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The Holocaust Mustn’t Be Used as a Political Talking Point

“Some in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been manipulative enough to claim that activists protesting against settlements in the West Bank were akin to Nazi architects of genocide.”

This week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets. Sadly, there are still some Holocaust deniers around. According to said deniers, there is an international Jewish conspiracy to make people believe that Nazism killed six million Jews. The purpose of this conspiracy—so the theory goes—is to emotionally blackmail the world so as to maintain the State of Israel. And, for these conspiracy theorists, the myth of the Holocaust has been kept alive to ensure that Israel continues to exist and that Jews maintain their power worldwide.

These Holocaust deniers frequently base their theories on some mistakes that historians have made. For example, for many years, historians believed that the gas chamber in the Dachau camp was used to kill people; today, some historians acknowledge that this was not the case. For many years, there was also the rumor that Nazis made soap with the fat of Jewish victims (most likely, this was a rumor created by Nazis themselves, as a form of psychological warfare); some historians, however, bought the rumor. Today, we now know that was not the case. And, perhaps most notoriously, the commemorative plaque at Auschwitz had said that four million people were executed there, but, later, the plaque was changed to state that the real number was one-and-a-half million. Holocaust deniers argue that if these allegations have been modified over the years, then the whole narrative about the Holocaust might also warrant being re-examined. 

Needless to say, Holocaust deniers are fools. Each allegation must be studied separately, and the fact that historians have made a few mistakes regarding the Holocaust, by no means, implies that the Holocaust as a whole never happened. 

It is extremely difficult to sympathize with Nazis, so even Holocaust deniers must admit that the Nazi regime committed atrocities. But, according to Holocaust deniers, there are atrocities in any war, and the Nazis were no worse than the Allies. Yes, Jews were killed (so the argument goes), but they did not die in gas chambers. And the real number of casualties is much lower. In their estimate, there were less than one million victims.

There is no explicit decree signed by Hitler regarding the “Final Solution.” Without that decree, so Holocaust deniers argue, it is not possible to claim the Holocaust was real. My reply: baloney. Holocaust deniers want to ignore a massive corpus of complementary evidence that does, indisputably, lead to the conclusion that the Holocaust happened (photographs, testimonies, registries, gas chambers, crematories, etc.). While it is true that there was no signed decree by Hitler, there were plenty of speeches in which Hitler threatened Jews with genocide.

The leading Holocaust denier is David Irving. He has stubbornly claimed that there were never gas chambers. According to Irving, the chambers discovered only served the purpose of disinfecting prisoners, and all of the photographs of malnourished and dead prisoners are simply pictures of people with typhoid fever. Needless to say, Irving’s theories simply do not match the testimonies of hundreds of survivors and guards, who took prisoners to the gas chambers and then burned the bodies in the crematories. Apart from that, Irving’s theory cannot account for the fact that Nazis brought to Auschwitz massive amounts of Zyklon B, a gas that is used to kill people.  

Perhaps Irving’s most infamous claim is that—at Auschwitz—there is no evidence of holes in the structures of the ceilings of the gas chambers. Without these holes, Irving asks, how then could gas be administered to kill prisoners? Irving popularized his view with the slogan, “No holes, no Holocaust.” Yet, contrary to Irving’s claim, there is evidence for such holes. A short time prior to the arrival of the Soviets, Nazis destroyed the gas chambers structures—in a desperate attempt to destroy evidence of their atrocities. But, thanks to photograph analysis, researchers have been able to prove that such holes did exist. This has been confirmed, again, by the testimonies of both guards and survivors. 

It is, of course, true that the Allies had their own share of atrocities. But, we simply cannot claim moral equivalence. The Holocaust was much larger than any of the Allies’ atrocities. Rigorous calculations conclude that the 6 million number is essentially correct. That number corresponds neatly to the difference in the number of Jews before and after the war in Europe. Holocaust deniers are fond of saying that those 6 million migrated to other countries that already had substantial Jewish population (most notably Russia and the United States). This is strange, to say the least. Wouldn’t anybody notice the massive arrival of these migrants?

So, in 2020, it is time to lay to rest those absurd denialist claims. There is no Auschwitz conspiracy. Yet, there might be another kind of conspiracy pertaining to the Holocaust that few people talk about. Perhaps some people do, in fact—on occasion—use the Holocaust as a red herring to push an agenda.

