'IT IS EASY FOR HISTORY TO BE REWRITTEN'
The Times – 3 March 2003
It has just been announced that in April the BBC is to screen a four-part series called “Cambridge Spies” on the life of Burgess, Philby and Maclean.
At the end of September 1939, as the German and Soviet armies closed in on my father's home town of Lvov, in Poland, the town council met to consider to which invader they should surrender. They chose the Russians. The army officers duly gave themselves up. Most of them, including many friends of our family, were shot in the woods at Katyn.
Within a few weeks, my grandfather's business was confiscated and his family was thrown out of their home. Then, one April night, as his little boy, my father, slept, the local militia came and took away Adolf Finkelstein. Interrogated repeatedly and then tried in his absence, he was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour – according to Paragraph 54/13 of the Ukraine penal code he was a "socially dangerous element". He was sent to a logging camp in the polar region northeast of Archangel, where he pulled trees down to the river like a mule.
My grandfather was eventually reunited with his close family. When the Soviets changed sides he was released from his prison and his family from the Siberian village to which they had been exiled. With his wider family, his home, his property and his country, there was to be no reunion. His health failed him and he died in 1950, years before his time.
My mother's wartime experience was also dreadful. Yet her concentration camp pass is on the wall of the Holocaust museum in Washington, her story has been carefully archived, she gives talks to schoolchildren on Holocaust Memorial Day. Where is the anger for my grandfather? Where are the museums, the trials, the restitution, the guilt, the apologies, the lessons in schools, the Spielberg films about his suffering and that of his family and, more important still, the suffering of the millions who didn't make it, the millions Stalin murdered?
Last week the historian Christopher Hill died. He moved easily at the top of British society, was Master of Balliol College, was feted as a writer. He also joined the Communist Party before the war and remained a member until 1957. Would everyone have been so tolerant, so happy to consort with him if he had been a fellow traveller of the Nazis?
In Hill's defence it is said that he was kind and avuncular and also that he did at least leave the Communist Party when the Soviets invaded Hungary. Yet resigning in 1957 means that he stayed through the collectivisation of the farms and the purges and the theft and the murder of the people of Lvov and elsewhere in Poland, stayed when Czechoslovakia was taken over and when the Polish democrats were hanged and when the East German rising was brutally suppressed.
"Well, at least he resigned in 1957" is not much of a defence so far as I'm concerned.
For me his tardy resignation may not have been sufficient; for others it seems it wasn't necessary. Hill's friend, the historian Eric Hobsbawm, didn't bother leaving the party, commenting only that remaining "was certainly difficult for a while". He stayed a member until the Berlin Wall came down. He was rewarded by being made a Companion of Honour. He accepted. And we bother calling Mick Jagger a hypocrite.
The party of which Hobsbawm and Hill were members was financed throughout its existence by the KGB. When it was dissolved, the assets did not dissolve with it. They are now used to finance something called the New Politics Network, an organisation which promotes tactical voting against Tories. You would have thought that the people involved in these activities would feel sufficiently ashamed to make some attempt to return their blood money to the people from whom it was stolen.
As memories of the Cold War recede, it is easy for history to be rewritten, crimes erased, horrors forgotten. It has just been announced that in April the BBC is to screen a four-part series called Cambridge Spies on the life of Burgess, Philby and Maclean. In a monumentally offensive statement, a spokesman for the BBC said that the programme would be
"the first time that they can be seen to be heroic because it's post-Cold War. In Cambridge Spies, we see and understand why it was that these young men were so implacably opposed to fascism and how Communism was the only legitimate response".
I look forward to the BBC's four-parter on the much-misunderstood Lord Haw-Haw.
Julian Lewis, an MP who has spent much of his life fighting the far Left and the far Right, spoke to me the other day about the extraordinary tendency of these old Communist activists to live into their nineties.
"Some people think it is because the fire of life burns in them so strongly,"
"I think it is because they know what will happen to them when they die".