|The Business of Death|
|An Extract from Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Indusry|
Both my father and mother were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps. Apart from my parents, every family member on both sides was exterminated by the Nazis. My earliest memory, so to speak, of the Nazi Holocaust is my mother glued in front of the television watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann (1961) when I came home from school. Although they had been liberated from the camps only 16 years before the trial, an unbridgeable abyss always separated, in my mind, the parents I knew from that. Photographs of my mother's family hung on the living-room wall. I could never quite make sense of my connection with them, let alone conceive what happened.
Apart from this phantom presence, I do not remember the Nazi Holocaust ever intruding on my childhood. I do not recall a single friend (or parent of a friend) asking a single question about what my mother and father endured. This was not a respectful silence. It was indifference. In this light, one cannot but be sceptical of the outpourings of anguish in later decades, after the Holocaust industry was firmly established.
I sometimes think that American Jewry "discovering" the Nazi Holocaust was worse than its having been forgotten. True, my parents brooded in private; the suffering they endured was not publicly validated. But wasn't that better than the current crass exploitation of Jewish martyrdom? Before the Nazi Holocaust became the Holocaust, only a few scholarly studies (by Raul Hilberg, Viktor Frankl and Ella Lingens-Reiner) were published on the subject.
But this small collection of gems is better than the shelves upon shelves of shlock that now line libraries and bookstores. Both my parents, although daily reliving that past until the day each died, lost interest by the end of their lives in the Holocaust as a public spectacle. One of my father's lifelong friends was a former inmate with him in Auschwitz, a seemingly incorruptible leftwing idealist who on principle refused German compensation after the war. Eventually he became a director of the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. Reluctantly and with genuine disappointment, my father finally admitted that even this man had been corrupted by the Holocaust industry, tailoring his beliefs for power and profit. As the rendering of the Holocaust assumed ever more absurd forms, my mother liked to quote (with intentional irony) Henrv Ford: "History is bunk". The tales of "Holocaust survivors" all concentration camp inmates, all heroes of the resistance were a special source of wry amusement in my home.
My parents often wondered why I would grow so indignant at the falsification and exploitation of the Nazi genocide. The most obvious answer is that it has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies. There is a personal motive as well. I do care about the memory of my family's persecution. The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of "needy Holocaust victims" has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino.
The Holocaust only emerged in American life after Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day war against its Arab neighbours. [Since then] too many public and private resources have been invested in memorialising the Nazi genocide. Most of the output is worthless, a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandisement. The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a "victim" state, and the most successful ethnic group in the US has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified.
The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings. This was the main lesson my mother imparted. I never once heard her say: "Do not compare." My mother always compared. In the face of the sufferings of African-Americans, Vietnamese and Palestinians, my mother's credo always was: "We are all holocaust victims."
The term "Holocaust survivor" originally designated those who suffered the unique trauma of the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and slave labour camps, often in sequence. The figure for these Holocaust survivors at war's end is generally put at some 100,000. The number of living survivors cannot be more than a quarter of this figure now. Because enduring the camps became a crown of martyrdom, many Jews who spent the war elsewhere represented themselves as camp survivors. Another strong motive behind this misrepresentation, however, was material. The postwar German government provided compensation to Jews who had been in ghettos or camps. Many Jews fabricated their pasts to meet this eligibility requirement. "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one," my mother used to exclaim, "who did Hitler kill?"
Even within the Holocaust industry, Deborah Lipstadt, for example, wryly observes that Holocaust survivors frequently maintain they were personally examined by Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Because survivors are now revered as secular saints, one doesn't dare question them. Preposterous statements pass without comment. Elie Wiesel reminisces in his acclaimed memoir that, recently liberated from Buchenwald and only 18 years old, "I read the Critique of Pure Reason don't laugh! in Yiddish." Leaving aside Wiesel's acknowledgment that at the time "I was wholly ignorant of Yiddish grammar," The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish. "The truth I present is unvarnished," Wiesel sighs, "I cannot do otherwise."
In recent years, "Holocaust survivor" has been redefined to designate not only those who endured but also those who managed to evade the Nazis. One contributor to a Holocaust website maintained that, although he spent the war in Tel Aviv, he was a Holocaust survivor because his grandmother died in Auschwitz. According to Israel Gutman, a former inmate of Auschwitz, director of Yad Vashem and a Holocaust lecturer at Hebrew University, "it's not that important" whether Binjamin Wilkomirski's [now discredited "autobiographical" account of childhood in the camps], Fragments, is a fraud. "Wilkomirski has written a story which he has experienced deeply; that's for sure... He is not a fake. He is someone who lives this story very deeply in his soul." So it doesn't matter whether he spent the war in a concentration camp or a Swiss chalet; Wilkomirski is a Holocaust survivor because "his pain is authentic."
