E se… il Regno Unito fosse invaso dai nazisti e dai sovietici
Unoccupied Britain. It looks simpler from across the Channel
Dal BLOG di Edward Lucas, From Economist.com, Oct 15th 2009
TWEAK history a bit. Imagine that in 1940 Hitler and Stalin divide Britain between them. Both occupying powers behave abominably but in different ways. After a rigged election, Scotland is declared part of the Soviet Union. Stalin imposes a one-party state and planned economy with a terrifying secret-police apparatus, liquidating normal life and decapitating the country. Tens of thousands of people—lawyers, teachers, businessmen, priests, journalists, and even philatelists—are woken in the small hours, given ten minutes to pack and then deported to slave labour camps in northern Norway. Few ever return.
South of the border, the Nazi military dictatorship rounds up England’s Jews, supported by local anti-Semitic collaborators. Industry is commandeered by the Nazi war machine. Anti-Nazi activity is lethal; thousands are shipped off to work as forced labourers. Others, disgracefully, even volunteer as concentration-camp guards and for auxiliary police battalions in the hope of gaining privileges or settling scores. Life is dire, but for most of the non-Jewish population it is much less awful than in the Scottish Soviet Socialist Republic.
In 1941 Hitler attacks Stalin. As the Red Army flees Scotland, Jews suffer terrible pogroms. Many Scots blame them, quite unfairly, for being allied with the communists. (In fact, though many Scottish communists are indeed Jewish, Jews feature prominently among the “bourgeois elements” deported to Norway). Many Jews die of starvation or typhus in the Glasgow ghetto. Most are gassed in death camps, some on British soil, some further afield.
As the Nazis start losing the war they conscript thousands of teenagers into a “British legion” of the Waffen-SS. About one-third of this unit are volunteers, desperate to stave off another Soviet occupation at least for long enough for their families to escape to neutral Ireland. Some have ardently helped the Nazis. Despite last-ditch resistance, Soviet power is restored in Britain by 1944, with implacable vengeance. A doomed underground army fights on (its last partisan is killed only in 1975). Britain regains its freedom only when the evil empire collapses.
Digesting that historical trauma would take time. Britons’ views of their country’s SS troops would probably be rather ambiguous: few would call them heroes, but few would condemn them outright either. Many British people might focus more on their own suffering than that of the all-but vanished Jewish population. Outsiders would do well not to jump to conclusions. Stereotypes linking the Holocaust in Britain to “endemic anti-Semitism” before the war would clearly be ludicrously simplistic.
Amid the current row about the Conservative Party’s new alliance with Poland’s socially conservative Law and Justice party and Latvia’s nationalist Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK party, British commentators would do well to bear some history in mind. Fatherland and Freedom (which has roots in the anti-Soviet dissident movement) says Latvian SS veterans have the right to pensions and public gatherings. Yet Jon Snow, a British television presenter, misleadingly dubbed the party “neo-Fascist”. Also on the same programme, he failed to challenge a British comedian, Stephen Fry, who deplored Poland’s history of “right-wing Catholicism”, terming it “deeply disturbing for those of us who know a little history, and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on”.
Mr Fry is entitled to criticise Poland’s record on gay rights and the Tories’ choice of friends. But it is horribly unfair to mention Auschwitz (a death camp run by German Nazis in an occupied country) in the same breath. The million-plus Poles, both Gentile and Jewish, who perished there deserve better. And commentators from Britain, which escaped the war unoccupied, should try approaching other countries’ wartime history with more humility and less self-satisfaction.