History


ConfederadosLearning about the American Civil War, it seems amazing that the nation could be as united as it is. If Southerners had wanted to secede before it had begun you would think that a long and bloody conflict would have made them more rather than less resentful, and I am sure there are Yankees who asked themselves why had they wanted to have rebs as their compatriots in the first place. Well, somehow a lot of people transcended their grievances. Not everyone, though. Some took up their sewing kits and formed the Ku Klux Klan. Others packed their bags.

Many Southerners decided not to be a part of the new America. Some were dispersed throughout Mexico, but up to ten thousand went further, accepting an invitation from Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil. The “Confederados” often returned, either displeased with their treatment further south than Alabama or pining for their homeland, but many stayed. Though cultural relics in the United States, they were symbolic of progress in Brazil…

The most important contributions the Americans made to Brazil were in agriculture (the steel plows they brought were superior to what most Brazilian farmers were using at the time), education (they founded schools based on a spirit of free inquiry), and religion (they were the first indigenous Protestant community). So it was that in the 1870s and 1880s republicans who wanted to abolish the Brazilian monarchy, end slavery, and separate church from state took up the cause of the Confederados, promoting them not as refugees from a conservative, slave-owning society but as representatives of advanced, liberal, democratic America.

The Confederados formed a strange little community, in which their traditional Southern attachments were blended with the culture of Brazil.

Passing by the graves of the [Confederado chapel], Nancy Padovesc makes a sweeping motion with her arm and says, “São todos teimosos” (they were all stubborn).

The [chapel], shaded by palm and ficus trees, sits in the middle of rolling fields of sugar cane. [It] is a simple red-brick building. Its spare interior—white walls, wooden pews—has just two adornments, a cross and a large portrait of Robert E. Lee. Religious services are held at the quarterly picnics; according to the Associação bylaws, services must be in one of the faiths of the original settlers—Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist. In front of the church a white stone obelisk rises from a granite base that bears the Confederate battle flag and the names of ninety-six families—names like Bookwalter and Carr, Dumas and Kennedy, Trigg and Yancey—that made the long journey.

One can only imagine what General Lee would have thought of being paid tribute to, in Brazilian, by people with names like De Muzio.

Such hybrid cultures are, of course, becoming common in a globalising world. These Confederates were ahead of their time. There can be sadness in dislocation, and danger in adjacency, but it is fascinating how traditions have been strewn across the globe: cropping up in the oddest of places. Are there Basque separatists in Britain? Irish Republicans in Iceland? Cornish nationalists in Spain?

I have been watching Ken Burns’ fine documentary series on the American Civil War. At present I would like to focus on something that might seem trivial: the faces of the gentlemen involved. Both the Unionist and Confederate leaders had, in my opinion, most distinguished features. Take Abraham Lincoln. Here is not a man that observers would think handsome, perhaps, but in his stiff jaw and steady gaze is character. This is the face of a man haunted by a thousand solemnities and occupied with deep reflection.

Lincoln

Robert E. Lee had the face of a sober man as well. Here, his mind seems to be elsewhere as the photo is taken.Robert E LeeThe question that occurred to me is how politicians evolved from this to this.

ChristieAs can be appreciated in this montage of American presidents throughout the ages, a goofball tendency became ubiquitous. Statesmen feel a strange compulsion to display their teeth to the world, as if to prove the scrupulousness of their dental hygiene.

presidentsI am not suggesting that appearance need be a reflection of character – and, indeed, I doubt the significance of the character of the figurehead of the state. Yet I find it interesting that the grim demeanour of the politicians of old has been replaced by all this mateyness. In an age of public relations I suppose these men are desperate to appear “relatable” to voters. Me, if I am biased at all it is towards the solemn. Politics is not a cheerful business but a frightening and bleak affair concerned with the lives and deaths of millions. A good man inside the Oval Office would be wracked with stress and sorrow of dreadful proportions.

