Ústav pro soudobé dějiny AV ČR, v.v.i.
Středoevropské reflexe holocaustu / Central European Thoughts on the Holocaust
The original English version of this article was published under this same title in Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 38 (2010), no. 2, pp. 123–53. The article considers how and why the fate of the Jews in occupied Europe, including the Shoah, was presented by Czechoslovak exiles in London to their homeland during the Second World War. The author outlines the influences that the British governmental authorities had on Czechoslovak transmissions of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and points out that informing BBC listeners about the Nazi persecution of the Jews must be considered in the context of the propaganda aims of the Allies – both the British and the Czechoslovak resistance at home and abroad. The content of the broadcasts had to react to the propaganda of the Nazis and their collaborators, which depicted the government-in-exile as exponents of the alleged influence of world Jewry, and also to the growing antisemitic feeling in the Protectorate. It was therefore a sensitive topic from the standpoint of the politicians in exile, and this led the politicians at the top to make only wary and infrequent references to the tragedy of the Jews. In his analysis, the author focuses on political commentaries, which he considers to provide the best material for his topic. He finds them to be clear, informative and humanitarian, with a dual accent, intended both as a warning to the Germans and as an appeal to the Czechs at home to help their Jewish fellow citizens. He points to the different strategies used in the transmission of programmes to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and those to Slovakia. The transmissions to the Protectorate sometimes contained detailed reports about the persecution of the Jews, but they were linked to the suffering of the Czech nation, to whose interests the provision of information was fully subordinated. The moral and democratic qualities of the Czechs were also emphasized, which were allegedly manifested in the Czechs’ distancing themselves from antisemitism and showing instead their solidarity with the victims of violence, whereby the Czechs were to win the sympathy and support of the civilized world. By contrast, the chief aim of broadcasts to Slovakia was to clear the local population of the well-founded suspicion of their sympathizing with the local pro-German regime and its role in the Shoah.
Anti-Jewish violence in post-war Slovakia, in particular the pogrom in Topoľčany in September 1945, has by now been quite well researched by scholars. Several have considered the course and the scope of the violence against Jews in liberated Slovakia. More recent works consider the anti-Jewish demonstrations, provocations, and pogroms in Slovakia against Jewish Shoah survivors in Slovakia in the wider context of persistent antisemitism in post-war Europe. Though several scholars have pointed out the link between part of Slovak society and the local wartime regime and its frequent post-war reluctance to return confiscated Jewish property as two important factors, public moods and attitudes towards the Jews in the post-war period have mostly been ignored by historians. Anti-Jewish violence is therefore the author’s starting point for her analysis of Slovak society’s thinking and attitudes towards the remainder of the Jewish minority. She demonstrates that the perception of the Jews in Slovak public opinion at the time was still that of a ‘foreign’ element (as it was regarding the Magyars and Magyarizers) whose interests differed from those of the ‘Slovak cause’. Among the well-established stereotypes was the belief that the Jews profited from black marketeering and lived beyond their means, taking advantage of the officially provided benefits. They also allegedly shunned work on the reconstruction of Slovakia, as they had also allegedly avoided taking part in the Uprising during the war. By contrast, Slovak official reports and the Slovak press from this period, when they mention the Jews at all, almost never address the Shoah, local antisemitism, or majority-society collaboration with the Tiso regime (1938–45)
This is a Czech translation of ‘Dissidentes Gedenken: Unabhängiges Holocaustgedenken in der DDR und der Volksrepublik Polen’, in Peter Hallama and Stephan Stach (eds), Gegengeschichte: Zweiter Weltkrieg und Holocaust im ostmitteleuropäischen Dissens (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag 2015, pp. 207–36). The article is concerned with commemoration ceremonies on Holocaust Memorial Days – the ‘Kristallnacht’ of 9 November 1938 in the German Democratic Republic and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 19 April 1943 in the Polish People’s Republic – organized by dissidents in both countries in the 1980s. These commemorations were both an attempt by emerging civil society to reclaim interpretations of history which were different from the master narratives produced by the State-Socialist regimes and were also part of the opposition movements’ political struggle with their governments. In a comparison of these events, the author concludes that despite all their differences they constituted an often overlooked but important contribution to public memory in Poland and Easter Germany and also motivated the two societies to reflect on the meaning of the Shoah.
