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Past for the Eyes

 | 
Oksana Sarkisova
, 
Péter Apor

Objects of Memory: Museums, Monuments, Memorials

Containing Fascism

History in Post-Communist Baltic Occupation and Genocide Museums1

James Mark

Texte intégral

  • 1 I would like to thank both the British Academy for the small research grant which allowed me to ca (...)
  • 2 All research at the museums themselves was carried out in the summer of 2005. All information on d (...)

1Since the collapse of Communism, three major museums dealing with the recent past have been established in the capital cities of the Baltic states. Two of these—the Museum of Occupations (Tallinn, Estonia, established in 2003) and The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (Riga, 1993)— linked the Nazi and Soviet periods together to present a history of continuous national subjugation and suffering at the hands of foreign powers, lasting from 1940 to 1991. The third—the Museum of Genocide Victims (Vilnius, Lithuania, 1992)—dealt solely with the terrors of the communist period, despite being placed in a building with a “double past” of both Soviet and Nazi persecution.2

  • 3 In addition to this, her father was killed by the Soviet regime.
  • 4 Dovile Budryte, Taming Nationalism? Political Community Building in the Post-Soviet Baltic States (...)
  • 5 The director of the Tallinn museum used objects from the time of his own incarceration in a Soviet (...)
  • 6 Budryte, Taming Nationalism?, 184.

2These museums focused on national suffering, terror and occupation. However, it was the terrors of Communism, rather than those of Fascism, which took centre stage. This in part reflected the longer-lasting and more recent nature of communist influence in the region: the Baltic states were incorporated twice into the Soviet Union—in 1940–41, and then between 1944 and 1991; Nazi occupation was restricted to the years 1941–44. However, it also reflected the choices of those who founded these institutions. In the main, these were groups who had suffered under Communism rather than Fascism; the Occupation Museum (Tallinn) was mainly funded by an exile, Dr. Olga Kistler-Ritso, who had fled in the face of Red Army advances in 1944,3 and is run by Heiki Ahonen, a prominent anti-communist who was imprisoned in Soviet camps. The Vilnius museum was instigated by the Union of Political Prisoners and Exiles, an association of those who had suffered because of Soviet rule. By contrast, the Riga museum was “authored” by a member of the North American Latvian diaspora who wanted to challenge the exclusive indigenous focus on Soviet crimes by including both occupations; however, even this museum was strongly influenced by the greater emphasis on communist-era suffering found in post-independence Baltic historiographies.4 These sites’ focus on Communism was in part a product of the difficulties the curators faced in amassing their collections; frequently Soviet era items were gathered from the personal belongings of the founding groups themselves, whereas objects from the Nazi occupation were harder to obtain.5 Moreover, this choice reflected wider cultural assumptions about the relative importance of these different terrors. Only in the late 1990s did it become common to accord weight to Nazi persecution alongside Soviet crimes. Even then, however, this new approach was often adopted only grudgingly and regarded as a foreign imposition associated with integration into European political and cultural norms, rather than as a domestic imperative.6

3Fascism did not merely play a secondary role in these museums’ accounts of twentieth century terror and suffering: the memory of it was often perceived to be in competition with that of Communism. Some curators expressed the view that Holocaust remembrance in Western Europe and North America drowned out an appropriate recognition of national suffering under the communist terror, while some felt that a focus on communist-era victimization was a necessary response to those groups both within their countries and in post-communist Russia who still exonerated the Soviets and considered them to be the “liberators” of the Baltics from Fascism. This article will consider how these museums attempted to “contain” the memory of Fascism so that it could not compete with stories of Soviet crimes, how narratives of Nazi occupation were in fact used to frame an anti-communist reading of history, and how, at sites where Fascism was marginalized entirely, this exclusion was normalized.

  • 7 For a detailed discussion of this in a Lithuanian setting, see Alfred Erich Senn, “Perestroika in (...)
  • 8 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 181. On the importance of a restrictive set of life stories of the de (...)
  • 9 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 183. He also describes how June 14 ceremonies, which commemorated the (...)

4In the late 1980s, nationalist opposition movements in the Baltics constructed new semi-public histories that were to provide the foundation for public narratives after independence in 1991. These rejected Soviet versions of the past which had emphasized the role that Baltic peoples and parliaments had played in voluntarily inviting the Soviet Union into the region in 1940, the depth of the suffering under the Nazi occupation which followed, and then the role of the Red Army as liberators of the Baltics in 1944–5. Against the background of perestroika, glasnost and Gorbachev’s criticisms of Stalinist historiography, younger reformminded Baltic historians, encouraged by revelations about the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, created new histories which explored the Baltic states’ forced incorporation into the USSR and presented the Soviets as occupiers.7 At the centre of this new public history was the idea of the “Soviet genocide,” a term which had been used by diaspora historians since the 1940s to describe the repression and deportation of Baltic peoples in the Stalinist era, but which was now taken up by nationalist historians and politicians in the region. Oral histories of the repressed, memoirs of deportees and research by new organizations such as the Commission for Research into Stalinist Crimes committed in Lithuania or Memento, the Association for the Illegally Repressed in Estonia, played a large role in constructing new public histories which delegitimized the Soviet Union as an unwanted, brutal dictatorship.8 Only in the late 1990s did public interest in Stalinist repressions decline, although groups such as Nuremberg-2 in Lithuania continued to campaign to keep former injustices visible in the public arena.9

  • 10 Bella Zisere, “The Memory of the Shoah in Post-Soviet Latvia,” East European Jewish Affairs 35/2 ( (...)
  • 11 Ibid., 160.
  • 12 Ieva Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy of History for Ethnic Integration in Latvia,” Intermarium 5/3 (...)
  • 13 Dov Levin, “Lithuania” in David S. Wyman, Charles H. Rosenzveig (eds.), The World Reacts to the Ho (...)
  • 14 This remains the one Holocaust museum in the Baltics; it is small, difficult to find, and poorly f (...)
  • 15 Zisere, Memory, 156.

5Before the late 1990s, by contrast, the story of suffering under Nazi occupation was of much less importance to the public histories of the newly independent Baltic states.10 This absence was in part the result of the Soviet regime’s instrumentalization of Fascist crimes in order to legitimize its own power. For many, talk of “Nazi atrocities” was still associated with Soviet propaganda, and there was thus little appetite for the further uncovering of Fascist crimes, even in accounts free from the distortions of Soviet historiography. This post-communist silence was also due to the fact that some of these crimes—in particular the Holocaust—had not received much specific attention during the Soviet period. In Latvia, for instance, despite Jewish communities’ efforts to retain Holocaust memory and organize regular commemorative events at sites of Jewish killings such as Rumbula,11 there was never sufficient political space to challenge the regime’s silence before the perestroika period. The term Holocaust was first used in Latvia in 1988.12 In Lithuania, in the late 1980s, the nationalist opposition movement Sajudis did try to promote the memory of the Holocaust alongside Soviet crimes and to forge links and common historical understandings with the Jewish community. Lithuanian Jews too used the greater political space afforded by glasnost to commemorate the victims of the Panieri killings and the Vilnius Ghetto,13 and to re-open, in 1989, the Vilnius Jewish museum the Soviets had closed in 1949. This new museum established a permanent exhibition on the Holocaust called “Catastrophe” in a separate building in 1990.14 After independence, some governments made efforts to support Holocaust memory officially. In 1994, 23 September was declared the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews, while the state-sponsored “Holocaust Victims’ Remembrance Day” was instituted in Latvia.15 Yet despite these initiatives “from above,” there remained a very low level of social awareness of the suffering of Jews. Immediately after independence, the story of Nazi terror was often drowned out by new nationalist histories which focused on communist crimes exclusively, viewed the period of Nazi occupation as less severe than the Soviet, and valued anti-Communism much more than anti-Fascism: hence those anti- Communists who had fought alongside Nazi Germany were idealized by certain nationalist groups.

  • 16 Its founder wanted to install railway tracks from the entrance to the statues in order to recreate (...)

6These new national histories that foregrounded Stalinist crimes had a powerful influence on the new museum and memorial landscape after 1991, leading to two particular developments. First, the history of the recent past, as in many parts of the former Soviet bloc, was as commonly displayed at sites of former violence and incarceration as it was in purpose- built museums. Second, it was places of former communist terror and imprisonment, rather than fascist ones, which were most often restored and presented to the public, such as the reconstructed underground prisons of the KGB Cells Museum in Tartu, Estonia, or the KGB prison in Vilnius. Even where locations were chosen which did not have a violent or oppressive communist past, they were often modeled on Soviet prisons or Gulags: Grüto Parkas (dubbed “Stalinworld”) near Druskinikai, Lithuania, a statue park surrounded by fences, barbed wire and lookout towers, was built to resemble a Siberian camp;16 the occupation museum in Riga began its display with the reconstruction of a Gulag barracks; the display on Communism in the War Museum, Riga, placed its exhibits of everyday life under Communism within cages, the frames of which appeared to crumble away as the exhibition moved towards the end of Communism, the emergence of a democratic opposition and national independence.

  • 17 Dov Levin, “Lithuanian Attitudes toward the Jewish Minority in the Aftermath of the Holocaust: The (...)

7Yet the display of Communism at sites of former Soviet terror presented certain difficulties. Many of these locations did not have “pure” communist pasts: frequently former camps and prisons were used for criminal purposes during both the Nazi and the two Soviet occupations. Thus in the immediate post-communist period new museums which wanted to use these locations to highlight Stalinist crimes had to deal with the Nazi past of these places. In some cases, museums addressed the site’s dual histories. The Ninth Fort outside Kaunas, Lithuania, for example, was not only the site of the murder of 45,000 Jews and Russian prisoners of war (mainly by local Lithuanian forces) under German occupation, but was also a holding centre from which Lithuanian nationals were deported to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation in 1940–1, and then functioned as a Soviet prison between 1945 and 1948. In 1958, the fort was opened as a museum dedicated to the “victims of Fascism.” After 1991, its displays were remade to address the victims of both occupations: one exhibition addressed the period of German occupation, while others dealt with the deportation of Lithuanians in 1940–1 and used the prison setting to relate the experience of incarceration for various groups—the Lithuanian intelligentsia, the Freedom Fighters’ Union and military officers—in Soviet camps elsewhere. One author criticized the greater weight accorded to exhibitions on the Soviet repression of Lithuanians at a site where the larger tragedy was connected with the Holocaust and Nazism.17

  • 18 In post-communist Lithuania in the 1990s, the term genocide was much more likely to refer to Sovie (...)
  • 19 In fact, this building has an interesting pre-Soviet history too: it was a political prison under (...)
  • 20 An exhibition on the period 1939–41 which mainly dealt with Soviet oppression and KGB activity was (...)

