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In defence of Norman Finkelstein


Reply-To: H-NET List for History of the Holocaust <H-HOLOCAUST@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
Sender: H-NET List for History of the Holocaust <

Re: Reference to "negationists"

Author: Richard Finkelstein

Date: Mon, 25 May 1998

Dear Ms. Kandel and other members of this list:

I would like to give you my perspective and the perspective of the Finkelstein family which fully supports our brother Prof. Finkelstein:

Liliane Kandel wrote: Negationists have been talking since many years of the "Shoah-biz" and the "Holocaust industry". This does not make N.G. Finkelstein a denier (or a negationist), but his fierce attack against Holocaust scholars, -- especially coming from a survivor's son (as he always reminds us he is) --, is an unexpected present for revisionists of all species. (It should be added that the same negationist servers made much profit of D.J. Goldhagen's idea that the gas chambers were only "epiphenomenons" in the German slaughter of Jews -- HWE, p. 521 --, and publicised it a lot, too). I think it is a complete mischaracterization to say that my brother attacks Nazi holocaust scholars. Preeminent scholars including Raul Hilberg, Eric Hobsbawm, Arno Mayer, Ian Kershaw, Christopher Browning, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Berghahn, and Istvan Deak have all endorsed his book -- because of its scholarship.

My brother has heavily criticized Mr. Goldhagen because of its poor scholarship and the "industry" that seems bent on propagating Mr. Goldhagen's scholarship despite the overwhelming criticism of Mr. Goldhagen's scholarship. I think this phenomenon is worth investigating. I also think that behavior has some very severe consequences - which I predicted the moment I saw Jewish organizations aligning themselves with poor scholarship. It is not possible to support poor scholarship with impunity.

What has basically happened is that all Nazi holocaust studies are undermined the moment poor scholarship is embraced. Calling Prof. Finkelstein all kinds of names does not eliminate the fact that Nazi holocaust scholars are now saddled with a real albatross -- Mr. Goldhagen's book -- which will attract more and more criticism going forward.

From my vantage point all of these problems would have been easily avoided if:

  1. Jewish organizations did not embrace Goldhagen given the fact that almost every Nazi holocaust scholar of note has heavily criticized (and at times ridiculed) Goldhagen's scholarship.
  2. Jewish organizations did not try to defend their indefensible position by trying to smear anyone who was trying to point out the obvious -- i.e., that Mr. Goldhagen's scholarship was at best suspect.

If Jewish organizations and their supports just did a good job, and embraced on the finest scholarship, then the negationists and revisionists could only attack the high grade scholarship -- and they would lose. Now, unfortunately they have low-grade scholarship which they can attack and they can use preeminent scholars to support their position -- and they gratefully thank Jewish organizations for this. They can also thank Jewish organizations and Mr. Goldhagen for labeling the son of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust as a "denier" and as an apologist (Mr. Goldhagen does this on his web site) -- it makes all Jewish organizations and subsequent charges of "anti-Semitism look really silly. (Remember the boy who cried wolf). Mr. Goldhagen and his supporters only had to look at the acknowledgments in Prof. Finkelstein's book to know how foolish were their charges.

I think the whole problem can be solved if Jewish organizations admitted they erred, apologized to Prof. Finkelstein, Ruth Bettina Birn, and Henry Holt and Company -- and got themselves back on track to support only the finest scholarship. This not only positions Nazi holocaust studies on a very strong foundation, but it also eliminates the sense that there is any industry that is just trying to churn out works for its own purposes.

Thank you for taking the time to review my response.


Richard Finkelstein


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