This is a Czech translation of ‘“Vergangenheitsbewältigung” auf Tschechisch: Der Holocaust im tschechischen Samizdat’, which is published in Peter Hallama and Stephan Stach (eds), Gegengeschichte: Zweiter Weltkrieg und Holocaust im ostmitteleuropäischen Dissens (Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag 2015, pp. 237–60). The author analyses representations of the Holocaust in Czech dissident literature published as samizdat in the 1970s and 1980s. He concentrates on historical writings, but also considers journalistic contributions, memoirs, and works of belles-lettres, as well as translations of publications. In particular, the article considers two aspects that highlight the difficulties one faced and continues to face when trying to fully integrate the Holocaust into Czech national history. First, the Holocaust was often understood by the dissidents as evidence of the inhuman nature of totalitarian regimes. This interpretation, however, led to placing the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi regime on the same level as the persecution of the Czechs by the Nazi and Communist regimes. Second, if there was a reassessment or questioning of the Czech national master narrative, then topics such as home-grown antisemitism or the Holocaust were not addressed. The dissidents admitted that Czechoslovakia also had its question of guilt, but they related it to the expulsion of the German minority after the Second World War. The Holocaust, by contrast, did not generate any similar debate among the dissidents. The behaviour of Czechs during the Second World War, the attitude towards Jews, and domestic antisemitism were thus not questioned at all. The Holocaust has, according to the author, therefore tended to be overlooked or, at best, mentioned only incidentally in writing about twentieth-century Czech history – whether the authors published their texts in state-owned publishing houses or in samizdat.
After the Changes of 1989 a change also took place in normative points of articulation of social conflict in eastern Europe. The paradigm of the social sciences, including historiography, changed as well. It is on the whole fair to call this the ‘identity turn’. The meaning of the term ‘identity’ was inspired by history but changed into up-to-date forms. The article analyses points of friction where contact took place between majority Czech society and cultural identity, historical memory, and historiographical self-reflections of Czech Jews after the Changes of 1989 to 2012.
In this article, the author seeks to analyse the basic structure of statements about Jewish history in the Bohemian Lands in this period, and to determine what role the narrative of the victim plays in them. The author presents his hypothesis of the considerable influence of the ‘lachrymose conception of Jewish history’ in Czech historiography after the Changes of 1989. In this, he distinguishes between three paradigms, which he then further defines and assesses according to their functions: methodological nationalism, methodological totalitarianism, and methodological culturalism. He then identifies the constellations in which they appear both in academic and in public discourses, especially those influencing the politics of identity of the Czech Jews. At the same time, he seeks to explain why the schemes make it difficult to understand the modern history of the Jews of the Bohemian Lands.
The history of the Jews, according to the author, became locked in an interpretation based solely on the idea of ‘eternal antisemitism and its victims’. This is therefore a good example of history/memory as an inherent component of ideology. As such, it has been operating in the undifferentiated space between scholarship and politics, and has been constructing the ethnocentric identity of the Jewish nation. This has led to a schematizing division of social relationships into adverse national and cultural (racial) camps, which have seemed to exist ‘since time immemorial’ and ‘naturally’, and to the gradual seclusion of the Jewish community and its defining itself or being defined against other groups. This is evident not only in the approach of Czech Jews towards the Arabs (Muslims) but also in the assertion of the security discourse in their politics of identity in fields as specialized as architecture and social care.
