One winter day during the Intifada that began in 2001, a terrorist blew himself up in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. I ran to the scene with my notepad. The stalls were mountains of bloody shrapnel, nurses in orange vests were gathering the wounded and feeding them one after another into screaming ambulances, and members of the Jewish burial society collected the bodies, limbs, and remnants of the innocent. The terrorist had chosen a place crowded with as many Jews as possible: the elderly shopping in the morning in their slippers, women with unsightly shopping carts holding children by the hand, merchants. My head was spinning. I stumbled along the street crowded with cameramen, and the police drove me out along with the other journalists. As I walked, I passed over a black trunk of ashes and fire. I almost tripped over it. When I turned around to see what it was, I realized that it was the body of the terrorist. I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. No feeling. It was a flattened tank, a broken machine-gun, the rusty debris of a used hand grenade; it was the instrument of hate with which those innocent people had been blasted to pieces.
Just like Priebke. An instrument of iron against humanity. Neither for him nor for that terrorist did I think that, as Judaism teaches in calling for burial of the dead as quickly as possible, with the resurrection of the body in mind, that his [body] was sacred because of the intimacy between our physical representation and our souls. Now we are arguing about Priebke’s burial, about whether or not Argentina was right to refuse it, whether the mass requested of Rome is a duty or a mistake. As it’s regrettably become fashionable to maintain, Nazism has nothing to do with “the banality of evil.” There was no banality in Priebke; there was evil, which is well defined, and consists of savagery, arrogance, and contempt for life, and which in history takes the form of various ideologies–Nazism, Communism, extreme Islamism–each one of which ends in the hatred and killing of Jews.
Priebke pleaded duty and obedience, as did Eichmann in his turn, but each in his own way was in fact, as Daniel Goldhagen has written, a willing executioner for Hitler. It is not obedience that we see in the choice to go above and beyond the command to decimate. What we see is confirmed fanaticism taken to the extreme, taken to the most painfully demented form of anti- Semitism: Holocaust denial. if someone wishes to take an interest in the mass and burial of a black trunk of a body, he should not for that reason be numbered in the same family; he may even do so because he considers it a form of compassion.
I reserve my compassion for groups that do not include terrorists, Nazis and other ideological murderers. Too much suffering has been caused by their actions to leave room for anything beyond the healing of their victims.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (October 13, 2013); English copyright, The Gatestone Institute