than was loss during World War II. Thus, I am content to know that Stalin met his maker in 1953 and will be judged by God for the evils he perpetrated on earth and that Hitler experienced defeat on earth before he faced the judgment of God.

Although war is hell and it never permanently removes evil from the earth, it sometimes takes war to defeat an evil enemy. World War II accomplished just that, so President Obama should be commended for commemorating a righteous victory, Ms. Applebaum, and you should be rebuked.

Posted by: bleon2000 | June 6, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

And while in Normandy, why didn't Obama decry the Norman Conquest of 1066?

Posted by: imback | June 6, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Anne, we could ask the same sorts of questions of you: if you understand that "starting violence" has unintended consequences, then why did you accept the specious Bush administration arguments for invading Iraq? If you are so outraged about inhumane acts, then why were you so wishy-washy when it became clear that the American government was normalizing a regime of torture? Why did you look the other way?

Posted by: Ladyrantsalot | June 6, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

You know, Anne, there's only so many minutes in a day. If President Obama had not commemorated D-Day, would that have made you happy?

The war did not end with D-Day, but the end of the war began that day. I'd suggest, then, that your career might be better served by providing history lessons to the American public. I'm sure more people know about the current celebrities and their love affairs than they do about the country they live in.

Injustice is everywhere. If President Obama spent time at every location commemorating the injustice of war and of totalitarian regimes, then he would have no time to manage the affairs of this nation.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | June 6, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Nothing is ever enough for some, is it?

No amount of American taxpayer dollers tothe savages of Israel is enough, they
gouge and secret for more.

No amount of time or attention to the holocaust is enough...those like Applebaum
scream and curse and demand more.

No appreciation for those who offer the regret or sadness...just rotten ugly complains for those who were not even born yet.

And all the time, the Applebaums of the Post support the savage barbaric behavior of the Israelis who are sure as hll makeing sure the hatred of centuries against them continues.

God, it' so stupid.

Posted by: whistling | June 6, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Very valid points. Applebaum has really started to get history since she lives in Europe.

May I add that Buchenwald and Gitmo are based on the same principle, namely that the end justifies the means. I don't deny the massive difference in magnitude and quality of the evil done, but the underlying lack of humanity is the same.

Posted by: brux1 | June 6, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

What about the partition of Poland among Prussia, Russia, and Austria? The Armenian Genocide? The repeated Persian invasions of Greece? The Mongols. Lots of bad stuff. All should be mentioned. President should give the next four years over to paying tribute the victims of bad stuff.

Posted by: markfromark | June 6, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

We write about what we know, and Anne Applebaum wrote a definitive book on the Soviet gulag that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004. In that book she details the extent of the gulag, how the camps operated, and their victims.

Knowing of her background, and having read the book, and spending considerable time--including this month--in Russia, I completely understand why Applebaum took the time to add context to President Obama's visit to Buchenwald and what happened after the war.

Rather complain that she didn't address everything, or complain that Obama couldn't address everything (which is not her point), let's appreciate that there are historians and other specialists who can broaden our knowledge of and perspective on events.

Posted by: spbphil | June 6, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

.Most informed folks know about the invasion of Poland and about the Soviet Union activity in Germany. Most of us know about the Roosevelt-Stalin meeting at Yalta, too.

The President can't be everything to everyone and he can't be everywhere at the same time, either. That is what you suggest, Ms Appelbaum.

I do not know what is cranking around in your head, Ms Appelbaum. What came out is nothing more than a cheap political shot at President Obama from someone who is never satisfied.

Would you like to be President, Ms Appelbaum

Posted by: pbarnett52 | June 6, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

A serious contender for "Stupid Washington Post Editorial Column of the Year"! [But with Gerson, Krauthammer & Will in the running, nothing is for certain....]

Posted by: thrh | June 6, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I agree that this is an incredibly petty commentary. There's no winning a game of comparative atrocity. How often does focus on WW2 entirely neglect Asia, which is where it started. Just because we mourn one atrocity doesn't mean we don't care about the others.