SalubriousI was intrigued to learn that the environmentalist group The Soil Association was founded by fascists. Greens of the age, indeed, tended to be on the far right. Jorian Jenks was a top figure of the BUF. Gerald Wallop led the pro-Nazi English Array. Henry Williamson, who wrote such lovely novels as Tarka the Otter, bore a lifelong affection for Adolf Hitler. It was Richard Walther Darré, Reichsminister of Food and Agriculture, who devised the term “blood and soil” to refer not just to German expansionism but an idealised notion of peasant virtues. That Nazis like an idea does not make it a fascist one but there are dark extremes to which nostalgia can go.

Environmentalists like Jenks were pioneering in their advocacy for organic food, which foreshadowed another trend. Support for racial and nutritional purity has gone together many times. I was briefly fascinated by a man named Ben Klassen. He was one of those American ideologues of the mid-to-late 1900s whose unassuming suits and average suburban lives failed to reflect the strangeness of the ideas they promoted. He looked like an estate agent and was known for patenting the wall-mounted electric can-opener.

Despite the potential for a life of golf and gardening, Klassen chose to be a fanatical white supremacist. An admirer of the Nazis with a yearning for race war, he considered the New Testament to be a Jewish trick designed to fool whites into accepting subjugation. In place of Christianity, this fanciful fascist dreamed up a faith named the Church of the Creator, which combined national socialism with nature worship. Ten years after his death, the church still exists.

The Nazis had been ardent promoters of clean living but Klassen took this to extremes. (If one is going to value the purity of bloodlines I suppose one might as well fret about cholesterol.) In a book named Salubrious Living he denounced the modern diet in favour of a fruitarian lifestyle. Its earnestness is strangely compelling. He condemned grains, meat, salt, alcohol and ice cream and even launched himself into a sweeping dismissal of condiments.

When [mustard] is added to the diets of animals the blood vessels begin to harden…Another condiment, pepper, has a tendency to produce a shortened lifespan…Many condiments, including horseradish, are mixed with vinegar. In such cases it is doubly wise to abstain from them.

The reader will be stunned to hear that Klassen provided no footnotes.

Having cast aside “the dark ages of man’s dietetic history”, Klassen spoke of the virtues of raw plant foods. He wrote as if attempting to inspire a revolution. Read this stirring call for a change in our “culinary arts” as if it is being declaimed from a platform and you’ll understand.

Cooking itself must be dispensed with as a means of preparing food…In the kitchen, the grater, shredder, chopping knife, Juicer and liquifier must replace the cooking stove.

And the crowd roars in approval.

Such was Klassen’s earnestness in his desire to encourage whites to eat their greens that he went on to fill two pages with recipes. Here is the “Mango Delight”, for anyone who fancies whipping up a favourite of the man who dreamed up the term “RaHoWa”.

2 mangos

2 apples

2 bananas

1 cup dates

Cut the mangos, apples and bananas into small pieces. Slit the dates. Mix all the ingredients.

The book goes on to speak of the virtues of intermittent fasting, natural sunlight, exercise and “the squat position during bowel evacuation”. (“The best plan is to place a small box directly in front of the toilet seat.”) Then, once Klassen has dispensed advice on treating baldness, it at last turns to “the ULTIMATE CREED” for “the White Race of the future”.

National socialists dream of utopia. Racial fanaticism is a product of idealistic as well as hateful impulses. Such ideologues think that humans, if a select few humans, can be supermen – fit, strong and lustrous of hair – and devote themselves to obsessive theorising on the grounds that it they could maximise the amount of vitamins obtained from spinach, or eliminate miscegenation, paradise might be attained. Obsessiveness and fantasising can take many forms but they are rarely of a salubrious nature.

Ben Klassen killed himself at the age of 75. Lest one get the impression that Nazis and veganism are close relations, I will note that David Duke is a keen advocate of low carb diets.

Hitler1. Were all of Hitler’s beliefs alien from those early progressives?

