Like Hitler, like Stalin: But Communism's Victims Mostly Forgotten

Article excerpt

Earlier this month, a German institute postponed the U.S. debut of its harrowing photographic exhibit, "The German Army and Genocide," a collection of World War II photos offering searing evidence of complicity on the part of the regular German army (as opposed to Nazi Party forces) in the barbarisms of the Third Reich. Such complicity has long been denied or minimized by a German nation unwilling or unpersuaded to believe that any significant portion of its 20 million men-in-arms during World War II were culpable Nazi criminals.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who never visited the exhibit, said he found it "impermissible to say that the bulk of the army was capable of committing such crimes." For the past four years, though, the exhibit has been bringing such a message home to German cities and towns, culminating in several riots, one bombing, and, alternately, the donation of dozens of family albums to the institute's grisly collection.

So why was the exhibit's December opening at Manhattan's Cooper Union canceled? Some small fraction of the photographs, it now appears, depict victims of communism, not Nazism, murders that took place in the Ukraine at the hands of Soviet, not German forces. Historians at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, which organized the show, say the disputed photos came from Eastern bloc archives, complete with Eastern bloc caption information - or disinformation, as the case may be. Whether this development undermines the veracity of the exhibition or not, it offers a thought-provoking metaphor for how history regards the twin horrors of the century: When it comes to evil, the world sees only Nazism, even when the comparable crimes of communism appear before its very eyes.

The recent U.S. publication of "The Black Book of Communism," the first attempt at a reckoning of the mass crimes of communism, from Russia in 1917, to Afghanistan in 1989, brings this paradox into tight focus. Meticulously researched by several French scholars, this momentous book ignited a political furor on its 1997 appearance in France, particularly because of an introduction in which lead editor Stephane Courtois, himself a former communist, argues that we should regard communism, as Nazism, as a "crime against humanity"; to compare Nazism's "race genocide" with what he calls communism's "class genocide"; and to take a ghastly tally of death, weighing the 25 million lives taken by Nazism against the nearly 100 million lives taken by communism. Mr. Courtois has broken a political taboo, declaring a moral equivalence between, not communism and capitalism (so long in vogue among intellectuals), but rather communism and Nazism. …