Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Saturday, February 6, 2010
While some of Pius advocates may truly believe him deserving of sainthood, by elevating him the Vatican also serves to minimize as well its war-time acquiescence in his policy of silence. And since silence in the face of Shoah is a reminder also of scriptural anti-Judaism and the centuries-long Church-inspired persecution of Jews, putting the Pius controversy to rest would also serve to deflect attention from the role of Church anti-Judaism as inspiration and justification for now secular Christendom’s nearly successful effort at a finding a final solution to its centuries-long “Jewish Problem.”
But there is another form of Holocaust denial based neither on prejudice nor self-justification, but on denying the significance of Shoah. This denial is meant to distract the believer from its meaning and consequences.
In this guise Holocaust denial serves to overcome Jewish insecurity, our sense of never-quite-belonging in what today is our voluntary Diaspora. Jewish denial excises Shoah from its historical context, hides its real meaning behind words like “mysterious” and “unique.” Denial is the mask that insulates us from a reality we choose not to acknowledge. But acknowledge or not the reality of Shoah remains, neither mysterious nor unique, a haunting warning from our past, harbinger of our dreaded future.
The ever-continuing beatification process of Eugenio Pacelli, the Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII, is condemned not just because of the controversy surrounding the man, but that, more than sixty years after the event, the Vatican resolutely refuses to make public the war time records of his papacy. His Vatican proponents claim Pius “quietly” assisted the Jews. Were that the case would the Vatican today stonewall, hide evidence supportive of their contention? Vatican duplicity serves not only confirm Pius as “Hitler’s pope,” but overshadows the actions of clergy who truly did risk life and position in defiance of papal example.
But setting aside present and war time Vatican silence, what of other leaders complicit in silence at Shoah, why our double standard in attributing guilt? Yes Pius was silent, for self and Church an ethical and moral outrage. But, as Hitler observed, the Vatican had no army. The liberal democracies engaged in their moral crusade against the criminal German state did.
Roosevelt and Hitler were both elected in 1933. From the start he was aware of Germany’s escalating persecution of the Jews. Yet in the years before Auschwitz, as that persecution intensified, his only response was a one-time recall of his ambassador to Germany for “consultations.” In answer to his critics Roosevelt asserted that Germany’s treatment of the Jews was “an internal matter” of that country.
Six years later, in 1939, the SS St. Louis steamed into Havana with its 900 Jewish refugee passengers. Fulgencio Batista, Cuba’s president, turned the ship away even though all had valid entry visas. Forced out of Cuban waters the St. Louis steamed for Florida, the ship’s captain telegraphing the American president to provide haven for the 900 refugees. Roosevelt’s response was to dispatch a Coast Guard cutter as barrier against the ship attempting a run for the coast. Low on fuel the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, to deliver its Jews to their fate. No reason, no excuse. Perhaps in the eyes of the president granting refuge to the 900 would also have constituted “interference” in Germany’s internal affairs?
Five years later still, by 1944, the Auschwitz death factory was busily transforming one thousand Jews daily into ash. American bombers flew over the crematoria en route to bomb factories and refineries as close as five miles away. This time the president did explain his reasons for not authorizing a raid. To bomb the camp, he asserted, would result in the deaths of camp inmates. Since it was know that the average life expectancy of Jews arriving at Auschwitz was less than 24 hours this excuse seemed hollow. Another excuse given was that the raid would endanger American airmen. But by that time in the war the United States had air superiority over most of Europe, including Auschwitz, so there would have been little risk to airmen. And finally the excuse was made that, in order to bomb Auschwitz aircraft would have to be diverted from important military targets. This, it was argued, would have delayed an allied victory and resulted in many more Jewish deaths. Ignoring the fact that the bombers were already flying above the camps, how would a few bombs dropped by aircraft en route to more important military targets have delayed the war’s outcome? This argument by the administration and the president’s present day apologists, that the best way to save Jewish lives was to concentrate on winning the war was, then and now, also specious.
