Abusing the Holocaust

(September 11) — Lucy Dawidowicz, the late Holocaust historian, recalled that one day she received a phone call from a young man affiliated with Larry King’s American national talk-radio program. She was asked if she would be prepared to debate Robert Faurisson, a well-known anti-Semite who denies that Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Dawidowicz replied that Faurisson should not be provided a platform for his virulent anti-Semitism.

The young man, puzzled, approached Dawidowicz again. What was the matter with discussing “controversial” matters on the radio? Dawidowicz asked the young man if he “thought that the murder of European Jews was a ‘controversial’ matter?” Had it not been established as a historical fact? “I don’t know,” he answered, “I wasn’t around at the time. I am only 30 years old!”

Far more problematic than such a lapse in historical awareness is the perversion of the Holocaust to such an extent that it is turned against the Jews, as was the case at the United Nations Conference on Racism, and as articulated by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his brutal statement that the Holocaust does not give the right to Israelis (read: Jews) to carry out another Holocaust against the Palestinians. (Please spare me from the hypocrisy of the African nations which have been committing genocide against each other for years.)

It is not enough that the Louis Farrakhans and the David Irvings of this world spew forth their virulent anti-Semitism by either denying the Holocaust or belittling it, now we have political figures such as Annan leading the fray. Annan, the Finnish foreign minister, and all the Muslim countries have promulgated the disgusting notion that we Israelis are the new Nazis, and the Palestinians the new Jews.

This sort of transference is nothing less than abhorrent. (Not to mention that we are no match for the Arab brutality against each other: Jordan killing 20,000 Palestinians in one week, or Syria killing 5,000 Christians in two days!) But such transference has received its “respectable” cover for years, even in the United States, through a more subtle, but equally distorted interpretation of the Holocaust — and that is the universalization of the tragedy.

In the late 1960s, during the height of the Vietnam War, a number of plays appeared on Broadway by such notable playwrights as Arthur Miller, Peter Weiss and Robert Shaw. In each play, the writer used the Holocaust to illustrate man’s inhumanity to man. During the 1960s, the Holocaust became equal to the napalming of the Vietnamese countryside, persecution against Blacks, Communist baiting, and yes, suppression of Arabs by Israelis. Shaw himself wrote in 1968: “I see Auschwitz as a universal instrument that could have been used by anyone. For that matter, the Jews could have been on the side of the Nazis.”

It is amazing how one can start out with a seemingly logical formula and misapply it so that it becomes venomous drivel. Must the innocent absorb the guilt for some lame social comment about universal guilt and responsibility by an act of introjection in order that the real guilty ones be absolved?

Any theme that holds that “things equal to the same thing are equal to each other” is pure nonsense. If everyone is guilty, then no one is guilty. Such a universal claim perverts any meaningful understanding of the Holocaust and denies the Jewish people a measure of exclusivity in its suffering for the evils of the Nazis and the silence of the world. Such was the case with the exaggerated comparison between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Hitler that US president George Bush Sr. made during the Gulf War.

Few times in history has a single event elicited such diverse public attitudes as has the wanton slaughter of more than six million Jews, as so sickeningly displayed at the UN Conference. The murder of the six million cannot be wholly accounted for either in terms of passion or of madness or of overwhelming and irresistible social forces. But one thing is certain, the Holocaust is an event of such magnitude that its wounds can never be healed.

The best we can do is to never let it fade from our consciousness, and most definitely, never let it be abused beyond recognition.

The capacity to assume the burden of preserving the Holocaust is not always practical. While the moral function of recounting the Holocaust cuts across the different worlds of art, knowledge, reason and history, it must always respect basic truths. The world owes us the memory of the simple fact that the Nazi slaughter of the Jews is objectively the supreme tragic event of modern times.

This must be the prime remembrance of that dark period in history. Anything less than this will surely set the stage for legitimizing another Holocaust against the Jews — disguised as a legitimate political attack on Israel and its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

(The writer is the spokesman for the Rabbis for Human Rights group.)


The Jerusalem Post

By David J. Forman

September, 11 2001