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'Ethnic cleansing' vs. Holocaust

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Seeing a similarity between events in 1930s Germany and the 1990s Balkans, many have invoked the specter of the Holocaust in justifying NATO action against Belgrade. On the whole, Jews throughout the world have instinctively accepted this comparison in kind, if not in degree. Spurred by historic memory, the major American Jewish organizations have backed NATO's bombardment of Serbian targets and empathized with Kosovar Albanians. So have most Israelis.

When Israeli planes - loaded with tents, blankets, baby formula, and an emergency medical team - landed in Albania, Israel's first ambassador to that country was on hand to comfort the refugees. A Holocaust survivor himself, he said: "I feel like I'm going back in time.... I have the impression I visit my people here."

And yet, the analogy between the "Final Solution" and the Balkans is fundamentally flawed. Jews were passive, law-abiding, staunchly patriotic citizens of Germany with no territorial designs on the country. They never imagined a political dispute with their neighbors, let alone assaulted them. That notwithstanding, the Jews were systematically targeted by the Third Reich for total liquidation as a matter of national policy. They faced not only abuse, terror, displacement, and death as a consequence of war, but programmatic annihilation in Auschwitz's crematoria. Moreover, there was no place to go, for they didn't have a country of their own.

How different is the situation in the Balkans. To be sure, the Kosovar Albanians are victims of an unconscionable and indefensible ethnic purge, but no one contends that they've been compliant, loyal Yugoslavian citizens. On the contrary, most want Kosovo to themselves and would readily expel the Serbs from the province. Their militia - the Kosovo Liberation Army - has encouraged those ambitions by torching Serbian villages and carrying out periodic executions.

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