At the time the controversy over Auschwitz was underway, Eichmann had begun to round up Hungarian Jews for transport “to the east.” How many of this last significant Jewish community would have survived had Roosevelt authorized even a single raid on the rail lines transporting them to Auschwitz?
After the war Pacelli’s Vatican, silent during the war regarding “crimes against humanity” assisted Nazi war criminals to escape justice. Supported by American and British intelligence the Vatican encouraged South American countries to accept these “refugees.”
In a separate operation, code named Paper Clip, John Foster Dulles, head of the State Department, and brother Allen, head of OSS-CIA assisted their own Nazis to evade punishment by providing haven inside the United States. Among these was Werner von Braun, head of Hitler’s secret weapons development program. von Braun made extensive use of Jewish slave labor, most of whom perished from overwork and starvation.
Holocaust denial by antisemites is at least understandable for what it is. It is even understandable as a means of defending Christianity from responsibility for Auschwitz. But Jewish Holocaust denial?
In the years preceding Shoah the United States experienced a level of antisemitism comparable to that in Europe. Perhaps the president's "silence" was a politician's response to the national mood. Whatever his reasons the result was that Europe’s Jews perished. Viewed through the same moral lens by which we justifiably condemn Pacelli and the Vatican, do Roosevelt and the United States come out less guilty? Had Hitler won the war, would American Jewry even exist today?
Shoah places we, who by accident of birth an ocean distant, survived. But conditions during the war years left us, American Jewry, uneasy. The decades immediately following did little to ease our concern. Today we face our past/future in a state of cognitive dissonance. As long as the Holocaust happened "over there," perpetrated by countries and people “over there” we, citizens of our own "exceptional" Diaspora haven, can rest easy. As did our German relatives during the 1920's, we too can deny the lessons of our continuing Diaspora history of victimhood; as did they, we can reassure ourselves regarding our happy future, our safe haven for our children, our children’s children.
We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in the Christian west. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
According to one respondent to my recent article, Understanding the Holocaust: Shoah in Historical Perspective, Jewry should, “seek the causes (for antisemitism) in our own acts.” Self-blame is not an uncommon response to tragedy. Rape victims are one group that comes immediately to mind. But what motivates such a comment as we Jews, by our own actions, invite antisemitism, are somehow responsible for the Holocaust?
Several years ago a prominent Israeli rabbi attributed the massacre of a bus load of children by terrorists as G-d’s punishment for the “sins of Israelis.” As if G-d targets children, uses terrorists to carry out His will. In the wake of Shoah, seeking to somehow explain the inexplicable, some orthodox Diaspora leaders suggested that Shoah was G-d’s punishment for the sins of our people in Europe. But as in the Israeli bus massacre, most Jews victim to the European slaughter, during and for centuries before Shoah, were mostly the pious and the poor, those least likely to be Halachic “transgressors.” And was the hand of G-d also present in the elimination of Eastern Europe’s famed Hasidic centers, for the murder of orthodox communities dedicated to a life of learning and Halachic tradition? I, for one, prefer not to seek G-d’s intention in such events.
Jews have experienced anti-Judaism during most of our Diaspora existence, and at great cost in life. As I observed in my earlier submission, one prominent Holocaust research center suggests that, had Jewry not been subject to two millennia of European persecution our numbers today would equal that of the entire British Isles!
Since we had never experienced anything on the scale of Shoah, we could not have anticipated, taken evasive or direct action to the emerging danger. Yes there were those few, Jabotinsky and Abba Kovner, for example, who by intuition born of their Zionist background were more sensitive and alert to the unfolding events. But Martin Buber was more typical of general Jewish understanding and response: antisemitism was a pendulum that was now at its extreme. Germany would, he believed, sooner or later pass through that terrible period and life to return to normal for the Jews. As a result Buber urged German Jewry to remain in place, to wait out the storm.
