[Note: This article originally appeared in the SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG (11 August 2000).]
Will The Holocaust Industry Incite Anti-Semitism?By Norman G. Finkelstein, 08/11/2000
The main thesis of my new book is that The Holocaust has effectively become an industry. Jewish elites, acting in concert with the US government, exploit the horrific suffering of the millions of Jews exterminated during World War II and the few who managed to survive for power and profit. In its ruthless exploitation of Jewish suffering, the Holocaust industry has arguably become a fomenter of anti-Semitism and a purveyor of Holocaust denial.
The book is divided into three chapters. In the first chapter I explore the genesis of the Holocaust industry. During the postwar years American Jewish leaders, eager to please the US government as it aligned with a barely de-Nazified West Germany, banished The Holocaust from public discourse. After the June 1967 Middle East war, Israel became a key ally of the US. American Jewish elites, hitherto wary of Israel (they feared the bogey of "dual loyalty"), fervently embraced the Jewish state. For Jews now stood on the front lines defending American interests against the retrograde Third World/Arab hordes. Supporting Israel accordingly facilitated Jewish assimilation in the US. Posing as the natural interlocutors between the US government and its "strategic asset" in the Middle East, Jewish elites could also enter the inner sanctums of American power. To deflect criticism, American Jewish elites "remembered" the Nazi holocaust which, ideologically recast, proved a potent weapon.
In chapter 2, I critically scrutinize the central dogmas of Holocaust ideology: (1) The Holocaust marks a categorically unique event, and (2) The Holocaust marks the climax of an irrational, eternal Gentile hatred of Jews. The main proponent of the "uniqueness" doctrine is Elie Wiesel. For Wiesel, The Holocaust "leads into darkness," "negates all answers," "defies both knowledge and description," and so forth. Such formulations obscure more than they illuminate. The "uniqueness" doctrine, although intellectually stifling and morally discreditable (the suffering of non-Jewish victims "cannot compare"), persists on account of its political utility. Unique suffering confers unique entitlement.
According to the complementary Holocaust dogma of "eternal Gentile hatred," Jews were exterminated during World War II because all Gentiles, be it as active perpetrators or as passive collaborators, wanted them dead. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's ponderous effort to prove one variant of this dogma in Hitler's Willing Executioners lacked scholarly value. But like the "uniqueness" doctrine, it has proven to be politically useful. To account for criticism of Israel, American writer Cynthia Ozick had a ready answer: "The world wants to wipe out the Jews...the world has always wanted to wipe out the Jews." Indeed this dogma confers total license: intent as the Gentiles always are on murdering Jews, Jews have every right to protect themselves, however they see fit. Deploring the "Holocaust lesson" of eternal Gentile hatred, respected Israeli scholar Boas Evron observes that it is "really tantamount to a deliberate breeding of paranoia....This mentality...condones in advance any inhuman treatment of non-Jews, for the prevailing mythology is that 'all people collaborated with the Nazis in the destruction of Jewry,' hence everything is permissible to Jews in their relationship to other peoples."
Holocaust dogma exerts a pernicious influence on scholarship. Consider for example Guenter Lewy's The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies. Published this past year by Oxford University Press and praised by Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander for its "great compassion," the central thesis of this study is that Gypsies didn't suffer like the Jews - indeed, didn't even suffer a genocide - during World War II. Lewy's argument goes like this: Gypsies were ruthlessly slaughtered by the Einsatzgruppen like the Jews, but only because they were suspected of spying; Gypsies were deported to Auschwitz like the Jews, but only "to get rid of them, not to kill them;" Gypsies were gassed at Chelmno like the Jews, but only because they had contracted typhus; most of the few remaining Gypsies were sterilized like the Jews, not however to prevent their propagation but only to "prevent contamination of 'German blood.'" It's not hard to imagine the public and scholarly reaction if one replaced Gypsies with Jews in Lewy's book.
