Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust: from Particularism to Universalism and Back
(Posted to this site on 08/27/2001)
Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust:
from Particularism to Universalism and Back1
by Dr. Shimon Samuels
Director for International Liaison
Simon Wiesenthal Center-Paris
It is used here with Dr. Samuels’ permission.
Dr. Shimon Samuels is the Director for International Liaison at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris. The text of his presentation, Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust: from Particularism to Universalism and Back, is presented in its entirety. The presentation was given at the Association of Holocaust Organizations 16th Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia June 2-5, 2001.
For the last decade, an acrimonious debate has raged on the significance of the Holocaust, between so-called particularists and universalists. The former feared debasement of the Holocaust by invidious comparison.2 The latter placed it alongside non-Jewish experiences of mass extermination as part and parcel of the global context of genocide.
I view that debate as a disservice to public sensitization, education and to the memory of the respective victims of each genocide. Each case in its specificity and particularism is a threshold phenomenon, each adds its unique memory as signposts along an incremental continuum of horror, for universalism, after all, is particularism without walls.
I will focus on the relevance of the Holocaust as a preventive instrument against its recurrence, i.e. a benchmark for minorities, a yardstick for contemporary atrocity, and an early-warning system for mass murder.
The Holocaust’s uniqueness within Jewish history is only a question of degree. It does not stand in a vacuum, but within the context of two thousand years of antisemitism – successively political, theological, and racial – which climaxed in the Final Solution. But the durability, persistence, and pervasiveness in time and space of ever-mutating Jew-hatred have made the Holocaust a unique baseline among genocides. Nevertheless, the steps to the Final Solution itself provide a paradigm. Its stations proceed from incitement to an ideology of hate, its dissemination from a political power base, its inculcation bound together with paramilitary training, a campaign of socio-political destabilization through terrorism, the delegitimization and murder of targeted enemies, legislation to validate their social exclusion and incarceration, their deportation and eventual extermination.
For two millennia of exile, Jewish history was characterized by constant precariousness. The decade 1938-1948 represented the extremes of nadir to apogee along the Jewish timeline – from utter powerlessness and almost extinction to a return to sovereignty and history.
At the 1938 Evian conference on refugees, the world was not silent. Each nation’s representative explained why Jewish fugitives from Nazism were unwelcome. Only the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic offered places for Jewish agriculturists.
In 1971, I drove the one hundred and fifty miles across that Caribbean island, from the farm cooperative established by Jewish refugees of the Holocaust at Sosua3 in the North, to an Israeli rural training project at Azua in the South. To have joined with the Israeli technical assistance team in building the village church for Dominican “campesinos” was, for me, a dramatic and personal act of transition between the modes from object to subject, from voyeur to actor.
Our sages have long debated two distinct modes for interaction with the world:
- “Am Levadad Yishkon” – a people that dwells alone, i.e. ostracized, marginalized, ghettoized, victimized, introverted, etc.
- “Or Lagoyim” – a light unto the nations, i.e. barometer, an alarm bell, a participant and even a role model. For “what starts with the Jews does not end with the Jews”. So too with the Holocaust.
For the last twenty years, curricula development and research into the Holocaust have been accepted into mainstream academic programs in North America and Western Europe. Should we not now move the emphasis to defining, drawing and applying its lessons to a practical global agenda focussed upon, inter alia, language, memory, jurisprudence, restitution, and technology?
In the immediate post-war, the images of the Holocaust acted as protective “teflon” against blatant expressions of antisemitism in the West. Indeed, open identification with such positions became distasteful and even legally actionable. For the past twenty years, this “teflon” has been eroding.
Remaining pangs of conscience for active or passive collaboration in countries occupied by the Nazis have been assuaged by a projection of guilt mechanism, i.e. the use of Holocaust language by European media to describe Israel began during the 1982 Lebanon war. West Beirut became the “Warsaw Ghetto,” South Lebanon “the Sudetenland,” talk of “the Israeli Luftwaffe,” “a Palestinian Holocaust,” “pogroms” by Jews. A Portuguese caricaturist reversed roles, by portraying Stars of David on the Nazi helmets and an Arab “Kefiyya” headdress on the child whose arms are raised, in the unforgettable photo of the Warsaw Ghetto’s fall. A German Green Party calendar of 1983 called for a boycott of Jaffa oranges (redolent of “Kaufen Nicht bei Juden” as “Germans now-pass on the burden of their history to the new Jewish Nazis of Israel”).4
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “Auschwitz was built not with stones, but words.” The torrent of Holocaust language, now turned against Jews, could be directly correlated with a dramatic growth in antisemitic incidents and especially terrorist acts against Jewish institutions5. The victims were often portrayed by government officials as Middle East imports (e.g. French Minister Raymond Barre’s description of the casualties of the Copernic synagogue bombing as including foreigners and “innocent French citizens”). This extraterritorialization of the Jewish victims was a precursor for Moslem nationals who fell in later inter-necine Arab terrorist attacks across Europe.