No.

2. Were all of Hitler’s beliefs alien from those of traditionalist conservatives?

No.

3. Is Hitler an interesting reference point for any significant trend in modern political thought?

No.

4. Did he have one testicle?

Unconfirmed.

world war 1Certain politicians aspire to be imposing statesmen yet bear as much of a resemblance to Churchill as a West Highland terrier bears to a German Shepherd. I have named them Pootercrats. Michael Gove has distinctly Pootercratic tendencies, which are most obvious when he is on the subject of war. He authored a strange article in 2008 that announced that the war in Iraq had been “a success”. “Sunni and Shia contend for power in parliament, not in street battles,” he announced, which is galling to read days after Sunni militants occupied Fallujah.

Mr Gove has now made headlines for an article that claims that we have too grim a perspective of the First World War. It is a crude piece, which, relying heavily on an essay by Professor Nigel Biggar, is as suitable a prompt for scholarly reflection as a wife-related insult is for a nice evening in the pub. Gove’s thoughts appear to have been limited, as he is unable to do so much as maintain a consistent view. He asserts that as tragic as the war turned out to be, “it was also plainly a just war”. Plainly, eh? Hm. Later, he writes that there is “no unchallenged consensus”. That sounds as plain as ‘70s footwear.

The education minister embarrasses himself by repeating an unfortunate misrepresentation of Biggar’s. His essay states that the historian Professor Richard Evans has suggested that to celebrate the war as a triumph is an example of “narrow, tub-thumping jingoism”, and Gove also quotes this as evidence of his disdain for “honouring [the] sacrifice” of British soldiers. In fact, Professor Evans was speaking not of World War 1 but of Gove’s educational reforms. I happen to think he makes far too much of a bugbear of nationalism but the least that one can do is quote him properly. Gove was either insulted and disingenuous or lazy and incompetent.

Gove describes our aversion to celebrating the Allied triumph as the product of “left-wing” myths. It was Niall Ferguson, in The Pity of War, who argued that blame for the conflict should lie at the feet of Britain, and it was Alan Clark whose book The Donkeys claimed that the fighting was hopelessly mismanaged by English generals. Whatever the value of the writing of these gentlemen, the latter was a Conservative politician for years while the former is known as a defender of colonialism. They’ve been more right wing than Gove, and the fact that Ferguson has been an adviser to him makes his tribal reductionism inexcusable.

Let us turn to an actual scholar. Biggar argues that the conflict was a just and unavoidable response to Germanic belligerence. I am no historian and cannot judge his factual claims. It is, indeed, a controversial subject and the experts should debate their differing perspectives. When he writes that the Germans believed “that war is the natural way of deciding the balance of international power”, however, I have to ask how perceptions of this “balance” were formed. It was, of course, because the European states, including Britain, had pursued such an aggressively expansionist plan of empire-building. Showing yourselves to be ambitious, competitive militarists is no recipe for trust and unobtrusiveness.

For all that one might lament the “ruthless” and “pitiless” nature of German militarism, meanwhile, it was our allies, the Belgians, who had left millions dead in the Congo and were still exploiting Africans with the aid of the English industrialist William Lever. One need not demonise all aspects of colonial Europe to observe that imperial hubris made catastrophic power struggles hard to avoid, and that its atrocities invalidate any claim to grand nobility. If one is to denounce the Germans for their “scorn for the international order”, one must recall the “order” one which one speaks.

Even if the Germans should be blamed for the conflict – which is by no means obvious – it seems akin to blaming the first man to throw a punch in a changing room full of aggressive and egotistical guy who have been flexing their muscles and exchanging insults. Everyone should feel ashamed of the destruction that followed.

World War 1 did not simply chew up and spit out millions of people across Europe but sowed the seeds of fascist and Bolshevik despotism. I will pay tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives in the defence of their country, but as a lover of England and a lover of Europe I feel sadness and disgust for the wastage of lives and the plunging of so much of the continent into darkness. Let historians debate the details, but it cannot much to assuage this gloom.