8However, many locations with a double past of both Soviet and Nazi terror chose to deal solely with the crimes of the communist period. One such site was the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius,18 which inhabited a former political prison that was used by the NKVD and NKGB during the first Soviet occupation, then by the Gestapo between 1941 and 1944, and by the KGB from 1944 until August 1991.19 The project to turn the prison into a museum was initiated by the Union of Political Prisoners and Exiles, an association of those whose suffering was the result of the Soviet occupation. It was then supported financially by the Ministry of Culture. The cells of the former KGB prison were opened to the public on 14 August 1992, while the rest of the building was gradually transformed into a research centre and archive which included former KGB collections. In 1997, the museum became part of the state-financed Research Centre of Genocide and Resistance of the Inhabitants of Lithuania. In 1999, the decision was made to widen the scope of the public display. In 2000, an excavated communist-era execution cell was opened in the basement. Since 2002, exhibits dealing with the two periods of Soviet occupation have been established on the upper floors.20 However, there was no attempt to restore the Gestapo prison or provide exhibitions on the Nazi period; hence the chronological narrative of the main museum jumped from 1941 to 1944.

9The exclusion of the history of Nazi occupation and victimization from the reconstructed prison was not considered problematic by the curators. Rather, it was presented as a necessary corrective to those one-sided “western” approaches to historical memory which placed far greater emphasis on the suffering caused by Fascism to the detriment of those who were persecuted under Communism. The former political prisoners who initiated the project which led to the museum tried to redress the balance:

  • 21 Interview conducted by the author with Virginija Rudienė, Museum of Genocide Victims, August 2005.

Of course it was important for them to show to the world that Communism was as bad as Fascism (…) Communism isn’t condemned by everybody in public opinion (…) in Europe there is a little known about Communism and it is very difficult for them even to get permission from Europe for projects concerning Communism. It doesn’t seem so important to them (…) mainly because, in the Second World War, Great Britain and United States were together with Russia, so, you know, they were against Fascism, so they don’t want to (…)21

  • 22 For a fascinating exploration of a site where, in the early 1990s, two different guided walks—one (...)

10This was not seen as the deliberate exclusion of one part of the building’s history. Rather, it was argued that the experience of Fascism would be more appropriately dealt with at a separate site such as the city’s Jewish museum or at another former Gestapo prison.22

  • 23 The director placed a great deal of emphasis on the authenticity of the building: “even now you se (...)
  • 24 Interview conducted by the author with Vilma Juozevičiūtė (Press Officer), Museum of Genocide Vict (...)
  • 25 In the late communist period, some cells were still used to hold political dissidents, but most ha (...)
  • 26 The narrative of uncovering hidden atrocities is of course a compelling story in many post-dictato (...)

11However, these sites drew their power from the presentation of their buildings as authentic places of terror which “spoke for themselves” about past evils and gave the visitor a direct encounter with their earlier horrors.23 The exclusion of Fascism threatened to undermine this, as it revealed the ideological interventions of the curators. Hence the decision to exclude Fascism had to be rationalized in the museum’s explanations of the reconstruction to the visitor. In Vilnius, this marginalization was framed simply as a question about the museum’s ability to reconstruct the cells “objectively,” rather than as an ideological choice. A curator employed arguments about the availability of information, in particular stressing the absence of evidence for the fascist use of the prison (because the Communists destroyed it).24 However, it was clear that there was, at first, an absence of evidence for the communist use of the prison as a location for terror. The prison had not been used as a site of torture and execution since the 1950s25 and the Communists too hid their crimes very effectively. Yet the implications of these absences were presented differently in each case. The lack of evidence of communist-era suffering was used to illustrate the evil ability of the Soviets to cover up their crimes, and the capacity of post-communist reconstructions to uncover (and thwart) their suppression of the “historical truth.”26 In the case of Fascism, the absence of evidence was used as a justification for the absence of historical reconstruction.

  • 27 The director states that over 1 000 prisoners were killed here under Soviet occupation. See Peikšt (...)

12This can be illustrated with reference to two rooms in the Vilnius museum: the reconstructed Soviet era execution chamber27 (Fig. 1) and a cell which contained graffiti from the period of Nazi occupation. The decision to restore the execution cell, and to make it the centerpiece of the museum, was of course an ideological choice informed by an approach which placed suffering under the Soviets above Nazi era crimes. Yet the power of displays at museums is in part determined by an audience’s perception of them as objective and balanced. Hence curators needed to demonstrate that their interventions at these sites were merely the value-free bringing to light of the evidence of crimes that was already embedded in the building, waiting to be discovered. The idea that they had made an ideological choice to excavate and renovate the Soviet prison, but not the Nazi one, needed to be sidelined. To this end, the display of the execution cell was concerned as much with the process of discovery as it was with the actual history of the cell itself. Focusing on the uncovering diverted attention away from their initial choice of what to uncover, and enabled the museum to frame their work as the objective revelation of a “true, hidden past.”

Fig. 1 Excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)

  • 28 Interview conducted by the author with Vilma Juozevičiūtė, Museum of Genocide Victims, August 2005

13First, the museum stressed that there was little evidence for the existence of the cell: it was marked as a kitchen on KGB plans; few warders were told of its existence; and no surviving prisoners ever knew of it (any who might have been taken there would have been shot).28 Eventually, a possible site was identified by General Jurgis Jurgelis (a former director of the State Security Department), who himself had garnered the information from eye-witness reports of former KGB workers. Yet the paucity of evidence, and the difficulties with which it was located, were not used to explore the problems inherent in restoring sites of terror. Rather, they were employed to justify the legitimacy of the project. Focusing on the process of overcoming the former regime’s evil, ingenious ability to cover up their own crimes enabled curators to present Communists as the devious destroyers of historical fact and thus the post-communist museum as the site that was recovering that truth, against all the odds. Moreover, this narrative presented the cell, not the curators, as the active agent in the process; it established a notion of hidden crimes that were merely waiting for the post-communist museum to uncover them. Thus the curator had not actively chosen to unearth the Soviet execution cell; it had merely presented itself for excavation.

  • 29 The museum justified their use of these objects on the basis that many of the remains found at Tus (...)
  • 30 According to a press officer from the museum, “the KGB destroyed it and maybe they hoped that nobo (...)

14Second, the exhibition was designed to demonstrate the objectivity of the process through which this past was uncovered, in order to confirm to the viewer that this was a simple case of stripping bare (through archaeology) Communism’s hidden crimes to reveal the truth about the past. The execution room was presented as an archaeological dig: the dug earth and seemingly arbitrarily-placed objects, such as a pair of glasses and a small piece of barbed wire, were there to present the viewer with an apparently genuine scientifically-conducted excavation progress (Fig. 2). These objects did not in fact belong to the site at all: they were recovered from the mass graves found at Tuskulėnai Manor (a location which included bodies of anti-Soviet partisans, Nazi collaborators, and criminals).29 However, they played an important role in providing an authentic frame for the central evidence of communist evil in the room: a drain where, it was claimed, blood from the executed victim flowed away (Fig. 3); and bullet holes in the wall, covered by a piece of glass that protected the evidence of atrocity but also framed the crime for the viewer. Moreover, a reinforced glass floor laid over the earth allowed visitors to view the excavation and at the same time functioned as a symbol for the imagined transparency of the museum’s approach to history.30 By focusing the audience’s attention on the Communists’ attempts at concealment and the objectivity of the scientific methods used by the post-communist museum in the excavation, the curators effectively diverted attention away from the ideological choices which lay behind the reconstruction of only one of the prisons.

Fig. 2 Objects from the Tuskulėnai mass grave, displayed under a reinforced glass floor in the excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)

Fig. 3 Drain, displayed in the excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)

15Whereas a paucity of evidence and the difficulties involved in reconstruction were used to add power to the presentation of “hidden” communist crimes, the lack of physical proof for fascist terror justified its marginalization. The evidence presented for fascist crimes was minimal and confusing. The only remaining sign of its use as a Gestapo prison was in one cell, otherwise unadorned and without explanatory texts, which contained the almost unrecognizable (and easily missed) graffiti of a swastika and the name and date (1943) of imprisonment of a Polish partisan (Fig. 4). Those taking guided tours were shown the swastika as illustrative not only of the museum’s Nazi past, but also of the impossibility of reconstructing it. It was used as a springboard to talk about the insufficient physical evidence of Fascism, and the absence of objects from the German occupation with which to construct an exhibition. Whereas inadequate evidence of Fascism was thus used to rationalize the impossibility of proper historical reconstruction, insufficient evidence of communist crimes was employed to justify the necessity of further research to uncover the truth. Hence the choice to reconstruct one experience, but not another, was framed as a question of the historian’s proper and objective use of evidence in each case. The idea that this was an ideological intervention on the part of the curator was effectively sidelined.

Fig. 4 Polish graffiti from 1943 on a cell wall, demonstrating the use of the prison by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)

  • 31 The Museum of Genocide Victims and its associated research centre were heavily involved with this (...)
  • 32 Tracevskis, “Grave,” 2–3. It has been suggested that a site within Vilnius was used for the mass b (...)
  • 33 “It is as if the NKVD made this “cocktail” and jigsaw for our generation with the intention of puz (...)

