The Shoah will soon be forgotten. It is already forgotten as a specific crime against the Jewish people by the Germans.
It is portrayed by many as “what people do against people.” That is one of the bottom lines of the “good ones,” like the United States Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Of course, the Far Right, neo-Nazis and fascists are more than eager to forget it, particularly in Germany and Austria, but also elsewhere. That is why German Nazis and their European counterparts in the Netherlands, the UK, Hungary, France, Sweden, Italy etc. are so eager to see Trump win today. They want a nationalist vote, as nationalism in Germany and Europe equals forgetting if not affirming the Holocaust.
Moreover, the German and Austrian mainstream has been eager to forget, distort and whitewash their history in many, many ways. Left-wingers or liberals, though, are far from safe. They make the ugliest comparisons possible of the Jewish state to the Nazis. Then again, many left-wingers and most left-wing theories on fascism (not on National Socialism) portrayed the Shoah as just another chapter in the crimes of bourgeois society. Antisemitism did not play a big role if any in these studies.
Others deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust by comparing the Shoah to colonialism and have literally no idea what happened in any colony – regardless which one and at what time, as there was always a cui bono – and what happened in the woods of Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, in Sobibor, Chelmno, Auschwitz, Treblinka or Majdanek. The intentional killing of an entire people, the Jews, by the Germans was a unique crime, as scholarship has shown (see my own research on that, Boston University’s Steven T. Katz’ or Dan Michman’s from Yad Vashem, for example). But the new mainstreams deny that uniqueness.
Take the Bill O’Reilly Show on FoxNews in America on October 21, 2016. In it, O’Reilly talks to the young director of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington DC, Marion Smith. They speak about “100 million victims of Communism,” a number that makes six million Jews and the Shoah a tiny part and nothing special. And indeed, O’Reilly literally went on to call Hitler and Stalin “the same thing.” He equated those who built Auschwitz to those who liberated it. Truth doesn’t matter these days, regardless whether you are in the pro- or anti-Trump camp sometimes. And when it comes to the Shoah “sometimes” translates into “most often.”
Holocaust historian and Yiddishist Prof. Dovid Katz, the leading fighter against Holocaust distortion, not just in Lithuania, informed the interested public about that O’Reilly TV show the following day (Oct. 22) and wrote:
The usual savvy O’Reilly is, like most American pundits, not aware of the Double Genocide movement in Europe which seeks, among other things, to belittle the American and British sacrifices undertaken to bring down Nazism in Europe, while effectively falsifying the history of the grand alliance that defeated Hitler. No doubt that Mr. O’Reilly, on reflection, would think twice before embracing a theory that effectively diminishes the sacrifices of his own family members who fought heroically in World War II.“
That is a nice description, but I wouldn’t credit Americans that much about for their naiveté. Take historians Ben Kiernan (who is known for Holocaust distortion via genocide inflation) or Robert Gellately, who take “The Black Book of Communism” as some kind of new Bible not on the crimes of Communism, which we must of course study and expose, but as a handbook for modern downplayers of the Holocaust and adherents of the far right’s Double Genocide.
Or take Jeffrey Herf from the University of Maryland, a renowned Holocaust historian. He endorses the “Black Book of Communism,” which was first published in France in 1997 and the following year in German with a contribution by Joachim Gauck (who became German President in 2012), as follows:
The authors of The Black Book of Communism are part of a welcome change in the moral-philosophical landscape in Paris, and one hopes elsewhere, as a result of which liberal and left-of-center intellectuals, scholars and politicians judge the crimes of communist regimes with the same severity they’ve applied to those of Nazism and fascism.”—
Jeffrey Herf, The Washington Post Book World
The main person behind this “Black Book” is Stéphane Courtois, a former French leftist who became a passionate anticommunist. During an event in Berlin in 1998, in order to gain political support, Courtois accused Israel of claiming that the Holocaust is unique. This argumentation has been widespread among right-wing extremists for decades, but became mainstream during the last decade. This trend was already obvious when German historian Horst Möller, former head of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich (“Institut für Zeitgeschichte,” IFZ) edited a book in 1999 titled The Red Holocaust. The book was a compilation of positive reviews of the Black Book of Communism. Gauck was also among the contributors to the The Red Holocaust.
Both the unprecedented and unique character of the Holocaust are denied, for example, by world-wide bestselling author and Yale historian Timothy Snyder in his book “Bloodlands.” He starts in 1932 and ends after the end of the Second World War. Auschwitz is just a small part of this fantasy “Bloodlands” (a non-existent territory, invented by Snyder himself as such) and nothing unprecedented at all.