Posted by: perpetualstudent | June 6, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

I suppose next we'll read aspersions cast upon the president because failed to pay homage to St. Joan of Arc. As long as he was in France, I mean.

Good grief, what a stupid blog.


Posted by: dastubbs | June 6, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

And, heck, Obama utterly neglected to commemorate the prisoner of war atrocities at Andersonville and Point Lookout. And when was the last time an American president visited Dealy Plaza? What about the Killing Fields in Cambodia? Huh? Why didn't Obama say something about the Killing Fields? To say nothing about the Armenians? And when is the President doing to say something about the horrors visited on countless innocents by Genghis Khan? Do you know that the Roman short sword has killed more human beings than any other single weapon in the whole sorry history of our species? Why didn't Obama come out foursquare against the Roman short sword while he visited Buchenwald?

Good grief.

Posted by: mmeyerdc | June 6, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Just as interesting is Applebaum's omission of the fact that the Allied forces also set up concentration camps for "demobilized" German troops in which as many as a million starved to death or died of exposure.

Posted by: RobertLeeHotchkisss | June 6, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

spbphil, it was her comment that "He might, however, have given more than a split second’s attention to what happened at that camp immediately after that liberation." which made her sound petty. Had she said something like "not many know about what happened" it would have been less shrewish.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | June 6, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

The Soviet Union lost some 35-40 million people due to the Second World War:

Population dynamics of the United States and the Soviet Union, BB Torrey and WW Kingkade, Science 30 March 1990 247: 1548-1552, citing V. Kozlov, Istoriya SSSR 2, 132 (1989).

I don't know whether expert historians think the Soviet Union's army could have seized all of western Europe (perhaps excluding Great Britain, Ireland, some of Italy and maybe Scandinavia) in the absence of the Normandy invasion.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | June 6, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

"Yes, we shut down Hitler’s concentration camps. But WE ALSO ALLOWED Stalin’s to grow far larger: in the late 1940s they expanded numerically and geographically, not only in the Soviet Union but across central Europe."

The heart of Ms. Applebaum's complaint lies in the above paragraph, and it really has little or nothing to do with President Obama, whose speech is little more than an excuse for her to take off on a topic she has far more lasting interest in.

Though Ms. Applebaum's knowledge of modern East European history is matched by few Americans, this "we also allowed" shows that she has no corresponding knowledge of American political reality in 1945.

Specifically, how were we NOT going "to allow" the Soviets to get their way in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war?

The U.S. draft ended in 1946, and it wasn't reinstated until two years later. Poll after poll showed that Americans had absolutely NO interest in fighting a third world war at the time. And by the time that the country was aroused and the draft had been reinstated, it was already too late---Czechoslovakia was the last domino to fall, and it was gone while we were still effectively demobilized---in response to overwhelming public sentiment. Given these facts on the ground, we could have no more prevented the Sovietization of Eastern Europe 1945-48 than the Soviets could have prevented our economic colonization of Central America.

Posted by: andym108 | June 6, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I guess the President should have gone to Oswiecim(Auschwitz)Perhaps you could have written an article about how the lovely polish people supported the natzis and after the war killed Jews(in a pogrom).Or how they expelled the remaining Jews in 1968(both of them, so to speak)
What you write from Poland should stay in Poland.
Good day,Anne Appelbaumski

Posted by: andrei46acomcastnet | June 7, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Andrei i!! Stop spreading Soviet and anti-Polish propaganda.
Polish people did not support the Nazis. They defied, resisted and fought the German Nazis to the gates of Berlin- unlike the Soviets that actually allied themselves with Hitler to invade Poland.
3 million Polish gentiles in addition to 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust by the German Nazis. How do you figure that they could have possibly supported the Nazis - the murderers of their own brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers ?
The expelling of Polish Jews was done not by Poles - but by the Soviet installed Polish puppet Communist government (which had no support of the polish population) with the blessing of the Soviet Union which sided with the Arab states over Israel. The pretext for expelling the jews by the communists were a flurry of polish patriotic and anti-communist demonstrations by students and intelligentsia in which Polish Jews took part in large numbers.

