US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on the Holocaust left the impression it was American soldiers who liberated Auschwitz, erased the Soviet Union’s well-documented act, and even used the solemn occasion to lash out at Iran.
Speaking at the World Holocaust Forum in Israel on Thursday, Pence said that it was “soldiers” who opened the gates of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Which soldiers? Pence does not say, whether accidentally or on purpose.
Pence’s omission becomes much more glaring a few moments later, when he honors the memory of “all the Allied forces, including more than 2 million American soldiers, who left hearth and home, suffered appalling casualties, and freed a continent from the grip of tyranny.”
Listening to Pence’s speech, one might be tempted to conclude that it was these American soldiers who liberated Auschwitz, or bore the brunt of the burden of liberating Europe from the Nazis. Yet if we want to talk about truly “appalling casualties,” how about the nearly 27 million soldiers and civilians of the Soviet Union who perished in that war?
What about the Red Army’s 322nd Rifle Division, under General Pyotr Ivanovich Zubov, that actually kicked in the doors of Auschwitz, only to be ‘erased’ from memory by an American vice-president 75 years later? One word – “Soviet” before “soldiers” – would have sufficed to give credit where it’s due.
There is nothing wrong with being an American patriot, but this sort of dissembling is at best ignorance, and at worst outright stolen valor, both entirely unbecoming of a statesman.
Pence ended his speech by praising the US alliance with Israel and urging the world to “stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran” as “the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”
Meanwhile, at the same event, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the use of the Holocaust in present-day political disputes and proposed a summit of the five permanent UN Security Council members – representing the nations principally responsible for defeating Hitler and establishing the postwar world order – to address the challenges of the world today and “demonstrate our common commitment to the spirit of allied relations, historical memory and the lofty ideals and values for which our predecessors, our grandfathers and fathers fought shoulder to shoulder.”
Unfortunately, the gap between these two speeches seems to suggest that the US and Russia not only remember WWII differently, but live in completely different realities today.
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