In this contribution, the author responds to Vít Strobach’s ‘The History of the Victim: Concerning the Historiography and Politics of Identity of the Jews of the Bohemian Lands’, which is conceived as a polemic with the latest discussions about the history of the Jews, and not only those written by Czechs. The author considers it useful that Strobach is concerned only to summarize the content of the discussions, without drawing a clear line between historiography and politics, because he understands historians not only as academic actors but also as social and political actors. But, according to the author of this article, the results of the effort are not particularly convincing: Strobach’s categorizations of the ‘history of the victim’ type is not based on a thorough analysis of the sources, but are instead a judgement based on assumptions, which have guided him in his selection of texts. In consequence of this intentionally selective approach, Strobach creates a distorted impression of the nature of the whole discussion, because in current Czech historiography about the Jews and the Holocaust normative concepts of the ‘history of the victim’ does not play much of a role. Similarly, it can hardly be claimed that the history of the Jews is often said to be identical with the history of antisemitism. Concerning the ‘identity politics’ of the Jews of the Bohemian Lands, it is misleading of Strobach to claim that a form of the historical collective memory clearly defined in this way is asserted in historiography, without naming who exactly is the bearer of this memory. Moreover, he fails to define his basic terms, which thus lack an analytical keenness. On the whole, Strobach is satisfied with a simplistic, unoriginal critique, and fails to use the opportunity to constructively move the discussion forward.
In response to a review of his biography of the Czech historian Václav Chaloupecký (1882–1951), Václav Chaloupecký: Hledání československých dějin (Prague: Karolinum, 2014), published in the previous issue of this journal (Antonie Doležalová, ‘Hledání Václava Chaloupeckého’, Soudobé dějiny, vol. 23 (2016), nos. 1–2, pp. 211–16), the author discusses the problem of composing a historical text built on primary sources and, in connection with that, the reception, both in the field and amongst the general public, of contemporary Czech historiography. He also considers the limits of, and changes in, the popularization of the results of historical research.
Stehlík, Michal. Babické vraždy 1951 (Edice 1938–1953, vol. 1). Prague: Academia, 2016, 255 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2593-7.
The publication under review seeks to reconstruct the best-known case of politically motivated violence against representatives of the Czechoslovak Communist regime in the 1950s and its consequences. On 2 July 1951, in an attack by an armed group in the village of Babice in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, three officials of the local National Committee were shot dead. In the following months, in a series of show trials, more than a hundred people were tried and sentenced, eleven of whom were sentenced to death. In addition, a number of locals were forced to leave the village. The reviewer appreciates that the author has worked thoroughly with the facts of these events, while bearing in mind the contexts, and convincingly rebutting the traditional speculations about the armed attack having in fact been a provocation by the Communist secret police (StB), which sought to use a police crackdown to crush the local resistance to the Communist regime. Nevertheless, the book suffers, according to the reviewer, from the author’s having failed to take into account the broader context of the case, not interpreting events, and ignoring much of the literature on the topic.
Mrňka, Jaromír. Svéhlavá periferie: Každodennost diktatury KSČ na příkladu Šumperska a Zábřežska v letech 1945–1960. Prague: Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů, 2015, 218 pp., ISBN 978-80-87912-34-8.
The title of this publication translates as ‘The stubborn periphery: Everyday life under the dictatorship of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, as seen in the examples of the Šumperk and Zábřeh districts from 1945 to 1960’. According to the reviewer, it demonstrates how much a regional perspective can contribute to the research of important historical topics. The author, according to the reviewer, endeavours to explain the transformations at the regional level in governing and in the operation of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in connection with the transformation of the border areas from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the 1960s, using the examples of the districts of Zábřeh and Šumperk in north-west Moravia. The author focuses on local society and their mentality in its ethnic and social diversity. By contrast, the reviewer finds the depiction of imperious rule by directive to be superficial, although, admittedly, this was not the author’s focus.
Brummer, Alexandr, and Michal Konečný. Brno stalinistické: Průvodce městem. Brno: Host, 2015, 288 pp., ISBN 978-80-7491-478-2.
The publication under review is a historical guidebook, with entries and accompanying photographs on almost fifty places and buildings in Brno, the capital of Moravia. Its focus, however, is the city in the period of Czechoslovak Stalinism, that is, from the late 1940s to the early 1950s. The reviewer discusses the form of the book and some of the important background to Brno in that period. He appreciates the fact that although the book is intended for the general public this is not to the detriment of its scholarship and the reliability of its facts. He does, nevertheless, see a small shortcoming in the absence of a substantial introduction and chronology of events in Czechoslovakia in this period.