The Israeli operation in Lebanon had an unintended by-product: the flight and repatriation of European terrorists from their Palestinian training camps in the Bequ’a Valley. Terrorism thus became a general scourge, no longer focussing only Jewish targets and in Europe, consequently, a central issue for intergovernmental counteraction. “What started with the Jews…”
The 1989 fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Soviet empire released the pent-up ghosts of classical antisemitism in countries where the Holocaust had succeeded, i.e. “an antisemitism without Jews” or “a phantom pain syndrome” (the limb had been amputated but the body still sought to scratch it). The last vestiges of the ravaged communities of Eastern Europe became the scapegoats for the pain of withdrawal from the central economy and the transition to market capitalism.
Yet East European antisemitism had less to do with “real Jews” than with the abstract image of “the Jews” — an euphemism or code-word for “imported,” “foreign,” “Western,” etc. For instance, the International Monetary Fund, the scapegoat for unemployment and inflation, was portrayed by ultra-nationalists as the tool of a Jewish plot manipulated by both Washington, D.C. and Tel Aviv. The Protocols of Zion have resurfaced in every post-Communist country, feeding a persistent disposition to hate that which is most feared – the unknown! To make sense of it, a conspiracy theory of invisible enemies of the nation is the line of least resistance. Antisemitism, in almost “Judenrein” post-Holocaust Eastern Europe became a diagnostic code to undemocratic conditions and behavior and a threat for all minorities.
A Solidarnosc (trade union Solidarity) leader interpreted to me Polish Primate Cardinal Glemp’s 1990 Auschwitz monastery speech, claiming it was “not a Jewish issue.”6 Indeed, he insisted, “Glemp’s talk of Jewish control of the world’s media does not target the remaining 4,500 elderly Jews of Warsaw and Crakow, nor was he objecting to renewed relations with Israel, nor Western Jewish tourism to Holocaust sites…He was simply indirectly attacking Solidarnosc and signaling that he, not the Pope, was the head of the Polish Church”! In other words, in the absence of real Jews, antisemitic prejudice still persisted as a vital element of political discourse.
The 1990 newly reconstituted Slovak Hlinka Guard was, in equal measure, anti-Jewish, anti-Czech, anti-Hungarian, anti-Russian, and anti-Roma. Despite only 1,000 Jews remaining in Slovakia, Hlinka’s nationalist graffiti were expressed in the language of antisemitism. Ironically, it was the self-styled “Mischlinge (i.e. part Jew)7 Sports Club of Bratislava that took responsibility for cleaning up the graffiti. Where, in the post-Communist vacuum of 1990, everyone scurried for a pre-1939 identity, Slovaks, Hungarians, Ruthenians, even Mischlinge had their place!
But it was the word “Jew” that represented anything alien to the “Volk” – from Western media to pop music, from human rights to technology. Ignorance, frustration, envy, rancor, fear of the new and the different were the bases for the conspiracy theories that are the building blocks of xenophobia. And the mechanism was multi-purpose: post-Kosovo Serbs explained their situation as the result of a combination of American/NATO interventionism, German revanchism, Islamic fundamentalism, the Vatican and even Zionism. Remove German revanchism and the Vatican for the Croat, remove Islamic for the Bosnian, the litany has its variants throughout East-Central Europe, but Zionism remains the common denominator. There may be no Jewish presence, but the default page for each conspiracy is still The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in every vernacular. Complicated? How about this, an AJC survey showed 87% of most East Europeans wanting improved relations with Russia, while 92% saw Zionism as the greatest menace to their societies!
