Francois Furet
The Passing of an Illusion

Because of the emotions it evoked and the blood it spilled, the war engraved attitudes and memories deep into people's hearts. The Soviet Union's emergence from the last global conflict as a democratic super-power had nothing to do with the nature of its regime and everything to do with historical circumstance. Allied with Britain and the United States, the great original democracies, and having lost between twelve and fifteen million of its sons in the fight against the Nazis, it had paid dearly for its new national label of anti-Fascism.

Anti-Fascism: the word foretold what Communism's postwar influence would be. It was not by accident that the Communists had continued to militate under this banner rather than another. They had never wanted any other political arena than this two-dimensional or, rather, bipolar space, the 'Fascists' at one pole and themselves at the other. Other forces clustered around each of the poles with varying degrees of seriousness—other strengths, or other weaknesses. The political advantages of the arrangement alone explain the Communists' determination to ensure Fascism's survival through a multitude of imitators, even after they had crushed the regimes that had embodied Fascism. In this way, the identity between Communism and democracy could be perpetuated, and all 'bourgeois' governments would be suspected of opening the way to imitators of Mussolini or Hitler. Since the end of Fascism, there has been no Communist policy without its 'Fascist menace.' This posthumous prophylaxis would have been less bothersome if it had not been used to conceal the nature of the Soviet regime and to invent improbable 'Fascists' such as Adenauer, de Gaulle, and Eisenhower.

The reason the anti-Fascist idea made such waves in postwar Europe after losing its point of application was that it prolonged the terrible experience of World War II by labeling and giving a meaning to human suffering. It was sustained by universal memory and also, perhaps, by collective regret, shared to varying degrees but present almost everywhere—regret for not having fought against Mussolini, Hitler, and their ideas. It reinforced a natural tendency to engage in yesterday's battles ex post facto. Unlike World War I, World War II ended with a clear notion as to the identity of the culprits. By defeating Hitler, the Allies had revealed the extraordinary misdeeds that his very defeat had made knowable.

The Nazi regime was held to be a criminal regime both by public opinion and by the international tribunal that met solemnly at Nuremberg to judge and condemn those responsible for it; from November 1945 to October 1946, it took almost a year to examine the grisly list of charges case by case. The Soviet Union had carefully prepared for this unprecedented trial, which was conducted along Anglo-Saxon lines, the human race constituting the prosecutor. The Soviets were all the more anxious to possess a legal certification of Hitler's crimes because they expected that this would highlight the democratic merits of its principal victim, who had also been its principal conqueror. The fact that the Soviets tried to tack Katyn onto the list of horrors committed by the Nazis reveals much about what they expected from the Nuremberg verdict. Defeated on that particular point, they nonetheless received a solemn confirmation of the democratic implications of their victory from the final judgment. In this sense, Nuremberg justice had been a winners' justice, as maintained by its opponents, but this tells only part of the truth; it does not imply that the victors had dispensed no justice.

The enormity of the Nazis' crimes was revealed; it was something that could not be separated from the war deliberately willed by Hitler. It could have been foreseen before 1939, but at that time the crimes were limited to German territory and were, moreover, far below the scale of the Soviet repression of the Ukrainians and Russian ethnic groups during those same years. Although the Allies may have been at least partially aware of the Nazi massacres during the war, those massacres did not become known to the general public until the military collapse and the discovery of the death camps, when the survivors returned in the spring of 1945. The West, during this period, was not yet aware of the most hideous aspect of the Nazi crimes—the extermination of the Jews. When the Jews did not return, they were counted along with the dead of their own countries. When they did return, it was extremely difficult for them to go public with their particular tragedy because the European nations did not like the idea of creating a special category for the Nazis' victims. This was especially true of the Soviet Union, which went so far as to prohibit any mention of the massacres of Russian, Belorussian, or Ukrainian Jews on the monuments commemorating victims of the Nazi crimes committed on Russian soil. Desperately trying to attribute all the crimes of the war to Hitler, the USSR deprived itself of the only argument that would have allowed a distinction to be made between Hitler and Stalin in terms of deliberate massacres—namely, racial genocide. And so the Jews lost everything, even their misfortune; it was an augury that hard times were not yet over.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.