Posted by: Corrector | June 7, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

The Soviet post-World War II occupation of Eastern Europe is not a lesson in unintended consequences. Rather, it confirms that geography limits even the most powerful of nations.Neville Chamberlain's pre-World War II policy of appeasement was for Britain and France to give into Germany's territorial demands so Hitler would turn German expansion east against the Soviet Union.

In 1942-43, Winston Churchill pressed for an invasion of the Balkans to check the Soviets instead of the invasion of France. Franklin Roosevelt rejected Churchill for two reasons. (1) The mountainous terrain and distance of the Mediterranean Sea from England made a seaborne invasion of the Balkans -- always a problematical undertaking -- impossible The British suffered a terrible defeat in World War I at Gallipoli off Turkey for these very reasons. (2) The Soviets were in the process of losing what was ultimately 20 million people defeating the bulk of the German military forces. The Red Army was on the borders of Poland and the Balkans in 1944. Germany was still a powerful enemy in 1943 and 1944 as the Battle of the Bulge demonstrated in December, 1944. Winning the war with the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan was not the foregone conclusion it appears in hindsight.

Roosevelt had it right. German militarism was the greater evil. Russian expansion into Eastern Europe would eventually be overcome internally. Churchill agreed, predicting to a young aide in 1953 that the aide would see the Soviet Union disintegrate in the aide's lifetime. That is exactly what happened in 1989 without force of arms.

Posted by: RSteagall | June 8, 2009 2:42 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Appelbaum must have been watching PBS recently. While she's correct about our lack of historical perspective from the eastern side of Europe she totally misses the relationship between Poland and Russia prior to WWII.

Don't get me wrong, I loath what the Russians did in Poland in WWII, but it wasn't some bolt out of the blue, there was a long history of conflict between the Imperial powers where Poland wasn't always exactly a pacifist victim.

Posted by: pclement1 | June 8, 2009 4:37 AM | Report abuse

I also don't much get this one. We pay attention to the Holocaust because it was pretty much unique -- an attempt using modern technology, communications and industrial methods to exterminate an entire race of people.

What the Soviets, or for that matter the US did in Europe during and after WWII is not at all in the same league: Europe is built on mass graves and ethnic cleansing. It is depressing, but there it is.


Dude, other than that they were/are both camp-prisons, there is no comparison in either the means or the end between Gitmo and Buchenwald.

Buchenwald was a factory designed to exploit and kill Jews.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay is just that, a prison.

Neither the means nor the end is at all comparable.


Posted by: bawrytr | June 8, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

I had a land lady while at university who was a victim of the Soviet camps. During the Nazi occupation she was punished for having a Polish husband who died in the invasion, after the soviets came in she was put in the camps for six years because she was a German Pole and owned a small farm.

Interesting enough the Soviets put Jews in charge of most of the camps in the German Polish area who proved themselves not much better than the Nazis who proceeded them.

Posted by: jonmce | June 8, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

I wonder why she doesnt mention the Palistinian Holocaust that took place earlier this year? She also fails to mention the largest concentration camp still active in Gaza. Some lessons from the past still havent been learned well.

Posted by: mikehoner | June 8, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Applebaum is to be applauded for taking a wider view of Buchenwald and the aftermath of World War II than is typical. She is completely right that the scale of the war on the Eastern front is ignored by many Western historians and certainly in what American students are taught. She is also completely right to point out that Nazi methods of terror and social control were adopted by the Soviets, which allowed them to keep a tight grip on eastern and central Europe.
We need a broader and more comprehensive view of what happened under the Nazis. We must not think that honoring heroes of D-Day requires ignoring heroes of Kursk and Stalingrad. We must not think that honoring Jewish victims of the Nazis requires ignoring gays, communists, Roma, social democrats, anti-Nazi religious leaders, and others who also suffered. We must not think that learning more about the camps and their historical context threatens the memory of those who died in them.