Sixty years later Shoah is part of our Diaspora experience. We cannot now pretend that such a thing as a government organized effort to murder each and every Jew alive, including non-Jews defined “Jewish” due to a single grandparent convert to Christianity (1930’s German legal definition) is impossible, unthinkable. It is an established fact. We ignore at peril to self and our future generations that the Holocaust is the latest, but not last development in a process begun two thousand years ago. As that prehistory and cultural experience served as precedent for state-organized murder (Nazi leaders on trial at Nuremburg referred to Luther’s writings as inspiration and justification), so does the nearly successful Final Solution of the Jewish problem serve the future. The road to Shoah may have been twisted in detail, but the process was continuous and straight.
So Shoah is neither unique in history, nor a mystery beyond human comprehension. It did and, if history serves, will again befall us, for the solution was not yet final. The Holocaust was not an invention of the twentieth century as so many of our historians would have us believe, an event comparable to other such 20th century genocides. It was only the most recent in a long and continuing process. The only real contribution of the twentieth century was technological: those computers IBM provided Hitler, the software IBM developed to identify and locate each and every Jew for arrest and murder; Henry Ford’s assembly line adapted to the problem of mass production and disposal of human corpses.
While each of us, every Jewish adult alive today, may choose not to study the evolution of antisemitism and Shoah, still we cannot avoid awareness of Shoah as a real and recent event. Our responsibility for another such occurrence is not in somehow acting to encourage its recurrence since that is a permanent characteristic of the fabric of western culture, but in choosing to ignore its precedent. Our guilt lies in Denial, a denial expressed in insisting that our particular chosen homeland is “exceptional,” that such a thing cannot happen here. Denial was the response of our German community, with far more justification. Had not Jews settled the Danube one hundred years before the Common Era? Had not a Jew been prime minister in the Weimar Government in the years before the election of Adolph Hitler? Had not a Jew authored the Weimar constitution which was the very foundation of Weimar German democracy? Where else, or since, had our people resided longer, achieved such prominence, contributed to and been more accepted and assimilated?
For we who lived an ocean away from Europe’s death camps antisemitism was little different in popularity and intensity. Nativism, antisemitism and isolationism kept the United States neutral towards German persecution of their Jews, leaning as much to join Hitler in the crusade against the “godless” Soviet Union as to ally with America’s traditional ally England against the German threat. Even the Nazi program of racial hygiene which inspired the Holocaust was modeled after the American “science” of eugenics, America’s effort to create its own white, Nordic master race.
Had Henry Ford or Charles Lindberg, populist antisemites and isolationists decided to accept the Republican Party nomination and opposed Roosevelt for the presidency and won, a real possibility before Pearl Harbor, then it takes little imagination to appreciate the likely outcome for New World Jewry also. Even under the Roosevelt Administration the US built concentration camps to imprison its Japanese-American citizens.
As our German experience proves, antisemitism does not require a religious base. Western society is anti-Jewish by history and tradition. This is a fact we cannot, by our actions, change. The starting point for eliminating antisemitism would be for Christianity in all its forms to delete those anti-Jewish references from its gospels. But that is unlikely to happen since to do so would be to throw into question the divine inspiration of the texts as the true word of God. And where would that leave Christianity?
And where does this leave the Jewish people?
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
We must teach our children that Israel will not allow another Holocaust.. Some of the findings of a recent poll about the Holocaust truly stunned me. In the framework of the survey, about 400 students and soldiers were asked, among other things, whether the Holocaust can happen again, what is the best Shoah studies method in their view (classes at school, documentaries, or visits to death camps in Poland,) and what is their attitude to Holocaust survivors.
As it turned out, 82% of respondents said that another Holocaust is a possible scenario.
This figure is worrisome…
The Shoah, as I have been emphasizing for dozens of years, was not “just another genocide,” like the ones we have seen before and still see today. It was a calculated, thoroughly planned mass murder that was methodically implemented by hundreds of thousands if not millions of Germans and their helpers from various nations; step by step, with determination, based on a master plan.
Therefore, the Holocaust cannot repeat; because Israel, the Jewish people’s state, will be able to contend with such new evil plan, if it indeed emerges.
