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troubled waters indeed.

recommended reading:  Finkelstein Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, and his other smaller book The Holocaust Industry.  these two books probably contain enough detailed information to establish a couple of basic points:

  1. the historical reality of the Shoah is irrefutable, no matter what niggling may be done about body counts.  the real existence of anti-Semitism is also irrefutable, well documented and attested.

  2. it is also irrefutable that, inevitably, certain elements have moved to capitalise on that historical reality to acquire secular power or personal profit, or to fortify questionable ideological ground.

and neither of these points invalidates the other.  

a good case can be made that the Likudniks shamelessly exploit the Shoah, and shamelessly promote a Jewish exceptionalism (very similar to American exceptionalism and perhaps for that reason palatable particularly to American Jews?) that does indeed lay claim to a uniqueness of suffering and thus a unique deservingness of reparations;  and this deservingness, mixed with religious sentiment, is used to cloak and to justify brutal landgrabbing in the OT, policies verging on genocidal towards the Palestinians, plus any rightwingnut policies the Likud wants to sell from one week to the next.  (much as BushCo keep harping on 911, Pearl Harbour, etc. -- or as McCarthy kept waving Stalin to keep Americans docile and scared)... various profitmaking scams have also been uncovered masquerading as legitimate war crimes reparations.

obviously none of this is unique to Shoah or to Jews.  if you recall, the scam artists were quick to leap out of the woodwork and present false survivor and kin claims for alleged (nonexistent) victims of 911.  same has been true in the aftermath of every disaster or tragedy -- there are always opportunists and parasites.  because a mass murder is being exploited -- whether by shady operators trying to make a buck, or sleazy pols trying to bulldoze public opinion -- doesn't somehow reduce its tragedy or its reality.

as to why we Anglo/Euro types are so shocked by Shoah as opposed to other genocides -- why it does seem exceptional to us -- I think it hinges on two essential points already raised:  first, the killing took place within the (roughly drawn) boundaries of Europe, i.e. "fouling our own nest," bringing colonial brutality home instead of keeping it deniably on the periphery;  and second, the majority opinion shifted from the 1800s to the 1940s so that most Anglos thought of Jews as white, or nearly-white.  the official Nazi ideology was closer to the 1800s or 19-teens and 20s, when Jews were considered by most Anglos to be non-white.  "white" means "us," and for most people I think the shock and horror of the Holocaust was that the people being killed were "Europeans" -- they were like us.  they could have been us. they wore clothes like ours and (some) owned businesses and homes.  cf How the Jews Became White Folks by Brodkin.

a third reinforcement of exceptional visibility for Shoah is the historical accident of a strong American Jewish presence in literature and entertainment, particularly Hollywood;  this meant that both Jewish culture and Shoah got a lot more media coverage, were absorbed into the national myth and narrative, in a way that other cultures (save maybe the Irish?) and other genocides never have been.  and American media dominate the world.  there was a brief period in the late 60s and early 70s when the native american tragedy almost made it to the cultural bigtime, with movies, books, folk singers, etc -- and did indeed achieve a kind of secondary iconic status.  but it could not compete.  'Dances With Wolves' never got the same cultural traction as 'Fiddler on the Roof'.

a fourth reinforcement was the urgent ideological need on the part of the American hegemony to write out of history the socialist, labour, and communist opposition to the Nazis;  a sidelight on which I've mused from time to time is that most of those who escaped from the Nazi exterminations had resources -- wealth, in other words -- and that most of progressive/radical Jewry was wiped out.  certainly Jewish feminism in Europe was interrupted for decades, as progressive/labour/radical Jewish intellectuals, union leaders, dissident intellectuals (and the first woman rabbi) all fell victim to the Nazi regime while wealthier, less "political" or better connected Jewish families managed to get at least some of their relatives out in time...  this rightward culling of European Jewry and the 2nd wave American diaspora may explain something about Israel's slide from a kind of communitarian socialism to militarist rightism, though of course there are many other factors...

Finkelstein btw points out that the "Holocaust cult," as he sometimes calls it, did not emerge until the 60's  -- not coincidentally at the moment when the US suddenly decided (after the 6 day war) that Israel was in fact a useful satrapy in the region.  Israel had made its bones and was now looking like a promising provincial capo.  and that's when the mass media Holocaust frenzy really kicked into gear.