Posted by: wapo9 | June 8, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Hey to all you people who called this article petty I have one thing to say - if we don't learn from history, we are bound to repeat it. We can talk about WWII from the US perspective all we want and learn nothing. The war happened not in our shores and actually in 3 continents that we know very little about even so many years later.

Here is where I see this column leading me - what is the finish line for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East. If the finish line is US centric, then we haven't learned anything from history have we?

Ad to those who see this column as an opportunity to take a swipe at Obama - the role of the media and even every single citizen in a democracy is to be cynically critical so we don't get lulled by this sense of comfort while the fox eats our hens.

Posted by: Illinoismom | June 8, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

A worthwhile contribution by A.A. in providing a broader perspective. I didn't know that the Russians used Buchenwald after WWII, incredible! I thought Elie Wiesel's response to what has been learned from Buchenwald was accurate. He wasn't sure that we had learned anything after Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur. More examples could have been added. None of these peoples, or the Jews or Armenians for that matter, posed a threat to anyone. And, those in power to act never did.

Posted by: johnson0572 | June 8, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Funny how any commentary that includes the Holocaust invariably brings out the rabid, hysterical anti-Semites. I really need to stop reading blog comments.

Posted by: simpleton1 | June 8, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

First, I would encourage everyone who has posted to re-read Applebaum’s paragraphs. At no point does she diminish the tragedy of the Holocaust. Never does she suggest that we ought to relax our own conception of the Holocaust. Rather, she encourages us to more fully educate ourselves about fairly recent history. The fact is that Stalin systematically exterminated tens of millions (not counting casualties of war on any side). Elevating this historical statistic to its rightful place in our consciousnesses in no was suggests comparison or competition with the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, it seems as though many who have posted thus far seem unable to hold both events of history in their minds at the same time. It is as if some folks can only “appreciate” one genocide at a time; to the point that, in order for them to accept Stalin’s genocide, they must make room by pushing out the Holocaust. Guess what: Both Happened. Both were horrifying. More perished at the hands of Stalin than Hitler. If there is a hell, they are both there. It is ok for us to understand both atrocities – one doesn’t threaten the other in some sick mental genocide competition.

To the person by the username of “dailyfare”: Do you really want to be the person who, when reading an article about the tens of millions that were executed at the hands of Stalin, replies… “Good grief, Anne. There's only so much time in a day. This commentary comes across as seriously petty”? Or perhaps, “dailyfare,” you meant there is only so much time in President Obama’s day to acknowledge this bit of history. How long do you imagine it really would have taken? Is yours really an intellectually durable critique?

Posted by: songwriter12 | June 9, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Why on earth does the WP have this person employed by them? She is encased in a little world where only Jewish lives matter.

As she types about people killed in the past, she ignores the very real Palestinian holocaust. The latest Israeli crime being the horror use of white phosophorus on men, women and children.

In any case, there is no monopoly on suffering- just ask African Americans, Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, the Irish, the Russians.


Posted by: pathina | June 9, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

When will this writer focus on the crimes being committed today by Israel? Don't the occupied people matter becuse they aren't Jewish or because they are being occupied by jewish people?

It is time to stop using the past to hide the crimes of today. People's race, religion and colour is not important. All human beings matter and I'm sick to death of one case in history being constantly harped on.

African Americans don't use THEIR past suffering to manipulate opinion to hide war crimes...neither do native Americans or the Irish. There is no monopoly on suffering so let's concentrate on helping those suffering now, regardless of their race and religion.

