My Favorite Holocaust Myths

History Jewish Personal Politics
There's a terrible irony to the denial-minded Holocaust Conference going on today in Iran -- an irony so bitter it feels almost delicious, and certainly forbidden.

You see, for many Jews like myself, the impossible image of a world where the Nazi slaughter never happened is a secret fantasy, a dark dream where we sometimes reside. Feelings of guilt and self-hatred related to the Jewish slaughters of World War II have become an evergreen obsession among Jews of every generation in every country in the world, and we all sometimes yearn for a fantasy world where "it never happened", where our children won't ever have to hear about it.

The problem is the secret formula that every Jewish kid figures out at some point: "they tried to kill us, so we must deserve it. There is something despicable about us" -- whether this thing is genetic, learned or karmic or most often a combination of the three -- "and we deserve to die". This myth cuts deep into the consciousness of many westernized Jews, especially those in safe countries (and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this explains a lot about Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Roseanne Barr, Larry David and many others).

Holocaust myths? Yeah, there are plenty around, and if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to start investigating myths about the Holocaust I think I'd like to knock a couple down too.

The biggest myth is that Hitler's Holocaust represents a uniquely terrible moment in human history. The sad truth is that it was no such thing. It was not the deadliest genocide of the 20th Century, for instance -- Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong both arranged for the deaths of greater numbers of their own citizens in order to reduce unsupportable populations. It was not the most efficient Holocaust -- it took many years for Eichmann's Aryan bureaucrats to kill millions of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and others, while the Hutus of Rwanda killed a million Tutsis in a single month in 1994. It wasn't the only Holocaust aimed at wiping an entire ethnic group off the face of the earth (the Turkish government tried the same thing in 1915, murdering one and a half million Armenians).

Here's the really bleak truth: Genocide is cheap. Genocide is easy. Genocide R Us. Read today's paper and catch up on the growing Holocaust in Darfur. Look at the bombings between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. I'm not even talking about Bosnia and Serbia and Kosovo, or Cambodia, or the the Belgian Congo, or the Native Americans. Can't tell your genocides without a program ...

There are a lot of Holocaust myths, and if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran wants to examine what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945 I think he's going to find out more than he wants to know.

How should American Jews react to the news of this conference of Holocaust deniers, which includes American Idiot David Duke? It sure is offensive (I'd like to go there and tell them how I personally know that the Holocaust happened -- because Grandma Clara had no family). But it doesn't do much good to get offended, so I say we wish them good luck, because genocide is a big topic for all of us to think about, and they might even learn something. They are entering the realm of study Joseph Conrad referred to as the Heart of Darkness, and it sure is dark in there. Not just for Jews, either.

12 Responses to "My Favorite Holocaust Myths"

by coolazice on

Hidden BloodI guess the horror of the holocaust was not that it was the first genocide (because as you say, it wasn't), but rather that it was the first fully industrialised state-implemented genocide, occuring in one of the most 'advanced' countries in Europe. That is why it still attracts so much attention. The lesson learned is that even high up in our progressive well-to-do Western position, we can still kill people ruthlessly. That behind the apparent order lies a lot of innocent blood. Something that Kafka more or less intuited before any of it happened.

by firecracker on

Nicely doneI already said this before, but it bears repeating ... this is a deeply honest and well-written piece, something that's not easily accomplished with such a personal and emotionally-charged subject, never mind the politics. I think holocaust deniers are more common than we'd like to admit ... and perhaps we're all deniers in our own way, as we tend to gloss over, turn a blind eye and generally fail to get it right; whether it's the holocaust or any earlier or later version of the same act. I think it's only more damning that it keeps happening, because, well, if it's not happening in Europe or industrialized nations, is it really happening? I suppose not enough so for anyone to do anything about it.

by danjazz on

thank youlevi -thanks for a very thoughtful piece. you've given me a lot to think about. question: what makes the perpetrators and enablers of systematic killing different from those of us who would prevent it at any cost? With some smaller scale monsters like Bu&h or Reagan it is easy to understand -- money. I think the Hitlers and Stalins had other motives. On the other hand, it has been argued that our form of government is the only thing that has kept our corporate-sponsored murderers from going large scale.What makes us different?'the history of the human race is the history of war.' -- Churchill

by eli on

ClaraI feel obliged to comment on your well-thought-out article because you mentioned that "Grandma Clara had no family". To make it even more poignant, she did have one sister (Rose), who she brought over a year or two after she herself immigrated. But all the rest -- parents, sisters, brothers, cousins -- were "disappeared", as they like to say now of genocide victims. For their whole lives, Clara and Rose never forgave themselves for not being able to convince anyone else in their family to leave the old country.

by Billectric on

I think you are correct. Technology surpassed humanity, allowing evil to flourish.I've been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and I can tell you, those photos were real and the personal artifacts of the victims were almost too much to take.

by drplacebo on

Good pieceGood piece. I've been following the procedings in Iran in the French papers, and although it seems incredible, there are people that actually believe that the holocaust never occurred. I was talking with one of my students, who told me that it is dangerous for Jews to go into certain parts of Paris, because of rabid anti-semitism on the part of the residents, usually islamic fundamentalists. I think of this, and I have to say to myself that despite our technical accomplishments, we - mankind or the human race - have not evolved much beyond our earliest ancestors. The image I think of is in the film "2001 a Space Odyssey", where the ape/humanoid throws the bone he used to kill another ape/humanoid into the air, and then the film cuts to a spaceship. A good image for our times.