“Zachor” — Thou shalt remember! – is Judaism’s categorical imperative. Instrumental memory draws lessons for survival. “Memoricide” is an abomination. Holocaust denial or so-called “revisionism” is genocide compounded by memoricide. In Western Europe, a political tranvestitism has focused extremist agendas on the Holocaust, e.g. the French denier Robert Faurisson, though identified with the extreme right, published his denials of the gas chambers in Trotskyite publications:
- The far right aimed to absolve Germany: “if the Holocaust was a Jewish lie, then Germany was its first victim.”
- The far left argued that “if the Holocaust was a lie, but due to conscience the world gave the Jews a state, then its first victim was the Palestinians.”
Holocaust denial had another face in Eastern Europe: the State “de-Judaization” of the Holocaust in the Soviet official version or in the post-Soviet revisionist rehabilitation of anti-Bolshevik Nazi collaborators in East-Central Europe. Memorials to these nationalist heroes and the rehabilitation of war criminals expose the fragility of these post-Communist societies (only recently, a new monument to Antonescu was unveiled by Romanian nationalists in Bucharest).
Even in France, it took the personal campaign of New Jersey lawyer, Stephen Draisin8, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, to obtain a plaque in memory of the 87 Jews brought west from Auschwitz to Struthof-Natzweiler. There, they were gassed to supply skeletons at the request of the Anatomy Department of nearby Strasbourg University. The campaign for integrity to history will not be over until plaques are erected at Struthof for all its other victims: Algerian Moslems, Soviets, Spanish Republicans, Roma, and homosexuals.
Memory is to be applied:
At the inauguration of the Lyons Museum of Resistance and Deportation, Suzanne Lagrange, recounting her deportation to Auschwitz and the murder of her father before her eyes on arrival, was interrupted by a young German in the audience who wished to apologize for Nazi Germany. “Sit down, we do not believe in trans-generational guilt,” she said. He took his seat, whereupon Mme Lagrange turned on him. “Now apologize,” she rebuked him. “I don’t understand. You said…,” protested the young German. “I said you bear no responsibility for the crimes of Nazi Germany, but you share responsibility for the neo-Nazi crimes of young Germans today! Germany is not the bearer of collective guilt. But it must acknowledge its collective shame, endowing it with a special sensitivity.”
The opening of both World War Two and Communist-period archives are, for a new generation of political leadership and opinion moulders, a painful crisis of memory with perceptual withdrawal symptoms. Absorption of new and contradictory information, resulting in the deconstruction of anchored myths, predispositions and prejudices, require the reformulation or reinterpretation of collective memory, i.e. a “cognitive dissonance.”
This can take two forms:
- Negative: neurotic grappling to unreality, a search for scapegoats, further denials and an entrenchment of extreme positions;
- Positive: exposure of truths to lance a long-festering boil, thus allowing the pus to drain. The cleansing of the wound is an act of catharsis and a rejection of revisionist escape-routes, which were constructed to assuage conscious or unconscious scars of guilt.
Such transparent fine-tuning of the psychological underpinnings of national collective memory may be opportunities for conflict resolution based directly upon the lessons of Holocaust denial.
At the Buenos Aires inauguration of the Wiesenthal Center’s Holocaust exhibit, The Courage to Remember, journalists asked its relevance to Argentina’s recent “dirty war” and its “disappeared” victims. I spoke of the same exhibit’s successful tour of China, where visitors, who knew nothing of Jews or Nazis, viewed it through the prism of their own experience: the Tanaka Plan, the Nanking massacre, Japanese war crime medical experiments, etc. The Courage to Remember acts as a memory trigger to whomever peers into its mirror. The same applied to the Argentine visitor.
We are witnessing an evolving jurisprudence on genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights. Real-time media reporting, shrinking world village market interdependence and the ineluctable imperative towards transparency are telescoping time and space. Scenes of families forcibly on the move, snaking lines of lame and elderly, homes burning, refugee camps are all too familiar. These may not be genocides, but each is a posthumous failure in drawing the lessons of World War Two and the reference points of the Nuremberg Trials.
Despite the political concerns along the path to the International Criminal Court and the dangers of its mischievous abuse for politicisation, there is growing international understanding that conflict resolution requires psychological closure which, in turn, is conditioned upon collective satisfaction that justice is seen to be done. The conviction in Britain of Nazi collaborator, Sawoniuk, for his crimes in Belarus, was simultaneous to the detention of Chilean General Pinochet. Britain took two steps against collective oblivion, signaling that, for the greatest of human crimes, there could be neither immunity nor statute of limitations.