Posted by: pathina | June 9, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Again in response to Andrei:
The alleged pogrom you speak of - namely Kielce, was always suspected by Poles to be staged by the Soviet and Polish communist security forces who sought to smear free Poles in order to turn world opinion away from a free Poland What better way to do this than to organize a "pogrom" in post Holocaust Poland and say the Poles did this This sensitive topic is presently being researched, since it could not be researched until the fall of communism, but the actual facts of the "pogrom" show involvement of Communist representatives from the beginning to end. Even the NY Times, considered rabidly anti-Polish, made note of the the unusual communist government propaganda campaign that followed the event. To those who find this a conspiracy theory:
Poles were dismissed when they informed the West of the Holocaustt being perpetrated by the Germans in occupied Poland.
The West did not believe the Poles for several years that the murder in Katyn of 20,000 Polish officers was committed by the Soviet Union, not Germany
The World is only now, after the fall of communism, finding out about Poles who tried to save Jews from the Holocaust such as Witold Pilecki, Irena Sendler, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Henry Slawik, etc. Why? Some were arrested and/or murdered by the Soviets, the knowledge of all was deliberately suppressed.
Anne is right to direct attention to the barbarity and treachery of the Stalinist regime. It is too bad that Polish and Jewish relations suffered so much as a result of it.

Posted by: Corrector | June 9, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I've the funny feeling this WP reporter is single-mindedly whispering anti-Russian songs sung into her ears by none other than her playmate in Warsaw.

She can't get over it - for some good reason - after all these decades of
Polish-Russian relations.

Posted by: hariknaidu | June 10, 2009 5:14 AM | Report abuse

Why WaPo finds it imperative to include among its stable of commentators someone who is petty beyond any rational standards is a mystery. It is obvious who the President was speaking to and the point that needed to be made. He does not have the opportunity to hold a seminar in every damn thing that must be dealt with in order to state where this nation stands. Why WaPo publishes such silly, petty stuff is very hard to understand.

Posted by: anders1 | June 10, 2009 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Here is opinion from Russia:

It is historical fact that Poland had cut some lands from Russia in 1919. There was not only civil war these years in Russia - in addition 14 foreign countries invade our country trying get share in dead bears hide.

When passions calmed down in past revolution world it was the politic, the agreements and an order. For instance it was direct Antanta recommendation for Poland to return lands back to SSR because lands were assimilated by force in prejudice of native population. In 20 years portion of native population were shrinked from 95% to 60%.

That`s a hundreds years old Poland tradition to call once captured lands as his own forever and no matter any land there taken back from Poland again and again and again. I have read poland forums a lot and they believe what Moskow is poland city because russians are long extinct and Russia now inhabitant by second quality people - mongols offsprings - which are barbaric, cruel and deserves no right to live. In Evil Empire, for you to know, NEVER no people there treated any close to this. In Poland nacism is national idea, it is rised in the highest politic range. But no one talks about - Poland is white and fluffy, because that bad Stalin takes part in German-Russian invasion to retrieve some lands back. No one (except germans) remember what after WWII Poland borders become wider than before. Thanks to Stalin.

For ones who interested - "Kerzon Line" is a key word for 1939.

Posted by: IWH_rus | June 10, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse


Sorry, mate, but Buchenwald was not an extermination camp. It was set up for political prisoners. Few Jews were there and most of them were indeed held for political reasons, not for their ethnicity.

I would not want to go into the details too much as this can always be seen as justifying the Nazi crimes somehow. But the Nazi system was planned from A to Z which made it so dangerous. These were not a bunch of evil-doers. To avoid repetition somewhere else in the world, we need to be historically as correct about this system as possible.

Posted by: brux1 | June 10, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

The land IWH_rus talks about are lands which now are Lithuania, Byelorussia and the Ukraine. These lands had belonged to the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth for centuries before they ever belongged to Russia The Russian empire collapsed, Poland did not take any land from Russia. Those lands had mixed populations (with very little Russian) and when ethnic countries (including Poland) emerged from oblivion after the fall of the Russian, Austrian and Prussian empires each sought to include land which were populated by their own people. This was a very unfortunate circumstance for the stability of the region. .Pilsudski, however, wanted to create a confederation of Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine - which, in retrospect, might not have been a bad idea, because then they would have been able to resist the Soviet Union, and/or Nazi Germany.
No serious Polish person believes Moscow should be Polish just because Poland once occupied Moscow way back when. I wouldn't even mention such an issue.
The Curzon line included Lwow on the side of Poland. Thank God these border issues are not that much of a problem anymore since Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, and even Byelorussia have good relations, and are independent, which is the way it should be.