I don't buy the "shockingness of mass production" argument, though the plodding bureaucracy of the Nazi killing machine is indeed chilling.  (but any more chilling than the dispassionate calculations being made at White Sands and Los Alamos?  cool and technocratic approaches to mass killing must always give us a shudder, I hope.)  mass production had already been tried -- the proto-Nazi war machine tried out its tricks in the Spanish civil war, and their extermination and concentration techniques were learned from the Boers and the Brits in Africa (ironically the Israelis consulted White South Africa later in history for tips and notes on the control and containment of indigenes).  WWI was the beginning of truly industrial warfare, aerial bombardment, chemical weapons:  that trend was already in place.

moral lesson, I guess:  suffering doesn't necessarily make anyone nice.  conversely, exploitation of a tragedy doesn't make it any less tragic.  every death by violence is about as senseless and terrifying as any other.  to say that the Holocaust industry has tried to eclipse or downgrade all other mass human tragedies and claim centre stage in history may be true, but this in turn doesn't somehow erase the terror and pain felt by victims of Shoah... it is unworthy of their memory.  Finkelstein, who lost family to the Nazi terror, expresses at one point his deep rage at having his own family's grief and loss exploited by Likudniks and other opportunists.

there's infinitely more to be said but I had better stop here... except to note that if there were a law against denying that the earth is more than 10K years old, there'd be a lot of fines being paid in the US these days.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 07:27:07 PM EST
a fourth reinforcement was the urgent ideological need on the part of the American hegemony to write out of history the socialist, labour, and communist opposition to the Nazis;  a sidelight on which I've mused from time to time is that most of those who escaped from the Nazi exterminations had resources -- wealth, in other words -- and that most of progressive/radical Jewry was wiped out.  certainly Jewish feminism in Europe was interrupted for decades, as progressive/labour/radical Jewish intellectuals, union leaders, dissident intellectuals (and the first woman rabbi) all fell victim to the Nazi regime while wealthier, less "political" or better connected Jewish families managed to get at least some of their relatives out in time...  this rightward culling of European Jewry and the 2nd wave American diaspora may explain something about Israel's slide from a kind of communitarian socialism to militarist rightism, though of course there are many other factors...

With respect to German Jews your point about who managed to get out is partially true, but only partially. The emigration of German Jews can be roughly divided into several phases. The first came immediately after the Nazis came to power. Then the numbers fell dramatically but slowly rose until the Anschluss and especially Kristallnacht when suddenly almost every German and Austrian Jew wanted to leave, with the exception of the elderly. In that first phase it was precisely the politically and socially active who were most likely to emigrate - those who weren't caught up in the sweeps of Communists and SD's or who were released from the concentration camps soon afterward. Until the final flood, finding a place to go wasn't that hard. It was only in the final phase that the wealthy and/or connected had a real advantage.

In the case of the Jews of Poland and the Soviet Union - the large majority of the victims of the Shoah - you  are more wrong than right. Wealth was no advantage. On the other hand being a communist activist was since you were likely to flee along with the Soviet authorities in 1941. As a result communist activists survived in very disproportionate numbers. You are right for Poland  in two ways - the assimilated Jews (roughly ten percent of the Jewish population) were more likely to have friends who could hide them or their children, and they were also able to 'pass' as Aryans.  Better off Jews, along with non-communist activists of any political stripe were also more likely to end up in the Gulag where as it turned out their chances of survival were higher than in German occupied Poland. Assimilated Jews tended to be middle class, but considering that some three quarters of the Polish Shoah survivors survived in the USSR, and the vast majority of assimilated Jews in occupied Poland died, the net effect favored left wing activists. (some 200,000-250,000 survived in the USSR vs 60,000-80,000 in Poland)

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 08:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good points Marek, many thanks for a substantial refutation and expansion of my half-baked notion.  it will take me some reflection to absorb the many ironies in your accounting of the fate of Polish Jews...  much appreciated.

I wonder if there were subtle demographic shifts also in the destinations of the different waves of refugees... for example the father of a friend of mine, a fairly late-phase escapee, went first to Turkey, then S America, where he married a fellow refugee;  after some time they managed to get into the US.  they were both from affluent urban Jewish families;  family businesses and properties had been confiscated by the Nazis, but cash, jewelry, clothing, etc. could be sold to finance their escape.  I wonder if the earlier progressive/labour refugees would have followed similar paths, or if they would have perhaps gone only as far as the USSR or France, and how many perished there in the Resistance or on the eastern front...  another friend's father was Ukrainian, a survivor of the Stalinist starvation programme;  he married a German refugee after fleeing from conscription in both Stalin's army and the German army, and somehow obtained entry to Canada... and settled in an area where there was a small concentration of Greek Orthodox Ukrainians.