A newly established British NGO, Justice Action, defined its objectives as filling the judicial gaps in international mechanisms for war criminal prosecutions by:
- Identifying significant cases and investigating their crimes
- Tracking and inhibiting their movements
- Assisting their delivery to a court or tribunal
- Increasing public awareness of their actions
- Shaming those who offer safe haven to suspects
- Locating their assets and seeking to seize and advertise them
- Devising a strategy for prosecution and passing on evidence to prosecutorial authorities
- Matching individual suspects to individual prosecutors in favorable jurisdictions
- Pressuring governments to live up to their commitments
- Shaming them when they do not.
i.e. to make the world a small and unpleasant place for those who commit war crimes, and to send a powerful signal to future perpetrators that they will be pursued and held to account.
Justice Action’s founder, Tim Sebastian, explained his initiative as “based upon the lessons of Holocaust perpetrator trials and the model of Simon Wiesenthal’s work.”9
In the same spirit, we were invited to join the Helsinki International Federation on Human Rights as a consultant on the documentation of war crimes in the ex-Yugoslavia. The Holocaust, as the most documented of genocides, provided examples to the perils and pitfalls in constituting and analyzing archives and determining rights to access them. In the former Yugoslavia, the murder of witnesses acted as a deterrent to testimony. The very existence of a war-crime document could endanger its owner or researcher and target an archive for arson or terrorism.10
Organizing a 1996 conference in Geneva on “Loot and Restitution – The Moral Responsibility to History,” I could not imagine the volume over the next five years of World War Two assets restitution enquiries, claims, and negotiation. Media and judicial pressure demanded transparency, and most combatant and neutral nations successively established national archival research commissions to investigate banks, insurance companies, museums and private industry.
The Washington, DC conference on Holocaust Assets in 1998 defined the array of problems and set the scene for the final phase — that of enforcing settlement, the close of commitments, the fulfillment of promises. In the spirit of the Biblical injunction of Leviticus, Chapter 25, verse 10: “In the fiftieth year…thou shalt restitute to each…his property…”
Why over fifty years till Pandora’s emergence? Most Holocaust survivors, for self-rehabilitation, had closed a curtain. Those returnees who submitted claims were met, at worst, with Kielce-style violence, or, at a poor best, with Swiss banker obscurantism. The prevailing exigencies of resettlement in lands of freedom, the establishment and support of a Jewish state and, for those who stayed behind, the new challenges of survival under Communism, vitiated immediate post-war indemnification demands.
The weakness of the Jewish lobby, and its ideological divisions over reparations from the new Germany, was to limit strategic approaches to the issue. With the onset of the Cold War, Jewish material claims from the West were frozen as energy was devoted to the needs of their brethren under Communism and in other lands of oppression. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent rollback of the Soviet Empire led to the opening of archives, first throughout Eastern Europe, with an imperative to transparency which moved ever westwards.
From 1989 to 1995, the focus of fiftieth anniversaries drew, from the mouths of survivors, belated testimonies for the grandchild generation. Holocaust museums, Schindler’s List, global village communications technology, real-time genocidal reporting and a fascination with the accoutrements of the 1930’s set the scene and the tone. The catalyst was the political and juridical clout of the U.S. Congress and Federal class action suits against American affiliates of European holders of looted assets.
Were this to have remained a uniquely Jewish issue, the price might have invalidated its purpose by leading to a fomenting and intensification of structurally dormant antisemitism. The restitution campaign had not only its own intrinsic justice, but served as the springboard for a moral pedagogy, including the caveat that the targets of research, World War Two neutrals and combatants, are not the bearers of collective intergenerational guilt. Indeed, the enquiry process requires the co-optation of all elements in societies eager for the truth.