Posted by: Corrector | June 10, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

These lands there under control of now vanished major russian Polotck principality long before Poland were mentioned in any chronicle (information from livon order cronicles). Long before this famouos traveler from Poland (forgot his name, sorry) writed "This Pskov are even larger than Paris!" And Pskov principality were minor. This was long before appearing byelorusses and ukrainians in process of hard accimilation of russian population from poland and livon conquares. There was no "Lithuania" that time there was Lites, Lates and Estes (sorry if english transcription are uncorrect) And there is a Lites, Lates and Estes now after thousands years of russian "cruel occupation". Non maked halfrussians from them as Poland did and still trying with "Ukraine". Yea, I know, that`s a bunch of lie I`m talking about. Everyone can read truth in ukraine modern school-book: "Ukraine nation is 140 000 years old!" That`s nice :)

There was two Curzon lines A and B - one with Lwow for Poland, another without. Corrector shows need to be corrected.

No unserious russians believe that poland nation any worse in principle than russian one. Non ether say that poland nation deservs to be destroyed. Still on poland forums theme of russions extermination always popular.

Posted by: IWH_rus | June 10, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: mtavro | June 10, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I am pleasantly amazed by Anne Applebaum's honesty, considering the propaganda The Washington Post usually prints.

Posted by: markoller | June 11, 2009 2:16 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to perpetualstudent for observing: "There's no winning a game of comparative atrocity."
Thanks to wapo9 for advocating a broader geographic reach and sense of perspective in our teaching of history.
Many other helpful posts here but too many that are cranky and pugnacious.

The Nazis established Buchenwald in 1937 for domestic political opponents; the camp's subsequent use in Nazi Germany's death-by-labor machinery as well as in the postwar Soviet/German Communist repression of opponents demand our thorough understanding.
The foundation responsible for the site and for that at Mittelbau-Dora does an excellent job of advancing scholarship, and its staff, including young volunteers from inside and outside Germany, make a visit to either location deeply instructive.

I encourage everyone to get a copy of Geert Mak's "In Europe" from your local library, read it, and if you have teenagers, have them read it too, and then talk about it.

Posted by: Kaasgraben | June 11, 2009 4:01 AM | Report abuse


There is many other things which are demand attention.

Why ukraine history books is all about endless fight against "ugro-finnes from Moskow" which are "not even slavs" "short and have a prolate skull, flat face, and low brow while ukrainian are tall, sphere-headed, and high foreheaded." - think it`s funny? No it is Ukraine Science Academy formal citations. Why ukraines leader damned by own nation hundreds years ago for nation betrayal now are hand-made heroes?

Why "democratic" Baltia zeig-hailes his SS-veterans and still so beloved by enlighted west?

Why nazi and racist organizations all worlds wide rise head again? And USA can show some leadership here?

This is all happens today - NOT halfcentury ago. Why you need to condemn again and again the past of your former enemy? Everything were said about - everything and more. Look at YOUR present now. Please.

Posted by: IWH_rus | June 11, 2009 7:05 AM | Report abuse

Good grief. I thought this an interesting look with an uncommon perspective. Thanks, Ms. Applebaum, for it. As always, it's depressing to read the meanness of many posts. It's an unfortunate attribute of communication strictly in text. I hope Ms. Applebaum has seen so much of it she doesn't take it personally. Some people would be jerks regardless of what she wrote.

Posted by: kylehsings1 | June 11, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

After the war-I was about 9 years old then- Russian soldiers periodically swept through our border village south of the Harz mountains to arbitrarily pick up civilians, some of them family friends. Most of them ended up at nearby Buchenwald from a where many were transferred to the Siberian gulag. One of them who did not return until 1955-along with the last group of German POWs-told me on a recent visit to the US that Stalin's regime was particularly paranoid about "subversive" activities in the border region adjacent to the American occupation zone of West Germany and decided to deliberately terrorize the people in this area.
I was pleased that a prominent historian of that time period like Ms. Appelbaum referred to some of these facts in her comments.