In a review of Anne Applebaum’s Gulag, John Dolan, a mordant critic writing under his “War Nerd” pseudonym, described the journalist as a “professional mourner”. Russians, he Bloodlandsobserved, do not think very much about the pain that Stalin and his gang of thugs put their descendants through. This troubles Westerners, for…

…we need to believe that everyone shares our alleged dedication to the Christian-derived notion that we have to love everyone. And that means mourning, or at least going through the motions of mourning, every mass death.

Perhaps he would apply this to Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, which concludes thus…

The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers…It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn these numbers back into people.

Bloodlands documents the killing of fourteen million non-combatants by Hitler, Stalin and their different regimes in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and the Baltic States. From the Holodomor to the Holocaust, it details starvation, terror, genocide and brutal back-and-forth invasions. It can feel like wallowing in the anguish of others but it is, I think, of historical significance: a reminder of the suffering borne by Eastern Europeans to a West that felt awkward in shaking hands with the Man of Steel and prefers to think of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. Bloodlands offers valuable context and perspective.

Why, out of all historical events, however, do mass deaths so often interest us? Perhaps I am wrong, but monetary, cultural and scientific phenomena receive less attention than massacres and genocide. One reason is that we draw upon the past to inform our prescriptions for the future, and atrocities affirm our beliefs, and influence those of our audience, with a special power. Socialists are liable to think a great deal about the crimes of imperial Europe and America, and feel that conservatives and liberals moan too much about Communism, while liberals and conservatives think a great deal about Soviet Ukraine and Maoist China, and are liable believe that socialists bang on too much about the crimes of empires. This is not mere tribalism but reflective of the significance that thinkers place on the lessons of different events. Socialists believe it is of primary importance to fear the potential for wrongdoing from capitalist states while liberals and conservatives are more likely to emphasise the need to consider the threat of progressive utopianism. Well, I think both are important, though maintaining one’s scholarly rigour and aversion to exploitative polemicising matters as well.

Even disregarding our political inclinations, evil fascinates us. Books about serial killers and mass shootings are always in style, and our interest in dictators and genocidaires emerges from similar impulses. We hope to understand that which, in a secular age, seems ever more unfathomable yet somehow not alien.

Bloodlands offers much that appeals to both tendencies. Stalin and Kaganovich stage-managing starvation illuminates the worst extremes of centralised governance, while the racist savagery of the National Socialists, practiced not merely against Jews but against Slavs, is a timeless example of the worst that self-pity, paranoia and arrogance can breed. It has much to teach, meanwhile, about the cruel absurdities of totalitarianism. I am fascinated, for example, by the ease with which tyrants co-opt the naive enthusiasm and self-importance of young people: from the Hitler Youth to the Red Brigades to the teenagers that the Soviets sent to run about the farms of the Ukrainian countryside to harass the peasants they accused of hoarding grain.

A third reason for our interest in mass deaths is that which Dolan and Snyder speak of: the idea that individuals deserve to be reclaimed from the graves to which brutal men consigned them by the million. Bloodlands rescues many tales of horror, courage and resolve obscurity and these, more than a number on a page, affect one’s desire to love; to cherish; to resist. This is something it does for us, though, and not for the dead. They are gone, like so millions died in the plague, the cholera pandemic and the Spanish flu, or simply while conducting their business in the Scottish highlands, the Sahara Desert or the Siberian tundra. No one remembers these people, and nobody seems to mind. Man lives in slow cycles of deaths and births that erase all but the most startling of individuals. Yet almost everyone has mattered, to their families, to their friends and to themselves. They did not live to dig foundations for the centuries that followed but to make peace with their present. To mourn lives and loves that were stolen from their proper owners is to deny men the right to give tomorrow undivided precedence over today, and to imagine that they can negate the interests of others. It is to respect the humbler struggles of the species.