The restitution issue is not exclusive to Jewish claimants, but of concern to a community of World War Two victims, now evident in the Slavic forced labor and Sinti and Roma claims processes (in 1995, I was conducting a research on the Tripartite Gold Commission in the French Finance Ministry archives. This revealed Nazi “mix and melt” of “monetary gold” (looted from occupied Central Banks) and “non-monetary gold” (stolen from Holocaust victims and mainly comprising “tooth gold”). Following the release of those findings, I was asked for information on lost gold by government officials from Hungary, Italy, Spain and Turkey. Such claims are also a contribution to an evolving jurisprudence in the war crime of looting. A CNN financial analyst emphasized this during Kabila’s march on Kinshasa. “It took a Holocaust scandal to finally open Mobutu’s Swiss accounts…”
Based on this precedent, a study of Swiss and German bank support for the apartheid regime in South Africa is leading to demands for compensation and reconsideration of that country’s current debt. The British Society of Black Lawyers is campaigning for both a high school curriculum on the history of colonialism and slavery. Similarly, Ethiopian refugees have approached New York Holocaust Class Action lawyers to consider restitution action for their lost assets.
Two months ago, I addressed NGOs affiliated to the OAU on the application of the Jewish experience in seeking acknowledgement of European complicity to justify programmes of Holocaust education, i.e. as a model for teaching the lessons of the slave trade and slavery. If we believe that sensitivity by the present generations to the crimes of their ancestors is, itself, a pedagogy against the criminals of tomorrow, then Americans, Arabs and Europeans, who exploited Africa bear the same responsibility to see the story told (eg. oral history, videoing survivors of slavery and colonialism, as also the exposure of contemporary slavery in Sudan, Mauritania and Burkina Faso).
The restitution campaign has shaken to the core national myths of World War Two neutrality and resistance, questioning human behavior and disestablishing collective memories.
At a 1988 anti-racist conference in the Netherlands, migrant workers’ groups attacked me for holding a seminar on “The Holocaust Experience as an Early Warning System.” They claimed that the Holocaust only served Zionist interests and was irrelevant to their needs. I shared with them a number of neo-Nazi computer games that I had just obtained from Germany. These included “The Aryan Test,” “The Führer Lives” and “KZ Manager.” The latter game required the player, normally of high-school age, to select among a series of victims: Jews, Turks, North Africans, Pakistanis, homosexuals, handicapped or Communists. Given an initial 2500 deutschemarks, the child would choose victims according to a tariff, purchase Zyklon-B gas canisters, proceed to exterminate them, sell the hair and gold-teeth fillings to recoup capital and buy new victims, etc.
The language and modalities of the Holocaust were now addressed to contemporary targets and the migrant groups were shocked into a new mindset regarding cooperation with Jews. In fact, these very groups, in 1998, elected me to the Board of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and, at its February 2001 meeting in Brussels, endorsed a joint Moslem-Jewish resolution stating that: “Despite the tragic events in the Middle East, Jews and Moslems must stand in solidarity in Europe. Any division between them will serve the purpose of hate of which both are targets. They must work together to combat all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe.”11
The child player of these early computer games was also a victim. Desensitized to hate, he became vulnerable recruit potential for neo-Nazi circles. Our exposure of these games led to an international conference at UNESCO in 1992 on “Educating Against Prejudice,” as also to an Istanbul television debate on “The Turkish Victim of neo-Nazism in Today’s Germany.”
Two thousand floppy disks of “Race War,” a game produced by the Nebraska-based American Nazi Party’s Gary Lauck, were held by Amsterdam airport Customs in 1992. Now however, twenty years of Lauck’s mailings and postage-stamp licking can be downloaded in five minutes over the World Wide Web.
In 1999, the Wiesenthal Center issued its CD-ROM, Digital Hate 2000, with interactive access to 1426 hate sites, a figure that is growing exponentially since Stormfront, the first such site, was launched in 1995.
A new edition, Digital Hate 2001, lists almost 3,000 such sites, where, by a mouse-click, the surfer can jump from Nazi ideology to Skinhead music, from Holocaust denial to bomb-making formulas.
Simon Wiesenthal characterized the Holocaust as the meeting point between ideology and technology. Perhaps an important lesson is to base the battle against recurrence upon the same combination. Thus the Los Angeles-based Museum of Tolerance of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is a hi-tech human rights laboratory directed to the Internet generation. The Museum’s “Tools for Tolerance” programs provide sensitization to pluralism courses for law enforcement agencies and the military.
Technology has empowered the forces of hate. Terrorists, political extremists, racists and Holocaust deniers have invaded cyberspace to sow the seeds of prejudice with impunity. Hate is indivisible. For the hate-monger, the Jew is only a tactical target; his strategic objective is democracy itself.