Response, 1: If only the world were as simple as Noah Klieger believes. If only Shoah were the unique event in history that he and most of us make it out to be. If only the Jews of Germany had overcome their wish-based faith in their fatherland, their belief that so civilized and cultured a people and civilization, where Jews had lived for more than 2000 years, and come to their stay-or-go decision based on history rather than faith, how might history have been different. Instead they based their decision, as does Klieger, on the evidence of their present, a present where to their eyes, Jews were more accepted, assimilated and intermarried than in any other country in the world. They reassured themselves that surely a country whose prime minister before Hitler was a Jew, as was the author of Germany’s democratic constitution. Certainly, like Krieger, they could reason that the good and cultured German people would quickly come to their senses, would realize that the rabble-rouser and his thugs do not represent Germany; that Hitler must soon be thrown out of office.
But reliance on belief betrayed them. And their trust in their civilized and cultured Diaspora homeland cost not only their own lives, but those of their children and, very possibly, provided the Nazi visionaries of the Holocaust the time and cover to move their dream of a world judenrein from idea to near-reality.
Jewish Denial involves convincing ourselves, Israelis as well as Jews who choose the convenience and familiarity of life in the Diaspora, that the normalcy we see around us, the smiling faces of our neighbors and co-workers, the platitudes of world leaders about the “tragedy,” that all that appears is real and forever. And it is, for as long as Forever does not hit a major crisis, such as a severe economic downturn, so long as the unemployed do not see immigrants or those seen as Other amongst themselves as competitors for scarce resources and jobs. Because when conditions change, so also does Reality. Then, as with individuals in crisis, society seeks to target frustration and blame away from self; to find a target, an obstacle which if removed, might set things right. And for western civilization the traditional obstacle, Christendom’s Other, is The Jew.
The Holocaust is today 63 years in our past, a historical event no more real or immediate, than those other atrocities perpetrated by Christendom on our people during Inquisition and Crusade; no less legendary those whose lives were taken because their neighbors believed Jews murdered Christian children in order to provide blood for our Passover matzot; or for poisoning the wells of our Christian neighbors thereby spreading the terrible plague of the Middle Ages (projection is the turning of one’s own guilt on to the object of the guilt!); or, frenzied by the gospel charge of deicide, that the Jews murdered Jesus, the pogroms sure to follow Easter services. I raise these atrocities not to incite, but to point out the obvious: we have been murdered and tortured and expelled and still convince ourselves that things will always turn out because a beneficent pope or town bishop or local king would at some point intervene to save us. Was that not evidence that we were secure and protected in our homes? Until, of course, the next famine or plague or celebration of Easter again brought down the wrath of our neighbors.
The problem with Mr. Klieger’s humanistic plea, his concern that those 83% of our youth who accept the verdict of history where their parents are unable, or choose the comfort of Denial and look away from reality; that somehow acceptance of historical reality by our children is the problem and not the holocaust to come. Like Mr. Klieger our German relatives chose the “goodness and common sense of their neighbors” to support their comfortable lifestyle, at terrible cost. Perhaps had they accepted the obvious lessons of our history in Diaspora, had they accepted the offered assistance from our other communities concerned by the steadily increasing, if non-lethal antisemitism then, rather than sending the message that Hitler was a temporary phenomenon they might have sounded the alarm, a publicly broadcast message of warning. they might have alerted our communities in Poland and Rumania and, yes, the United States of the real dimensions of the danger. Perhaps had they overcome their Denial the full force of the Holocaust might have been blunted, or, by early public disclosure, even avoided.
Response, 2: On re-reading, there are just too many misunderstandings, misrepresentations to allow them to stand. The most obvious disqualifier to Klieger’s thesis is his complete failure to see the contradictions in his own interpretation of the genesis of the Holocaust. How conclude from his correct observation that, (it) was a calculated, thoroughly planned mass murder that was methodically implemented by hundreds of thousands if not millions of Germans and their helpers from various nations; step by step, with determination, based on a master plan,” that “Therefore, the Holocaust cannot repeat…”? Were Israel the paragon of commitment to the Diaspora that Klieger suggests, and most Jews would hope for, but which evidence contradicts, how would a country of only 5 million Jews credibly protect the Jews of a far larger, wealthier and more powerful country by threat? Let us assume, for arguments sake, that the locus of the next such threat was, say, the five million Jews of the United States (plus how many others disappeared by conversion; certainly the German single grandparent law would be resuscitated next go-around). Israel would be lucky to be able to defend itself from the ripple of such a massive danger, to say nothing of intervene to protect those threatened, that, to quote Klieger again, “that the State of Israel is the absolute guarantee to the Jewish people’s safety.”!
