It would not be the first time a newspaper with agenda puts words in people’s mouth to “set the mood” for furthering that agenda. However, Stuart Eizenstat is not just anybody. Before he was a lobbyist for Covington and Burling and a senior strategist for APCO Worldwide communications consultancy firm, Eizenstat was, among other things, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU (1993-1996). In this capacity, he served as a kind of a Holocaust compensation czar, i.e. he was one of the foremost agents of what Norman Finkelstein famously branded “the Holocaust industry.’’ Namely, Eizenstat went after selected European countries, beginning with Switzerland, who ostensibly profited from the persecution of Jews. With Switzerland in particular, Eizenstat negotiated a $1.5 billion payout to Jewish organizations that represented victims. Similar efforts against countries like Poland and Belarus appear to be ongoing.
I will not get into Finkelstein’s criticism; you can check The Holocaust Industry online. I can’t even say that I am against the shakedown where it is proven to be warranted, although there is a question of reverse injustice. This mini highlight reel of Eizenstat’s career should just serve as the backdrop for his motivation for the Haaretz statement. It is neither unexpected nor unusual for Eizenstat to engage in such rhetoric and it is almost certain that Eizenstat did point the finger at Croatia and Serbia as potential targets for a restitution shakedown and that Haaretz dutifully relayed it. Even outside the official capacity, Eizenstat is continuing his mission; if there are more countries to shake down, the agenda is set and he is on top of it. Eizenstat is lining up targets, that’s all. But to line Serbia up next to Croatia is not only outrageous, but very devious on his part.
Forget about the fact that Serbia - the political entity - did not exist during the Holocaust even as a German puppet, but as a divided, occupied and ever-restless region whose guerrilla brigades tied up in fighting a disproportionate number of Nazi troops that would otherwise be adding to the German power at Stalingrad. Forget about the fact that the largest part of what is Serbia today was under direct occupation of Wehrmacht. Forget about the fact that Srem was annexed to the Independent State of Croatia; that Bačka was annexed to Nazi ally Hungary; that Banat was under a direct control of the Volksdeutsche, its German minority; that Kosovo and Metohia were under the fascist Albania and that southern parts, today’s Macedonia, were annexed to Nazi ally Bulgaria. Forget about the facts that Serbia accepted Jewish refugees prior to the Nazi occupation, at the time when FDR was turning away from the U.S. coast the ships with fleeing Jews and when American companies were enjoying great business relationships with Adolf Hitler’s government. Historical findings and analyses cemented the notion that Serbs were the primary victims of genocide on the territory of Kingdom of Yugoslavia and that Serbia, which did not exist as a separate political entity since 1918, could not be held responsible for crimes against Jews committed by German, Croat, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Albanian fascists on its territory at the time these same occupiers committed the same horrible crimes against the Serbs. How could the occupied Serbia be responsible for crimes against Jews when it didn’t even possess so much power to prevent the German policy of executing 100 Serbian civilians for every German soldier killed by the Serbian anti-fascist guerrilla on its territory? Germany had allies and puppets; Serbia was neither. Serbia was a German, Croat, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Albanian-occupied, torn up land with citizens bleeding and dying without discrimination. The Semlin death camp, the largest death camp in the territory that is Serbia today was a Croat-run camp, in the Croat-occupied Srem, to which Serbs, Jews and Roma alike were brought to die.
Eizenstat’s “advice” to the European Union is a matter of policy that he and his cause can utilize, it is not about history. However, without revising history, the policy he proposed can neither be implemented nor can the Jewish organizations utilize it for their ends. Unfortunately, policymakers that ostensibly aim to rectify past injustices rarely consult historians in good faith, other than those who are willing to manufacture “findings” in service of the set agenda. To hold Serbia responsible for Holocaust, the policymakers Eizenstat tries to influence have to undertake a serious revision of history of the World War II. Revising history in any way that paves the road for holding Serbia responsible for Holocaust would mean equating victims and the perpetrators. Such a revision would not only leave Serbia open for a shakedown; it would unjustly negate the historical role Serbia and the Serbs played in the anti-fascist struggle, including the salvation of fleeing Jews at the time it was still possible to do. It would negate the fact that the first uprising against Hitler's rule in the occupied Europe was started in Serbia and by the Serbian Royalists of general Draža Mihailović. It would open a Pandora’s box of radical misinterpretations that would further strain Serbian wits and deeper distort the consciousness about the just struggle Serbs embarked on in service of anti-fascism and freedom.
George Orwell famously wrote in 1984: “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.” A conscious and forward-looking Serb cannot afford any further revision of the Serbian history by self-serving agents of foreign interests consistently seeking leverage to undermine Serbian defenses or simply to increase their own gains, even if those gains are tied to a righteous cause on some level, as is Eizenstat’s motivation. Eizenstat is justified to seek revenge against the injustice committed against his Jewish brethren and he has no obligation to feel sympathy towards the Swiss or the Croats, if he feels their governments had a hand in it. But by going after the nations that suffered under the same fate as his Jews, Eizenstat’s cause loses the high moral ground it operates on. Finkelstein would negate the existence of the high moral ground in the first place, but I will not. To each his own.
Holding Serbs responsible for Holocaust opens a door into future in which anyone, without exceptions, can be held responsible for the World War II genocides committed against Jews, Serbs, Russians, Poles, Roma and every other European and non-European people. Once you equate victims and perpetrators, anyone can fall into either group and no one can monopolize either group.