Pithart, Petr. Po Devětaosmdesátém: Rozpomínání a přemítání (Spisy Petra Pitharta, vol. 3). Prague: Academia, 2015, 490 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2504-3.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, Petr Pithart (b. 1941) was a leading dissident. After the Changes beginning in late 1989 he became Premier of the Czech Government and, later, was for years the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the Czech Senate. He is also the author of a number of books about politics and modern Czech history. In his most recent publication, whose title translates as ‘After Eighty-nine: Recollections and Meditations’ (the third volume of Pithart’s collected works), he considers his role in the period from February 1990, when he was elected Czech Premier, to the defeat his party, the Citizen’s Movement (Občanské hnutí), in the general elections of June 1992. The reviewer notes in particular the passages devoted to the division of powers between the Czech and Slovak governments on the one hand and the Federal Government on the other, the scenarios for economic reform, the privatization of industries, and politics in practice. According to the reviewer, Pithart moves in this publication between self-criticism and self-defence and is at his strongest when he avoids moralizing and sticks instead to factual description.
Hacker, Paul. Slovensko 1990–1993: Spomienky amerického diplomata. Trans. from the English by Eva Salnerová. Bratislava: Artforum, 2014, 286 pp., ISBN 978-80-8150-042-8.
The book under review is a Slovak translation of Paul Hacker’s Slovakia on the Road to Independence: An American Diplomat’s Eyewitness Account (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010). With this book, Hacker has made an important contribution to the small number of memoirs by diplomats which discuss Czechoslovkia after the collapse of the Communist regime. Hacker, from autumn 1990 to late 1992, was in charge of the newly established US consulate in Bratislava, and, after the creation of the Slovak Republic, became the US ambassador to that country. His memoirs discuss Slovakia particularly in the last years of the Czechoslovak federation, its road to independence, and its first steps as a sovereign state. He looks at events from the Slovak perspective, almost completely ignoring the Czech and Czechoslovak. The reviewer notes, for example, Hacker’s depiction of the division of the federation, his sketch of the Slovak premier, Vladimír Mečiar (b. 1942), and the affair over the discovery of the wiretapping of the US consulate general in Bratislava.
Kopeček, Lubomír. Deformace demokracie? Opoziční smlouva a česká politika 1998–2002. Brno: Barrister & Principal, 2015, 340 pp., ISBN 978-80-7485-031-8.
The publication under review, whose title translates as ‘A Deformation of Democracy? The Opposition Agreement and Czech politics, 1998–2002’, follows on from Kopeček’s Éra nevinnosti: Česká politika 1989–1997 (The age of innocence, Czech politics, 1989–97, Brno: Barrister & Principal, 2010). It is concerned with the circumstances and consequences of what was popularly known as the Opposition Agreement (opoziční smlouva), which, after the general elections of 1998, was signed by the two largest Czech political parties – the Social Democratic Party, led by Miloš Zeman (b. 1944), and the Civic Democratic Party, led by Václav Klaus (b. 1941) – and concerns the terms and conditions under which the Klaus-led opposition would tolerate the Zeman-led government. The focus of this political-science interpretation is not only the main actors of the agreement but also the large opposition to it. The latter ultimately succeeded in preventing the pact from leading to a system run by only two parties. Despite its excessive dependence on journalistic sources, the publication, according to the reviewer, constitutes, together with the author’s preceding volume, a fundamental work on Czech political developments since the collapse of the Communist regime.
Jiránek, Tomáš: Šéf štábu Obrany národa: Neklidný život divizního generála Čeňka Kudláčka (Paměť. Odboj, vol. 76). Prague: Academia 2015, 417 pp., ISBN 978-80-200-2354-4.
