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February 7, 2001

FinkelsteinBook on Holocaust "industry" sets Germans squirming

by Emma Thomasson

BERLIN - U.S. academic Norman Finkelstein (right) defended the publication in German of his controversial book "The Holocaust Industry" on Wednesday and urged the country that spawned the Nazis not to submit to blackmail over its past.

"It is Germany's right to reject the use of the Nazi Holocaust as a weapon for political and economic gain," the author told a packed news conference in Berlin. "The Nazi Holocaust has long ceased to be a source of moral and historical enlightenment. It has become a straight-out extortion racket," Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein, the son of two concentration camp survivors, argues that Jewish leaders are stoking anti-Semitism in Europe by trying to force German and Swiss institutions to pay new compensation to those who suffered under the Nazis. "The main fomentor of anti-Semitism now is the Holocaust industry with its ruthless and reckless extortion tactics," he said. "The U.S. has no right to instruct Germany in morality. Instead let the Americans take a hard look at themselves."

Compensation Delayed

The German government and industry agreed last year to pay 10 billion marks ($4.8 billion) compensation to about 900,000 ageing survivors the Nazis pressed into forced and slave labour during World War Two, provided they dropped lawsuits in the U.S. But delays in the U.S. over whether to dismiss class-action suits filed by Holocaust survivors and victims' heirs have delayed the start to compensation payments.

Faced with a raft of hostile questions, Finkelstein said survivors should be compensated directly and not through bodies like the Jewish Claims Conference or World Jewish Congress.

"The German government should, on its own, distribute the compensation monies. It is time to close down the offices of the Claims Conference," said Finkelstein, who has accused the body of holding up payments to his late mother while his father regularly received a monthly pension from the German government. "My father loathed and hated every German. He never distinguished between bad Germans and good Germans. But he never uttered one single complaint in the matter of compensation."

Spiegel and palsFinkelstein, whose book has been criticised as "full of errors" by Germany's Jewish leader Paul Spiegel (left, with Schroeder and friends) , admitted he was worried his thesis could be exploited by neo-Nazis whose have attracted increasing support since German reunification. "I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that I am concerned about the enthusiastic response to my book that may occur in right-wing circles," he said.

Publishers Piper Verlag have come under heavy criticism in Germany for agreeing to publish the book and SWR television temporarily pulled a documentary on Finkelstein, saying they would air the programme on Saturday after it had been reworked.

But the author, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York, said he hoped his book would spark more open debate about the Holocaust in Germany. "In the case of Germany I think there is a kind of political correctness on this topic which makes difficult an open and honest discussion on the issues that I raise," he said. "I hope that one outcome of the book is that it will initiate a serious response from morally responsible Germans and prompt a discussion in public which currently takes place in private."

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