Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 7 Comments
Conventional Holocaust commemorations follow a particular narrative. We recognize the heroism and suffering of the survivors, sometimes we even recognize the evil of the perpetrators even if the narrative limits it to a generic evil or one only limited to a handful of people on top, rather than the millions of perpetrators necessary to produce millions of victims.
If Santayana's truism about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it is applied, it is applied in a vague way leaving people with the impression that the way to avoid future Holocausts is to oppose dictators and racism. Jews of course have been all too willing to diminish their own history by going along with this and turning the Holocaust into a civics lesson, universalizing it into a warning on the evils of bigotry and forgetting what matters.
Forget the official lessons and commemorations now. It's time to tear down the myths and speak the truth.
The first myth is that the Holocaust was a unique event in history. It is nothing of the kind. The only thing unique about the Holocaust is that for the first time industrialization was used to aid in the extermination of Jews to a certain degree. But while many Jews were killed with technological methods such as the gas chambers, most were killed with bullets, through abuse and other old fashioned means.
Industrialization allowed the German war machine to capture large amounts of territory and execute a genocide of the Jews on a large scale but the only real difference with Haman's plan to wipe out the Jews in every land thousands of years ago was planning and efficiency.
Is the Holocaust actually something new? On Pesach we recite, 'In Each Generation They Arise To Wipe Us Out,' and that is a summation of Jewish history. Beginning with Pharaoh there has rarely been a century in human history when there has not been a large well armed group of people whose plans focused on wiping out the Jews in one way or another. Often there has been much more than one.
In 1953, less than a decade after the end of WW2 and the liberation of camps, the very forces of the USSR which had liberated many of the camps began preparing for another Holocaust that would have wiped out the Jews in Soviet controlled territories, a plan only interrupted by Stalin's death. Little more than another decade later in 1967 much of the Arab world prepared to invade Israel and push the Jews into the sea. Not only is the Holocaust not a unique event, but there were two attempts to repeat it in less than a generation.
What focuses our attention on the Holocaust is the scale on which it succeeded and that it coincided with a period when visual recordings could be made to commemorate it. During Bar Kochba's revolt the Romans killed over half a million Jews using entirely primitive technology. During the Chmelnitsky Massacres of the 1650's the Ukrainian Cossacks killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. The total number of Jews killed throughout the Crusades and Europe and Israel cannot be properly accounted for. Neither can the full toll from the Spanish Inquisition.
All these examples come from the Christian world but Jews were equally subject to numberless atrocities in the Muslim world in which tens of thousands of Jews could be killed at a time.
But by focusing on the sheer scale of the Holocaust and treating it as a unique event, rather than learning something Jews forget the most fundamental truth that our history is a cycle of Holocausts perpetuated from century to century. One that has by no means ended just because Schindler's List was screened in theaters across America. Instead we remain ignorantly certain that a Holocaust will not be repeated and denounce anyone who rejects this as a paranoid alarmist. And this is why the very accentuation of the Holocaust's uniqueness threatens Jewish survival, it takes a cyclical event in Jewish history, isolates it and pretends to draw lessons from it, ignorance that will only insure its repetition.
The second most pervasive myth is a focus on Nazi Germany as the perpetrators. Germany was certainly the home base for Nazism but their role was merely to supervise a process much of the world supported and aided or at best had no strong feelings about. The Holocaust was very much an international project. It could not have and did not succeed without strong local collaboration and cooperation to identify, detain and exterminate Jews.
Multi-culturalism is not an antidote to Anti-Semitism or another Holocaust because the Holocaust itself was altogether multicultural. Before the Germans had even entered France, foreign Jews were being rounded up into detention camps. When Jews were being rounded up into soccer stadiums for Germany after the fall of France, it was again the French people who did it. It was not the Germans alone who went on to hunt the Jews of France but Ukrainians imported for their supposed ability to spot Jews among the French population. The percentage of the Jewish population wiped out in Poland and Holland was above 90 percent vastly topping the percentage in Germany because the Dutch and the Poles proved more enthusiastic Nazi collaborators than many Germans. Indeed there are numerous cases of Jews surviving in German cities, far fewer such cases across Eastern Europe.