16The museum’s focus on the crimes of the Soviets at a location with an ambiguous past was also a feature of their engagement with the Tuskulėnai site, a Vilnius city park where, in 1994, a mass grave from the early Soviet period was discovered. Many of those who had been killed in the abovementioned execution cell were taken there to be buried.31 This location initially appeared to be a more straightforward site than a prison with a double past: a memorial or museum here would allow a simple iteration of the crimes of the Soviet occupiers alongside a scene of mass killing that graphically illustrated their brutality. It was initially assumed that many of the bodies were anti-Soviet partisans and Roman Catholic priests. However, when the remains of some of the 717 victims were identified, they were found to include not only anti-Soviet resistors and criminals but also Nazi collaborators and members of a Polish partisan group who had murdered Jews, and were later shot by the Soviets.32 The site’s meaning was thus made more complex—it became capable of illustrating not only communist terror but also Nazi crimes and the role of Soviets in putting an end to them—and thus had the potential to undermine a simple anti-communist account.33

  • 34 Personal correspondence of the author with the museum (February 2007).
  • 35 The Catholic Church was asked to look after the remains before the columbarium was built; it refus (...)
  • 36 Ellen Cassedy, “A Controversy Exhumes Long-buried Memories,” Forward. The Jewish Daily (12 Novembe (...)
  • 37 Baltic News Service (14 June 2006).
  • 38 The site contains two estates: one based around the Tuskulėnai manor (built 1825) and the other ar (...)
  • 39 Peikštenis, “Das Museum fur die Opfer des Genozids, Vilnius,” 138.

17The museum too understood the tension inherent in the site, and wanted to cleanse it of its Nazi associations. However, it was not able to do so as the remains of the bodies could not be separated into neat piles of worthy and unworthy victims of the Communists: “[Our opinion] of the war criminals and Nazi collaborators [who were buried there] is unfavorable, but there was no question of separating out the remains as the bodies had been disfigured by lime and some other chemicals and so the identification of them was impossible.”34 Despite the impossibility of politically purifying the mass grave, the desire to turn this location into an anti-communist site meant that Nazi collaborators had to be co-opted into the role call of victims of the Soviets. A columbarium, now under the control of the Museum of Genocide Victims, was opened on the site in 2004 and contains most of the victims’ remains, including those of Nazi collaborators.35 Some protested at the commemoration of Fascists in the name of anti-Communism; Emmanuel Zingeris, director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, refused to support the project or attend the opening ceremony.36 Despite these associations, the park became an important anti-communist site in Lithuania. It was used for commemorative events on 14 June, the “Day of Mourning and Hope,” which recalled the beginning of the Soviet repression in Lithuania.37 In addition, the buildings of the Tuskulėnai Manor,38 which were used by both the KGB and the Association of Water Sports as a sanatorium under Soviet rule, are to be converted by the museum to house an exhibition on the “spiritual genocide” of the communist period, focusing on the attempts to turn Lithuanians into the “Homo Sovieticus.”39

  • 40 Interview conducted by the author with Paulis Lazda (one of the founders of the museum), February (...)
  • 41 This was Lazda’s description of his role.
  • 42 According to Paulis Lazda, “that was a demand I made of people who were joining the effort [that t (...)
  • 43 Stefan Wagstyl, “Peacetime Collaboration,” Financial Times (7 May 2005).
  • 44 Interview conducted by the author with Richard Petersons (historian and curator of the museum), Au (...)
  • 45 For example, Queen Elizabeth II stopped at the museum on a state visit in October 2006. In 2000, P (...)

18However, not all sites that dealt with the Soviet period marginalized the history of Fascism. The museums of occupation in both Riga and Tallinn adopted a comparative approach which addressed the experience of occupation under both the Soviets and Nazis. The Riga museum’s focus on double occupation can be viewed as a reaction to the exclusion of the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust from Baltic collective memories in the early 1990s. The agenda of the museum was initially shaped by diaspora rather than indigenous perspectives; the Latvian state was at first ambivalent about such a museum, which in its first decade was funded for the most part by donations from diaspora social organizations and private individuals from North America.40 Dr. Paulis Lazda, an American Latvian history professor who left the Baltics with his parents in 1944 and lived in the United States from 1950, was the “author of the concept”41 of the museum (alongside being one of its ten founding members). He insisted on the necessity of a comparative approach, despite some local opposition to the inclusion of Nazism and the Holocaust.42 Since its opening in 1993, the museum has frequently been presented as a counterbalance to restrictive accounts of totalitarian violence that concentrate on one terror to the exclusion of the other. According to Valters Nollendorfs, the deputy director of the museum, “East Europeans must now come to terms with the Holocaust and everything connected with it. West Europeans must get to grips with the Gulag. That’s the only way both sides can come to an understanding.”43 Indeed, the museum has taken the message of double terror to the West: since 1998 traveling exhibitions to Western Europe and North America have been organized.44 Despite being a privately funded museum that initially attempted to challenge restrictive aspects of Baltic memory, it has, since the late 1990s, increasingly found itself in tune with a Latvian political elite that has embraced the idea of the “double genocide” under both Nazis and Soviets, and has become a site for official state visits.45

19The Estonian Occupation Museum was opened in 2003, a decade after its Latvian counterpart. Its inclusion of both occupations reflected broader shifts in mainstream historical memory in the Baltics in those ten years, from an almost exclusive focus on Soviet occupation and terror in the early independence period to an emphasis on the effects of both Nazi and Soviet occupation by the late 1990s.46 Like the Riga Museum, it too was funded from abroad, in this case by the donations of an Estonian American exile Olga Kistler-Ritso. However, its periodization and focus on both occupations was decided by Estonian academics at “brainstorming sessions” and conferences in 1998.47 The director (who had been an anticommunist dissident and imprisoned in Soviet camps) framed his institution in contrast to western Holocaust museums, which he argued, limited the museum experience through the use of dark and oppressive spaces combined with a hushed reverent tone that was almost church-like:

  • 48 Interview with Heiki Ahonen (museum director), conducted by the author, Tallinn, August 2005.

In Holocaust museums you are told that you should not speak loudly, you should not make any noise, you have to behave in a certain way. [It’s] what I call a “church atmosphere” which, I believe, doesn’t support learning. You are just made to act in a certain way (…) Holocaust museums tend to have a dark and oppressive atmosphere, so you are dragged into some kind of environment where there should be no doubts (…) from my point of view, it doesn’t provoke any thinking. It’s all clear. It’s all set. And I believe that especially the younger generation doesn’t want that. They tend to try to question things and find answers by themselves. You know you type in something into the internet and you get thousands of answers then you have a choice. I believe that if people are given a choice, they usually make the right choice; at least this is what we want.48

  • 49 Many objects were therefore deliberately presented with minimal or no explanatory text.

20Thus he wanted a light, open museum that dealt with both forms of twentieth century totalitarian occupation, and avoided the darkened atmosphere and “closed questions” of Holocaust sites. To this end, the museum scattered across the exhibition space a diverse range of objects which were designed to set off memories and provoke debate rather than guide the viewer to fixed answers: a line of battered suitcases by the entrance was used to represent the 70,000 Estonians who left the country in the face of the advance of the Red Army in 1944, for instance.49 When interviewed, the director also highlighted the importance of those objects that opened up questions and debate about the ambiguous and conflicting nature of the experience of two different occupiers:

  • 50 Interview with Heiki Ahonen conducted by the author, August 2005. The visitor figures for the muse (...)

We have a wonderful thing, one photograph taken of two guys standing in uniforms, one is in a Waffen SS [uniform], another one is in Soviet uniform and they both were arrested for that photograph. It was taken after the war just like a mock photo. They were friends from the same village but they ended up on different sides. Fortunately, they didn’t meet in combat, but they met after the war, dug out their uniforms and made a mock photo. (…) for us this was a dilemma, for Brits, well, generally Brits were serving in the British army. In Estonia it was, you know, some 30,000 on the Soviet side and some 60,000 on the German side and another few thousand on the Finnish side, so these were the choices.50

21Both occupation museums deployed the rhetoric of equality of victimhood at the beginning of their displays, where they appeared to be according equal worth to the suffering caused by Fascism and Communism. The introductory panel at the Riga museum, encountered as one walked up the stairs to the main exhibition, stated: “During the periods of Soviet and German occupation, Latvia lost 550,000 people, or more than a third of its population. This is the number who were murdered, killed in battle, sentenced, deported, scattered as refugees, and who disappeared without a trace.” Here differences between the two occupations were ignored in favor of an approach which absorbed all those who suffered into a national martyrology and did not draw attention to their relative merit as victims. The gateway to the Tallinn museum, framed by two trains adorned with a swastika and red star respectively (representing the deportation and killing brought by both systems) (Fig. 5), set up the expectation of a substantial exploration of the destructive capabilities of both systems. Yet despite the space accorded to displays on Fascism and this rhetoric of equality in representation, the terrors of the Nazi occupation were subordinated to the story of communist-era persecution and national suffering in both museums. Fascism was deployed where it had the potential to confirm the anti-communist script. Where it had the capacity to undermine this version of history, it was edited out, or framed in very particular ways.

Fig. 5 Models of locomotives with the symbols of Soviet and Nazi occupation (gateway to the exhibition at the Occupation Museum, Tallinn, Estonia) (photo: James Mark, 2005)

  • 51 “The Nazi occupation and the war hinder the development of Latvian culture, albeit with fewer rest (...)
  • 52 This is not true everywhere in Western Europe. In democratic Spain, where the “pact of silence” af (...)