Shortly after 1945, every specific proposal for action against Germany (e.g., the Morgenthau plan) was turned down. Instead, anticommunism and “anti-totalitarianism” became fashionable; see the work of Hannah Arendt and others of that time. After the Cold War, in the 1990s, a large revival of these old theories took place. The Black Book of Communism appeared in 1997 in France and a year later in Germany, with the intention of deleting specific commemorations of the Holocaust and replacing them with commemoration of all “genocides.“ This is substantially the same as what is written in the Prague Declaration, supported not only by Lithuania and the Baltics generally, but also several politicians and scholars of Germany and the Czech Republic, such as Vaclav Havel and Joachim Gauck. Germans often want to rid themselves of guilt for the Holocaust, but the Czechs? The Czech Republic was among the first victims of Nazi Germany. In 1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army.
German President Joachim Gauck signed the Prague Declaration of 2008, which equates Communism and Nazism and urges Europe to establish a “common” day of remembrance for “totalitarian crimes,” August 23, 1939, the day of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
The same red equals brown ideology holds for the “Victims of Communism Memorial” in America, installed by President George W. Bush. A representative from that Holocaust distorting memorial, Marion Smith, agreed with O’Reilly that Hitler equals Stalin and vice versa.
Auschwitz survivor Jean Améry foresaw it decades ago. The most important prize for literature in Germany is the Büchner prize, named after the famous revolutionary Georg Büchner, who lived in the early 19th century. The prizewinner in 2007 was German writer Martin Mosebach. In his acceptance speech, he compared the French Revolutionary Saint-Just in which he threatened his rivals with violence and death, with an unprecedented address in modern world history – the speech of the chief of the SS Heinrich Himmler in Posen on October 4, 1943. There, the chief of the Schutzstaffel (SS) praised German mass murderers having “behaved themselves,” while “exterminating the Jewish people.” The Shoah is justified and for him, German perpetrators are heroes.
To compare these unprecedented crimes with a typical text of the French Revolution has two effects: first, the remembrance of the crimes Nazi Germany committed is reduced and veiled, if one can compare one of the ugliest speeches in world history with any text of the French Revolution. Second, the conservative Mosebach pleads for an aggressive anti-Utopian stance, because in his view both the French Revolution and National Socialism were results of utopian ideas. This specifically ignores the antisemitic impact of right-wing extremism before 1933 as well as between 1933–1945.
Decades ago in his Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne (Beyond Guilt and Atonement), Holocaust survivor Jean Améry foresaw this kind of antisemitism:
Hitler’s empire…will first continue to pass as an accident in the workings of history. But, finally it will be regarded as history pure and simple, neither better nor worse than any other dramatic historical period. Even stained with blood, the empire will have had its daily life, its family life. The picture of grandfather in his SS uniform will be hung in a place of honor, and schoolchildren will hear less about the selections that took place on the ramps [of Auschwitz] than about the surprising victory over an all-pervasive unemployment. Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner will become names like Napoleon, Fouché, Robespierre, and Saint-Just.”
Historian and Jewish studies scholar Alvin Rosenfeld put it aptly in his “The End of the Holocaust” (2010), where he dealt with the “good” Americans, not with what we would call today Trumpists. Fascist, sexist, racist, authoritarian, post-truth conspiracy agitator Donald Trump has to be fought with all electoral power America has and he will lose today’s election. Otherwise America is, morally speaking, history.
But let us look backward and forward, at how the “Americanization” of the Holocaust happened. Rosenfeld writes:
It is part of the traditional, mainstream American ethos to stress the prevalence of goodness, innocence, optimism, liberty, diversity, and equality. It is part of the same ethos to downplay or at least not dwell on the dark and brutal sides of life and instead to place a preponderant emphasis on the saving power of individual moral conduct and collective deeds of redemption. (p. 60) (…)
According to Naomi Paiss, a former director of communication, ‘The [United States Holocaust Memorial] museum’s ultimate goal [is] an ‘en-masse understanding that we are not about what the Germans did to Jews but what people did to people.” (p. 68).
That universalization of the Shoah is the problem. It will be among the reasons why the Shoah will be forgotten as a specific, as the worst crime of mankind. And we will forget it with the best intentions of diversity and inclusiveness. We won’t realize the violence that is inherent to the words of someone like Naomi Paiss, who stands just pars pro toto for mainstream Holocaust and Genocide Studies, as many like to frame it these days and in the future.
Améry predicted this decades ago. And we failed to prevent it.