Some historians believe the Arajs Commando was responsible for the murder of as many as 60,000 Jews in and outside Latvia.
For three decades after 1945 nobody spoke of Central Europe in the present tense: the thing was one with Nineveh and Tyre.
In German-speaking lands, the very word “Mitteleuropa” seemed to have died with Adolf Hitler, surviving only as a ghostly “Mitropa” on the dining cars of the Deutsche Reichsbahn.
The man who more than anyone else has given it currency in the West is a Czech, Milan Kundera.
(See his now famous essay “The Tragedy of Central Europe” in The New York Review, April 26, 1984.) Subsequently, the Germans and the Austrians have gingerly begun to rehabilitate, in their different ways, a concept that was once so much their own.
And Kurt Waldheim’s Vienna recently hosted a symposium with the electrifying title “Heimat Mitteleuropa.” A backhanded tribute to the new actuality of the Central European idea comes even from the central organ of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Trybuna Ludu, which earlier this year published a splenetic attack on what it called “The Myth of ‘Central Europe.”‘ There is a basic sense in which the term “Central Europe” (or “East Central Europe”) is obviously useful.
If it merely reminds an American or British newspaper reader that East Berlin, Prague, and Budapest are not quite in the same position as Kiev or Vladivostok—that Siberia does not begin at Checkpoint Charlie—then it serves a good purpose.
The East German leader, Erich Honecker, talks of the danger of nuclear war in Mitteleuropa.
The West German Social Democrat, Peter Glotz, says the Federal Republic is “a guarantee-power of the culture of Mitteleuropa“; whatever that means.
Cukurs is only one example of a troubling and puzzling phenomenon: The revival in Central and Eastern Europe of historical figures who had been previously discredited by their ties to Holocaust crimes.
In the quarter century since the end of communism in this region, states and societies have endeavored to “normalize” the past, reviving events and actors erased from communist-era histories.