22It was anti-Communism, rather than anti-Fascism, that principally structured these museums’ narratives of the Nazi occupation of the Baltics (1941–44). The German occupation was subsumed within the account of the struggle against Communism. The Soviet occupation of 1940–41 that preceded the arrival of the Nazis was depicted as the first attempt of outside forces to destroy the nation. The Riga museum, for example, focused on the subjugation of national culture and deportations of Latvian nationals to the Gulag. Both museums then displayed evidence of their citizens enthusiastically welcoming Nazi troops. It was assumed that support for Germans did not need to be excused or attributed to particular “collaborationist” groups. Rather, these images were employed to support a narrative in which the first Soviet occupation had been so terrible that entire Baltic populations were forced to turn to the Nazis for protection. This evidence of support was thus being used to illustrate anti-Communism, not collaboration. The arrival of the German troops was shown as a liberation from Communism and the ensuing occupation as a first doomed attempt to revive national independence (eventually condemned to fail because the Nazis would not allow any form of autonomy). The German occupation was then presented as far less brutal: the Tallinn museum narrated how the Nazis permitted the national flag to hang publicly (alongside the swastika); the Riga museum drew attention to the greater, albeit limited, forms of cultural expression that the German occupation allowed.51 Although Fascism and Communism were both condemned, it was clear that aspects of the German occupation could be revived and celebrated in so far as they facilitated the struggle against Communism. Thus those who fought with Nazi Germany against the Bolsheviks were celebrated as national patriots and heroes in the Tallinn museum. A film recounted the German occupation primarily through the eyes of those who fought with the Nazis both to force the Soviets out in 1941 and to prevent their return in 1944. They were lionized for defending their land from the “Bolshevik avalanche.” Later an enthusiastic narrator revealed that three times more men than called for volunteered themselves for military service in 1944 to prevent a second Soviet occupation that would “imperil the nation.” Whereas in Western Europe alliances with Nazism—whether ideological or merely tactical—tend to be condemned as collaboration, sensitive and sympathetic stories were told which helped to frame the German alliance as a tactical necessity borne of limited choices to save the nation under constrained circumstances.52

  • 53 The testimony from this respondent was unclear. He announced that he was a schoolchild during the (...)
  • 54 The museum display states: “Materials about Soviet terror and occupation are compiled in the biase (...)

23This anti-communist framing also determined the sort of evidence deemed meaningful and convincing in these museums. Many types of contemporaneous data, so long as they dealt with the evils of Communism, could be used. Hence German wartime propaganda was employed as authentic evidence of Soviet atrocities. The Tallinn museum not only used German propaganda detailing torture, maiming and mass graves to condemn the first Soviet occupation, but also lent this material greater authority by using modern-day oral history voices to confirm these Nazi wartime accounts. It offered interviewees recalling their experience of being shown evidence of Soviet violence as schoolchildren under the Nazi occupation. Rather than being used to explore the ways in which the Nazis used atrocity stories to manipulate the local population into looking to them to defend the Estonian national interest, this was presented as the unproblematic eye-witnessing of the Soviet brutalization of the nation.53 The Riga museum, by contrast, contextualized this evidence as politicized propaganda designed to attract support for the Nazis as the protectors of the Baltics from “Soviet-Jewish” perpetrators.54 However, it also placed less ideological, emotionally appealing objects—such as hymn texts from wartime church services dedicated to victims of the communist terror— alongside Nazi atrocity material. This positioning suggested that the museum wished to reinforce the credibility of the Nazi material as evidence, despite simultaneously contextualizing it as propaganda. Moreover, the cumulative effect of viewing the numerous photographs collected by the German authorities about Soviet atrocities was to direct the audience to the evils of Communism even within the exhibit on the Nazi occupation.

  • 55 For this argument, see Meike Wulf, “The Struggle for Official Recognition of “Displaced” Group Mem (...)
  • 56 Baltic News Service (8 June 2006). In June 2006, the defense ministry provided the museum with its (...)
  • 57 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 185–6.

24The commemoration of those who fought alongside the Nazi army was a controversial development after 1991. Those who saw themselves engaged in the “struggle against Bolshevism” and chose the German occupiers as “the lesser evil” were given public space to articulate their anticommunist memories in the immediate post-independence period. In the late 1990s, however, these groups began to be viewed as an international liability by political elites, and have faced governmental attempts to silence them.55 In 2002, for instance, a privately funded memorial depicting an Estonian soldier in a Waffen SS uniform was erected in Parnu. An inscription dedicated the monument, “to all Estonian soldiers who fell in the Second World War to liberate their homeland and to free Europe 1940–45.” It was taken from its original location following protests from the national government in 2002, removed after two weeks of public display from the village of Lihula (despite violent protests) in 2004, and was unveiled in the grounds of the privately funded small-scale Museum of the Struggle for Estonia’s Liberation in the village of Lagedi outside Tallinn in 2005.56 To nationalist groups—such as the Estonian Freedom Fighters’ Association—such monuments expressed the realities of their struggle to free Estonia from Bolshevism. To foreign observers from both Western Europe and Russia, these statues represented collaboration or an unacceptable revival in Nazi ideology.57

25Russian criticism was frequently associated with earlier communist caricatures of Estonians as fascists and had little influence. Western European incomprehension and criticism, by contrast, had a much greater impact. The repeated forced dismantling of the statue was linked to governmental fears about Estonia’s international image as it integrated into western political and military structures; according to Kristiina Ojuland, the Foreign Minister, in 2004, “Estonia, as a small country that shares common European values and is building its future as a NATO and EU member, will not, in its approach to the past, rely on the memories of those, who view the past as linked to World War II German uniforms, which the democratic world identifies with Nazism. In today’s global environment, Estonia must not isolate itself from the international community and damage its reputation. Local inappropriate actions can often result in very serious and far reaching international consequences.”58 In February 2007, the Estonian parliament was presented with the “Forbidden Structures Act,” which would enable the state to refuse permission for, or to remove, memorials that might incite “violations of the public order.” This would allow the central government both to take down Soviet era monuments considered provocative, and to prevent politically problematic local memorialization projects.59

26While those aspects of the Nazi occupation period which could be used to demonize Communism were played up in the Riga and Tallinn occupation museums, others which threatened this anti-communist reading of recent history were marginalized or “contained.” Two versions of the German occupation were particularly threatening; first, the capacity of stories of the horrors of Fascism to justify attraction to the communist state or to evoke sympathy for the idea that the Soviet Union was the liberator of the Baltics; second, the potential for the memories of victims of Fascism to drown out the appeals of those who suffered under Communism.

  • 60 Romuald J. Misiunas, “Soviet Historiography on World War II and the Baltic States, 1944–1974” in V (...)

27These occupation museums aimed to destroy the power of the idea that Communism and the Soviet presence in the Baltics could in some way (however minor) be justified because of the experience of Fascism. This “anti-fascist” reading of history had been official state dogma prior to 1991 and a staple narrative of Soviet history museums and memorial sites. From the late 1950s, Soviet historians, influenced by a number of well-publicized war crimes trials, increasingly turned their attention to publishing works on Nazi atrocities in the region.60 During the same period, sites of Fascist crimes were opened to the public (and increasingly became a required excursion for Baltic schoolchildren): the Ninth Fort (Kaunas), the site of the killing of 45,000 Jews and Soviet prisoners of war, was opened as a museum in 1958; Salaspils concentration camp near Riga, the location for medical experiments on, and the murder of, European Jewry, Russian prisoners of war, and Roma, became a memorial site in 1968. These locations were used to illustrate the depth of suffering caused by Nazi occupation (although the specificity of Jewish persecution at these sites was not highlighted; a memorial tablet to the 30,000 Jews who died at the Ninth Fort was constructed only in 1991). They also were employed to demonstrate the role that Soviets played both as liberators and continued protectors of the region from both foreign and indigenous sources of Fascism.

  • 61 Unlike Lithuania (6 %), Russian language communities make up significant minorities in both Latvia (...)
  • 62 Interview conducted by the author with Richards Petersons, August 2005. Divides in social memory b (...)
  • 63 According to a late Soviet-era publication on Tallinn’s monuments, “The Bronze figure of a soldier (...)

28Curators were concerned that despite the collapse of Communism, these ideas continued to be powerful. Staff in both occupation museums thought that many in their remaining Soviet era settler population still believed in the former “colonial” rhetoric of Soviets as liberators of the Baltics from Fascism;61 one curator in Riga commented that “they [the Soviet era immigrant population] don’t like the word “occupation” and don’t think that our [museum’s] history is correct (…) They think that it was not occupation, that we wanted to be incorporated into the Soviet Union at the beginning of Second World War and there were no solutions other than to make an alliance against Nazism (…)”62 This continuing fear of older anti-fascist narratives can be seen in the debates over the removal of Soviet memorials and statues, most notably the Liberation monument in Riga and the Soviet “Bronze soldier” in Tallinn. The Tallinn monument, which depicts a “liberating” Red Army soldier mourning his fallen colleagues, was erected in 1947 and survived the collapse of Communism as a relatively uncontested place of mourning.63 Yet, since 2004, possibly in response to the forced removal of monuments to Estonians who fought alongside the German army, this monument has been vandalized frequently. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, amongst many others, argued for the removal of the statue from Tőnismagi Square to a less prominent location, possibly a military cemetery or memorial park, and for the remains of Red Army soldiers under the monument to be reburied at one of these sites.

  • 64 Olivier Truc, “Une statue sovietique seme la discorde entre nationalistes estoniens et russophones (...)
  • 65 Steven Lee Myers, “Estonia sparks outrage in Russia,” International Herald Tribune (24 January 200 (...)
  • 66 Wulf, “Struggle for Official Recognition.” She notes that this is a similar solution to that found (...)
  • 67 Ibid.
  • 68 “Estonians protest controversial memorial,” Baltic Times (22 May 2006). This suggestion was made i (...)

29Concerns over residual anti-fascism were confirmed by the strength of the response to this proposal from Russian nationalists both in Estonia and Russia, and from the Russian state. Estonian Russian nationalists such as Dmitri Klenski, leader of the Constitution Party, have co-opted the statue as a symbol of Russian identity in Estonia and have presented the attempt to remove it as a revival of Fascism in Estonia.64 The Russian Foreign Minister referred to its proposed removal as blasphemy against those who defeated Nazi Germany, thus confirming that important Russians still saw Soviet intervention in the region more in terms of liberation than occupation.65 It should be noted that other representatives of the Russian community in Estonia suggested alternative plans that aimed to subvert the ethnic divisiveness of this debate: Sergei Ivanov of the Reform Party recommended a monument which would commemorate the victimhood of ethnic Russians and Estonians in Estonia in World War II jointly.66 Indeed, there have also been left-wing Estonians—particularly those who fought with the Red Army—who have interpreted the statue not as a colonial monument but as one dedicated to all those, including Estonians, who fought to end Fascism. They thus argue that it should be left alone.67 Yet debates over the statue have appeared to confirm the imagined power of a residual anti-fascist narrative of Soviet liberation for certain sections of the population; some of the advocates for its removal thus suggested that if it could not be destroyed, then its power might be neutralized by removing it to a site, such as the Occupation Museum, where it could not be interpreted as a valid monument to liberation.68

  • 69 For a detailed discussion of this see Senn, “Perestroika in Lithuanian Historiography,” 43–56.
  • 70 This is also true of post-communist Russian history textbooks. While now acknowledging the existen (...)
  • 71 A museum of occupation opened in Georgia in 2006 on 26 May, the anniversary of Georgia’s declarati (...)
  • 72 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 24. Gundare quoted one comment in Russian from the guest book: “ (...)
  • 73 According to its director, “[f]ew Russians come in. Actually you can say that very few older peopl (...)