by brooklyn on

Thanks Dad ... I was actually going to write more about Grandma and Aunt Rose and Potok Zloty, where she was born. Yes, she had Rose, and happily she also had the family she created -- all of us.

by Stokey on

we need to change thingsAny talk of holocaust or genocide is painful, as is any talk of death. We try to forget these things, but there are constant reminders. If we must find something positive to take away from these horrible tragedies, I cannot think of any, except the concept of "never again." Obviously this is fairly hollow; as you point out the recurrence of genocide.They say the first step to solving, is to acknowledge the problem. What is wrong... with us? I would like to know. I can't perceive with human senses, concepts such as - more than one race on our small planet, or one ethnicity or color. There's only one - human. The Nazi horror was about humans killing humans, same thing in Africa, or Manifest Destiny.Why do we invent false concepts to isolate ourselves in meaningless segregations or castes? I'm not being rhetorical here, I actually want someone to explain this to me. I liken it to a recent cherryorchard essay on haves and have-nots. To me, people are categorized as a means of controlling them. If someone had been intuitively aware that these genocides were wrong, they could be persuaded by the rationale that the victims were only Jews, or Indians, or Blacks.Or better still, we're American citizens - illegal humans are trying to steal our jobs in Midwestern meatpacking plants. How does one get to be an illegal human? My suggestion is that every time we hear of these atrocities, large and small, we scream "never again." Absolutely not a Jewish motto, it is a human motto.But please...I grew up in the segregated South, and I can't bear to think of humans (like Ann Frank or any child who is the victim of such atrocities) believing they deserve that. That's too hard for me to have to live with.

by Steve Plonk on

The WWII HolocaustIt seems to me that any modern denial of the German atrocities and Japanese atrocities of World War II is like saying "the earth is flat". When the denial is a political statement in order to gain evil ends, I feel that the people involved, including the President of Iran and David Duke, along with others, should be vilified in no uncertain terms. There is no excuse for this view, except toalso deny Israel's right to exist.Like the Germans, unless their noses were rubbed in it, the Japanese also denied the "Rape of Nanking" and the concentration camps at Pingfan, China.I have seen the evidence at one concentration camp when I was living in Europe at age six.There were piles of clothing and shoes on display and there were the ovens and showers where thegas was inserted. They even showed how it was done. Not with real canisters, of course.I have spoken with holocaust victims and with veterans who liberated the prisoners in both the German and Japanese concentration camps. I even have a signed book of poetry written by a prisoner of war with the Japanese. I have spoken with the late Corrie Ten Boom and have heard her story in person.She was an evangelist who wrote the book called THE HIDING PLACE.These things happened and anyone who thinks otherwise has got either a nefarious political agenda or "has a screw loose" or both.I wrote a poem about the Japanese concentration camps which was published in an anthology by Sparrowgrass Press.We Americans are also guilty of a type of genocide...Yes, our own history has within it the horrible fact that we spread smallpox among the Amerindians.The military handed out blankets to the Amerindians infected with smallpox such that whole tribes were practically wiped out.But, nowhere in history has a group of people more systematically wiped out ethnic groups like the Germans and Japanese did in their camps and with their weapons. The Germans systematically corralled people under false pretenses, machine gunned and/or gassed them. Many were used as slave labor. The Japanese used anthrax bombs on Nanking and other Chinese cities.In Pingfan, the Japanese did experiments with various biological weapons on prisoners.The Japanese also used slave labor and forced women to become "comfort women" for their troops.They starved soldiers at Bataan.Even though I am preaching to the choir, to coin a phrase, I still remember a Europe with war refugees from both WW II and the brutal takeover of Hungary. Our collective inhumanity to man knows no bounds. I hope that this bloodshed and genocide will come to an end. Moreover, I think it is possible only with the continuation of the format of the United Nations being strengthened so that all nations share the burden of stopping brutal regimes which perpetuate hatred and bloodshed. That is the shared dream of Harry Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt. That is why Kofi Annan spoke in Independence, MO.He, too, shares their dream.

by panta rhei on

note to levithanks for that post.i composed dozens of replies in my head, but they all sounded so... hollow.holocaust myths and traumas and stories. dark dreams and nightmares.the shame and the guilt and the self-hatred and the secret fantasies of it never having happened.i could say a million things about it, but have no words for them.it's as if i feel i was not allowed to take the necessary distance to find them and speak them... or something.anyway, thanks for this post.

by stevadore on

Absolutely love that last line...and you've proven by this piece that you're a better man than them.(Not that you needed to prove that, of course. But you know what I mean!)

by Arcadia on

historyHistory can allow some subtle effects sometimes, but the Holocaust during World War II is not one of them. To say something different is plain ignorance or plain ignorance.I know some people in my country (good nationalistic anti-zionist anti-imperialist people) who also doubt the facts about the genocide in World World II, which is sad.Sadly. each pueblo has its own Holocaust. I feel the native american extermination and the extermination and torture during the last dictadura very close, living in these lands.Nunca mas, precise words.