This, at least, is the thesis of Norman Finkelstein, a child of Holocaust survivors, whose book The Holocaust Industry examines this phenomenon. According to this book, in Hollywood and at many American universities, there is an obsession with the Holocaust. Now, of course, the suffering of victims must be memorialized. But, by excessively focusing on the Holocaust, so Finkelstein’s argument goes, it is easy to completely forget about other atrocities in recent times. Who cares about Belgian atrocities in Congo? Is there even a single film about this genocide?

Israeli president Shimon Peres was lauded as a man of peace, but he unashamedly denied on more than one occasion that there was an Armenian genocide, once calling it “meaningless” during a visit to Turkey.

I think Finkelstein is onto something. Indeed, unfortunately there are some Jews that want to monopolize victim status at all costs to the point that they, themselves, become deniers of other genocides. Israeli president Shimon Peres was lauded as a man of peace, but he unashamedly denied on more than one occasion that there was an Armenian genocide, once calling it “meaningless” during a visit to Turkey. He is not the only high-profile Jew to do so, and it is not hard to see that both President Obama and President Trump’s refusal to call a spade a spade when it comes to the Armenian genocide is the result of Israeli pressure. 

As part of this industry, some people have completely made up stories about being survivors. For example, one Binjamin Wilkomirski wrote Fragments, a celebrated story of his upbringing as a prisoner in one of the Holocaust camps. As it turned out, his real name was Bruno Grosjean; he was not a Jew, and he was never in any camp.

Renowned Jewish author Elie Wiesel was in a Holocaust camp, but it now comes to light that many of the stories he told in his books were not accurate. He admitted as much, by saying, “Some stories are true that never happened.” Long before the Trump era, this industry already had its own brand of post-truth.

One might argue that these are just little frauds that are bound to happen with any historical tragedy such as the Holocaust. But, if Finkelstein’s analysis is accurate, there are more perverse things going on. Finkelstein explains how the number of alleged Holocaust survivors suddenly increased. Many Jewish organizations tasked with collecting headcounts of Holocaust survivors for reparations from Germany were corrupt, and, furthermore, some did not distribute the compensations to the real survivors (such as Finkelstein’s own parents). Likewise, during the war, Swiss banks received stolen property that was seized from Holocaust victims; after the war, these Swiss banks took it upon themselves to return stolen property to Holocaust survivors, only to find out that some of claims were grotesquely inflated

I do not know if everything that Finkelstein relates is true; however, it does seem to me that the emotional power of the Holocaust gets too much in the way when discussing the current conflict in the Middle East. 

Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state? I am not fond of ethno-States, but given that the Middle East is filled with ethno-States that are not too kind to Jews, it would be unfair to say that Israel should be the sole country in the region not to have that privilege. So, it seems to me that, yes, Israel has a right to exist—just as Jordan and Egypt acknowledged as much when they signed peace accords.

But, Israel has no right to occupy the Palestinian territories that—let us recall—the United Nations never allotted to the Jewish state in the first place. President Trump calls his recent proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace the, “deal of the century.” Let’s face reality: it is a rip-off for the Palestinians. The deal would normalize illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and would shrink the chunk of Jerusalem that was assigned to Palestinians at the time Israel was formed.

Sadly, I think this may be the Palestinians’ last chance. They should take the deal. They were offered much better deals in the past and refused to take them because they were not completely satisfied. Instead, they hoped they could receive better offers by continuing the struggle. That gave them no results whatsoever. In past years, Israel had little in the way of support from other Arab countries, but, now, crucially, Saudi Arabia is sanctioning the Trump administration’s deal. Hardcore Palestinians might place hopes in Iran; however, the Soleimani affair seemed to prove that Iran is only a foul-mouthed paper tiger.  

Over the years, Israel has excelled in playing the “might-makes-right game,” and this is only getting stronger. If Israel offers just scraps (as they certainly do in the “deal of the century”), Palestinians should take them because it is unlikely such scraps will be offered again in the future. Unfortunately, Israel has bullied its way around, but this tactic is paying off in its expansionist goals. Palestinians need to come to terms with this. How did it come to this? How did the West allow Israel to have its way? Surely, there have been many factors, but playing the Holocaust card was part of it. Some in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been manipulative enough to claim that activists protesting against settlements in the West Bank were akin to Nazi architects of genocide. And, as Finkelstein himself reminds us, this may be the latest insult to the survivors of that historical tragedy.

Dr. Gabriel Andrade is a university professor. He has previously contributed to Areo Magazine and DePauw University’s The Prindle Post. His twitter is @gandrade80

One thought on “The Holocaust Mustn’t Be Used as a Political Talking Point

  1. You say the moral equivalency is wrong regarding atrocities in war, then you use moral equivalency to justify the ethno-state of Israel in the context of the middle east.

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