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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Holocaust Can Happen Again!

Auschwitz staff enjoying a day off: Where the boundary between neighbor and murderer?

Jewish Denial assures us that life in Diaspora is safe, that our neighbors are and will always be as they now appear, friendly and accepting. Jewish Denial makes us complicit in our next Shoah.

The week of Holocaust Remembrance Day is always a time of serious reflection for Jews around the world. But this year the portents were particularly dire. In Hungary the political right, including the openly antisemitic neo-Nazi Jobbuk party, easily swept into power. According to analysts, that election may well be a harbinger of a right wing takeover in many, perhaps most countries of the European Union (EU).

The Hungarian election took place against the backdrop of what surveys of Europe and America describe as a year of a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents. Some countries in the survey saw an increase of up to ten-times the number of such incidents as compared to 2008. According to the surveys, 2009 was the most violently antisemitic since the years of the Holocaust.

Also appearing that week was an article in Haaretz under the headline, “The Holocaust can happen again, warns top anti-Semitism scholar.” “We are,” Professor Wistrich warned, “in an era once again where the Jews are facing genocidal threats.” An observation perhaps prescient by the evidence above. At least until the next paragraph where the interviewer refers the professor’s Holocaust references not to the Christian West, but to “threats against Israel emanating from the Muslim world.”

When, over the past 62 years, have there not been threats against Israel from Muslim states near and far? Ahmadinejad alone daily threatens Israel with annihilation.

Setting aside for a moment the threat to Israel, is it even appropriate to apply such terms as “antisemitic” and “the Holocaust” to threats faced by the sovereign state of the Jews defended by one of the most able and respected military forces in the world?

In mid-20th century Europe the Jewish people were dispersed and defenseless, slaughtered precisely because we had neither the means nor experience to defend ourselves. While the Nations easily interchange “antisemitism” and “anti-Zionism,” the result either of ignorance or malice, should we affirm their confusion, their malice? Anti-Zionism is political, aimed at the government and policies of the State of Israel. Antisemitism is cultural and “racial,” aimed at the Jewish people, at each of us as Jews. We Jews, at least, should understand and keep the distinction.

To return to the title of the Wistrich interview, can the Holocaust, that is, the systematic murder of our dispersed and defenseless communities of today’s Diaspora, happen again? Just how much threat do we, those of us who choose to reside in the Diaspora, face?

It is commonplace to attribute the recent and precipitous rise of antisemitic incidents in the west during 2009 to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. And certainly Operation Cast Lead was the splash that set the tsunami in motion. But this beggars the question of why Diaspora Jewry should be identified and targeted the result of an Israeli military campaign? American Jews for the most part consider themselves “Americans,” not “Israelis.” Irish-Americans were not targeted for their support of the IRA in its struggle against England. Nor were English-Americans singled out and assaulted for England’s counter-insurgency in Ireland in service of what that country believed to be their legitimate struggle with the IRA. And so the perennial question, Why the Jews?

In its religious guise Christian antisemitism has its roots in the father of Christianity, Paul of Tarsus, writing a generation after the assumed crucifixion. With the appearance of the four gospels beginning a generation after Paul, the die was cast. According to Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther, “Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure (Faith and Fratricide, 1974, p. 94).”

With the Matthew gospel charged that all Jews and forever be held accountable as murderers of Jesus, the Jewish people stood eternally condemned; when the John gospel characterized Jews as the children of, and in league with the devil, in the imaginations of believers Jews were thought to have tails and horns, to give off a sulphuric odor.

In the Middle Ages Christians believed Jews practiced witchcraft and ritual murder. Nor did these beliefs, and the pogroms they inspired, end with the Age of Reason. Outbreaks of superstition-based pogroms, charges of ritual murder, have been recorded at least into the 20th century, the Beilis trial being but the most famous example.

The most obvious evidence for the influence of Reuther’s Theology of Hate on modern Christendom is the testimony of the Nazi war criminals themselves. At their trial in Nuremburg several pointed to the writings of 16th century Protestant theologian Martin Luther as both inspiration and precedent. Take, for instance, Luther’s admonition to burn the houses of Jews, their books and synagogues and, “Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threats of death to teach anymore (On the Jews and their lies, 1543).”

As for direct action in service of solving Christendom’s continuing Jewish Problem, two antecedents to Shoah will suffice. The year 1096 began nearly four hundred years of the Crusades. En route to liberate the Holy Land the warriors honed their martial skills by slaughtering entire communities of Jews, burned them en masse where they sought refuge, drowned them in a macabre “baptism” of death. And within one hundred years of the final crusade the Spanish Inquisition, which also preferred fire as its instrument of murder, was the first Christian institution to introduce a new and novel way to distinguish Jew from Christian: limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood.

