Remember, too, the Victims Nazis Singled Out for their PoliticsRoundup
tags: Holocaust, Nazism, World War 2, German history, anticommunism, commemoration, antifascism
Adam J Sacks holds an MA and PhD in history from Brown University and an MS in education from the City College of the City University of New York.
For over two years, the charitable status of Germany’s main association commemorating the political victims of Nazism has been in limbo. In fall 2019, the Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime/Federation of Antifascists (VVN-BdA) received notification from Berlin authorities that it would lose its tax exemptions on the grounds that it had been ruled a “left-wing extremist” organization. The move against the VVN-BdA — one of Germany’s most important groups for Holocaust victims — is currently suspended.
This characterization of the association, which cultivates the memory of the Nazi regime’s mainly Communist and Social-Democratic political victims, is owed to the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, based in a region that was itself the cradle of Nazism. It follows in an inglorious history of postwar intelligence agencies harassing Communist members of the anti-fascist resistance — as well as a wider denial of the recognition and welfare accorded to others who suffered and fought the Nazi menace.
This is not simply a German phenomenon. In the Netherlands, Communists were expelled from the association for ex-political prisoners, while commemorations honoring partisan Hannie Schaft were prohibited by armed force, even with the use of tanks.
Today, as we mark the seventy-seventh anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, we should also remember that moment as the end of the greatest cataclysm ever to befall the Left — the greatest white terror in history. The Nazi and Fascist counterrevolutionary violence was prefigured by the thousands killed and exiled in Hungary after World War I, via mass public hangings which wiped out the Communist Party; the hundred thousand “purged” during the Finnish White Terror; and the hundreds of thousands murdered in Ukraine as part of the Russian Civil War. Historians estimate that up to 1 million civilians were murdered by the Nazis on account of their political affiliation — the vast majority targeted as communists.
In World War II and the period leading up to it, left-wingers across Europe were decimated. Yet for all the abundance of research into the Nazi period, in public consciousness and in historical literature, this entire aspect is often left fuzzy. Political victims, if labeled as such at all, are rarely defined as socialists or communists and are never accounted for on a country-by-country basis, as is the case for other victims of Nazi terror.
Historical research and public-memory culture has drawn welcome focus to the variety of populations targeted by Nazi mass murder: Jews, Roma people, those with disabilities, and others.
Recent studies show that young students most often identify “homosexuals” as a Nazi-Fascist victim group, following Europe’s Jews. While pedagogical materials often use the ahistorical label “LGBTQ,” historians generally surmise that the Nazis murdered about five thousand gay men targeted because of their sexuality, within Germany itself. This also happens to be the approximate number of people of African descent murdered by the Nazis, mostly soldiers serving in the French Army.
But as the recent attacks on VVN-BdA suggest, Nazism’s political victims seem to remain the ones whom contemporary consciousness most struggles to recognize.