30These museums were also shaped by an environment in which members of the Russian political elite continued to valorize the Soviets as liberators of the Baltic states. In the perestroika period in the late 1980s, it had initially appeared that the Baltic liberation narrative had been fatally undermined: the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov– Ribbentrop pact, which laid out plans for the forced incorporation of the Baltics into Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, was finally conceded by the Soviet authorities.69 In post-communist Russia, however, important elements of the liberation narrative were retained or revived: it was common for members of the Russian political elite to state that the Soviets were invited into the Baltics in 1940, and to dwell longer on their roles as liberators of the Baltics in 1944 than as an occupying force that remained.70 The Russian foreign ministry attacked occupation museums in Estonia, Latvia and Georgia for equating Communism with Fascism and characterizing Soviet interventions solely as occupations in their exhibitions.71 Similarly, there was some evidence that Russian minorities in the Baltics were alienated by these museums. One study on the reception of the Riga museum concluded that although the site attempted to reach out to the Latvian Russian minority (with all texts translated into Russian and a deliberate attempt to avoid blaming particular ethnic groups), few Russian schoolchildren visited and the name of the museum evoked feelings of guilt from Russian visitors who identified themselves as the demonized “occupiers.”72 Few Estonian Russians visited the Museum of Occupation in Tallinn.73

31In order to quell the idea that the advance of the Red Army into the Baltics in 1944 could in any way be considered a liberation, these museums needed to destroy the interrelationship between the two ideologies of the occupiers. Thus these museums did not provide space for the discussion of the potential appeal of Communism as an ideological reaction against Fascism. Rather, they favored a narrative of one brutal occupation followed by an even more brutal one. Ideology could be presented only in so far as it evidenced the evils of each system: in the Riga Museum, for instance, the racial ideology of Nazism and class-based principles of Communism were described in depth in so far as they explained the reasons for the terrors of both systems. However, no exploration was provided of how each system defined itself in relation to the other, how each presented itself as the negation of the evils of the other, or how this ideological battle impacted on the worldviews of citizens in the Baltic states. Rather, history was contained in a framework in which the Soviet presence after 1944 meant the continuation of occupation, a continuing absence of sovereignty, the renewed oppression of the nation, and the citizen as a victim of yet another occupier.

  • 74 The description of the battle of Kurzeme in the Riga Museum had “Latvian pitted against Latvian.”

32To maintain the idea that Latvians were simply victims of foreign occupiers, it was necessary to exclude accounts of political radicalization. Where Latvians supported or resisted these systems, they were never described as doing so on the basis of left- or right-wing convictions. Rather, they were only ever presented as Latvian citizens trying to defend their occupied nation in the best possible way: under Nazi occupation, this usually meant a limited accommodation with the occupier in so far as that allowed for the greater struggle against communist domination; under Communism, it meant resistance to the Soviet destroyers of the nation. Ordinary citizens were very seldom seen as having been politicized by any ideology other than Latvian nationalism. Thus battles during World War II in which Latvians fought for both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were always presented as evidence of national tragedy—“Latvian fighting against Latvian.” The possibility of Latvian soldiers on either side fighting for an ideology was never considered.74

  • 75 The reason for her presence at Klooga was not made clear. It was a site where mainly foreign Jews (...)
  • 76 Interview conducted by the author with Richards Petersons, August 2005.

33The story of Fascism was also threatening in so far as it could provide potentially sympathetic narratives of those radicalized to Communism by the experience of Nazi occupation and terror. It was therefore necessary to quell the idea that some social groups might have felt themselves liberated by the Soviets. In the Tallinn Occupation Museum, even death camp survivors were shown to have rejected the idea of liberation. A film presented the point at which inmates were set free from the camp at Klooga by the Red Army. An oral history respondent then recounted how, when asked by a Soviet soldier whether she was grateful to have been liberated from the fascists, she had replied that her husband had been in Russia (it is not clear how he got there) and had not been heard from.75 Thus even the victims of Fascism were co-opted to corroborate an anti-communist script: their experiences confirmed that suffering caused by the Soviets could be placed on a par with Nazi crimes and that, even for those who narrowly escaped death, the arrival of the Red Army in 1944 was not considered an unambiguous liberation. Both museums then began their account of the communist period with stories of partisan war and resistance to the new regime. It was thus the fear of the continuing power of the liberation idea, and the lack of certainty that the notion of occupation was sufficiently embedded in post-communist society, which led some curators to avoid displaying any ambiguities of the social response to the arrival of the Soviets in 1944.76

  • 77 It was a branch of the Museum of the Revolution of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.
  • 78 According to a guidebook from the late Soviet period, “Latvian riflemen guarded the revolutionary (...)
  • 79 Michel and Nollendorfs, “Das Lettische Okkupationsmuseum,” 119.
  • 80 Interview conducted by the author with Paulis Lazda, February 2007.
  • 81 Michel and Nollendorfs, “Das Lettische Okkupationsmuseum,” 119.

34The curators of the Riga museum also needed to deal with the pro- Soviet and anti-fascist history of their building. In 1970, a Memorial Museum to the Latvian Red Riflemen, situated in a purpose-built structure in the form of an elongated cube raised off the ground on stilts on Latvian Red Riflemen Square, was opened as part of the centenary celebration of Lenin’s birth.77 This institution depicted the story of the Latvian Riflemen, a group who had served the Bolshevik cause during the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Civil War. It was a propaganda museum that had represented the Soviets as liberators of Latvia and was used to emphasize the role that Latvians themselves had played in the establishment of the Soviet Union.78 In 1991, it was closed and the building leased to the Occupation Museum by the state. Even since the collapse of Communism, it has, for those still ideologically attached to the former system, retained its symbolic significance as a site that formerly represented Soviet power and liberation: it has been used as a starting point for marches on anniversaries of Soviet days of remembrance (it has, in addition, been used as a starting point by nationalist organizations marching to the Freedom Monument as a location that, for them, now represents occupation).79 Given the structure’s continuing power to invoke politically undesirable responses, the new museum attempted to make a clean break with the past of its building. None of the old exhibits were retained (aside from a few busts of prominent Communists); most of the communist-era collections were deposited at Riga’s War Museum, and new materials were acquired from individuals’ donations, antiquarian shops and former secret police agents who wanted to sell KGB materials.80 Moreover, the building itself, popularly known as the “black box” (the red oxidized copper of its exterior having darkened) and often viewed as a Soviet eyesore in the centre of Riga’s restored old town, is to receive a simple, stark white extension to symbolize a break with a traumatic past.81 There was no reference to Latvian riflemen—a group whose story had the potential to demonstrate the role that political ideology had on Latvians themselves—in the new museum. The museum’s decision to forget the history of its building set it apart from nearly all other post-communist museums located at sites with remarkable communist pasts.

  • 82 The European Union has supported many continent-wide Holocaust initiatives, such as the Holocaust (...)
  • 83 Zisere, Memory, 162–3. Some small-scale local initiatives such as the Holocaust museum in Vilnius (...)
  • 84 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 186.
  • 85 Wulf, “Struggle for Official Recognition.”
  • 86 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 23.

35The memory of Fascism was also threatening because of the power of the stories of Holocaust victims to drown out appeals to Soviet era suffering. To a large extent, the growth of Holocaust awareness emerged not out of local initiatives but rather in the context of the Baltic states’ integration into western political and economic structures and the consequent adoption of their cultural and historical norms.82 There had been very little promotion of Holocaust awareness “from below” by the small remaining Jewish communities in the Baltics after independence.83 Rather, the promotion of Holocaust memory started in the late 1990s and was state-led. Commissions were created in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1998 to investigate the crimes of the Nazi regime alongside those of the Soviet. Their establishment was closely connected to the emerging realization that the Baltic states were likely to enter NATO and the European Union, and that they needed to find an acceptable way of presenting their histories to an international audience.84 Thus one of the primary aims of the Estonian commission was to produce Holocaust histories molded to the demands of the western political community, not a domestic audience.85 The same has been intimated in the Latvian case: “This Commission has a strong external function—to satisfy Western demands by acknowledging the Holocaust in Latvia, and to counterbalance this demand by confronting the West with the crimes of the Soviet regime.”86

  • 87 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 186.
  • 88 U.S. Federal News (27 January 2007).
  • 89 Campaigners such as Ephraim Zuroff from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have played significant roles (...)
  • 90 See, for example, the failure of Baltic Members of the European Parliament in 2005–6 to obtain a E (...)
  • 91 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 17. In a study on the attitudes of Latvian teachers, the author (...)

