Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
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

Others have rated this comment as follows:


Occasional Series