Persecution is not Genocide

‘Genocide’ is one of the most-abused words in political discourse. Black Americans are suffering an ongoing genocide. So did American Indians. And the number of ethnic groups supposedly undergoing “cultural genocide” is endless. I found an example of this in a surprising place, Lithuania (where I’m now on holiday). I visited the exhibition on the victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania, housed in a small green house just outside the Old Town. It’s compact but extremely thorough; almost all the visitors seem to be foreigners.

Lithuanian Jews had nowhere to escape to, and 95% were killed during the Holocaust. A grim coincidence was that during the short-lived initial Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940-41 under the Secret Protocol to the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets started building massive underground fuel containers. This was cut short when the Nazis invaded, and the Nazis found massive 9-meter-deep pits in the Ponary Forest just sitting there. They promptly started shooting people and dumping them in these ready-made murder pits, which eventually contained up to 100,000 victims.

A tiny fraction of Lithuania’s Jews were saved by a Dutch and a Japanese consular official, who gave them export visas, and some were saved by Lithuanians. A German Wehrmacht soldier, Karl Plagge, was even inducted into the Righteous of the Nations for inflating the numbers of “skilled” Jews required to run a vehicle-repair garage. He smuggled food, allowed them to construct hiding places, and warned them of SS raids. After the war, during ‘de-nazification’, the tribunal going to classify him as free of guilt, but he insisted on being called an accomplice (Mitläufer) because he could have done more.

The interns managing one part of the museum, oddly enough, were two Austrians doing mandatory civil service instead of military conscription, which made me wonder why they had to bring Austrians in to do this. But let’s put that aside. The Austrian blokes were friendly, and we bonded on the basis of shared Holocaust knowledge. I mentioned that I was later going to visit the Lithuanian Museum of Genocide Victims, which is really the KGB museum. The Austrian guy chuckled grimly and said, “Yeah, that’s a pretty funny name, because it wasn’t a genocide.” “This,” he said, gesturing to the museum, “was a genocide.”

“Yep,” I responded, “I sort of noticed that Lithuanians weren’t subjected to genocide, because Lithuanians are, you know, still here.”

The “‘”Museum of Genocide Victims“‘” was fascinating and chilling, but what it depicted was deportations, repression, brutally unjust punishments, and widespread espionage. But not genocide.

It turns out Lithuania, along with other Baltic states, has tried to use an expanded definition of genocide to punish people retroactively. A Lithuanian court convicted a man of genocide for killing anti-Soviet partisans in Lithuania in 1953. The European Court of Justice ruled the judgment illegal, because there was no generally-recognized definition of “genocide” at the time the crime was committed, and, in any event, collaborating with Soviet occupiers to root out and kill anti-Soviet partisans may have been many things, but it wasn’t genocide.

There’s no such thing as “cultural genocide”. Genocide should properly be reserved exclusively for the killing of large numbers of people solely on the basis of their ethnic or religious identity, with the avowed purpose of extinguishing them completely.