This is not to minimize the hardships of life Jews experienced under Moslem rule. But at least the Koran does not accuse the Jews of deicide, of having murdered God. In the lands of Islam Jews were like all non-believers, dhimmi. There was no uniquely “Jewish Problem” requiring a radical and eternal solution. The historical and cultural precipitants to Holocaust are just not present in pre-19th century Muslim-Jewish history (the problem of Israel re-emerging upon the ashes of European post-colonialism represents a different problem).

So when Professor Wistrich says, “[w]e are in an era once again where the Jews are facing genocidal threats,” the We he refers to are justified in asking how, 65 years since the ovens of Auschwitz began to cool, how is it that a widely respected authority on the Holocaust can conclude that the principal threat to “the Jews” is Moslem rather than Christian?

Professor Wistrich shares with the vast majority of Jewish intellectuals a sort of tunnel vision regarding the Holocaust, a disconnect between the event “Shoah” and its 2,000 year prehistory. Paying lip-service to that history they prefer to focus instead on Shoah’s immediate antecedents, the social and economic upheavals between the end of the First World War and the election by Germany of Adolph Hitler as chancellor. This revision, or at least minimizing, of Shoah pre-history brings to mind those German Jews who, frightened enough by Hitler in the early 1930’s to emigrate to Palestine (the US refused them haven) eventually grew homesick and returned to their “exceptional” Diaspora fatherland, and Auschwitz.

To maintain that such things as occurred in Europe during the thirties and forties are unique, explicable by the conditions surrounding the Holocaust, serves to provide, is intended to provide a sense of security that such an event is unlikely to be repeated in our own time and in our own “exceptional” Diaspora homeland.

On what is this assertion based if not on faith? Certainly even the briefest of historical overviews, as that presented above, demands a different conclusion?

Which brings us to what I refer to as Jewish Denial. Denial refers to the willful act to disregard facts that fail to support a desired conclusion. The alcoholic knows that the drug is destroying his body, dissolving his brain, but chooses to put that out of awareness in pursuit of his final tragic goal. We Jews know, but choose to “put out of awareness,” 2000 years of Christian antipathy. Who amongst us is not aware of our status as “the deicide people” in Christian scripture, or of those pogroms that just happened to coincide with Easter, the holiday commemorating the trial, crucifixion and resurrection? Even those of us who have not read the gospels have come across the Theology of Hate in the arts, the texts of Bach’s passions, for example. Gibson’s dramatization of the Jews as Christ-killers in his hit movie The Passion of the Christ is a passion play, and American Oberammergau, set to the silver screen.

Hitler at Oberammergau, 1934

And for the tourist who has been everywhere the Automobile Club of America recommends the original Oberammergau, the medieval Passion play depicting the trial and crucifixion Jesus. Another who recommended the play was Adolph Hitler: “It is vital that the Passion play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed.”

Shoah, the Holocaust, is not the final act of that history of hate any more than was the Inquisition before it. Both represent merely its latest manifestation up to that point in history. Using the tools available at the time the West came very close to successfully achieving its final solution to its Jewish Problem. Since 1945 advances in the technologies of detection, murder and disposal make the tools available at that time primitive. Today one need only tap on a computer keyboard to describe us cradle to grave, to track us to our present location.

As individuals we are each entitled to our private beliefs and fantasies. As authorities, as leaders and guides influencing opinion we have the responsibility to remove ourselves from cozy self-deception and wishful thinking, to resolutely focus on the facts of the real world, of real history. To accept the mask of normalcy (see the photograph of the Auschwitz staff, above) surrounding us at this moment, to reason that the present will continue ad infinitum is not merely unscientific, it is delusional.

Jewish Denial assures us that life in Diaspora is safe, that our neighbors are and will always be as they now appear, friendly and accepting. Jewish Denial makes us complicit in our next Shoah.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

“Saint Pius XII” and Jewish Holocaust Denial

Jewish Holocaust denial distances Diaspora Jewry from Shoah’s meaning and consequences, provides a sense of security unwarranted by historical experience.

Think “Holocaust denial” and the first image likely to come to mind is of an antisemite venting frustration on “the Jews.” But there are other possible forms of denial not necessarily intended to attack or defame the Jews. For instance, denial might be motivated by a desire to deflect responsibility for the Holocaust from religion or state. I suggest the beatification of Eugenio Pacelli falls into this more subtle variant.

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.
Franklin Roosevelt, considered then and today by many as friend and protector to Jews, at all stages of the emerging Holocaust chose not to respond. How many Jews might be alive today had he chosen to lead by example rather than sit the Holocaust out? Would America’s allies and dependencies around the world, would Cuba have defied a presidential “request” and turned away Jewish refugees; would England have refused a presidential “suggestion” to open the gates of Palestine to Jews fleeing for their lives in the land held in trust for them since Balfour? What motivates us, American-Jews, to ignore and even apologize for a man who had the power and resources to make the difference, yet stood by and allowed the Holocaust to achieve its gruesome conclusion? Judged on this scale, is Franklin Delano Roosevelt less guilty of that passive crime against humanity than Eugenio Pacelli, Hitler’s “pope”?

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.