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Michael Devolin

It's Always about the Holocaust
By Michael Devolin
Jan 23, 2013 - 8:30:50 AM

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"But eventually I found myself back at Auschwitz. I was at Auschwitz, no matter where I went." -- Zvi the Sailor, from 'Children of the Flames', by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel

The word 'Holocaust' is bandied about quite regularly these days, as though such an horrific event was simply something terrible that befalls every people every once and awhile. Muslim activists accuse the Jews of defining the Holocaust as something peculiar to Jewish history, and they excoriate the Jews of Israel for using the roiling memory of the Holocaust as a means of justifying its military ventures--defensive and otherwise--against their Arab Muslim enemies. My response to these accusations is, "So what?"

Most of us have forgotten the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people. Life goes on. We move on. We forgive and forget. We burn the bridges connecting us to the past. Or so we think. But for the Jews the Holocaust is the proverbial "watershed" event that induced the painful birth of modern Israel. And the existence of a modern and militarily superior Israel, as a consequence of the Holocaust, changes the rules of the game not only for the Jews of Israel and how they must now respond to their Arab enemies. But it has also changed the mindset of those Arab enemies and how they must now respond to a well-armed and pissed off nation of Jews.

Those Muslim enemies now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Jewish people's brush with total annihilation at the hands of Nazi Germany has made them totally cognizant of what is required of every Jewish man, women, and child in order to prevent such a precarious encounter of ever happening again. Moreover, these Muslim enemies have a rather intuitive idea that if such a precarious encounter should ever again force the Jewish people to fight for their very existence, the enemy forcing such an encounter will, in turn, also face total annihilation at the hands of the Jewish people. No friends in this game. And no living enemies either.

However, there are less efficacious views regarding the very memory of the Holocaust. According to Norman Finkelstein, the memory of the Holocaust is become for his Jewish brothers and sisters nothing more than a business venture. He posits that because his parents suffered in the Holocaust, he has the right to objurgate all Jews who should dare to use the Holocaust as a reminder of how persistent and unforgiving are anti-Semites, especially Arab Muslim anti-Semites, when they become powerful enough to rule nations and command the armies in the employ of those nations. For Norman Finkelstein, the memory of the Holocaust is a supererogatory issue whenever it is used as a means of inculpating anti-Semites for their anti-Semitism. Adolf Hitler is gone, WW2 is over, so don't worry overmuch about Iranian threats to wipe Israel and the Jewish people off the map. Heaven forbid such threats should remind Jews of hauntingly similar genocidal threats Adolf Hitler and the Nazis made years before when they almost succeeded in pulling it off. Such threats are not forgotten when connected to the deaths of 6 million Jewish men, women and children. How could they possibly be forgotten, even though the unctuous protests of Norman Finkelstein?

In the introduction to his book The Years of Persecution (Nazi Germany & the Jews 1933-1939) Saul Frielander writes: "It could be that in our century of genocide and mass criminality, apart from its specific historical context, the extermination of the Jews of Europe is perceived by many as the ultimate standard of evil, against which all degrees of evil may be measured...I cannot ignore the argument that personal emotional involvement in these events precludes a rational approach to the writing of history." How could any Jew familiar with such history avoid "emotional involvement"? Israel is warning the non-Jewish world about Iran's genocidal intentions, and most--but not all--of the non-Jewish world scoffs at them, insisting there is no danger, that Israel is "overreacting". I cannot doubt that a majority of Jews view this insouciant disregard for imminent danger as either stupidity or simply a typical Gentile reaction to Jewish suffering. This type of reaction was prevalent during the Holocaust.

That Jews are become more prudent about their survival than their non-Jewish "allies" should be no surprise to anyone. But, alas, there are some who find such wariness somehow remarkable. They consider the fact that Jews possess a hardy habit of remembrance an annoying political, even cultural divide between the non-Jewish world and the State of Israel. But Jews have learned since the Holocaust not to allow the assurances of their non-Jewish allies to allay their distrust of tyrants.

This wisdom did not come easy. Mr. Friedlander records that, "By and large there was no apparent sense of panic or even of urgency among the great majority of the approximately 525,000 Jews living in Germany in January 1933." Who of these Jews living in Germany in 1933 could have foreseen the horrors awaiting them less than a decade down the road? Who of these Jews could have predicted that most of them, in less than fifteen years, man women and child, would become victims of a systematic murder unprecedented in the history of mankind?

The lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten by Jews, whether those on the Left, who use the example of the Holocaust to accuse the Jews of Israel of becoming like their enemy of old; or those on the Right, who remember primarily as a means of warning about the survival of the Jewish state. Either way, it's always about the Holocaust.

Michael Devolin


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