The Writings of Joseph Sobran
"Murdering Ukrainians is every bit as evil as murdering Jews, after all. But why should we even have to say that?"
May 13, 1993
Sobran's Washington Watch
Victims Deserve Better
by JOSEPH SOBRAN
I HAVEN'T been to the new United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but even a Washington Post reporter was shocked by what he describes its "outrageous' anti-Christian propaganda. The exhibition apparently dates anti-Semitism from the birth of Christ. And of course the implication of the Museum is that mass murder is worse when its victims are Jews.
Some surprisingly critical notes have been struck in the reviews of the Museum. Kay Larson, art critic for New York magazine, objects that 'the Germans depicted here ... are almost exclusively Nazis.... Most American children who endure the, walk-through will think of Germans as Nazi pigs." She continues:
The Jews endured the most dementedly calculated and well-documented - but hardly the only - case. To separate the Nazi evil from other evils is understandable but Eurocentric. It trivializes all suffering but its own. . . . It awards special, extra-human stature to the victims. Nothing that occurs inside Israel can be wrong, because Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. And so people set themselves apart from, against, and above others.
She has caught the note of most Holocaust rhetoric: intense self-absorption. This is a human reaction, and it can be excused up to a point. That point comes when those whose rights have been violated begin disregarding others'rights, as when Jewish apologists for Israel feel persecuted by criticism of Israel's brutality toward non-Jews.
Even many pro-Israel Jews feel uneasy about the Museum being in America, on government land, paid for with tax money. The implication of its presence is that all Gentiles, especially Christians, need to be instructed, to have their consciousness raised, even to be made to feel guilty about Jewish suffering. As if we didn't know that murder and persecution are wrong! As if Israel were a moral model for us!
In the same way, the implication of the word "anti-Semitism' is that the chief moral test for anyone is whether he has the correct attitude toward Jews. And again, this is understandable but also very narrow. Murdering Ukrainians is every bit as evil as murdering Jews, after all. But why should we even have to say that?
The wrong lesson is being drawn. You would think that the evil of Hitler was mere anti-Semitism as such, rather than mass murder. But if anti-Semitism were confined to country-club snobbery, even Jews wouldn't mind it too much. The real evil is the use of the state as an instrument of death. Government, perverted from it modest uses, can magnify every crime unimaginably.
That is the real 'lesson of the Holocaust,' the lesson our time still refuses to learn. We think it's only the Hitler or Stalin version of the superstate that is wrong. But think how America's conduct in World War II would have appeared to our ancestors. It's hard for us to feel the sheer monstrosity of bombing cities.
I recently heard some interesting testimony on this point. During that war the US government commissioned a series of propaganda films from Frank Capra, which were made under the collective title 'Why We Fight.' One of them, 'The Battle for China," describes the barbarity of the 'Japs,' also called 'Nips,' and mocked them for their 'grinning yellow faces.' Among the horrors perpetrated by the Japs was the unprecedented atrocity of bombing cities, killing civilians by the thousands! Of course Capra and his staff didn't know that the US government was planning to do exactly that to Japanese and German cities. In their innocence, they assumed that only a savage, alien race could have stooped to such barbarism.
But we have supped full with horrors. Evil bores us. Its statistical extremes have long since lost their interest, and there is something ritually formulaic in the demands that we profess belief in, and abhorrence toward, Nazi and Communist abominations. 'Holocaust denial' has become the big thought crime, denounced by Christians who are quite tolerant of those who deny the Redemption. No similar opprobrium, by the way, attaches to Gulag denial. After all, nobody who really believes a thing wants to force others to profess belief in it. Sincerity never demands hypocrisy.
Even the word 'Holocaust' has come to seem a polemical appropriation of human suffering that verges on the indecent. I remember an old Jewish woman I slightly knew viho had a number tattooed on her wrist. That told me all I needed to know about Hitler, and it would be pedantic to wonder whether a regime that was willing to brand Jews like cattle meant to kill them all. But it would have seemed morally crass to call what that woman had been through as a girl 'the Holocaust': It's beginning to sound like a brand name, of special utility to glib hawkers. All the victims of World War II, including Jews, deserve more respect than that.