so many millions of individual stories, each one so complex and full of drama and weighty choices and good and bad luck -- in the end determining who would survive and who would not, and what diasporic microcommunities would raise fortunate children in lands of relative plenty and safety, teaching them family histories that could barely be comprehensible by the 2nd generation...  it is mind-boggling, no?

as I watch the Bush Regime laying in place the bricks and mortar of their Kaiser Presidency, the emerging doctrine of absolute presidential power, I wonder whether future historians will discuss the waves of emigration of intellectuals and dissidents from the emerging Bible/Police State...  [only half in jest]

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 09:01:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was in Australia, I stayed with two Jewish families, and they had fascinating stories. One left Lithuania in 1917 when the Russian Revolution took place - going to China, which they then left after 1949 to go to Australia. (Nothing to do with the nazis). The other family was coming from South Africa which they left in protest against apartheid in the 70s - but I am not sure how they got there.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 04:21:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
one very small niggle, and I know that could be discussed at length as well. I learned in school that the night on the 9 of November should be called Reichsprogromnacht and not Reichskristallnacht, since that was a glorifying term the Nazi's used themselves (even though its origin itself, was a satirical expression of opposition of the events through the "Berliner Schnauze"Wikipedi Entry in German
by PeWi on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 09:16:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
in the Gulag where as it turned out their chances of survival were higher than in German occupied Poland
Just to put the nature of the German occupation of Poland in perspective...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 06:44:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have this amazing way of saying concisely in one comment what I fumble though a whole thread trying to express...


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 08:54:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
recommended reading:  Finkelstein [...] These two books probably contain enough detailed information
Wikipedia: Norman Finkelstein
Finkelstein is considered to be a Holocaust Denier by the Anti-Defamation League.
Finkelstein has frequently criticized the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as an organization dedicated not to defense against anti-semitism, but to defamation of critics of Israel.
Wikipedia: Raul Hilberg
Raul Hilberg (born June 2, 1926 in Vienna), is one of the best-known and most distinguished of the Holocaust historians.
he has been supportive of Norman Finkelstein's thesis on the Holocaust industry, with whose "breakthrough" he "totally agree[s]".
Any comments?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 09:44:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've read "The Holocaust Industry" and a few short things by him. Holocaust denier? - Ridiculous. I also think he makes a lot of good points. However, what I've read is quite polemical and one sided and thus ends up giving a distorted picture. By the way, I haven't seen the ADL call him a Holocaust denier, and while I may have missed it, there is nothing of the sort in the head of the ADL's diatribeagainst Finkelstein - one sided and unfair, but no claims of Holocaust denial.

In some ways he reminds of black writers, most often but not always right wing, who inveigh against the black leadership, affirmative action,  'gangster culture', worship of victimhood, etc. They also often have interesting arguments to make, but they are horribly one sided and tend to make things look a lot worse than they actually are.  There is also the unfortunate reality that any such polemics will inevitably be hijacked by racists. It's unfair and isn't the fault of the writers. However, seeing a person's writings routinely used by racists in support of their garbage tends to enrage members of the minority group and colour their view of the writer.

by MarekNYC on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 10:59:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the ADL source quoted in the wikipedia article. In mu humble opinion, the ADL has lost its marbles just like the Spanish Asociacion de Victimas del Terrorismo. They both started out with praiseworthy goals but have been freeped.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:03:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, same article I linked to. Doesn't call him a holocaust denier. That Wikipedia entry would seem to have a problem.
by MarekNYC on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:17:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would use my wikipedia account to correct it if 1) I actually felt I could write about this controversy with some authority; 2) I did not expect a flame/revert war if I got involved with the Finkelstein article in that way.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:21:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not expect a flame/revert war if I got involved with the Finkelstein article in that way.

Yes, well, saying anything about Finkelstein is risky - defend him on something and you risk getting called a racist Islamofascist sympathiser, attack him on something and you risk getting called a racist Likudnik sympathiser. Not a safe topic.

by MarekNYC on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:45:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not even the Normal Distribution is a safe topic over at wikipedia, I swear.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:46:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Independently of wikipedia), Raul Hilberg is indeed a very high historical authority (his two-volume Destruction of the European Jews is probably the major exhaustive account), and he has in fact voiced his agreement with Finkelstein on certain points, in particular the abuse of claims of survivor status by some American Jews (and some of their organizations) to obtain reparations through class action suits (particular case of the Swiss banks). There is no suggestion of Holocaust denial concerning Finkelstein -- if there were, I'd expect Hilberg would take a very different attitude to his work.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:54:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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