Posted by: GErtingshausen | June 11, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Dear MS. Applebaum,

I realize you have a bias against the former Soviet Union and are married to a Polish official, but try to be a little more objective. The war in Europe began because the Western powers had isolated the USSR post-1921 and then caved in to Hitler at Munich in 1938, with Poland grabbing a piece of Czechoslovakia to boot. The German invasion of the USSR in 1941 was a life-saver for the beleagured British, and it was the Soviet Union that beat back the Germans after 1942, fighting 80% of the German armies themselves. And it was Poland's unwillingness to negotiate at all with the USSR during 1942-1945--despite the pleadings of Churchill and FDR--that led to the USSR's absolute domination there after 1945. Yes, a tragedy, but there were many not-so-innocent actors in this scenario. So stop with the petty criticism and give thanks for Obama and his travel to Buchenwald.

Arnold Offner
43 Cotton Street
Newton, MA 02458

Posted by: offner1 | June 11, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The sharp criticisms here of the columnist for carping about the D Day and Buchenwald events are merited (I especially liked the one about the Norman Conquest), but let's put this in context. Columnists like Applebaum are entertainers--a cut above radio talk show hosts but still entertainers. They write columns whether they have anything worthwhile to say or not. It's in their contracts. Inevitably then much of what they write should not have appeared.

I propose a modest reform: Every column that is published should be accompainied by a statement like this: "This is not pap I wrote to meet a deadline. I think it's reasonably important and useful, and I recommend it to my colleagues, friends and readers."

Posted by: Roytex | June 11, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

The sharp criticisms here of the columnist for carping about the D Day and Buchenwald events are merited (I especially liked the one about the Norman Conquest), but let's put this in context. Columnists like Applebaum are entertainers--a cut above radio talk show hosts but still entertainers. They write columns whether they have anything worthwhile to say or not. It's in their contracts. Inevitably then much of what they write should not have appeared.

I propose a modest reform: Every column that is published should be accompainied by a statement like this: "This is not pap I wrote to meet a deadline. I think it's reasonably important and useful, and I recommend it to my colleagues, friends and readers."

Posted by: Roytex | June 11, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: mtavro | June 11, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

In regards to Offner statements on Polan
-Poland took back part of Teschen from Czechoslovakia what Czechoslovakia took from Poland when Poland was busy fighting for its survival in the Polish Bolshevik war.
-Poland would not negotiate with the Soviets in 1942-45?
After the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939 along with Nazi Germany, deported 1.5 million men, women, children and elderly citizens to Siberia, with most of them eventually dying? After the Soviet Union murdered the Katyn officers and did not admit to this, killed hundreds of thousands of other Poles, engaged in mock trials, purges of their own, killed millions of Ukrainians? You ask a lot of the pat Polish leaders as you live comfortably in Newton Massachusetts. Don't you think you need a little trust to negotiate anything with someone? Does being a better option for you, but the same for others , compared to Nazi Germany, make an entity a trustworthy partner?
Left leaning, Sovietophiles like you should visit the gulag and try to get a grasp of the immense suffering the Soviets caused to others, and primarily to their own people. I don't find being killed by the Soviets any better than being killed by the Nazis - except, of course, if you're living a nice peaceful life in Newton, Massachusetts, and have a complete lack of empathy for the suffering of others, or you were only endangered by the Nazis, but not the Soviets.