36In the domestic context, therefore, the presentation of the Holocaust was shaped through the interaction between powerful indigenous pressures to emphasize anti-communist histories and new international imperatives to foreground Jewish suffering. Hence the common western stance that the Shoah represented a uniquely terrible tragedy that stands alone was often rejected. Instead, the idea of placing the suffering of Jews under Nazi occupation, and Baltic peoples under the Soviets, together as a “double genocide” became a popular historical conception in the late 1990s.87 Thus new transnational forms of Holocaust remembrance that were adopted in the Baltics, such as Holocaust Day on 27 January, did not always concentrate solely on Jewish suffering. For instance, on January 27 2007, Andrus Ansip, the Estonian Prime Minister from the “libertarian conservative” Reform Party, used the horrors of the Holocaust as a springboard to talk about wider forms of suffering in his country: “Today on International Holocaust Remembrance Day we bow our heads in honor of its innocent victims (…) The understanding that no crime against humanity should ever be forgotten is self-evident to all of us—Estonia too suffered during and after the Second World War under totalitarian regimes and we paid for this with our independence. Their crimes will never expire and their perpetrators cannot be justified. Our thoughts are with all of the victims of the Holocaust.”88 This reluctance to foreground Holocaust memories was also connected with debates over the extent to which local Baltic collaborators were involved in killing.89 These debates have the potential to undermine these countries’ powerful perceptions of themselves as victim nations, and can often be read as revivals of Soviet era accusations that Baltic peoples were Nazi collaborators. An ambivalence with regard to Holocaust memory was, on occasion, also connected to Western Europe’s perceived failure to reciprocate with an equal recognition of the crimes of Communism.90 For these reasons, some suggest, there has been unwillingness at a local level to acknowledge the Holocaust as a vital historical topic.91

  • 92 Ibid., 24.
  • 93 These were the numbers provided in the museum display. For a discussion of these figures, see Aiva (...)
  • 94 It is estimated that they “directly killed” at least 26,000 civilians, and were “indirectly involv (...)

37The presentation of the Holocaust at the Riga Occupation Museum reflected some of these conflicting pressures. On the one hand educating Latvians towards a greater Holocaust awareness was a fundamental aim of the museum; it was reported that some Latvian visitors were shocked to discover any displays on the Holocaust and Nazism at a museum of “occupation,” as the term was for them almost exclusively connected with the Soviet presence and communist crimes.92 In the museum itself, Latvia’s experience of the Holocaust was described in depth: the story of 70,000 Latvian Jews (and 25,000 Jews from elsewhere)93 who were exterminated was well-documented and presented both elements of Nazi persecution from above and the mixed, complex nature of the social response of non- Jewish Latvians. It showed cases of assistance to Jews, but also stressed the passivity of the majority of the population and the role of Latvian extremist groups such as the Arājs Commando in the killings.94

38In spite of the account of its horrors, the manner in which the Holocaust was framed within the museum meant that it could not compete with stories of Soviet crimes. The Holocaust was placed outside the story of the Latvian nation. It was given a separate set of panels, and was clearly divided from the main narrative of the German occupation where it was asserted that for the “Latvian nation” the experience of occupation was far less severe under the Nazis than it was under the Soviets: businesses were allowed to flourish, property was returned to farmers and a certain degree of cultural autonomy was granted. Such a (relatively) positive narrative was only possible through the complete exclusion of the Holocaust from the national story. Placing the Jewish experience outside the mainstream also allowed communist demographic policies to be presented as a worse form of ethnic cleansing than Nazi ones: the resettling of 800,000 Soviet citizens to Latvia was portrayed as a greater tragedy than the Nazi Ostplan which had planned to bring “only” 164,000 Germans over 25 years.

  • 95 Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia 1941–1944: The Missing Centre (Washington: United State (...)
  • 96 For a discussion of the myth of Latvian Jews as “[Soviet] tank kissers,” see Zisere, Memory, 158. (...)

39However, Jewish suffering was not always placed outside national history. Where it could be deployed as evidence of the Stalinist terror, it was incorporated. In the panels on the Soviet occupations of 1940–41 and 1944–91 in the Riga museum, the persecution of Jews was not related as a separate narrative but rather absorbed into the national story. In the course of the Soviet deportations of June 1941, for example, a far higher proportion of Jewish Latvians (compared to non-Jewish Latvians) were affected.95 In the display, however, numbers of Jewish and non-Jewish deportees were conflated into one national figure and the particularity of the Jewish experience was ignored. The absence of the story of Jewish deportation under the first Soviet occupation meant that the museum provided no refutation to the historically inaccurate yet still commonly held prejudice that Jews, in league with the Soviet authorities, were responsible for the deportation of ethnic Latvians.96 Hence Jews suffered as a minority outside the nation under the Nazi occupation, an interpretation which assisted in their presentation of the Latvian nation’s experience of Fascism as far less severe. Elsewhere, however, Jewish persecution was co-opted into a story of national suffering, where it helped to emphasize national victimhood under Communism.

40The representation of the Holocaust at the Estonian Occupation Museum was shaped by a different set of interactions between international pressures and domestic imperatives. At this site, the Holocaust was almost entirely absent in the section on the German occupation period, and, despite the museum’s emphasis on striking objects from the three occupations, there were virtually no pieces connected with Jewish suffering. When asked about this absence, its director pointed to the impropriety of importing a “western” style of history that was of much less significance to Estonia than it was in other parts of Europe, and addressed the need to show to an international audience the validity of the specific and different nature of an Estonian story that did not need to foreground the Holocaust. When discussing the Shoah, the director presented the issue in terms of a dialogue between himself and westerners interested in Holocaust issues:

  • 97 Interview conducted by the author with Heiki Ahonen, August 2005.

we were visited by a director of the Washington Holocaust Museum and she asked (…) some specific questions (…) ’what is here about the Holocaust?’, and I said almost nothing because it didn’t basically happen here physically [i.e. the apparatus of the Holocaust was on a much smaller-scale in Estonia] and I said because, yes, Estonia had refugees, and all who were left, all were killed, but a few survived (…) but Estonia never had a Jewish question and we just simply don’t have any physical items from these people who were killed (…) we are never going to do what’s done in some concentration camps, let’s say they built the new crematorium and said that this is original (…).97

  • 98 For a discussion of this approximate figure, see Meike Wulf, “Historical Culture, Conflicting Memo (...)
  • 99 70,000 native Latvian Jews, 20,000 from the Reich and 1 000 from Lithuania were killed in Latvia; (...)
  • 100 This figure is quoted in Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 180. For a detailed description of the diffe (...)

41A number of arguments were thus advanced for the very brief treatment of the Holocaust. First, that it was not really an omission; rather, the number of Estonian Jews killed was relatively small—900–1,00098— compared to 70,000 Latvian Jews99 and over 225,000 Lithuanian Jews, and in contrast to the 122,000 Estonians who suffered repression under the Stalinist terror.100 This position in part stemmed from the museum’s nation-centered approach which regarded only suffering endured by Estonian citizens as significant and did not see fit to address national history in the context of the wider suffering caused by the war; hence the story of the approximately 15,000 foreign Jews who were deported to Estonia was not considered relevant. Second, that given the relatively small numbers involved, the foregrounding of the Holocaust story would be the result of politicized and distorting pressure from the international community to conform to artificially prescribed and (in an Estonian setting) empty Holocaust norms, rather than based on a historian’s objective consideration of the importance of these events. Third, that these pressures should be resisted in the name of historical accuracy: to give undue attention to the Holocaust would be akin to the rebuilding of parts of concentration camps and claiming them to be authentic. Fourth, that nations needed to be allowed to tell their own story, and that the specificity of that national account should be respected. It was thus locally inappropriate to give undue weight or space to the Holocaust given its much smaller scale in Estonia.

42In their construction of new national histories, these museums were caught between two powerful anti-fascist framings of European history. On the one hand, communist-era rhetoric—that presented the Soviets as the liberators of the Baltics from Fascism—was deemed still to be influential both among Soviet era settlers in their countries and in contemporary Russia. On the other, they were faced with a new, powerful Holocaust-centered anti-fascist narrative that was an important part of Western European (and official European Union) memory. Facing the threat of these versions of history, these sites attempted to contain the memory of Fascism so that it could not drown out their primary focus on communist era suffering. In some cases, this meant that the story of Nazi occupation was marginalized from historical locations that would have appeared initially to demand its inclusion. Sites at which both Nazi and Soviet terror had occurred often restored only the physical space, and through it the memory, of communist criminality. Where the story of Fascism had entered the museum, it was narrated in such a way that it confirmed the dominant anti-communist script, and its crimes were not invested with the power ascribed to those of Communism.

Notes

1 I would like to thank both the British Academy for the small research grant which allowed me to carry out the primary research for this article, and the museum curators, directors and press officers who generously gave me interviews and guided tours around their museums and assistance in uncovering material connected with their sites. My thanks also to Meike Wulf for her comments and suggestions

2 All research at the museums themselves was carried out in the summer of 2005. All information on displays is correct as of this date.

3 In addition to this, her father was killed by the Soviet regime.

4 Dovile Budryte, Taming Nationalism? Political Community Building in the Post-Soviet Baltic States (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 181–3.

5 The director of the Tallinn museum used objects from the time of his own incarceration in a Soviet labor camp. See Heiki Ahonen, “Wie grundet man ein Museum? Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Museums der Okkupationen in Tallinn” in Volkhard Knigge, Ulrich Mahlert (eds.), Der Kommunismus im Museum. Formen der Auseinandersetzung in Deutschland und Ostmitteleuropa (Cologne and Weimar: Bohlau, 2005), 109.

6 Budryte, Taming Nationalism?, 184.

7 For a detailed discussion of this in a Lithuanian setting, see Alfred Erich Senn, “Perestroika in Lithuanian Historiography: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,” Russian Review 49/1 (1990): 43–53.

8 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 181. On the importance of a restrictive set of life stories of the deported in establishing a new historical truth in Lithuania, see Neringa Klumbyte, “Ethnographic Note on Nation: Narratives and Symbols of Early Post-socialist Nationalism in Lithuania,” Dialectical Anthropology 27 (2003): 281: “while many people were deported to Siberia after World War II, the experience of life there is communicated through books by selected authors (…) who become part of the school curriculum. They are personal and literal; the legitimacy and representativeness of personal memoirs are not questioned.”

9 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 183. He also describes how June 14 ceremonies, which commemorated the beginnings of the mass deportations in 1941, were much better attended in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He cites a survey of Lithuanian teenagers, conducted in 2004, which suggested that many considered it important to remember the periods of repression, but that most were not attracted by official state remembrance (ibid.).

