Come to the Cabaret

LONDON THEATRE-GOERS have been flocking to see the revival of Cabaret and marvelled at the decadence and hedonism of the famed Kit Kat Klub in Weimar Germany. The production was, of course, characterised by the rise of Nazism and dark visions of an impending doom.

Yet in the minds of many a mesmerised audience during recent weeks, it was not Nazi Germany that lodged in the psyche, but Putin’s Russia — replete with images of cities reduced to rubble, dead bodies of civilians next to their bicycles and a never-ending stream of inconsolable, weeping women.

For Jews who have an understanding of their history, this is indeed a time of despair and desolation.

The Orwellian depiction of “Nazis” in Kyiv particularly offends because it belittles what happened to the Jews during the Shoah. It turns “Never Again!” on its head. The Kremlin argues that it does not matter that Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish, he is a Nazi because Kyiv has been committing genocide against Russians in the Donbas — a charge rejected by the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

The labelling of opponents — real and imaginary — as “Nazis” has long been a favoured weapon in the arsenal of propaganda tools in Russia. It has a long history — from the show trials of the 1930s through to the Six Day War in 1967 when Israelis were turned into “Nazis” for having the temerity to defeat the Arab allies of the Soviet Union.

Moshe Dayan was turned into a Nazi gauleiter in Soviet cartoons and Israel was depicted as the heir to Hitler’s Germany. The American historian, Henry Abramson, has shown that there was an uncanny resemblance between the antisemitic cartoons of German-occupied Ukraine in the 1940s and Soviet cartoons, depicting the Israelis in the late 1960s.

The cry of the far Left in many European capitals that Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto of 2022 is the bastard child of such pernicious propaganda.   

Following the deportation of more than 64,000 Polish Jews in June 1940, Stalin ordered the mass shooting of thousands of members of the Polish military and intellectual elite at Katyn —and blamed it on the Nazis. The Soviet Union subsequently made enormous efforts after 1945 to deny responsibility for this massacre in the forest of Katyn and to implicate Nazi Germany.

The cover-up even included the show trials of Wehrmacht officers in 1946, who read from a concocted script in court to demonstrate that this Soviet massacre was instead the work of the Nazi foe. Jews were also amongst the victims of Katyn, including Baruch Steinberg, the Chief Rabbi of the Polish army. Then as now, the Soviets were incompetent in hiding evidence of this crime. The Kremlin only admitted to this mass murder in the months before the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

Following the retreat of the Russian army from Kyiv two weeks ago, journalists and international investigators found clear evidence of war crimes in Bucha and other locations. Half-cocked attempts by the Russian armed forces — often using mobile crematoria — to cover up any trace of these atrocities repeated what the Nazis had done as they retreated from Riga in 1944.

Concentration camp inmates were then conscripted to dig up mass graves and use fuel, carried by train to the site, to burn the bodies and dispose of any evidence. Unlike the killing grounds of World War II, satellite photographs today pinpoint the bulging mounds of the hastily buried.

Many Ukrainian families have been forcibly taken into Russia rather than allowed safe passage back into Ukraine. The disappearance of Ukrainian children into Russia is particularly ominous. It will be remembered that the Franco regime in Spain and the Argentinian junta of the 1970s gleefully gave the babies of their murdered opponents, including many Jews, to “good families”.

Is this happening now? Will we discover in 30  years that a new generation of desaparecidos — the disappeared ones — will begin the search for their birth parents?

Putin never had any qualms in achieving his goal regardless of the price paid. Morality has had no place in his scheme of things. Bill Browder, the American-Jewish instigator of the Magnitsky Act in the UK, Australia and the US which targets specific Russian officials with sanctions, recalled Putin’s incestuous relationship with the burgeoning Russian underworld in St Petersburg in the 1990s. Browder incisively commented at the outset of the Ukrainian tragedy: “Up until now, Putin had one foot in the civilised world and one foot in the criminal world.”

Russia’s growing authoritarianism, banishment of independent thought and imprisonment of those who vocally and visibly condemn the invasion of Ukraine has already catalysed the departure of many Jews.

Russian military incompetence has meant that Putin has had to call upon the Rusich, Ratibor and Svarozhichi militias — all of which warm to neo-Nazi symbolism. Some sport the “kolovat”, a modified swastika on their flags and uniforms. These groups previously served as a hidden adjunct to the activities of Russian intelligence — now they operate in the open with the official armed forces.