The murdered civil rights champion, Martin Luther King, Jr., is a more recent victim of revisionism. An Internet site, www.mlking.org displays his photos and quotes, but, with great sophistication, subtly denigrates his memory. It was Holocaust denier and Ku Klux Klan leader, Don Black, who had founded Stormfront (the very first Internet hate site, in 1995), who had now posted this site.
The Wiesenthal Centre’s Associate Dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who is one of the greatest authorities on the insidious abuse of this technology, points out that “it stunts critical capacity by the theft of historic truth. Technology, however, is neutral – it may be abused or productively and creatively used.” This technology is, in fact, an agent for both Holocaust education and the application of its lessons to cutting-edge dilemmas and challenges.
The experience of the Holocaust has endowed the Jewish people with a unique responsibility. For 2,000 years the lightning-rod, the “universal otherhood” it must become the “universal example” as a weather vane or windsleeve, to sound the alarm and train society’s ears to the sounds of impending danger.
“What starts with the Jews…” is an instrument of measure, a barometer for democratic health, and the lessons of the Holocaust provide an early-warning system to combat contemporary intolerance.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has defined this engagement on three levels:
– “monitoring” of the trans-ideological and international linkage between the actors that threaten the democratic condition
– “counteraction” through coalition-building, networking, exposure through the media, legislative, judicial and governmental authorities and international organizations
– “prevention” through contributing to an expanding moral pedagogy on human rights.
The examples drawn in this paper from the lessons of the Holocaust point to demands for greater media responsibility, more humane treatment of refugees, improved professional accountability of insurance companies towards beneficiaries, an exercise in prudence for art dealers and museum curators, a reminder of client-first good practice for the banking industry, and more acute governmental sensitivity to the posterity power of archival transparency.
Simon Wiesenthal conditioned the granting of his name, in his lifetime, to an institution that would guard memory and employ vigilance to assist in preventing the Holocaust’s recurrence for any people.
Following the “machete genocide,” the Rwandan government of reconciliation sought advice from three Jewish experts, respectively in regard to the rehabilitation of survivors, the apprehension of criminal perpetrators and the establishment of mechanisms for commemoration and education. The Holocaust has taught us that no closure can be possible without serving rehabilitation, justice, and memory.
At the November 1999 “Holocaust Phenomenon” conference in Prague, Yehuda Bauer was quoted to have said, “even as the mass murder of Jews was ended by the defeat of the Nazis, the source of the Holocaust remains the same. It is a scorpion who changed its outer appearance but inside, the poison remains the same…”
Our Latin American office has produced a Clio-winning one-minute Public Service Announcement entitled “SkinHitler.” It portrays Adolf Hitler shaving himself into the image of a contemporary Skinhead to the beat of techno music. It is captioned: “The monster is not dead. It is mutating. We must not let it grow.”
I began this presentation with the sub-title “From Particularism to Universalism and Back”. In looking back at 2,000 years of exile, the Israeli anthem, “Ha Tikva” (The Hope), evokes this new millennium: “The hope of 2,000 years is yet to be realized…” and perhaps the greatest irony is that fifty years of Jewish sovereignty have not ended antisemitism nor normalized the Jewish condition among the comity of nations. The millennium has ushered in a communication revolution that should break asunder every barrier in our global village. Yet, this same technology now serves the cause of hate.
Permit me to close this circle with Hillel’s two celebrated dicta: “If I were only for myself,” Holocaust education would be a sterile exercise. But, “if I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” The contemporary lessons of the Holocaust for Jews carry a greater particularism than ever and a question for this forum.
Can a commitment to the memory of the Shoah hold integrity, without a commitment to living Jews? Human Rights groups in Europe last year used Kristalnacht demonstrations to attack the State of Israel, and cared nothing for the over 100 synagogues attacked. Ceremonies last October-November to honour Righteous Gentiles in Poitiers and Marseilles were marred by their municipalities’ exclusion of the Israeli Ambassador. Could the Holocaust go the way of Klezmer music in Krakow, Kabbalah in Hollywood and “Fiddler on the Roof” Kabuki-style on the Tokyo stage? From the laboratory analysis of a living organism to the study of natural history: a Toynbeean Holocaust of fossils?
The campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel is in high gear and anchored in the Holocaust debate. Finkelstein’s seduction has taken its toll across Europe, and the sub-text of French Prime Minister Jospin’s restitution speech was: “Public opinion is saturated, the debt to the Jews has been juridically and financially paid, now we must address our debt to the Moslems (i.e. Algeria) to forrestall an Intifada.