MolesworthLast night, I watched a film about the Cambridge Spies. Unlike America, England in the 50s seems to have been distinguished by the extent to which people did not fear communist subversion. Jennifer Hart, a young aristocrat who gravitated towards the far left, claimed that MI5 would ask her to recommend bright graduates for jobs in the services and seemed to have little concern for their affiliations. If you came from the right families, and the right colleges, you were generally assumed to be a decent sort.

The film hinted darkly at potential motives of the spies, ranging from social conditions to sexual proclivities. It was not a time that showed the best of capitalism, that much is undeniable, and I think it is evident that homosexuality could incline one towards rebellion as, after all, one was classed as a natural rebel. A point that struck me, though, was when it was speculated that Blunt’s anti-authoritarian streak was nurtured by his loathing of the macho atmosphere of Marlborough College, with its emphasis on sporting prowess. I wonder how much of the social liberalism of the 20th Century was informed by resentment towards exclusion and abuse in British public schools.

It was “Mad Shelley” who faced taunting and violence at Eton as he nurtured his youthful radicalism, and significant progressives of the past century endured similar experiences. Lytton Strachey, among the more influential figures in the Bloomsbury Group, suffered harsh bullying at school thanks to the frail physique that made him unsuited for sports and labour. Gerald Brenan, too, hid in the library to escape his tormenters at Radley. Such, Such Were the Joys, meanwhile, reflected Orwell’s loathing of St. Cyprian’s – a prep school but one that led him to detest the “bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular” boys who outstripped other people “in dominating them, bullying them, making them suffer pain”. This facts of the essay have been disputed but the perception remains. A hatred of hierarchy, order and authoritarianism can be stoked by few things more than public school bullies, and their victims are prepared to be receptive to alternatives to their values.

One suspects that the anti-authoritarian culture of the ‘60s had at least something to do with the resentment that young men felt towards the officials of their education. Peter Cook was joking when he said he got his “sense of injustice” from the caning he suffered at the hands of Ted Dexter, who was a prefect at Radley when he was young, but a good friend said he was “really angry” at the England batsman even in later life. Paul Foot, who, like his colleagues at Private Eye, was educated at Shrewsbury School, penned a scathing obituary of a sadistic master who would lash the bare buttocks of children, “quite unable to contain his glee”. There was a personal outrage, meanwhile, in the privately educated Lindsay Anderson’s portrayal of austere masters and thuggish prefects in his film if…, in which schoolboys amass weapons to massacre the staff of their public school.

Okay, correlation does not prove causation, and God knows whether the chicken or the egg was around before the other. Such men tended to hate school, and to be hated at school, because of their refusal to conform to the standards of their peers and masters. At the least, however, it is ironic that people who were frozen out of school did so much to exclude their bullies from the culture.

Play-acting as a cold warrior is a bore’s game. One thinks of Amis and Hitchens debating their leftist youths in a manner that gave new meaning to the term “self-indulgent”. Still, I findWhite Keynes myself being attracted to old arguments. To read Priyamvada Gopal, for example, you would think that the campaign against Marxism in the United States was prompted by nothing more than bigotry and paranoia. There was a lot of that. Some of my favourite artists were drummed out of work by people whose defence of Western civilisation can have had little to do with a respect for culture or free speech.

I cannot help but think, however, that more should be said. It would be strange to write of the hounding of American isolationists without mention of the Duquesne Spy Ring or Charles Coughlin and I feel similarly here. The success of opportunists like Cohn and McCarthy must be understood in light of the fact that the state had been infiltrated by Soviet agents – from Treasury officials to nuclear physicists. The extent to which I sympathise with objects of suspicion, too, is often qualified by the extent to which they were admirers of the Stalinist regime. Gopal writes of Paul Robeson’s “alleged communist connections”, but this hardly befits a proud recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, who was so enamoured of the Soviets that he announced that “it is the government’s duty to put down any opposition to this really free society with a firm hand”, before mourning the “deep kindliness and wisdom” of Uncle Joe after his death. Should the U.S. have been big enough to deal with his opinions? I think so. But the nature of much of the criticism of the West should not be obscured. I suspect that people emphasise the sins of the age without touching on these features of the context because it is does more for their sense of tribal victimhood.