Their compatriots in violence, the separatists of Luhansk and Donetsk, have not been averse to the attraction of antisemitism and white supremacism, and in true Stalinist fashion have uncovered perfidious Jews, clad in Ukrainian clothing, who rule in Kyiv.

All this is a measure of the KGB-guided transformation of Marxism-Leninism into an ethnic nationalism and adoration for the Russian Orthodox Church. Russkiy Mir — the Russian world — does not stop at the borders of Russia but envelops all countries that have a Russian minority. It goes beyond a cultural closeness, but instead promotes Putin’s vision of a new empire, ruled from Moscow.

The first stage is the reunification of Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. The Russian enclave of Transnistria in Moldava may be next on the checklist. This is the basis for Putin’s unexpected invasion of Ukraine.

In one sense, the so-called de-Nazification of Ukraine is therefore little more than a deflection — it is the de-Ukrainification of Ukraine that is central. Putin expected his soldiers to be welcomed with traditional gifts of bread and salt because he believed that Ukraine was not a foreign country.

Instead, the world has borne witness to the savagery of rape and looting by undisciplined soldiers — a repetition of the Red Army’s advance into Germany at the end of World War II.

Putin always admired the dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who looked to the East and pan-Slavism. He simultaneously abhorred the dissident Andrei Sakharov, who looked to the liberal West. It is no coincidence that the refusenik movement of Soviet Jews in the 1970s deeply respected the Nobel Peace winner, Andrei Sakharov, who issued statements in support of their struggle to leave for Israel.

He helped them assiduously — without bounds — and stood in protest outside Soviet courtrooms on many occasions when trials of refuseniks were proceeding. It is not by chance that a monument to Sakharov has been erected at the entrance to Jerusalem. Truly, he was one of the righteous of the world.

This failure to understand that times have changed was symbolised by the fact that even the Russian-speakers of Ukraine turned their heads towards democracy, the rule of law, free speech and human rights. They did not want to be swallowed up by the medieval pretensions of Putin’s illusions.

Israel has had to tread carefully in this dangerous scenario. The late Israeli historian, Ya’acov Talmon, depicted the Jewish dilemma in navigating a path between morality and realpolitik as an ongoing phenomenon.

He pointed out that there is ‘a constant tension between that indomitable desire to preserve our identity, despite the forces which strive to efface or even eradicate it and between that deep adherence to universal content and values — of which the Jewish nation is one of the fathers”.

After staying conspicuously neutral during the outbreak of hostilities, Israel recently voted to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council and thereby aligned itself with the West while many Arab states abstained. If the gap between the Kremlin and Jerusalem widens, Israel may reconsider its desire to avoid clashes with the Russians above Syrian skies. Russia cannot provide the manpower reserves to go to Syria when they are increasingly needed in Ukraine. Putin has become dependent on a motley crew of Syrians, Chechens, Eritreans and Ethiopians.

In addition, Russia has so far proved itself to be a poor fighting force which has echoes of Israel’s supremacy against Russian pilots in Egypt during the War of Attrition in 1970.

Bennett and Lapid may therefore decide to reposition Israel in this imbroglio and move away from a studied neutrality. Israel may also prove to be Europe’s energy saviour if it provides natural gas from its oil fields.

In stark contrast to this possible scenario, Israeli analysts are watching carefully whether Putin will make good on his threat to use tactical nuclear weapons to exact his revenge on the Ukrainians in what is essentially a local conflict. This threat and possible use will undoubtedly embolden Israel’s enemies to acquire their own nuclear weapons.

It is ironic that both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin found themselves adrift in the dying German Democratic Republic in 1990. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the relegation of Communism to the history books, they wondered how they would greet an uncertain future. Merkel entered politics and became the Chancellor of a liberal Germany, the powerhouse of the European economy. The unimaginative Putin retreated into the past and was boxed in by his KGB mentality and dreams of a new Russian imperialism.

Lenin once admitted his disappointment that the revolution had broken out in backward, primitive Russia and not in the Kaiser’s Germany. One hundred years later, it has become clear that Putin, like the Bourbons, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing — and that Russia’s ills come back periodically to haunt humanity.

Plus61j 29 April 2022

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