When in the course of human events, repeated outrages are inflicted on a particular segment of humanity, it behooves those witnessing such conduct to denounce it straightforwardly and, should the witnesses be those in whose name the outrage is being committed, to dissociate themselves from the perpetrators categorically and unconditionally.When in the course of human events, repeated outrages are inflicted on a particular segment of humanity, it behooves those witnessing such conduct to denounce it straightforwardly and, should the witnesses be those in whose name the outrage is being committed, to dissociate themselves from the perpetrators categorically and unconditionally.
The moment is at hand for Jews to cross this soul-styx, as January 27 has been internationally designated as Holocaust Day. The Holocaust resonates heavily this year, being brandished by neocons and assorted hardliners in Israel and the United States in pressing for a strike (preferably /nuclear) against Iran so that it doesn’t unleash another holocaust against Israel.
But vast numbers of Jews join myriad gentiles in believing that it is precisely such an attack that would itself precipitate something like a Shoah II, not to mention a World War III. They – we – feel that prospects of massive outbreaks of antisemitic hostility are fueled by Israel’s brutally provocative behavior, in concert with a United States seeking ‘full spectrum dominance’—a witches brew of converging triumphalisms. The toxic potential was captured with signature pungency by longtime Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery in his description of the previous Sharon government as ‘a giant laboratory for the growing of the anti-Semitism virus. … Israel manufactures and exports the anti-Semitism that threatens Jews around the world.’
The ugly role reversal undermining Holocaust day was recently acknowledged by none other than the chairman of Israel’s Holocaust museum. After watching a video of a (literally) caged-in Palestinian resident in Hebron being taunted and cursed by a Jewish woman settler, while settler children threw rocks under the tolerant eye of the Israeli military, Tommy Lapid commented:
‘It is unthinkable that the memory of Auschwitz should serve as a pretext to ignore the fact that living here among us are Jews that behave toward Palestinians exactly the way that German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved toward Jews.’
Whether or not the Holocaust is unique among genocidal campaigns of the nineteenth and twentieth century, a 360-degree mandate was given to Holocaust Day by George W. Bush he when put the presidential imprimatur on it last year: ‘evil must be opposed wherever it exists.’ Retroactive application of this principle would be a family embarrassment, as Bush’s paternal grandfather, Prescott, was managing a number of enterprises for Nazi industrialist Fritz Thyssen during the Second World War, until five of them were seized under the Trading With the Enemy Act. But beyond facile ironies, the intertwining of financial and industrial interests between the United States and Germany during the Nazi period deserves to be more widely known.
The primary aberration to be confronted is the unwarranted pre-emption of the framing of Holocaust memory by Israel’s advocates, airbrushing Zionism’s disturbing role in the unfolding nightmare. Being preoccupied with arranging piecemeal emigration and capital transfer into Palestine, the Zionist movement shunned internal resistance and thwarted international boycott campaigns against Nazi Germany. Refugees were streamed to Palestine in a way that has drawn repeated criticism. One branch of Zionism’s extreme ‘Revisionist’ wing even offered the Nazi regime a military alliance in 1941.
Lenni Brenner has recounted the sordid history in Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (out of print but downloadable in its entirety by Googling up the title).
‘[C]elebrating the courage of those who fought against this injustice’ was a complementary objective which Bush assigned to Holocaust Day. Being ever unwelcome to the powers-that-be in whatever here-and-now, courageous resistance is awarded official recognition only retrospectively.
Nevertheless, an occasion draws near. February 22, will mark the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Nazis’ execution by beheading of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, half of the membership of the dissident White Rose group centered around the University of Munich. The remainder – Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Kurt Huber – were executed later in the year.
Consisting mostly of medical students, and dealing with the Third Reich’s web of street-level spies and informants, the White Rose clandestinely produced and distributed six leaflets denouncing Hitler and calling for ‘passive resistance’. Spiritually oriented, they’d outgrown youthful enthusiasm for the Nazi movement, and the men in the group had been shaken by battlefield carnage and civilian atrocities witnessed during recent military service on the Eastern front.
Conscientious withdrawal from complicity with evil frequently involves stepping away from the tribe. This was also the case with a relatively unsung Holocaust hero, Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who saved more than three thousand Jews from the Nazis by writing special exit visas in defiance of his government’s instructions.
The White Rose impulse took root early but unevenly among Jews watching the emerging Zionist steamroller. There will be no attempt here to establish parallels or assess comparative risk and heroism, but simply to note that ever since disembarking early Zionist settlers were shocked to discover that Palestine wasn’t the ‘land without people’ they’d been lead to believe, there have been Jewish currents – religious as well as secular – ranging from agonizing doubt to outright disavowal of the Zionist project. Since the first displacements of Palestinian sharecroppers from land purchased from absentee landlords, Jews have been among those denouncing this injustice and warning of the consequences. Over the years, many, like Uri Avnery, have metamorphosed from militant Zionism. Some have refused to serve in the Israeli army. Some sit with Palestinian families in homes threatened with demolition. Some get their heads bashed in along with Palestinians and internationals while participating in peaceful political demonstrations. Some take Palestinian children to clinic appointments they couldn’t get to otherwise.
Among Jews of conscience in the so-called diaspora, the present crisis is bringing to a head the question of an individual Jew’s relationship with the state of Israel. One gesture of disavowal that has gained popularity in recent years is public renunciation of aliyah, the putative right of any Jew to return to Palestine and be granted Israeli citizenship. But dissenting viewpoints and gestures are likely to be drowned out by the drumbeating for an attack on Iran. The claimed threat to Israel’s survival sweeps aside consideration of the cornerstone factor in the situation: the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians that accompanied the founding of the State of Israel.
Nonetheless, resistance is part of the natural order and will always find soil to sprout. In the words that concluded White Rose leaflet number four:
‘We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!’ Thus, it will not pass unnoted that the day chosen to mourn the Holocaust begins a countdown to the anniversary of a collateral catastrophe that occurred a few years later. Dave Himmelstein is a Canadian writer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org