Am I just mourning the fact that I never got to write for Encounter, though? It is true that in the manner with which liberals and Conservatives acquit themselves in arguments surrounding terrorists and tyrants one detects nostalgia for a time when good and evil seemed so clearly defined (and commentators seemed so vital in delineating them). It is also true that the force with which Conservatives thrust charges of Marxism at collectivist ideas can grow tiresome. Still, I tire of leftists meeting all nationalist and Eurocentric sentiments with invocations of the Empire, but I still believe that colonialism offers lessons of relevance to contemporary matters of war and occupation. Similarly, I think the admirers of the Soviet Union can be useful in reflecting on the utopian impulses that lurk within their ideological offspring. Disagree? Okay, but don’t mention Lord Rothermere next time there is a controversy around The Daily Mail.

EdwinI am always fascinated by unexplained mysteries; the shadows lurking in our comprehension of the past. The strange event that has intrigued me this week is not the assassination of JFK but the Wall Street bombing, which killed 38 Americans on 16th September 1920 and went unsolved (though Italian anarchists are still blamed for the crime). A detail that caught my eye was  a reference to a man who had been a suspect after warning numerous people to avoid the area around the date of the atrocity. His tale is an odd one.

Edwin P. Fischer had been a successful tennis player, who had been ranked in the top 5 competitors in the United States. By 1920, though, he had withdrawn to obscurity. Days after the bombing, Mr Fischer was taken to New York and interviewed by detectives after it was revealed that he had warned friends, family members and even the caretaker of a local tennis club that Wall Street was to be attacked on the 15th or 16th of September. “Dear Shep,” he had been found to have written to a friend, “Keep away from Wall Street this Wednesday afternoon. There never was a road that didn’t have a turn”.

It was as he walked through the train station, The New York Times reported days later, that things became even stranger…

Three cigars were thrown into his path near the Lexington Avenue exit. He stooped and picked them up, saying, “I don’t smoke but I’ll keep them.” The cigars were taken from him and cut open to guard against the possibility that they might contain a message, drug or implement, but nothing of the sort was found.

Meanwhile, the detectives interviewed the suspect…

To all questions as to the source of the information which led him to send warnings of the explosion, he replied that it was a “premonition” or that he had “got it out of the air”.

It was growing ever more clear that something was not right about the prophetic player…

…the visible grey suit was only one of three worn by Fischer. Under that was another business suit, and underneath that, in place of the usual undergarments, was a tennis shirt and flannel trousers. Fischer…explained that this arrangement had several advantages…He was ready for a tennis match at all times, as all he had to do to appear in tennis costume was to shed his two outer suits…

The detectives had clearly decided that Fischer was not a threat to their citizens…

After Fischer had been questioned by Mr. Talley for some time he turned suddenly and said, “I don’t know how long I am going to be here, and I am very hungry. Let’s get something to eat.” Mr. Talley gave his assent and the detectives took him out for lunch.

Talley, who was the Assistant District Attorney, ruled that “he [who] not the type of man to whom any of those involved in the conspiracy to produce the explosion would have given information”. His warnings were ruled to have been coincidences, and he was ruled to be insane. This belief was inspired not merely by his behaviour but by the news that his family had tried to have him committed days before the explosion.