In my last chapter I explore the material compensation issue. I contend that the Holocaust industry is guilty of a "double shakedown": it misappropriates monies from European governments as well as from the actual survivors of Nazi persecution. Even the official history of the Jewish Claims Conference acknowledges that the Conference made improper use of the monies originally earmarked by the German government for Holocaust victims. During the recent slave-labor negotiations, the Claims Conference put forth wildly inflated figures for still living former Jewish slave-laborers. In doing so, the Conference forces a radical revision of our understanding of the Nazi holocaust: increasing the number of survivors means decreasing the number of victims. Indeed, the numbers used by the Claims Conference place it uncomfortably close to the arguments of Holocaust revisionists. "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one," my mother (a concentration camp survivor) used to exclaim, "who did Hitler kill?"
Nearly all the charges the Holocaust industry leveled against the Swiss banks were either false or grossly hypocritical. The definitive Volcker Committee report found that the Swiss banks did not systematically deny Holocaust victims or their heirs access to accounts after the war and did not systematically destroy bank records to cover their tracks. My book's most important finding was that, alongside Switzerland, the United States was also a primary safe haven for transferrable Jewish assets before and during World War II. The obvious question is, What happened to the dormant Holocaust-era accounts in American banks? During the Congressional hearings on the Swiss banks, one expert witness - Seymour Rubin of American University - was called to testify on this matter. Rubin concluded that the record of the American banks was worse than the record of the Swiss banks: "The United States took only very limited measures to identify heirless assets in the United States, and made available...a mere $500,000, in contrast to the $32,000,000 acknowledged by Swiss banks even prior to the Volcker inquiry." The New York Times devoted a full page of its book review to a savage ad hominem assault on me; it made no mention of this remarkable - and damning - revelation. The Holocaust industry demanded a final settlement with the Swiss bankers before the Volcker committee completed its work because "needy Holocaust victims are dying every day." Yet once the Swiss agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement in August 1998, the urgency suddenly vanished. Two years have elapsed but not a single cent of the Swiss monies has been distributed to the actual claimants.
The Holocaust industry has diminished the moral stature of the Jewish people's martyrdom. For this reason alone it deserves public censure. Many well-meaning Germans worry that my book may incite anti-Semitism. I respect and fully share this concern. To deny the danger would be disingenuous. Yet, moral action is never unalloyed: there are always unintended or undesired repercussions. To decide whether to proceed one must exercise judgment - hopefully good judgment but at least judgment in good faith. It is primarily the ruthless and reckless tactics of the Holocaust industry that foment anti-Semitism. During the slave-labor negotiations, I met privately with a member of the German delegation holding unimpeachable moral credentials. For several hours he defended the Claims Conference as vehemently as I denounced it. Just before leaving, however, he turned to me and said: "I'll be honest with you. On our side, we all feel like we're being blackmailed." I suspect that privately many decent Germans agree - regrettably, with good reason. One can also assume that many decent Swiss privately echo these sentiments. And it is not difficult to guess what East Europeans think as the Holocaust industry, falsely claiming as its own the property of murdered Jews, presses for an acceleration in the pace of property evictions. Incidentally, while American Jewish organizations have called for a worldwide boycott of the new Austrian government, Stuart Eizenstat, US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and the Holocaust industry's chief diplomat, entered restitution negotiations with this same Austrian government and then acclaimed it for having "shown leadership and not just in Austria but leadership to the rest of Europe and to the world about how one can reconcile with one's past, and how one can heal wounds even many decades later." The purpose of my book is to facilitate a long overdue open debate. Kept under wraps in deference to "political correctness," the discontent will only fester. To avert a resurgence of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust profiteers must be publicly exposed and repudiated.
Finally, I emphatically believe that the Nazi holocaust should be studied. Yet one cannot learn anything substantive until and unless the Holocaust industry is shut down. Meaningful historical inquiry practically requires that comparisons be made. And what significant moral lesson can possibly be drawn from a dogma that reduces the Nazi holocaust to a Manichaean struggle between Gentiles and Jews? Holocaust dogmatism preempts understanding the crucial individual and historical dimensions of Nazism. In The Holocaust Industry I attempt to represent my parents' legacy. The main lesson they imparted is that we should always compare. To make out moral distinctions between "our" suffering and "theirs" is itself a moral travesty. "Do not compare" is the mantra of moral blackmailers.