Part of the planning for the Holocaust came from the Muslim world and the Mufti of Jerusalem. The SS contained 60,000 Muslims and several mostly Muslim divisions drawn from Croatian and other Eastern European Muslims. From Ireland to the Ukraine many nationalities saw in Adolf Hitler and Nazism, a chance to win their own independence from foreign powers and embraced Nazi ideals and spawning their own Nazi parties and Nazi regimes. These predictably vilified England, the United States, Russia and 'International Jewry.' Hundreds of thousands of the ranks of the SS were Eastern Europeans. 55,000 were Dutch. Over 10,000 were Belgians. The list goes on and on across Western and Eastern Europe.
But talking about the Nazis is only half the picture of the Holocaust. The other half were the allies and the so-called free world. The question is often raised, 'Why Was the World Silent?' But this is an absurd question. The better question is why wouldn't the world have been silent?
The United States was one of the most tolerant lands for Jews in the world. And in the US one of the most popular radio personalities was the rabidly Anti-Semitic Father Coughlin. Henry Ford of Ford Motors had the Protocols of Zion translated into English and published a newspaper 'The Dearborn Independent' dedicated to Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Many colleges had quotas for Jewish students and the Klan was more popular than ever. Eugenics was as popular in the United States as it was in Germany and states were sterilizing people they considered unfit to reproduce, a category in which many of the proponents of eugenics wished to include the Jews. Leo Frank the President of the Atlanta chapter of the Bnai Brit had been lynched in Georgia by a mob that allegedly included a former speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and the son of a United States Senator. The US Military Intelligence Division was busy researching an international Jewish conspiracy and treating the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a factual document of Jewish intentions.
This is the worst of the American historical background against which the Holocaust took place. It is little wonder that when humanitarian congressmen lobbied to allow in 20,000 Jewish children to America a range of patriotic organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution rose up in a storm of protest warning of dire consequences and the bill died in committee. The St. Louis with its nearly 1000 Jewish passengers was forced to return to Europe. Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long not only worked to prevent the entry of Jewish refugees onto American soil but even to prevent US territories from accepting Jewish refugees. Long deliberately worked to prevent even existing quotas from being filled to make sure that as few as possible Jewish refugees escaped the Nazis for the United States. All the while Charles Lindbergh was touring America claiming that Jewish propaganda was pushing the US into a war with Germany.
All this was mild compared to the activities of England which used ships it obtained from the US under Lend Lease to maintain a blockade preventing ships with Jewish refugees from reaching Israel so as to avoid angering the Arabs. Many people naively believe that it is only more recently that Westerners eager to appease Arabs have looked away from the murder of Jews but that is in truth a state of affairs that has been going on for much of the 20th century. Even those European countries which supposedly remained neutral such as Switzerland deported Jewish refugees back into the arms of the Germans.
Some people might wonder how all this could go on. How could the supposed 'Good Guys' act like this. The answer is simple. Much of the world liked the Germans and didn't like the Jews. Germany had become seen as the underdog, a country abused and exploited by the great powers. As the Arabs have today, relentless German protests of unfairness and discrimination as a country oppressed by the world powers brought them international sympathy. Some like the Irish sympathized with Germany because of their hatred for England. Some because they hated Communism and still others because they opposed war, capitalism and militarism. As the Arabs have today, sympathy for Germany united many improbable groups from the far-right to the far-left all of which agreed that we were to feel sorry for Germany and the German people and supportive of their nationalistic and liberationist aims.
Anti-Semitism had become the theology of the European right wing Catholic press in the 19th century which was filled with the supposed crimes of the Jews. Anti-Semitism was one of the few things that the average Englishman, Frenchman, Russian, German or American could agree on. Many of them might not agree with the actual genocide but they wouldn't be and weren't particularly troubled about it either. Anti-Semitism was not merely bigotry born from prejudice but a consensus across nations, religions, races and ethnic groups that the Jews were bad. Anti-Semitism was not and is not the province of any individual class, race or ideology. It was equally found in all of them and still is today. After decades of fighting Anti-Semitism as a form of bigotry it has resurfaced more virulently than ever in slightly new guises. To treat the Holocaust as an outbreak of racial prejudice is as useless as applying anti-bacterial soap to an AIDS outbreak. Yet the universalists insist on that precisely because it diminishes the Holocaust as an event in Jewish history and hijacks to further the aims of many of the same people who stood idly by when it happened and are doing so again today.
