THE HOLOCAUST DOMINATED the moral
imagination of the 20th century. Before the rise of Hitler, anti-Semitism
was a parochial concern of the Jews; after the war it was everyone's
concern, and everyone regarded it with horror. The cause of anti-Semitism
is a mystery to most Jews and most Gentiles. One school of thought,
wrongly, I believe, blames anti-Semitism on Christianity itself.
Certainly many Christians have accused the Jews of denying
that they have
been superseded -- to most the difference in doctrine is not enough to
explain the virulence of anti-Semitism. Another kind of anti Semitism is
more subtle and only a century or two old.
Rebecca West described it in her travels through pre-World
Yugoslavia: "Now I understand some other cause for anti-Semitism; many
primitive peoples must received their first indication of the toxic quality
of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they
see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of
skepticism." This feeling is shared by those who saw the Jews behind such
forces as Bolshevism and "progressive" movements of all kinds: A supposed
Jewish "weakness for communism" was observed by such genial anti-Semites as
Greggor von Rezzori, villains like Hitler, and, in his interesting new book
on the Vietnam War just published, by the well-liked young American liberal
But a new kind of anti-semitism may emerge in the 21st century,
to the attempt to make "the Holocaust" central to our civilization. The
explosion of "the joy of sex in the death camp" movies, the proliferation
of Holocaust memorials and museums, the emergence of a new academic
discipline detached from history called Holocaust and Genocide Studies ---
all these threaten to undermine a proper understanding of the Nazi war
against the Jews. More disturblingly, however, it is igniting resentment
against what is seen as moral and political posturing on the part of some
The National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.,
is the perfect
example of what happens when the attempt to understand the Holocaust breaks
free of the historical discipline and is raised in a hothouse of preening
modish concern; when it becomes "Holocaustology."
Now one of the most popular tourist destinations in town, the
become a political circus. The sacred mission of memorializing the victims
and blaming their killers has been surrounded by an aura of careerism and
self-importance. The Museum's "Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies" is
staging a conference this week in Washington on the direction of Holocaust
studies in the 21st century in which papers on historiagraphy, art looting,
and the various national varieties of extermination are joined by a paper
on "careers for newly trained holocaust scholars." Its summary roundtable
includes such scholars as John Roth, who was denied the chairmanship of the
museum only when several op-ed pieces he had published came to light, in
which compared Reagan to Hitler and the Israeli military operations in
Lebanon to the Nazi death camps.
Another participant is Professor Atina Grossman, of Cooper
Union, who gives
talks comparing the sufferings of the German civilians in the aftermath of
WWII to those of the inmates of the death camps. Before an audience of
holocaust survivors she has lamented that while German civilians suffered a
high incidence of infant mortality, the Jewish women who had survived the
death camps were experiencing an abnormally high birth rate, even though
they were unprepared for motherhood and domesticity and often quite
The Museum's former Director of Education, Joan Ringelheim,
was exposed by
Gabriel Schoenfeld, together with other feminist Holocaust scholars, in a
brilliant article in Commentary (June 1998). She "has gone so far as to
draw a connection between Nazi "sexism" and the, to her, age-old
"exploitation" of Jewish women by . . . Jewish men. In this very link, indeed, Ringelheim has
located a key to the puzzle of why "malestream" scholarship has allegedly
erased the history of women in the Holocaust. After all, she writes, many
people today simply find it "too difficult to contemplate the extent to
which . . . the sexism of Nazi ideology and the sexism of the Jewish
community met in a tragic and involuntary alliance."
In the world of Ms Ringelheim, the Holocaust becomes a means
to other ends.
It's important for Holocaustology to show, for example, that the Nazis were
sexists as well as butchers; that the extermination of the Jews has to be
put in historical context with other persecutions; that persons of color
and members of the working class lived in Auschwitz-like conditions before
and after the historical Holocaust. More recently, another feminist scholar
has re-examined Anne Frank's diaries and discovered that had Ms. Frank
escaped the crematorium, she might well, with luck, have become a lesbian.
In America, in one "mission statement" after another,
advertise their "Holocaust and Genocide Studies" programs as specific
remedies for Holocaust relapse. The University of Minnesota declares that
the basic purpose of Holocaust studies is "to educate people to be
sensitive and vigilant toward behavior with potential for a Holocaust." (as
if genocides lurked around unlit alleys in downtown St. Paul).
A Minnesota instructor, Lucy Smith, is actively opposed to
the role of
history in this enterprise. She wonders, I think rather unfairly, whether
"teaching about, for example, The Night of St. Bartolomy in France, ever
prevented any other genocide? If our purpose in teaching is to prevent such
occurrences, then we need to reach the emotions of the students before
teaching them historical facts." As a way, perhaps, of reaching emotions
before worrying about facts, the Web site of the Minnesota program offers electronic buttons to press for "educational resources", "visual resources", and the like, in the shape
of little ovens built into a brick chimney, which light up when you press
them. Perhaps this is to sensitize one to the incineration of a
The success of the Holocaust has terrible consequences. It
memory of the Holocaust, it puts irresistible pressure on other groups to
demand their time in the Holocaust sun: gays, members of the working class,
women, decendents of African slaves. It provokes many traditional
anti-Semites smilingly to deny that it happened at all, or that it was part
of a wider war against civilians of all kinds (and despite their preening,
the dry academicism of the Holocaust boffins can do nothing effective to
counter this odd propaganda).
Steadily focusing on the Holocaust without its historical accidental
origins produces a whole new set of myths --- quite apart from the myth
that the Holocaust did not happen.
But these myths have all become more prevalent not less as
has taken root: That Churchill or Roosevelt or Pope Pius XII or the
American Jewish community could have done something substantial to rescue
the Jews from Hitler, but deliberately declined; that the second world war
was undertaken on behalf of the Jews; that Germany was occupied and
dismembered in order to punish her for her treatment of the Jews (an idea
advanced -- horrifyingly -- by Professor Goldhagen of Harvard this spring),
that eternal vigilance against something called fascism will prevent future
holocausts, when in fact one might argue, that genocide -- or massacre of
whole classes -- only becomes a necessary part of the ideology of class
warfare, and has taken place -- and will yet take place -- wherever radical
socialist regimes take sway, as in China, Russia, and Cambodia; that the
Nazi holocaust was, far from being the conclusion of an historical
inevitability, as accidental a disaster as has ever befallen the Jewish people; that nothing like the Nazi holocaust has ever happened before to the Jews.
Again, it is a sad fact of Jewish history that near-complete
Jewish communities within greater or lesser areas is a commonplace. That
"no G-d could have permitted Auschwitz" is falsified by the other horrors
the Jews have horribly endured, from almost the beginning of their history,
at the hands of greater powers, most of whom have utterly perished.
Finally, there is the awful end-point of Holocaust studies:
unintended imitation of the Nazi butchers, holocaust historians engage in
the intimate examination of the unspeakable lives of Jews in the death
camps before they were butchered as if they were scientists observing gnats
or flies. If ever there was a way to re-dehumanize the victims of the
Nazis, this is it. But such is the logic of the professionalization of
"Holocaustology": First perish, then publish-or-perish.
The Talmud vividly warns that the Torah must not be made merely
instrument for something other than itself: "Do not make the Torah a crown
wherewith to magnify thyself, or a spade wherewith to dig." The Holocaust,
which should be held sacred, is in danger of becoming used as such an
An American official in Macedonia crowed when Elie Wiesel visited
camp during the Nato bombing campaign, "You need a person like Wiesel to
keep your moral philosophy on track." Well, no, you don't.
Wiesel didn't suffer-and millions of his fellow Jews didn't
merely to keep anyone's moral philosophy from going off the rails. And if
the Holocaust is subjected to such a feeble purpose, then its point and its
very reality may well in time be forgotten and its victims mocked.
Sam Schulman, "Did Six Million Die for This?", Jewish World Review, January 11, 2000, http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0100/holocaustology.html
WR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top
appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a
professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking
<[email protected]> or <[email protected]>
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