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May 1997


  Is it Time to de-Holocaust Jewish History?

PROFESSOR Robert Faurisson once remarked that the Holocaust has become a civic religion for Jews. Anyone who needs further proof of that statement should read The Seventh Million by Israeli journalist Tom Segev. In rich detail Segev shows how the Holocaust, the alleged 'gassing' of six million Jews, has expanded from a wartime event at first downplayed by Zionists to a daily obsession.

The first section of Segev's work covers much the same territory as Lenni Brenner's Zionism in the Age of the Dictators or Edwin Black's The Transfer Agreement . Segev asserts that the main interest of Zionist leaders was the foundation of the Jewish state, not saving Jews in Europe or elsewhere. In the immediate post-war years, Holocaust 'survivors' were far from being coddled by the Israeli-state-in-the-making. They were loudly criticised by sabras (Jews born in Palestine) for letting themselves be led like 'lambs to the slaughter. Had they emigrated to Palestine before the war they would have been saved.

Consequently the Holocaust not merely proved the validity of Zionism; it was implicitly blamed on the 'survivors'.

In The Seventh Million, Segev deftly exposes the internal contradictions of Israeli society. The Zionist emigrants from Hitler's Germany were the objects of unremitting hostility. They were accused of possessing the innate German respect for authority that characterised the Nazis. Their Yiddish publications were considered a linguistic corruption of the official Hebrew. All in all, life for German Jews under Zionism was not an easy one.

One of the major issues facing Israel in the 1950s was the decision to re-establish relations with Germany. The issue, as can be surmised, was an emotional one. In many heated debates Ben-Gurion advocated the establishment of ties with Germany in order to strengthen Israel economically and militarily. The reparations agreements, it is important to note, did not compensate Jews for six million murdered relatives. Rather they were intended to compensate Jews, whether they lived in Israel or not, for wrongfully confiscated property. In time reparations also came to include compensation for career interruptions or diminished earning capacity.

Nahum Goldmann of the World Jewish Congress first cannily agreed to relatively small initial sums in exchange for ever expanding payments down through the years. Segev diligently explores the vast claims racket that grew out of the agreements. Viewing most of the claimants as cheats, Germans meticulously checked the dates and details of the applications. This early bureaucratic revisionism surprised many Jews who had been looking for 'easy money'.

The two most significant parts of The Seventh Million are the accounts of the Kastner and Eichmann trials. The former was triggered by a pamphlet written by Malchiel Grunevald accusing Dr Rudolf Kastner, an official of the Mapai government, of having collaborated with the Nazis during the war. An official of the Jewish Agency in Hungary and involved in the notorious 'trucks for Jews' deal, Kastner allegedly went out of his way to save the lives of his Jewish friends while shipping the rest of the Chosen off to Auschwitz.

The Kastner trial was a disaster for Ben-Gurion and the Mapai Party. It established what had been common knowledge among the leaders, but not to the man-in-the-street, namely the Zionist policy of saving the few and sacrificing the many. The legal proceedings were based on the fallacious assumption that the Jews who remained in Europe had in fact been exterminated. The Kastner trial gave Menachem Begin and his Herut Party, their first real opportunity to break the power of the Socialist and Labor politicians.

The kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann was Ben-Gurion's chance to correct the damage caused by the Kastner trial. Throughout the proceedings Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor, strove to show how heroically the Jews had resisted the Holocaust. Eichmann, the defendant, was an almost irrevelant figure. The trial completely failed to establish his role as an architect of mass murder. It did allow Ben-Gurion and Mapai members to claim that Jews and their leaders had not been 'Kastners' during the war.

It was the Eichmann trial which made the Holocaust a permanent fixture of the Israeli conscience. Almost all Israeli educational courses on 'The Six Million' date from that time. Today the Holocaust is big business in Israel as it is all over the world. Israelis are taught to delve deeply into the 'meaning' of the Holocaust and reach the inevitable conclusion that only unquestioning support of Israel and its policies can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring. It is this conclusion that Segev challenges. Although no revisionist, he correctly understands that the nationalist interpretation of the Six Million story is wrong. He agrees with Professor Yehuda Elkana, who wrote a widely read newspaper article, 'For Forgetting':

"I see no greater danger to the future of Israel than the fact that the Holocaust has been instilled methodically into the consciousness of the Israeli public, including that very large part that did not endure the Holocaust, as well as the generation of children that has been born and grown up here. For the first time I understand the seriousness of what we have done, when for decades we have sent every child in Israel to visit Yad Vashem over and over again. What did we expect tender children to do with this experience? Our minds, even hearts, closed without interpretation, we have proclaimed "Remember!" What for? What is a child supposed to do with these memories? For a great many of them, the horror pictures were likely to be interpreted as a call for hatred. "Remember" could be interpreted as a call for longstanding, blind hatred. It may well be that the world at large will remember. I am not sure of that, but in any case that is not our concern. Each nation, including Germany, will decide for itself in the context of its own considerations, whether it wishes to remember. We, on the other hand, must forget. I do not see any more important political educational stance for the country's leaders than to stand up for life, to give oneself over to the construction of our future and not to deal, morning and evening, with symbols, ceremonies and lessons of the Holocaust. The role of historical remembrance must be uprooted from our lives."

And that, in so many words, is what author Tom Segev calls the task of The Seventh Million.

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