Far from the problem in education Klieger identifies, a problem I also assumed, but for opposite reasons, it appears Israel’s education of our children is succeeding in instilling in them a healthy respect for history, an ability to see beyond the appearance of normalcy surrounding us, and upon which we can constructs our denial, fantasies such as that promoted by Noah Klieger.
For additional materials regarding Israel, the Diaspora and Jewish Denial: http://jewishdenial.blogspot.com
Dear Professor Engel,
I greatly appreciate your recorded course, Understanding the Holocaust. You bring together much information in a highly accessible manner. It helped me to better define my own thinking about the events as they unfolded during the Hitler years, and for this I am in your debt. But in the end I find myself disagreeing with your conclusions.
In its simplest form I believe you grant too much influence in the unfolding of events leading up to Auschwitz the result of “facts on the ground.” Certainly those charged with actually carrying out their orders, from foot soldiers to generals, were forced to improvise. And often the successful improvisations would find application in other locations, under different commanders. Certainly too the conquest of Poland (or Austria, Rumania and Czechoslovakia for that matter) created logistical problems, speeded up the innovation process. You point out that among the plans for “resettlement” were zones in Poland and Madagascar and, when that later became a possibility, eastern Russia. You describe favorably the behavior of the western democracies as the main recipients of refugees, offering refuge until such countries from which Jews were fleeing came under German control. Once those countries were under German control those refugees now became “enemy aliens” and so, you seem to agree, the Democracies were justified in refusing them refuge.
These are, if I represent you correctly, some of your conclusions. And I do not disagree with the facts as presented, nor with your interpretation of them. I do feel that, for example, had you accepted as literal Hitler’s plan, well described by you in your lectures, as his true intention rather than as the general outline you imply, your conclusions would necessarily have been much different. According to your lectures Hitler’s closest lieutenants such as Himmler, Goebels, even Frank, did not read Mein Kampf as gospel, but merely as a reference in formulating German policy in the field. So, for example, those proposed Jewish reservations such as Madagascar, etc., were meant as a sort of antisemitic Zionist response to the Jewish Problem, a state of the Jews safely distanced from their tormentors. In fact, if we accept what I suggest as the true intent of Hitler’s tome, a literal blueprint for action, those “reservations” become something far more sinister, expanded ghettos, temporary concentration zones, clearing houses for the fate so well defined by the fuehrer twenty year earlier. Unlike you I accept that when Frank referred to “the final solution” he meant The Final Solution; when Himmler gave his pep talk to his depressed SS einsatsgruppen troops “depressed” at having to murder Jews “up front and personal,” that when Himmler referred to that “glorious page in history” which will ever be unwritten, that he too meant the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. Both leaders were openly referring to the strategic aim of the regime, the total annihilation of Jewish existence from the planet.
Dr. Engel, I feel we are obliged to accept Hitler at his more youthful and honest word, that his lieutenants understood his intention and were committed to carry it through. Once accepted as fact we can also understand their reticence regarding disclosing their true intentions until achieving final success. We may dismiss, as you do, Frank’s reference to a “final solution”, Himmler’s to a “glorious page in history” as literal because “vague” at risk. In light of the facts, even limited to those you present in your lectures I, for one, do not find your conclusions acceptable or justified.
