ski-081102-276.html> Soviet and Nazi History
by Ludwik Kowalski <http://www.opednews.com/author/author25422.html
Page 1 of 1 page(s)
Which ideology of the final solution, Stalinism or Naziism, was worse? This
rhetorical question can lead to many interesting topics. Classless society
was the goal of Stalinism, racial purity was the goal of Naziism. Each of
these goals was presumably progressive; each was identified with social
harmony and happiness. But what was actually hidden behind the
classless-society ideology of the Soviet Union?
Let me answer this question by describing Kolyma (part of Siberia facing
Alaska), only one of many Gulag regions. I am focusing on that region
because my own father died there. Not too many Americans know that the
number of lives lost in Kolyma camps alone was comparable to the number of
those wasted in Hitler's Auschwitz. Likewise, most Americans are not
familiar with the ideology used to justify the horrors of Stalinism. That
is unfortunate; the danger of other dictatorial systems is as real today as
it was in the last century. That is why Stalinism and Naziism should be
part of history curricula at all levels of education. The Soviet Union was
the first country to implement the idea of proletarian dictatorship. Its
history is worth studying. Can it be studied objectively?
My father, a Polish communist, believed it was his duty to emigrate to the
Soviet Union (with his family) to contribute to the building of the new
classless society. Several years later he was arrested and sent to Kolyma.
He died there two years later, at the age of 36. According to a recent
rough estimate (1), the number of prisoners who died in Kolyma camps was
close to one million. Considerably higher numbers were offered by authors
of older estimations (2).
About five years ago Stalinism was informally discussed at Montclair State
University, where I was teaching. A colleague observed that a large number
of students did not know who Stalin was. Very surprised, I decided to
survey students in one of my classes. Of 23 present only 13 raised their
hands indicating they knew who Stalin was. Was my small sample a good
representation of the student population at our university? As an exercise
in data gathering I asked each student to conduct a survey in another class
on campus. This produced 19 samples based on 439 students. Results,
published in (3), confirmed the observation made by my colleague.
A recent book (4) about how German people cope with the legacy of Hitler's
crimes analyzes the trauma of those who lived in the Third Reich and those
who learned about mass killings from textbooks. Are there similar books
analyzing attitudes of people from the ex-Soviet Union countries? How do
Russians, and others, view Stalin's crimes? Do they learn about them in
high school? How do they debate them? What is similar and what is different
in attitudes of German and Russian students toward their country's history
of mass killing?
According to a Harvard University historian (5), "the task of confronting
unpleasant historical episodes is difficult for any country, even the
long-established democracies. The Germans had a term for this process after
World War II, . . . but it was not until the 1960s and afterward that most
Germans truly acknowledged the enormity of Nazi Germany's crimes.
In France today, many citizens are still reluctant to look closely at the
Vichy period; in Austria many people still pretend that their country was a
victim of Nazi aggression; and in Japan political leaders still frequently
downplay the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in China, Korea, and
Manchuria in the 1930s and 1940s. In the United States, too, many tragic
aspects of history--the enslavement of blacks, the campaigns against
American Indians, and the internment of Japanese-Americans at the start of
World War II--have often been glossed over. Difficult as the process of
historical reckoning may be for these Western countries, it is even more
onerous in Russia....''
In my opinion, Germans and Austrians were no less victims of Nazism than
Russians and Poles were victims of Communism. A well known Polish
philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, wrote several books about Soviet ideology.
Many topics from his book (6) are certainly worth discussing, in the context
of teaching history, especially at the university level. What are
mechanisms by which some historical episodes are swept under the carpet?
Why does this happen? Who is promoting it and why? We all know what
Santayana wrote about those who do not learn from history.
1) Martin J. Bollinger, "Stalin's slave ships: Kolyma, the Gulag fleet, and
the role of the west; Prager Publishers, Wset Point, Conn, 2003
2) Robert Conquest, "Kolyma, The Artic Death Camps",: The Viking Press, New
3) Ludwik Kowalski, "Hell on Earth: Brutality and Violence Under the
Stalinist Regime;" Wasteland Press, Shelbyville, KY, USA, 2008. Excerpts can
be seen at:
4) Gitta Sereny, "The German Trauma: Experiences and Reflections,
1938-1999," Penguin Books, 2000.
5) Mark Kramer, "Why Soviet History Matters in Russia;" Davis Center of the
Harvard Project on Cold War Studies, January 2001 (distributed over the
6) Leszek Kolakowski, "Modernity on Endless Trial," The University of
Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990.
Stalinism, Naziism, classless society, racial purity, final solution,
teaching history, Kolyma, Gulag.
Ludwik Kowalski is a retired physics teacher (Professor emeritus, Montclair
State University, New Jersey, USA). He and his wife, Linda, live in Fort
Lee, close to New York City. Born in 1931, Ludwik is still able to enjoy
downhill skiing, walking and traveling. Educated in the Soviet Union
(elementary school, until 1946), in Poland (high school and master's
degree), and in France (Ph.D. in nuclear physics), he came to the United
States in 1964. Ludwik Kowalski is the author and co-author of about one
hundred scientific publications, plus one elementary physics textbook. Since
retiring, in 2004, he has been involved in investigations of so-called cold
fusion, as shown at http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/excerpts.html
summer of 2008 his book on Stalinism was published. Excerpts can be seen at
The book is dedicated to
all victims of Stalinism, including his father (who died in a Kolyma labor
camp, at the age of 36).
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