The Israeli prime minister's office recently put the number of "living Holocaust survivors" at nearly a million. The main motive behind this inflationary revision is again not hard to find. It is difficult to press massive new claims for reparations if only a handful of Holocaust survivors are still alive.
In the early 1950s, Germany entered into negotiations with Jewish institutions and signed indemnification agreements. It has paid out to date some $60bn. The German government also negotiated a financial settlement with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, an umbrella of major Jewish organisations including the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B'nai B'rith, the Joint Distribution Committee. The claims conference was supposed to use the monies, $10m annually for 12 years, or about a billion dollars in current values, for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who had fallen through the cracks in the compensation process. My mother was a case in point. A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek concentration camp and slave labour camps at Czestochowa and Skarszysko-Kamiena, she received only $3,500 in compensation from the German government. Other Jewish victims (and many who in fact were not victims), however, received lifetime pensions from Germany, eventually totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a flagrant breach of its letter and spirit, the conference earmarked the monies not for the rehabilitation of Jewish victims who had received minimal compensation but for the rehabilitation of Jewish "communities". Indeed, a guiding principle of the claims conference prohibited use of monies for "direct allocations to individuals".
In a classic instance of looking after one's own, however, the conference provided exemptions for two categories of victims: rabbis and "outstanding Jewish leaders" received individual payments. As the conference came under attack from defrauded Jews, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg cast a plague on both sides, sneering that: "It's not about justice, it's a fight for money." When Germans or Swiss refuse to pay compensation, the heavens cannot contain the righteous indignation of organised American Jewry. But when Jewish elites rob Jewish survivors, no ethical issues arise: it's just about money.
Others involved in the reparations process have also done well. The reported annual salary of Saul Kagan, long-time executive secretary of the claims conference, is $105,000. Kagan rings up in 12 days what my mother received for suffering six years of Nazi persecution.
In recent years, the Holocaust industry has become an outright extortion racket. Purporting to represent all of world Jewry, living and dead, it is laying claim to Holocaust-era Jewish assets throughout Europe. Fittinglv dubbed the "last chapter of the Holocaust", this double shakedown of European countries as well as legitimate Jewish claimants first targeted Switzerland. [After a protracted campaign which enlisted the American political establishment] the Swiss finally caved in [in] 1998 and agreed to pay $1.25bn. "The aim..." a Swiss bank's press release read, "is to avert the threat of sanctions as well as long and costly court proceedings."
Its solicitude for "needy Holocaust survivors" notwithstanding, the World Jewish Congress wants nearly half the Swiss monies earmarked for Jewish organisations and "Holocaust education". The Simon Wiesenthal Centre maintains that if "worthy" Jewish organisations receive monies, "a portion should go to Jewish educational centres". As they "angle" for a bigger share of the loot, reform and orthodox organisations each claim that the 6m dead would have preferred their branch of Judaism as financial beneficiary.
Meanwhile, the Holocaust industry forced Switzerland into a settlement because time was allegedly of the essence: "Needy Holocaust survivors are dying every day." Once the Swiss signed away the money, however, the urgency miraculously passed. More than a year after the settlement was reached there was still no distribution plan. By the time the money is finally divvied out, all the "needy Holocaust survivors" will probably be dead. In fact, by last December less than half of the $200m "Special Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust" established in February l997 had been distributed to actual victims. After lawyers' fees have been paid [total attomey fee demands for the case run to $15m], the Swiss monies will then flow into the coffers of "worthy" Jewish organisations.
The staggering dimensions of Hitler's Final Solution are by now well known. And isn't the "normal" history of humankind replete with horrifying chapters of inhumanity? A crime need not be aberrant to warrant atonement. The challenge today is to restore the Nazi Holocaust as a rational subject of inquiry. Only then can we really learn from it. The abnormality of the Nazi Holocaust springs not from the event itself but from the exploitative industry that has grown up around it.
The Holocaust industry has always been bankrupt. What remains is to openly declare it so. The time is long past to put it out of business. The noblest gesture for those who perished is to preserve their memory, learn from their suffering and let them, finally, rest in peace.
Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry
can be ordered online from Barnes & Noble.
|Second extract: Swiss Toll|
|Norman Finkelstein on The Holocaust Industry|
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