10 Bella Zisere, “The Memory of the Shoah in Post-Soviet Latvia,” East European Jewish Affairs 35/2 (2005): 160.

11 Ibid., 160.

12 Ieva Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy of History for Ethnic Integration in Latvia,” Intermarium 5/3 (2002): 17.

13 Dov Levin, “Lithuania” in David S. Wyman, Charles H. Rosenzveig (eds.), The World Reacts to the Holocaust (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 345.

14 This remains the one Holocaust museum in the Baltics; it is small, difficult to find, and poorly funded.

15 Zisere, Memory, 156.

16 Its founder wanted to install railway tracks from the entrance to the statues in order to recreate the experience of deportations to Siberia. He was barred from doing so.

17 Dov Levin, “Lithuanian Attitudes toward the Jewish Minority in the Aftermath of the Holocaust: The Lithuanian Press, 1991–1992,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 7/2 (1993): 249.

18 In post-communist Lithuania in the 1990s, the term genocide was much more likely to refer to Soviet era deportation and killing of Lithuanians than it was to the extermination of Lithuanian Jews (despite the fact that 94 % of them were killed in the Holocaust; ibid., 247). Criticism of the use of the term to describe Stalinist policies came from the Lithuanian Jewish community, who suggested that the word should not be used to describe a policy aimed at untrustworthy social classes; and from prominent exiles such as Tomas Venclova. The common defense was that the Stalinist terror system defined whole nationalities as untrustworthy; see Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 183–4.

19 In fact, this building has an interesting pre-Soviet history too: it was a political prison under the Russian Empire, the square it faces was a site for public executions before 1917, and the road on which it is situated was called “Victim Street” before World War II.

20 An exhibition on the period 1939–41 which mainly dealt with Soviet oppression and KGB activity was opened in 2002; displays on anti-Soviet resistance including the postwar partisan struggle, and on deportation and labor camps, were opened in 2004; in 2005, plans were made for an exhibition on dissidents and resistance from the 1960s to the 1980s.

21 Interview conducted by the author with Virginija Rudienė, Museum of Genocide Victims, August 2005.

22 For a fascinating exploration of a site where, in the early 1990s, two different guided walks—one which dealt with the victims of Fascism and one with the victims of the Soviets—gave the memorial site’s two constituencies very different experiences of the former Nazi and Soviet camp, see Sarah Farmer, “Symbols that Face Both Ways: Commemorating the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen,” Representations 49 (1995): 97–119.

23 The director placed a great deal of emphasis on the authenticity of the building: “even now you see the prison building, aside from a few exceptions, as the KGB left it in August 1991,” quoted from Eugenijus Peikštenis, “Das Museum fur die Opfer des Genozids, Vilnius” in Der Kommunismus im Museum, 132. Former prisoners from the communist era were used as guides to provide visitors with powerful recollections of the Soviet jail, to make their visit more “authentic.”

24 Interview conducted by the author with Vilma Juozevičiūtė (Press Officer), Museum of Genocide Victims, August 2005.

25 In the late communist period, some cells were still used to hold political dissidents, but most had been converted to house the archives of the KGB.

26 The narrative of uncovering hidden atrocities is of course a compelling story in many post-dictatorial societies; however, this narrative had a particularly strong appeal in Lithuania. During the glasnost period, the KGB revealed its willingness to disclose the locations of many mass graves in the Soviet bloc, including that at Katyn. Lithuania was an exception to this, as the Soviet elite feared that such revelations would stoke the nationalist independence movement. The KGB then destroyed documentary evidence of these sites in 1990–1; see Rokas M. Tracevskis, “A Grave Fit for Whom?” Transitions Online (3 October 2003).

27 The director states that over 1 000 prisoners were killed here under Soviet occupation. See Peikštenis, “Das Museum fur die Opfer des Genozids, Vilnius,” 138.

28 Interview conducted by the author with Vilma Juozevičiūtė, Museum of Genocide Victims, August 2005.

29 The museum justified their use of these objects on the basis that many of the remains found at Tuskulėnai Manor were of individuals who had been executed in the KGB prison.

30 According to a press officer from the museum, “the KGB destroyed it and maybe they hoped that nobody would find this place but now we can show where the KGB killed people. So this glass floor is here so that everything will be made transparent.” The idea of the post-communist democratic museum as a transparent window on the past was reflected in debates over the glass-dominated architecture used by the Occupation Museum in Tallinn, too. See A Student Fieldreport, “Kommunismus zum Anfassen? Museen zur Geschichte der kommunistischen Diktaturen in Ostmitteleuropa” in Der Kommunismus im Museum, 206.

31 The Museum of Genocide Victims and its associated research centre were heavily involved with this site. One of the members of the commission for the commemoration of the Tuskulėnai victims was Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre. The museum’s director, Eugenijus Peikštenis, participated in the preparation of information on the victims in the mass grave, and in the drafting of the basic concepts behind the educational information centre and museum at Tuskulėnai. From personal correspondence of the author with the museum in February 2007.

32 Tracevskis, “Grave,” 2–3. It has been suggested that a site within Vilnius was used for the mass burials because of fears about partisan activity outside the city in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

33 “It is as if the NKVD made this “cocktail” and jigsaw for our generation with the intention of puzzling us. Completely innocent people and fighters for an independent and democratic Lithuania are mixed up with those who participated in the Holocaust” (Emmanuel Zingeris, quoted from ibid., 3).

34 Personal correspondence of the author with the museum (February 2007).

35 The Catholic Church was asked to look after the remains before the columbarium was built; it refused because they contained the bones of those who participated in the Holocaust (and many non-Catholics). See Tracevskis, “Grave,” 3.

36 Ellen Cassedy, “A Controversy Exhumes Long-buried Memories,” Forward. The Jewish Daily (12 November 2004) at http://www.forward.com/articles/a-controversy-exhumes-longburied-memories/ (accessed 15 February, 2007).

37 Baltic News Service (14 June 2006).

38 The site contains two estates: one based around the Tuskulėnai manor (built 1825) and the other around the Walicki villa (built 1866). After 1944, both estates were nationalized and handed over to the security services of the Lithuanian SSR. The Walicki villa was turned into the summer residence for directors of the KGB, and later a kindergarten and a summer camp for children of security employees was established. KGB officers lived in three buildings of the manor until 1949, after which point part of the estate was transferred to the Association of Water Sports. From personal correspondence of the author with the museum (February 2007).

39 Peikštenis, “Das Museum fur die Opfer des Genozids, Vilnius,” 138.

40 Interview conducted by the author with Paulis Lazda (one of the founders of the museum), February 2007. Since 2000, however, the Ministry of Culture has begun to make contributions to the museum. Helena Demakova, Latvian Culture Minister since 2004, has been particularly supportive. There have been very few private donations from within Latvia itself; Lazda ascribed this to an absence of a post-communist culture of charitable giving and a reluctance to donate on the part of some Latvian companies who fear that it might affect their economic relationship with Russia.

41 This was Lazda’s description of his role.

42 According to Paulis Lazda, “that was a demand I made of people who were joining the effort [that they accept the double occupation concept]. There was a natural and strong push to make it a ’museum of repression’ [i.e. just Soviet repression], and these were good, fine people who had suffered this and that, and the memory of the Nazis was not as strong, but I said that it could not be otherwise. And my colleagues generally agreed. That was something I insisted upon (…) there were differences (…) they argued in the quantitative sense, but I said, no, we should consider the qualitative aspect as well, in other words, the three or so years of Nazi occupation was relatively short, well, I said, that’s true, and that is in some ways an ongoing debate in the museum. But there is not a really meaningful opposition to the occupation concept.” Interview conducted by the author, February 2007.

43 Stefan Wagstyl, “Peacetime Collaboration,” Financial Times (7 May 2005).

44 Interview conducted by the author with Richard Petersons (historian and curator of the museum), August 2005.

45 For example, Queen Elizabeth II stopped at the museum on a state visit in October 2006. In 2000, Paulis Lazda himself was awarded Latvia’s top civilian honor, Commander of the Order of Three Stars, for his work with the museum. The available annual visitor figures for the museum are as follows: 2001/2002: 40,000 visitors; 2004: 65,000; Gundega Michel, Valters Nollendorfs, “Das Lettische Okkupationsmuseum, Riga” in Der Kommunismus im Museum, 122.

46 For a more in-depth exploration of this shift, see Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 183–6.

47 http://www.okupatsioon.ee/english/activities/index.html (accessed 1 February, 2007). Olga Kistler-Ritso donated 35 million kroons for its establishment.

48 Interview with Heiki Ahonen (museum director), conducted by the author, Tallinn, August 2005.

49 Many objects were therefore deliberately presented with minimal or no explanatory text.

50 Interview with Heiki Ahonen conducted by the author, August 2005. The visitor figures for the museum are 2–3,000 per month; Ahonen, “Wie grundet man ein Museum?” 116.

51 “The Nazi occupation and the war hinder the development of Latvian culture, albeit with fewer restrictions than during the year of Soviet occupation where the expression of inappropriate ideas most often ended in imprisonment or threat of death. Although subject to censorship, private publishing houses (…) are allowed to resume work (…)” (Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Riga).

52 This is not true everywhere in Western Europe. In democratic Spain, where the “pact of silence” after Franco’s death meant that earlier Francoist historical narratives were not immediately challenged, it was possible to represent links between Nazi Germany and Spain in the Second World War in an uncritical manner. Until very recently, the Military Museum in Madrid, for example, had a relatively positive display on the Blue Division (those troops sent by Franco to fight alongside Nazi Germany to “save Europe from Communism”). My thanks to Tim Rees for this point.

53 The testimony from this respondent was unclear. He announced that he was a schoolchild during the Nazi occupation before reeling off the range of evidence of Soviet atrocities that he saw: women with breasts cut off and pins under their fingernails, and bodies piled up in wells. It was possible that he saw the Soviets do this himself, although his framing suggests that he was taken to see it later under the Nazi occupation (Interview with Magnus Kald, director of Liberation, a documentary film show in the occupation museum, Tallin.)

54 The museum display states: “Materials about Soviet terror and occupation are compiled in the biased 1942 publication Baigais gads (Year of Horror). Such propaganda is continued during the entire Nazi occupation.”

