Before Oct. 7, I never thought I would live in a country where many people would openly celebrate the horrific massacres of innocent Jewish men, women and children. To make matters worse, Israel’s enemies on the far left are trying to weaponize the memory of the Holocaust. They incessantly accuse Israel of genocide and accuse Jews of acting like Nazis. These absurd allegations are meant to wound and they are usually antisemitic. I take particular exception to them as a child of Holocaust survivors from Poland.
My parents experienced the real Nazis. After surviving a pogrom in July 1941, my father and his family became inmates in the Nazi ghetto in the town of Rohatyn, in what had been the Polish Ukraine. In 1942, the Nazis conducted three “actions” there – roundups in which the Nazis culled the population of the ghetto, as if people were animals, by catching and killing thousands of Jews. In March, victims were rounded up and driven to mass graves, where they were machine-gunned by special killing squads. In September, on Yom Kippur, the Germans caught another 1,200 Jews, loaded them onto cattle cars and sent them to the Bełżec death camp, where nearly all were gassed on arrival. (The remainder were gassed after doing slave labor, including the gruesome task of removing the bloated bodies of their friends and relatives from the gas chambers.) If you’ve never heard of Bełżec, it’s because virtually no one survived it — its death rate was far worse than Auschwitz’s. On Dec. 8, the Germans caught more than 2,000 Jews who, again, were crammed into freight cars to Bełżec. My father almost didn’t survive the September and December actions.
Were my parents alive, they would say that if anyone is acting like Nazis today, it’s Hamas. In June 1943, the Nazis began liquidating the Rohatyn Ghetto and nearby ghettos. The goal was to make them “Judenrein” – free of Jews. To kill Jews who were hiding in homemade “bunkers,” the Nazis set the Rohatyn Ghetto ablaze. From the start, Hamas also wanted to make the dozens of Israeli communities it invaded — all in Israel proper — Judenrein. It too set fires to homes to burn alive any Jews hiding in safe rooms.
There are more similarities. Nazis sadistically made games of shooting Jews; Hamas killers gleefully disfigured victims’ bodies and decapitated people. SS men had fun spearing on their bayonets Jewish babies tossed from balconies; Hamas “militants” sliced open the belly of a pregnant woman in a kibbutz and dragged her fetus onto the ground. Nazis forced Jewish husbands and sons to watch their wives and daughters being raped; Hamas gang-raped and mutilated Jewish women. German soldiers photographed themselves laughing as they forced terrified Jews to perform humiliating exercises; Hamas terrorists filmed themselves barking at cowering Israeli families with children. One Hamas thug even used a murdered Israeli woman’s phone to call home. He yells to his family that he has sent photographs to prove he has killed ten Jews. “Your son is a hero!” he says.
Every Israel-hater today seems to be under contract to accuse Israel of committing genocide and to equate Zionism, a core tenet of Judaism, with racism and genocide. When Israel-haters on the far left say, “Zionism is racism” (no nuance there), they are effectively saying that Judaism is racism. That is antisemitic by definition. I have heard some Jewish anti-Zionists argue that Zionism—the belief that Jews should have a state in the ancestral homeland – is instead the belief that Jews have the right to kill Arabs to possess their land. Using that deformed definition, they argue that Zionism is not part of Judaism and thus denouncing it isn’t antisemitic. But silently twisting the definition of Zionism to something horrid and wielding it against the Jewish state and its supporters seems antisemitic.
As for the incessant claims of “genocide” against Israel, genocide requires violent attacks with the “specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” Israel is not seeking to destroy the Palestinian people; it is trying to protect its citizens from an openly antisemitic terrorist group committed to its destruction. The deliberate and repeated accusation of “genocide” against the minority group subjected to the world’s worst genocide, thus casting Jews in the role of their Nazi oppressors, is cruelly calculated to inflict emotional distress on Jewish people. It is of a piece with claims that Israel is a modern-day Nazi Germany or that “The Jews R Nazis.” As author Zachary Goldsmith put it, “this cynical calculus is as wrong as it is obscene.” And you can’t get much more antisemitic than “The Jews R Nazis.”
Gaza is not like Nazi ghettos. Writer Masha Geesen’s recent statements to the contrary are wrong and obscene. Nor is Gaza, per Colombia’s president, like concentration camps. Nazi Germany created the ghettos (my mother also survived one) to isolate Jews from their countrymen in order to use Jews as slave labor, starve them and, ultimately, kill them all. My grandmother died in the Rohatyn Ghetto and the Nazis murdered my maternal grandmother in the Ludwipol Ghetto. In 2005, Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. Israel hoped the strip would peacefully develop and become the “Hong Kong of the Mideast.” In 2007, though, Hamas took control, and Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade in an effort to prevent Hamas, which had been firing rockets into Israel, from importing more weapons. The blockade was imposed as a defensive measure and therefore can’t be analogized to the creation of Nazi ghettos, let alone concentration camps. Of course, I feel for innocent Gazans. What is happening there is tragic.
In a way, I’m glad my parents didn’t live to see Oct. 7. I’m happy they didn’t have to witness hoary, Jew-hating Osama Bin Laden videos go viral or students at the schools their children and grandchildren attended respond to Hamas’ atrocities by calling Jews “Nazis.” That isn’t the America my parents adopted and loved. Hopefully, it won’t be the U.S. my children inherit.
Martin Kimel is completing work on his father’s memoir, The Pessimist’s Son: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope.