Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust Denial, and Deborah Lipstadt

Post-war Warsaw, Poland
On January 30, 2017, The Atlantic published a piece by Deborah Lipstadt about the Trump White House's Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

The White House statement is not very good. When I read it, it was impossible not to imagine the editor's pen in my hand. The statement opens with a cliché. The first sentence is missing a conjunction and the second sentence contains a split infinitive. I'm pretty sure that whoever wrote the speech wanted to use the verb "prevail," not the adjective "prevalent" in the final sentence. The statement is vague and no one could imagine that it is heartfelt.

The statement does not mention Jews. This struck me as a mistake. Later I learned that the author purposely did not mention Jews. This struck me as disastrous, and stupid.

But I've gone on and on elsewhere about Trump, and I don't want to do that here.

Rather I want to say that Deborah Lipstadt's article, alleging that the Trump White House is engaging in Holocaust denial, is itself a form of denial. Lipstadt is a Holocaust scholar who fought in court against a Holocaust denier. I wish I could admire her more than I can after reading her piece in The Atlantic.

Lipstadt writes that anyone who mentions non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust is maligning Jews and engaging in Holocaust denial: "Underlying this claim [that non-Jews suffered under the Nazis and that they should be mentioned] is the contention that the Jews are 'stealing' the Holocaust for themselves. It is a calumny founded in anti-Semitism."

This is an utterly outrageous statement. Lipstadt is close to accusing anyone who remembers non-Jewish suffering under the Nazis of a thought crime.

Lipstadt writes, "There were indeed millions of innocent people whom the Nazis killed in many horrific ways, some in the course of the war and some because the Germans perceived them—however deluded their perception—to pose a threat to their rule. They suffered terribly. But that was not the Holocaust. The Holocaust was something entirely different. It was an organized program with the goal of wiping out a specific people."

Poles were similarly targeted for extinction. Hitler's "Armenian quote" is famous. "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Poles, like Jews, had been at the receiving end of centuries of aggression and stereotyping. Otto von Bismarck's quote about eliminating Poles is notorious. It has been translated in various ways. Here's one translation, "Hit the Poles so hard that they despair of their life; I have full sympathy with their condition, but if we want to survive, we can only exterminate them; the wolf, too, cannot help having been created by God as he is, but people shoot him for it if they can."

German aggression against Poles was part of a centuries-long process, drang nach osten.

Poles did not lose as large a percentage of their population as Jews did. That is a fact. It is also true that millions of Poles met fates comparable to that of millions of Jews: exile, impoverishment, deportation, torture, medical experimentation, or death. Poland lost huge stretches of territory and it was delivered, by its former allies, into the hands of the Soviet Empire and remained there for two generations after the war.

In saying these things, I am not a Holocaust denier. I am not accusing Jews of anything. I am merely stating historical reality.

In her Atlantic piece, Lipstadt never mentions Poles. She should have.

It seems to me that she, rather, is engaging in a form of denial – a denial of Nazi crimes against non-Jews, and a demonization of anyone who mentions those crimes.

I want to admire Deborah Lipstadt. I don't know how representative of her attitudes this piece is. I hope it is not representative.

FWIW, many in the comments section of The Atlantic shared my frustration at what felt, to me, like Lipstadt's callous dismissal of the suffering of non-Jews under the Nazis, and the complete evil of the Nazi plans for non-Jewish untermenschen: Gypsies, the handicapped, Poles, Soviets, other Slavs, homosexuals, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah's Witnesses, dissidents, Christianity itself, and anyone I have forgotten to mention here, but whose life matters to me.

Statement by the President on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.

Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest.‎ As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.

In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.



16 comments:

  1. What you wrote above is priceless:

    'Lipstadt writes that anyone who mentions non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust is maligning Jews and engaging in Holocaust denial: "Underlying this claim [that non-Jews suffered under the Nazis and that they should be mentioned] is the contention that the Jews are 'stealing' the Holocaust for themselves. It is a calumny founded in anti-Semitism."

    This is an utterly outrageous statement. Lipstadt is close to accusing anyone who remembers non-Jewish suffering under the Nazis of a thought crime.'

    Very well said. We can now agree on something. However, Lipstadt's attitude is only an outspoken version of what is believed by most Jews, at least by influential Jews.

    There is no doubt that the Germans murdered 5-6 million Jews. However, it is fallacious to insist, as Lipstadt does, that the Holocaust was unique, or that the Nazis targeted all Jews for annihilation.

    I have studied the Holocaust-uniqueness contentions in considerable detail, and found them all wanting. To see the results of my research, please click on my name in this specific posting.

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  2. Except that that is not what Lipstadt wrote. The link is right there.

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    Replies
    1. Charles tell me what I got wrong.

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    2. What she wrote was a plea for not universalizing the Holocaust. The Holocaust - as she understands it (which is the only way to understand it since the concept of the word is Jewish) - was about Jews. It was a Jewish tragedy. By trying to universalize it at least some people want to engage in the kind of relativism that you bemoan when discussing "Polish concentration camps." Why? Well, maybe they are anti-Semitic. If you can deny the Jewishness of the Holocaust then you can deny the Holocaust without getting in the muck of the numbers. This is about ethnic exclusivity of the term.

      I would note that the WH could have avoided this by remembering Jews killed and [list the others] killed. Frankly, I would have expected the phrasing that they used to have come from someone on the Left. When it comes from someone on the right, Jews might feel anxious. Of course, I am not into conspiracy theories here - I think this is just bungling.

      A better question might be why a President of a country that fought the Nazis (even though it certainly did not have to) would need to be making these kinds of statements/observations at all. Here we come to the utilization by the Left of the Holocaust for current didactic needs (or perceived needs). Trump got in trouble with a rightwing writer for using leftist logic. It's a balancing act and he is not very good at that :-)

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  3. I was going to try to avoid commenting on Polish matters, but I couldn't help getting drawn into a debate concerning a piece of journalism which concludes with a sentence betraying clear anti-Polish bias.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/poland-searching-last-living-auschwitz-guards-180961977/

    As for Holocaust Remembrance Day, I feel that the newly-installed Trump administration got this totally wrong. They might have been trying to be inclusive, but failing to mention Jewish victims by name will, unfortunately, only encourage any extremists and Holocaust deniers.

    I actually believe that the very term 'Holocaust' was meant to refer to Jews specifically. The Jewish population of the planet does not deny that there were millions of other victims of the Hitlerite genocides, but this day of remembrance was designed primarily to honour their own people.

    PS - If ignore any comments by you-know-who, it is because arguing with him might raise my blood pressure, which is already too high.

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    Replies
    1. MK you are under no obligation to respond to any comments on this blog.

      Thank you for alerting me to the Smithsonian use of Bieganski. I posted about it. Polonia does nothing. Breaks my heart.

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    2. Unfortunately, that is just the problem. We Poles are buying into Jewish ways of thinking, are letting the Jews define Polish suffering in Jewish terms, and are thereby serving Jewish interests and not Polish interests.

      To counter this, for example, I conducted the previously-linked study debunking the premise that the Holocaust is special, and qualitatively different from the genocides of other peoples.

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  4. Jan Peczkis wrote " We Poles are buying into Jewish ways of thinking"

    Nonsense.

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  5. Jan, you have submitted posts I will not post.

    This is what I will not post:

    Your assertion that there is nothing remarkable about what the Nazis did to the Jews.

    Your assertion that Jews exercise something close to supernatural power in manipulating public discourse.

    Your assertions that Jews are attacking Poles.

    These assertions are false.

    There is something remarkable in what the Nazis did to the Jews.

    Jews do not have supernatural power to manipulate public opinion.

    Jews are not universally and exclusively attacking Poland.

    I have limited time and I can't rebut these assertions every time you post them, so I'm just not going to post your posts from now on that contain these assertions.

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  6. Hello,

    In my opinion there is one remarkable thing about Holocaust.
    It's so damn senseless.

    Behind other genocides there was always a simple motivation.
    Dictators were killing their subjects because those subjects did not fit into dictator's "vision".

    Colonists were killing natives to claim land for themselves.

    Majorities were killing minorities because of sense of grievance or when they felt threatened.

    We focus on victims. It's a human thing.
    Maybe we got the wrong end of the stick.

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  7. What Lukasz has said is the common trope about the "senselessness" and "irrationality" of the Holocaust, as compared with the presumed "rationality" of other genocides.

    However, these terms exist in the eye of the beholder. For instance, when the Communists murdered millions of bourgeoisie, according to the dictates of the Communist ideology of class warfare, they deprived their nations of vast numbers of talented people. Was this rational or irrational?

    Heinrich Himmler said it was necessary to kill the Jewish children, alongside the adults, so that the children could not grow up and take revenge upon successive generations of Germans. Was this rational or irrational?

    Nor is it true that the Holocaust was free of considerations of material benefit to the perpetrators. For instance, Treblinka Komandant Franz Stangl said that the killing of Jews was done partly in order to acquire their wealth, and not simply as a by-product of killing them. A number of scholars have concurred with this assessment.

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  8. Hello Mr. Peczkis,

    Communists murdered mostly farmers and workers. Reds claimed to represent the working class, but they weren't the members of that class. Unfulfilled intellectuals, failed businessmen,landless gentry.
    Wiping out bourgeoisie and aristocracy was logical.
    It's called "cutting out the competition", if I'm not mistaken.

    Is it rational for "master race" to fear some Jewish orphans? Stateless, defenceless sub-humans?
    Germans had tanks, airplanes, battleships.
    I guess it tells a lot about "Übermensch" Himmler and his people.

    Jews of Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania were mostly dirt poor. They lived far away from Third Reich. Germans couldn't colonise their countries or inhabit their houses. And yet, those Jews were transported to distant death camps and murdered. Waste of time and resources.
    It seems that their only fault was "Jewish DNA".
    Not a good reason to kill one man, let alone millions.

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    Replies
    1. You should read up a bit about the Nazis' ideology. They were convinced that they were a "master" race not in the sense that they were strongest/had the most tanks but in the sense that they were the best, most creative and most virtuous. But they also keenly feared that the very same qualities (or perceived qualities) made them very vulnerable to their enemies and to a take down of those who resented them. If you think you're the best and "feel" different, then you might begin to wonder why others are "looking" at you "like that". What are they plotting? Are they envious? Surely they must be... From that kind of reasoning, to an all out war and attempted extermination is not that far away.

      I am not sure what "that" tells us about "Himmler and his people". It tells us that they were or became paranoidal. I don't think you are implying that they were not sincere in their beliefs (at least at the top of the Nazi machine).

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  9. Why the Holocaust? In January 1939, Hitler said that he would kill all of Europe's Jews if "International Jewry" caused another war. It was a threat and a promise of revenge. Yes, it was irrational, but then again so are most forms of revenge, especially when innocent people die because of the decisions of influential individuals.

    Remember also that both Jews and Germans thought of themselves as a Chosen People, albeit in different ways. There can be only one Chosen People. On this basis, elimination of a rival Chosen People is "rational".

    I think that you are glossing the fact that the Communist killing the bourgeoisie eliminated the many talented people that the Communist nations could have benefited from. But I guess that only proves my original point that "rationality" and "irrationality" are subjective terms, and should not be used to support the specialness of the Holocaust.

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  10. The whole argument--about material gain for the perpetrator endowing a "rationality" to the genocide--assumes that material gain is the sole motive that can make a genocide "rational". It is not.

    But no matter. An Israeli researcher has extensively documented the fact that the Nazis did in fact have an economic motive for exterminating the Jews. Moreover, it was an ongoing and unfolding motive, and not some afterthought that popped into the Germans' minds after the mass killings of Jews.

    The fact that most Jews were not wealthy is irrelevant: The total booty added up. For instance, the 870,000 Jews murdered at Treblinka yielded 1,200 to 1,350 railway cars full of booty. And that was only from one death camp, and only the belongings that the Jews could carry with them!

    Of course, the Germans also made money by selling much of the Jewish property, at auctions, to the impoverished locals--as Jan T. Gross had faulted (the near-starved Poles) for buying.

    For further details, please click on my name in this specific posting.

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  11. Once you accept your truth of what's right and just and what is not right and dangerous then the only question is what to do about it. For totalitarians, in the end, the answer is simple. Just read the Bible - if you accept that God told you to kill all in Canaan and gave the land to you, the next step is kind of obvious. Or are you going to question God?

    ReplyDelete

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