The de-Judaization of the Holocaust is a Middle East-related phenomenon.
The mainstream European media have begun to discuss the heretofore seemingly inconceivable: the physical re-disappearance of Jewish sovereignty, whereas the Arab world debates the relative tactical value of: on one hand, denying the Holocaust to undermine Israel’s justification; and on the other, condemning Nazism to lay the groundwork for a propaganda strategy of equating Zionism with Nazism.
I have witnessed such delirium at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where George Orwell would have updated his canons of Newspeak: The Drafting Committee for the forthcoming World Conference Against Racism includes such paragons of Human Rights as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, etc… Their Draft states that:
- anti-Semitism is anti-Arabism, therefore Zionism is anti-Semitism;
- Holocaust denial is the Zionist denial of the Palestinian “Naqba” (their catastrophe of 1948);
- The Jewish “holocaust” is subordinate to the twin “Black (H)olocausts of slavery and colonialism” (contributions by Egypt and Sudan);
- In the half century of the UNHCHR, Israel was the only state ever condemned for “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The de-Judaization of the Holocaust and of antisemitism – these terms have been formally recognised in the language of the United Nations – is not an empty intellectual exercise. Its bottom line is:
- If the Holocaust was a lie, let’s make it a reality!
- It is to create by attrition a climate of tolerance for antisemitism.
But, since the Holocaust, antisemitism really has nowhere to hide. Tolerance of antisemitism is tolerance of genocide and it is in Europe’s own enlightened self-interest to contain it, for, remember, “What starts with the Jews…!”
Shimon Peres recently said that “Europe’s natural extension is the Middle East,” but, if European encouragement of Arab violence and Islamic fundamentalism continues, Europe will become an extension of the Middle East and its violence.
While the EU has recently granted $50 million to the Palestine Authority, which will surely go to prolonging that violence, it is currently debating the cancellation of its trade treaty with Israel, which would affect 70% of its exports.
More importantly, it would further ghettoize Israel, isolating it from its only democratic hinterland.
This is appeasement based upon a projection of guilt for complicity in two crimes: colonialism and the Holocaust, but compounded by market self-interest. 3,622 multi-billion dollar contracts were signed since the autumn of 2000, between European countries and Middle East states.
Bilateral relations between Israel and Europe have became compounded by the lowest common-denominator of the European common policy: all kowtow to Brussels.
As Holocaust scholars, I call upon your commitment as an interested party, on your respective organizations and on AHO to make your voices heard against media prejudice, UN hypocrisy and, above all, the ganging up of former perpetrator and bystander nations against the survivor state of the Holocaust.
The Yiddish poet, Levick, asked his Rabbi what would have happened if, at the “Akedah” (the binding of Isaac) the angel would have arrived too late and the child would have been sacrificed? The Rabbi responded that angels are never late! But, the angel was 6 million times late between 1939 and 1945. He has tarried so many times since then, in Cambodia, Rwanda and the Middle East.
Maybe angels can afford to be late. Human beings do not have that privilege. Perhaps by applying the lessons of the Holocaust, an alarm bell may assist us to react in time.
1This presentation is heavily based upon my chapter “Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust” in Is the Holocaust Unique (second Edition) edited by Alan S. Rosenbaum, 2000, Westview Press, Colorado.
2 To accommodate the banalization of the term “Holocaust” (as in such obscenities as the title of a pornographic movie, The Naked Holocaust, or even political-agenda amalgams, as raised in this paper (such as “Palestinian Holocaust”), there is an increasing use of the Hebrew “Shoah,” to replace the pagan-rooted “Holocaust.”
4Here was a pan-European media attack on the Jewish State (called by French scholars at that time “The Jew among the Nations”) and through Israel, Jewish citizens of the very countries of these media. Content analysis later presented this as a crisis in media responsibility, which, in turn, led to “mea culpae” and apologies, e.g. from Norwegian television and the Italian press. See:
- Demonization of Jews in the Italian Media (The Green Book), CDEC, Milan, 1983
- Shimon Samuels, “West European Media Antisemitism in the Lebanon War: Political Campaign or Mimetic Effect?” presented at the International Society of Political Psychology 1983 conference at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.