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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shoah won’t repeat itself

Noah Klieger
01.27.08, 23:55 / Ynet, Israel Opinion
Following are excerpts from an article by Dr. Klieger which appeared as a Ynet opinion, 27 January, 2008. Dr. Rieger views with alarm an education system that leads Israeli children to the conclusion that history cannot repeat itself, that the Holocaust was a unique event in history. I totally disagree both with the assumptions and the conclusions. I wrote two Talkbacks challenging Dr. Klieger's thesis, both of which follow his comments.

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.

A response to David Engel's recorded lecture series, Understanding the Holocaust

Monday, February 18, 2008

For additional materials regarding Israel, the Diaspora and Jewish Denial:

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,


David Turner