Yad Vashem Hosts Conference on Judeo-Bolshevism

by Arik Elman

On March 24, 2014, Yad Vashem hosted an international conference entitled “Judeo-Bolshevism”: The Crystallization of an anti-Semitic Political Concept.

The conference was made possible through the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and was dedicated to the exploration of roots and development of the one of most poisonous and pernicious myths that laid the ideological and psychological foundations of the Holocaust – the association of the Jewish people with Communist ideas and practices, as “proof” of their eternal enmity towards the “orderly” Christian society, based on traditional morals and property rights.

Eight prominent scholars researching the issues of anti-Semitism and inter-ethnic relations from the US, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Israel took part. The scholarly gathering, examining a topic that has never been discussed in such a broad forum before, met with a great interest among the public. Among over 200 members of the audience there were the Ambassadors of Poland and Latvia, as well as officials from the Embassies of Lithuania and Ukraine in Israel; Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Mr. Avner Shalev and Director General Ms. Dorit Novak; Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel; Ms. Naomi Ben-Ami, head of the Israel Prime Minister’s Office Liaison Bureau; Prof. Yehuda Bauer and leading professors from Israeli Universities; Program Directors from the AJJDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as many other people genuinely interested in this topic.

The conference was opened by Prof. Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem. Conference participants were greeted by Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel, who’ve said that “The discussion about the history and the consequences of this bloody legend is important – both for the understanding of the particular brutality and ferocity of extermination of the Soviet Jews in the first months of the German invasion, and for combating and preventing the similar hateful myths from arising and spreading in the modern world – against the Jews as against any others.”

The first plenary session, The Identification of “Jews” with Bolshevism”: The Emergence of a Myth” (Chairman: Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, Director of the Center for the Study of the History of Soviet Jews During the Holocaust), explored theoretical issues connected with the creation of anti-Semitic myth and the reasons underlying the popularity of Judeo-Bolshevism ideas in the period between the two World Wars and during WWII. This was the focus of the lectures delivered by Prof. André Gerrits (Russian Politics and History at Leiden University, Netherlands) and Prof. Zvi Gitelman (Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). The presentation by Dr. Daniel Uziel (Yad Vashem) was dedicated to the ways in which Nazi propaganda utilized these ideas to strengthen the anti-Semitic sentiment among Wehrmacht soldiers.

The second session, presided over by Prof. Dina Porat, Chief Historian of Yad Vashem, was dedicated to the specific examples of anti-Semitism resulting from the spread of Judeo-Bolshevist ideas in Lithuania (Prof. Cristoph Dieckmann, Keely University, Staffordshire), Latvia (Dr. Aharon Shneer, Yad Vashem) and Poland (Prof. Pawel ?piewak, Head of the Sub-Institute of the History of Social and Political Ideas, Warsaw).

Each presentation, accompanied by rich visual material (Nazi propaganda “newsreels”, posters, flyers, etc.), was received by the audience with great interest. After the presentations, an active discussion took place.

One of the central topics of the discussion was to which degree Judeo-Bolshevist ideas were based on the actual participation of Jews in the communist movement and to what extent they reflected a general anti-Semitic approach having no connection with reality.