Certainly the extermination of the Jews was an action composed of a series of improvisations, as you correctly describe. But to my understanding the complete elimination of this population was also and always the strategic, if for tactical reasons not publicly admitted, aim of the regime. Did the bureaucrats, did the train conductors you mention know this for “fact;” did the foot soldiers tasked to carry out the slaughter? Did the residents of the towns nearby the killing fields, hearing the machineguns in the distance which soon followed the roundup of their Jewish neighbors; did those living downwind and smelling the sweet smoke from the crematoria? Probably not as open “fact.” But they knew.
Of course paper was kept to a minimum, open admission a rarity. When mentioned in public, usually an accidental slip of the tongue. Still, the German people knew, Europe knew. And, yes, so did the allies. And in their silence, in their failure to act, all mentioned were complicit. And this complicity continues today, a “conspiracy of silence” evidenced in our denial of the true meaning of the facts.
In your lectures you minimize, it seems to me, even justify inaction by the US and England, Roosevelt and Churchill. You make passing reference to when and how our leaders learned the facts, justify, to my ears, their reasons for disbelieving, for too late accepting their significance of those facts. Yet according to the historical record, the facts of the German persecution and its eventual lethal consequence were available and known to these countries and their leaders as they unfolded, from the ascent of Hitler until the world passivity allowed the opening of Auschwitz. You refer to the US and England as carrying the greatest burden in accepting refugees between Kristalnacht and the occupation of Austria. But you fail to indicate the paltry numbers of refugees they allowed in, numbers, at least in the United States, well below that allowable by law! You make only passing reference to the climate of antisemitism, particularly in the United States, of the time, a parallel to the that occurring in Germany and Europe which resulted in the Holocaust; you entirely overlook such American contributors to the Holocaust as American eugenics, the basis of German racial antisemitism; of Hitler’s idol, Henry Ford, first in providing the model of mechanization and efficiency necessary for successful mass murder, and also for providing the German army Ford vehicles with which to conduct its war on the Jews, and also against the allies; of IBM in providing the computers needed to trace Jewish lineage back to a single grandparent, then to pinpoint their location for purposes of collection and elimination.
And perhaps most problematic from my viewpoint is your near total absence of reference to the prominence of Christianity as precursor, as contributor to both the theory and practice of antisemitism; to the participation of Christendom as perpetrator in finally solving its Jewish Problem. Not that you entirely overlook Christianity’s role as pre-history, but you gloss over it, give it scant mention, even seem to dismiss its significance. Certainly, you aver, people hated the Jews in the past, and yes there were instances of murder, even on a mass scale; you acknowledge proto-antisemitic ideologies existed among Christian leaders, even references to Jews as bacilli, as being distinguishable due to their “bad blood.” But where else but the Church and the emergent Christian sects, where but Christianity’s revolutionary and secular transformation during the so-called Enlightenment discover the source of a truly lethal antisemitism. A novel event, an event owing its existence to the new emphasis on science and logic; an event separate from the Christian animus which gave it birth? How avoid the fact that antisemitism is the successor to Christian anti-Judaism? And for what purpose study the Jewish Holocaust and its sources if not to confront directly the possibility (likelihood, in my judgment) of the next such lethal antisemitic event? Your preface and conclusions point at the need to confront continuing holocausts in the world, a worthy intention. But what of your responsibility to our selves, to our people continuing to subject our selves and our children to the dangers so ably described in your lectures. Does your conclusion, the universalizing of the horror, serve as warning for us? After all, you undertook to contribute to an understanding of a specifically Jewish victimization at the hands of a community among whom we continue to reside. Have you nothing to offer us?
We who choose life in Diaspora defend our homeland as exceptional, seek to excuse our country and leaders passive complicity six decades ago in our murder. But then, barely eighty years ago and pre-Hitler most German Jews insisted that THEIR fatherland was the exception. You are a Jew, a historian of the Holocaust. You have lived and taught in Israel. I suspect that nothing I have written is new or novel, nothing not previously considered, and dismissed. From you I have learned an important lesson regarding History, that it is the marshalling of facts subject to interpretation. History is not fact but story, objectivity impossible. Each of us is free to interpret it, according to our personal understanding or agenda, Objectivity nothing but temporary and transient consensus.
Still an admirer, I am,