What does history teach us?

What history teaches us

Some remarks on the 80th anniversary of the attack by National Socialist Germany on Poland.

Guest comments and contributions from external authors do not have to correspond to the opinion of the editors.

September 1st marks a sad date in world history. Eighty years ago, Hitler's Germany attacked Poland, heralding the cruelest and most casualty war in history. On this day we commemorate the countless victims of this tragedy, honor the heroes and heroines who saved the world from absolute evil. It is our sacred duty to honor their deeds forever.

History is a good teacher. It shows us what happens when inhuman ideals are imposed on peoples in order to quench the ambitions of a gang of power-hungry criminals. Therefore, it must always be protected from erroneous interpretations or deliberately misrepresentations, so that our descendants also understand the reasons, consequences and lessons of this war.

It is with great concern, however, that we follow attempts by some “historians” to rewrite history and to put past events in a different light. Then it can easily happen that the Second World War turns into a struggle between two totalitarian systems for rule in Europe. Terrible crimes of Nazism, including the Holocaust, are played down and the guilt for the war is shifted to the Soviet Union. These are dangerous mind games.

Objective reconnaissance

Already today we are witnessing the revival of the neo-Nazi ideology: right-wing extremist marches in the Ukraine and in the Baltic states, in which former members of the Waffen-SS are honored, are unfortunately almost part of normality with the silent tolerance of the West. Monuments to the soldiers who died in the liberation of Europe are becoming more and more victims of vandalism (unfortunately sometimes also on Austrian soil). For such groups, but also for so-called politicians who pursue their economic interests, this “new interpretation of history” is of course very useful. An objective clarification of the events of the Second World War, its causes and consequences appears to be of immense importance.

A positive example

The historical fact that the Soviet Union, with the support of the Allies, was able to turn the war with fascism through enormous sacrifices and liberate Europe from Nazi rule after a major offensive, must neither be questioned nor revised. The price paid for this victory is too high.

What, however, requires a more thorough analysis on the part of historians, are the forerunners of the war, such as the dangerous "appeasement policy" of the Western countries towards Nazi Germany; or the lack of political will to create an effective system of collective security to stand united against a dangerous aggressor. These lessons of history are also of enormous importance for the world situation today.

Of course there is a need to come to terms with contemporary history. However, this should be based on the principles of historical fidelity and, in the best case, with the consent of the countries concerned. A positive example of this is the work of the Russian-Austrian Commission of Historians around academician Prof. Alexander Tschubarjan and Prof. Stefan Karner.

We simply cannot afford to deal with history carelessly, because: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Dmitrij Ljubinskij (born 1967) has been the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Austria since August 2015.

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("Die Presse", print edition, August 19, 2019)