Since I’ve been on a bit of a World War II streak, particularly with regard to WWII and Russia, I thought I’d mention that last year I worked on translating a wartime memoir that contains some fascinating material, and which is now published in English. The book is In Defiance of Fate by Vladimir Rott, a Russian-Jewish emigre now living in Canada, born in 1935 of Hungarian parents who moved to the Soviet Union in 1933. Rott’s father was arrested as a “Hungarian spy” and sent to the Gulag when he was three years old; his mother, who barely spoke Russian and had no job skills, was left alone with two small children. The family’s hardships were compounded when the war began and they found themselves under German occupation; miraculously (I won’t explain how) the Nazis did not find out that Regina Rott and her two children were Jewish.
Rott is not a professional writer; he started to write this book (of which I am now working on the second volume) for his own grandchildren. However, it is a story told (pardon the cliché) from the heart — a very authentic, vivid, dramatic tale of incredible hardship and survival. The wartime chapters are particularly gripping, and make you marvel (and shudder) at the things so many people lived through as children in that terrible age. Since I am specifically focusing on the World War II parts, I should mention that Chapter 1 deals with the fate of Rott’s relatives in Hungary during the war (and it’s pretty grim reading). For those interested in Soviet history, the book also features a chapter consisting of Rott’s father’s letters from the Gulag camps, as well as a firsthand account of the final years of Stalin’s rule (including the anti-Semitic campaign that followed the “Doctors’ Plot”) and the Khrushchev “thaw.”
The author’s site is here. The book can be ordered online here. And no, I am not getting kickbacks.
In my last column on World War II, I mentioned some through-the-looking-glass similarities between Russian and American attitudes toward the war — such as the fact that both often act as if they single-handedly defeated Hitler.
While working on the column, I thought of another parallel. Russians “patriots” frequently wax indignant at the ungrateful people of Eastern Europe and the Baltics who fail to appreciate Russia’s role in liberating them from the Nazi yoke. Many Americans, particularly conservatives, have the same attitude toward Europeans who fail to appreciate America’s role in saving them from Hitler.
But is there any kind of moral equivalence there?
I would say no.
It’s not that I don’t find the “how dare they — we saved their butts during World War II!” attitude annoying. I do, except in response to shrill , vicious anti-Americanism (rather than reasoned criticism of U.S. policies). I think demanding gratitude for one’s good deeds is always somewhat unseemly, and takes away much of the value of the good deed.
Still, there’s a difference. Allow me to illustrate (with apologies for the gender-stereotypical script).
Scenario A: A man saves a woman from a homicidal maniac. They start dating and end up getting married. He can be a bit domineering at times and sometimes, when she questions something he does, self-righteously reminds her of the gratitude she owes him for saving her life.
Not very nice, right? But now consider …
Scenarior B: A man saves a woman from a homicidal maniac. He then proceeds to forcibly take her to his house and repeatedly rape her. When she finally escapes and goes to the police, he proceeds to loudly complain about her ingratitude — after all, if it weren’t for him, she’d be dead now!
In my Forbes.com article, I talk about efforts by the Russian government (and its servile media) to combat “revisionism” about World War II and alleged attempts to either tarnish or hijack Soviet Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. The Duma is now considering a bill that, while harmless and even worthy on its face — it’s titled “On combating the exoneration of Nazis, Nazi war criminals and their accomplices in independent states which were formerly republics of the USSR” — may, some fear, be used to silence “patriotically incorrect” discussions of the Soviet Union’s conduct and role in World War II and its aftermath. (Some of the issues include the USSR’s brutal treatment of its own soldiers as well as the postwar enslavement of Eastern Europe and the Baltics.)
Are those fears unfounded and paranoid? Well, last night I stumbled on an item in a major Russian daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, that gives a good insight into what kind of things some people in the Russia — not crazies but people well within the mainstream — regard as unacceptable “revisionism” about the war. (Hint: it includes the recognition of Holocaust victims.) Continue reading