Posted by: Corrector | June 11, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

To IWH-rus
What needs to be pointed out is that Russians suffered from the same regimes and leaders which governed them as caused suffering to the Poles, and the Polish peasants in Poland suffered just as much as the Ukrainian peasants under Polish nobility rule. We should make sure our countries continue to have civilized relations and allow their citizens to pursue happiness. Openly and sincerely discussing the past should serve this goal.
I have to look into what you wrote.
In regards to the article, I think that Anne Applebaum put herself on a limb by speaking out for the Germans who suffered under the Soviets, considering all that Germans did to others. I don't think many people are emotionally ready to get past the "They deserved what they got!" attitude, even though it was at the hands of the Soviets. Most Poles, Jews and Europeans would not agree with Anne on this one. She should have expected the sharp criticism she got.

Posted by: Corrector | June 11, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

It would be even better to ask, why didn't Obama, in Cairo, where he spoke for 55 minutes to the entire Arab world, give a split second attention to what is happening next door to Egypt right now?

The world's gravest humanitarian crisis is continuing in Darfur. Three million have been ethnically cleansed, 300,000 murdered, countless women raped, and Obama spent his time complemented his audience on the grandeur of Arab civilization and its religion. He was willing to note America's "dark past", the injustices done to Iran, but nothing about the huge crime currently being committed in Darfur by the brethren of his audience.

He was interested in appeasing listeners still boiling mad over 700,000 Palestinian farmers who had to flee sixty years ago in a war their leaders caused. They did not want to hear about Arabs ethnically cleansing black African farmers, Right Now. And the black African Obama did not have the courage to speak up for those victims.

Incidentally, yes, the Soviet army housed political prisoners in camps like Buchenwald after the war, but the truth is, there were plenty of hardened Nazis, SS and Waffen SS around in need of locking up.

The US housed millions of German POW in flimsy stockades where tens of thousands died of malnutrition and exposure, especially in the first record cold winters after the war. The death rates were especially high in camps for Waffen SS.

Whether those enclosures were former slave labor camps, or new barbed wire constructs, mattered little.

Posted by: nacllcan | June 11, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

over the past 10 yrs NATO received quite a few new members in places that most Americans could not find on a map, including: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and the biggest one of all (60 million residents- and 98 percent Catholic), Poland....and yet they are still considered to be somewhat out of place in NATO (and even the EU) because they all have very vivid memories of 40+ years of harsh Soviet rule, harsher in some places than in others...and because of the collective memory of East Europeans, they are not into "playing nice" with the evil bear in Moscow, most recently with Mr.Putin- because of their failure to "play nice" with Russia, many of the NATO members (especially the French and Germans) consider the East Euros to be rude, intemperate, uncouthe troublemakers...which leads to why so many fellow NATO members will be shy on honoring the memory of the Poland that was assaulted by both Nazis and Stalin in Sept 39, which is to avoid irritating the bad bear in the Kremlin...but the West should grow a few gonads and say to hell with the Russians, it was the USSR that invaded Poland and if Moscow can not deal with that historic Fact, then Moscow needs to visit a top dollar shrink to get over its failure to deal with its bloody Soviet past....more power to the East Euros in both NATO and EU, may they be the collective conscience of these groupings, which too often play nice with Russia to cover up Russian misbehavior, most recently its invasion of South Ossetia in the Republic of Georgia, which has now been all but annexed to the USSR, oops, did i say USSR, meant to say the Russian Federation: those same folks who leveled the city of Grozny, population a half million, to powder in their attempt to crush the Chechen drive for greater self determination from Moscow....the Russian pulverization of Grozny in the 1990s would have brought a smile to Stalin's face..

Posted by: RoguesPalace | June 12, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

one final comment in response to the Katyn forest massacre, where Stalin's secret police executed approximately 5,000 captured Polish military officers and then attempted to pin the blame on the Nazis...the Russian Supreme court recently turned down an effort to get to the bottom of the Katyn forest massacre which most reliable historians to attribute to the turning down appeals to see what happened historically during this massacre, the New Gangster Capitalist Russia showed its face as only slightly more enlightened, liberal and/or humane than the Old Soviet Russia. in Stalin's days, a dissident would get a bullet in the back of the head; today dissidents in Russia are only beaten to a pulp by agents of the state...

Posted by: RoguesPalace | June 12, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

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