55 For this argument, see Meike Wulf, “The Struggle for Official Recognition of “Displaced” Group Memories in Post-Soviet Estonia” in Michal Kopeček (ed.), Past in the Making: Recent History Revisions and Historical Revisionism in Central Europe after 1989 (Budapest: CEU Presss, 2008), 217–43.

56 Baltic News Service (8 June 2006). In June 2006, the defense ministry provided the museum with its first state funding, in order to upgrade the building’s security following threats connected with the installation of the “Lagedi” statue.

57 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 185–6.

58 http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_138/4791.html (accessed 21 February, 2007).

59 Baltic News Service (1 February 2007). The introduction of this parliamentary act was also triggered by controversies over the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn, and plans by the municipal council of Narva (where the population is over 90 % Russian-speaking) to erect a monument to Peter the Great.

60 Romuald J. Misiunas, “Soviet Historiography on World War II and the Baltic States, 1944–1974” in V. Stanley Vardys, Romuald J. Misiunas (eds.), The Baltic States in Peace and War 1917–1945 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978), 189–90.

61 Unlike Lithuania (6 %), Russian language communities make up significant minorities in both Latvia (30 %) and Estonia (28 %). Curators usually distinguished between the “historical” pre-Soviet Russian minority who were less likely to hold to these views, and Soviet era “colonizers” who did. It is interesting to note that these occupation museums— the primary aim of which was to refute the narrative of liberation—only occurred in those Baltic states where large Soviet settler populations existed.

62 Interview conducted by the author with Richards Petersons, August 2005. Divides in social memory between Soviet immigrant populations and local Baltic populations were frequently noted by both academics and journalists. In a survey of Russian and Latvian language school examinations, the political scientist Juris Dubrovskij noted: “The fact that problems still exist in Latvia can be attested to by final examinations in high schools. We can underline general tendencies in the answers of students studying in Russian or in Latvian. Whilst the former idealise the USSR and show today’s Latvia as a country of apartheid, the works of Latvian-speaking schoolchildren present ’eternal Latvia’ that is constantly being occupied (…) and Latvians were and still are victims of history.” Juris Dubrovskij, Kholokost v latviiskikh uchebnikakh istorii [Holocaust in Latvian history textbooks] quoted in Zisere, Memory, 158.

63 According to a late Soviet-era publication on Tallinn’s monuments, “The Bronze figure of a soldier mourning his comrades is free of unnecessary pathos, full of courage and confidence,” Mart Eller, Monuments and Decorative Sculpture of Tallinn (Tallinn, 1978), 25.

64 Olivier Truc, “Une statue sovietique seme la discorde entre nationalistes estoniens et russophones,” Le Monde (17 January 2007). For a website that defended the Bronze Soldier and saw its removal as a victory for Fascism, see http://bronze-soldier.com/ (accessed 21 February, 2007).

65 Steven Lee Myers, “Estonia sparks outrage in Russia,” International Herald Tribune (24 January 2007).

66 Wulf, “Struggle for Official Recognition.” She notes that this is a similar solution to that found in the Neue Wache in Berlin, where a monument to the victims of all tyrannies and wars in modern German history was constructed in the wake of German reunification.

67 Ibid.

68 “Estonians protest controversial memorial,” Baltic Times (22 May 2006). This suggestion was made in speeches at the protest at the Bronze Statue on 20 May 2006.

69 For a detailed discussion of this see Senn, “Perestroika in Lithuanian Historiography,” 43–56.

70 This is also true of post-communist Russian history textbooks. While now acknowledging the existence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the Secret Protocols, they still present World War II primarily as a story of the Soviet Union’s heroic role in liberating Europe from Fascism; James V. Wertsch, “Patching Up Blank Spots in History: Revising the Official Narrative of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact,” paper presented at the “Memory from Transdisciplinary Perspectives” conference, University of Tartu, Estonia, January 2007.

71 A museum of occupation opened in Georgia in 2006 on 26 May, the anniversary of Georgia’s declaration of independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. Russian president Vladimir Putin criticized the establishment of the museum; BBC Monitoring, Former Soviet Union, 10 July 2006.

72 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 24. Gundare quoted one comment in Russian from the guest book: “The exhibit concentrates on victims, not on perpetrators. We can only guess whom you are blaming for all the sufferings.”

73 According to its director, “[f]ew Russians come in. Actually you can say that very few older people come but the youngsters are fascinated. When we opened our home page, it was in Estonian, someone obviously Russian and not too elderly wrote us that we should also do it in Russian, because Estonians tend to accuse Russians and local Russians do not understand for what. Some would like to know.” http://www.nma.gov.au/involve/friends/friends_magazine/past_articles/museums_of_occupation (accessed 21 February, 2007).

74 The description of the battle of Kurzeme in the Riga Museum had “Latvian pitted against Latvian.”

75 The reason for her presence at Klooga was not made clear. It was a site where mainly foreign Jews were taken.

76 Interview conducted by the author with Richards Petersons, August 2005.

77 It was a branch of the Museum of the Revolution of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

78 According to a guidebook from the late Soviet period, “Latvian riflemen guarded the revolutionary headquarters, the Smolny Palace in Petrograd (now Leningrad), and when the government of the young republic moved from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918 they guarded the Kremlin. They were always on the most crucial parts of the front in the Civil War against the external and internal enemies of the young Soviet country. Many soldiers and commanders were awarded high revolutionary honors.” From Maria Debrer, Riga: A Guide (Riga: Europa Baltikum, 1982), 29–30.

79 Michel and Nollendorfs, “Das Lettische Okkupationsmuseum,” 119.

80 Interview conducted by the author with Paulis Lazda, February 2007.

81 Michel and Nollendorfs, “Das Lettische Okkupationsmuseum,” 119.

82 The European Union has supported many continent-wide Holocaust initiatives, such as the Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, and has presented a newly unified Europe as growing out of the lessons of the Holocaust. German guilt is now much less emphasized; rather, the Holocaust is presented as a part of the collective heritage of all European nations out of which common lessons can be learnt to ensure a free, tolerant continent; Helga Embacher, “Britishness and ethnic counter-memories—Jewishness versus Muslim memories in Great Britain,” paper presented at the “Memory from Transdisciplinary Perspectives” conference, University of Tartu, Estonia, January 2007.

83 Zisere, Memory, 162–3. Some small-scale local initiatives such as the Holocaust museum in Vilnius came from below, however.

84 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 186.

85 Wulf, “Struggle for Official Recognition.”

86 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 23.

87 Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 186.

88 U.S. Federal News (27 January 2007).

89 Campaigners such as Ephraim Zuroff from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have played significant roles in drawing attention to, and trying to uncover, Nazi collaborators in the Baltics.

90 See, for example, the failure of Baltic Members of the European Parliament in 2005–6 to obtain a European-wide ban on the public display of Stalinist symbols, which would have placed them on the same legal footing as Nazi insignia.

91 Gundare, “Overcoming the Legacy,” 17. In a study on the attitudes of Latvian teachers, the author found that they were very defensive in response to the introduction of Holocaust history, seeing it as an attack on national history, and responding by emphasizing their own suffering: “Latvians also have suffered, to a large extent under the Stalinist regime, especially in the Gulag.”

92 Ibid., 24.

93 These were the numbers provided in the museum display. For a discussion of these figures, see Aivars Stranga, “The Holocaust in Occupied Latvia: 1941–1945” in V. Nollendorfs, E. Oberlander (eds.), The Hidden and Forbidden History of Latvia under Soviet and Nazi Occupations 1940–1991 (Riga: The Institute of History of Latvia, 2005), 161.

94 It is estimated that they “directly killed” at least 26,000 civilians, and were “indirectly involved” in the murder of around 60,000. The membership of the organization probably constituted a few thousand. Ibid., 167.

95 Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia 1941–1944: The Missing Centre (Washington: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1996), 70.

96 For a discussion of the myth of Latvian Jews as “[Soviet] tank kissers,” see Zisere, Memory, 158. The deportation of Baltic Jews by the Soviets in 1940 can be instrumentalized in other ways, too; according to Estonian historian Meelis Maripuu their deportation of 500 Estonian Jews can be described as the “first act of the Holocaust.” In this instance, by contrast, the Soviets are demonized by association with the Holocaust. For a discussion of this, see Wulf, “The Struggle for official Recognition.”

97 Interview conducted by the author with Heiki Ahonen, August 2005.

98 For a discussion of this approximate figure, see Meike Wulf, “Historical Culture, Conflicting Memories and Identities in Post-Soviet Estonia,” PhD dissertation, London School of Economics, 2005, 82.

99 70,000 native Latvian Jews, 20,000 from the Reich and 1 000 from Lithuania were killed in Latvia; see Stranga, “The Holocaust in Occupied Latvia,” 161.

100 This figure is quoted in Budryte, Taming Nationalism, 180. For a detailed description of the different ways in which Estonians suffered, and the numbers involved, see Ahonen, “Wie grundet man ein Museum?” 116. See also The White Book: Losses Inflicted on the Estonian Nation by Occupation Regimes 1940–1991 (2005), produced by the Estonian State Commission on the Examination of the Policies of Repression, for a detailed analysis of Estonia’s population losses.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1 Excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/688/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 662k
Légende Fig. 2 Objects from the Tuskulėnai mass grave, displayed under a reinforced glass floor in the excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/688/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 460k
Légende Fig. 3 Drain, displayed in the excavated execution chamber (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/688/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 480k
Légende Fig. 4 Polish graffiti from 1943 on a cell wall, demonstrating the use of the prison by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania (Museum of Genocide Victims) (photo: James Mark, 2005)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/688/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 525k
Légende Fig. 5 Models of locomotives with the symbols of Soviet and Nazi occupation (gateway to the exhibition at the Occupation Museum, Tallinn, Estonia) (photo: James Mark, 2005)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/688/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 590k

Auteur

James Mark (b. 1972) is a lecturer at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. His research interests include the social history of Communism and the political and social memory of Communism in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. His studies have been published in Past and Present, the Historical Journal and Europe-Asia Studies.

© Central European University Press, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540