Looking back, this seems no less bizarre than it must have seemed then. The tennis player, dressed in his whites beneath a suit, almost seems so bizarre as to be contrived, like Blackadder with pencils up his nose, muttering “wibble”. Even his name sounds as if it could have been designed for a solitary eccentric. I am no fan of Laingesque mental health relativism. Ill health can distinguish people, and often in tragic ways. Yet it is interesting how the deceptions and delusions of our collective life can make madness seem so profound. Still, as long as the roots are not severed, all will be well in the garden

CieplińskiWe know, of course, of anti-communist struggles in the East: from Solzhenitsyn and the literary dissidents to the protests of the workers of Solidarity. Am I merely projecting my ignorance, though, when I suggest that we have paid little attention to those rebels who chose armed resistance? I can find no English language books on Poland’s cursed soldiers, Latvia’s Forest Brothers or the Ukrainian Insurgents Army.

These could be unsympathetic, which made them less compelling objects of interest. Some groups formed awkward alliances with the Nazis, in order to fight against the Soviets, and some committed atrocities. Under Mykola Lebed, for example, members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists slaughtered thousands of Poles in an attempt to purge their homeland of foreigners. (Lebed, strangely, went on to be hired by the U.S. intelligence services.)

These groups were diverse, though, regardless of Soviet attempts to cast them as fascists and bandits. What I find awesome, indeed, is the fact that many partisans resisted fascist occupation and took up their arms once more against the Soviet oppressors. While much of Europe was celebrating peace, a new war began for them.

MarianMarian Bernaciak, a son of peasants who became involved in the Polish resistance, led his men for four brutal years against the Nazis. Once the Russians had proved themselves to be as cruel as the fascists, he led an anti-communist unit for another year: freeing political prisoners, publishing dissident works and frustrating the Soviets and their local allies. Finally, after being surrounded by communist troops, he was forced to kill himself.

Łukasz Ciepliński won the Order Wojenny Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honour, for destroying six German tanks in 1939 in defence of Poland. He directed anti-communist resistance until 1947 when he was arrested, tortured for three years by the NKVD and shot in the back of the head. His wife and children were ostracised and forced to live in poverty.

inkaAll kinds of people fought to defend their countries. Danuta Siedzikówna was a 15-year-old girl when she joined the Polish resistance against the Nazis. After the war she tried to embrace civilian life but was forced to struggle against Soviet repression. In 1946, she was captured by Polish Stalinists. Though tortured, she refused to betray her comrades. She was executed days before her 18th birthday.

Such courage, and such evil, should be remembered. The Stalinist campaign against resistance movements was barbaric. Tens of thousands of people were sent to the gulag and thousands more were executed, often on trumped-up charges. Before dying, they could face unimaginable sadism. Adolfas Ramanauskas was a Lithuanian partisan who was captured and taken to a KGB prison in Vilnius. A report dispassionately noted his condition…

The right eye is covered with haematoma, on the eyelid there are six stab wounds made, judging by their diameter, by a thin wire or nail going deep into the eyeball. Multiple haematomas in the area of the stomach, a cut wound on a finger of the right hand. The genitalia reveal the following: a large tear wound on the right side of the scrotum and a wound on the left side, both testicles and spermatic ducts are missing.

Let us never allow the knowledge that the Soviets fought as our allies blind us to the evils of their own oppression. Arguments about the relative levels of depravity between the fascists and the Stalinists are of some academic interests but the differences, if and where they existed, may not have seemed relevant to people who endured them.

There is a reason that the Polish rebels were named the cursed soldiers. Anti-communist resistance, be it in Ukraine, Lithuania or Poland, could never withstand the might of the Soviet Union. Its forces were crushed across the East and its members went down in the history books as fascists, terrorists and thieves, to be spoken of with disdain if spoken of at all. Only in the past two decades have their respective peoples been able to honour them.

It is only natural that we have remembered the Maquis more than the Forest Brothers, and the Warsaw Uprising more than the cursed soldiers. The Nazis were our foes, and, besides, there was no prohibition on researching and speaking of the fight against Nazism. They deserve our memories, though, in many cases, for a struggle that was futile but courageous, dignified and moving.

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