The book under review is a biography of Čeněk Kudláček (1896–1967), a general and military attaché, who fought in the First World War as a member of the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia and France, was in the resistance at home and abroad during the Second World War (sent to gain the support of Czechs and Slovaks living in Canada and Brazil), and was involved in intelligence work as an exile following the Communist takeover in February 1948. The reviewer focuses on Kudláček’s year on a diplomatic mission to Bolivia in the mid-1930s, a country that Czechoslovakia supported militarily in the war against Paraguay. On the whole, he appreciates that the book is both highly readable and truly scholarly.
Rosůlek, Přemysl. Albánci a Makedonská republika (1991–2014). Prague: Libri, 2015, 395 pp., ISBN 978-80-7277-326-2.
The reviewer thoroughly analyses this publication, which is devoted to the development of ethnic relations in Macedonia since the beginning of the 1990s. Though the author, according to the reviewer, has worked with a large base of sources and has done serious research, the result does not really reflect that effort. The reviewer points out a number of mistakes in interpretations and facts, as well as imprecision stemming from a general lack of truly understanding the wider historical context of the complicated problems of ethnic developments in this region.
Kalifa, Dominique. Les bas-fonds: Histoire d’un imaginaire. Paris: Seuil, 2013, 394 pp., ISBN 978-2-02-096762-4.
The book under review, by the French historian Dominique Kalifa (is Director of the Centre for Nineteenth-century History at the University of Paris, where he specializes in the history of crime, transgression, social control, and mass culture in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Europe, particularly France), is concerned with the phenomenon of the ‘lower depths’ (or ‘dregs of society’), as they emerged and changed into Euro-American culture, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. The author does not seek to analyse this seemingly ungraspable topic using the methods of historical sociology, for it has long evaded study by the means available to the social sciences. Instead, he turns to the ways the subject has been represented by bureaucracies, journalists, tourism, and art. According to the reviewer, it is important how the author inverts the perspective, and demonstrates that the history of the dregs of society is mainly the history of majority society. That is to say, majority society has felt a need to describe and name its dark side and its fear of a changing world, to exclude, moralize, and discipline. One may regret that the work is limited to the francophone, anglophone, and hispanophone worlds, but that means also that the topic remains an inspiring challenge to other scholars.
Guiducci, Pierluigi. Oltre la leggenda nera: Il Vaticano e la fuga dei criminali nazisti. Milan: Mursia, 2015, 430 pp., ISBN 978-8842555483.
The book under review, by an Italian historian and lawyer, is about the attractive topic of the role of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the Vatican, in helping Nazi war criminals to avoid justice after the Second World War and to escape to countries of Western Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. This dense work, which skilfully places the Vatican into international events after the Second World War, is based on the author’s many years of research in the archives not only of the Vatican, but also of other countries in Europe and America. The result is a well-supported argument against the surviving ideological clichés used by some historians and against the black-and-white way of looking at things used by journalists. The author absolutely rejects the idea that senior members of the Vatican consciously helped Nazi officials. This might make his approach seem too much like apologetics, but the final judgement, according to the reviewer, can only be made after the relevant records of the Vatican Secret Archives have been made public.
This is a report on the international colloquium on Sino-Soviet relations during the Cold War, which was held in Berlin, on 23 and 24 September 2016. It was organized by the American historian Austin Jersild with the support of the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies. The colloquium discussed in particular the global consequences of Sino-Soviet relations, and its participants sought to highlight new methods and approaches to researching the Cold War, to go beyond the most frequently covered topics of Soviet-American rivalry, and to take into account the whole system of international relations. The report concisely discusses the contents of the papers presented there and the discussions that followed, pointing out the links between them.
This is a report on the Seventh International Symposium on Balkan Studies, which was held in Brno, on 28 and 29 November 2016. It was organized by the Institute of Slavic Studies at Masaryk University, together with the Moravian Museum and the Institute of History, part of the Czech Academy of Sciences. More than sixty historians, political scientists, philologists, ethnologists, and other specialists from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Balkan countries, and Poland, participated in the symposium. In three sections, they presented papers about the history of the Balkans and Czecho-Slovak-Balkan relations: (i) history, ethnology, political science; (ii) linguistics; and (iii) literature and culturology.