The third and final myth has to do with the role that Jews played in resistance and rescue, an issue most gloss over. The simplest way to understand the reality behind the myth is to map over the way Jews are dealing now with Arab terrorism.
In America the dominant Jewish response was apathy, much as it is today in regards to Israel. The elite of American Jews prided themselves on the degree of their assimilation viewing themselves as Americans rather than Jews and were determined not to do anything to upset that general perception by performing a Jewish act such as agitating on behalf of Europe's Jews. Many American Jewish leaders such as Stephen Wise priding themselves on their access to FDR and were little more than yes men who relayed the President's agenda down to their organizations and suppressed any dissent much as American Jewish organizations continue to function today. Those organizations that were created were more concerned with following the rules than with saving Jews and the most fundamental rule was not to criticize the President, England or demand any action on behalf of Jews. The dominant theme of American Jews was to support the war effort in a non-partisan way and hope that things work out for the Jews of Europe. Given the choice of being good Democrats or saving millions of Jews, they chose to be good Democrats and they have never truly regretted it since or remotely changed their ways.
In Europe the religious leadership functioned much as it does today in Israel concerned with the day to day needs, rather than with long term planning for survival and as a consequence wound up leading their communities to the gas chambers. In Israel the theme was much the same as in America with Britain substituted for the President and Britain did not want more Jewish immigration and so the Jewish authorities accepted that verdict, particularly fervent Anglophiles such as Chaim Weizmann who could not care nearly as much for the Jews as he could for dear old England.
All across the Jewish world the dominant themes were slavish obedience to political authority, fear of identifying with other Jews rather than with their given nation, confusion, a multitude of organizations working at cross-purposes and squabbling down to the end even in the Warsaw Ghetto. It is a deeply sad history and it is one we are once again repeating today.
The Jews of America worshipped and continue to worship FDR and Harry Truman as friends of the Jews though they were both bigots who treated Jews and every other race with unmitigated contempt and had no interest or concern for the fate of the Jews of Europe. Nothing has changed either as we witness the pathetic spectacle of Jews debating whether Bill Clinton or George W. Bush was the best friend to the Jews in the White House. Never mind the even more deranged spectacle of those who introduce Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon as candidates for this absurdly surreal position. Nothing has been learned by the Jews or anyone else from history and from the Holocaust and it seems likely that nothing will be learned.
The phrase 'Never Again' itself sums up the painful absurdity as it is repeated in all sincerity by the same Jewish figures who defend the policies that are once again bringing millions of Jews to the point of extermination. Holocaust commemorations are held in Reform temples whose Rabbis sign petitions calling for the resumption of US aid to the Hamas run Palestinian government. When the Bush administration holds back some criticism of Israel, these very same organizations and figures write up petitions calling on the administration to further pressure Israel. As Israel is carved up in the name of appeasing the Arabs as the Allies carved up Czechoslovakia to appease the Germans, the Jews continue our annual Holocaust commemorations and pilgrimages like madmen lost in memories of the home we once had while the home we have now unheeded burns.
Since we have neither remembered nor understood the Holocaust it is better to forget it than to repeat it. The hour is late and grows ever later and the chance to learn the lessons we might have learn is almost past. It is not merely National Socialism nor dictatorship nor bigotry that threatens us and championing human rights or fighting intolerance will not save us, for there are at least as many, if not more, of those who hate us in the ranks of the warriors against all bigotries and intolerance, except those directed at us. We are part of a cycle of history in which we face the constant threat of annihilation, not for reasons or in ways that can be countered through an afterschool special. It is not something that we can rely on the conscience of the world to protect us against. And if there is any lesson that we must learn from the Holocaust, it is not to repeat the same mistakes we made last time around of putting our faith in Presidents and political leaders, of prioritizing Liberal Democratic activism over saving our brothers and of being certain that this time we will be safe, that the world has learned its lesson.
The world no more learns its lessons than we do.