On trains then and now and the banality of the Holocaust

This is the second time in few days that I refer to crisis of refuge seekers in Europe, an indication of my academic career in the field of Middle East Studies , particularly Syria, as well as my life-long obsession with the Holocaust of our people in Europe.

It is the latter which motivates me to write this piece, and admittedly , it is written with a measure of frustration and anger.Can we Jews relate to human disasters in other parts of the world, in this case, the Middle East, without making false and insulting comparisons with the Holocaust, an event which still is unprecedented in the annals of human history? What is this uncontrollable bug which leads so many columnists , academic and religious leaders to expect , that Jews in general and Israel in particular ,have ? a special duty to do more than others to help Kurdish, Syrian, Iraqi,Yemeni, Libyan, Somali, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian , Yezidi, Afghans and other refugees from Arab and Muslim civil wars ? More, for example from some ”poor” and ”Empty” states than Saudi Arabia? or for that matter, any other Arab and Muslim state ? Here is another case of Arabs and Muslims killing each other, and Jews should pay the price. And in order to put the record straight-we have to feel sorry for poor victims of civil wars, we can help, and we DO help, for example having thousands of Syrians, a state in war with Israel, being treated in Israeli hospitals.

Some of those who advocate this line of thinking are good intentioned , though misguidedpeople, who, in many cases, have no clue as to what REALLY is happening in the Middle East, some are not so well meaning and innocuous, though ignorant. These are the people with an agenda, the desire to find another reason to slender Israel, to show how bad it is, how Zionism is so ”exclusivist”, ”racist”, what not?

Pictures evoke feelings, arouse memories and inflame existing views, bringing them to absurd. A viral picture, preceding the shattering image of the dead Kurdish-Syrian toddler, is that of the thousands of refuge seekers in the train station of Budapest.

Refugees and trains?, well, for too many Jews, judging by their reactions and comments, this IS the picture which evokes the Holocaust, creates the inevitable comparison between then and now. REALLY?. Jews were herded like animals ti cattle -carrying wagons in order to be transported to their death. Many thousands died in these”trains”, and surely no one wanted THEN to board these so-called trains. Trains THEN were sure death to our people. The thousands in the train station of Budapest are looking at trains as their salvation, they know that these trains will lead them to life, and indeed, trains all over Europe these days, some temporary delays notwithstanding, lead people to better life. Any comparison to trains THEN?

Budapest is THE place where the difference could not be starker. On March of 1944, there still were 900,000 Jews living in Hungary, not exactly to say the very least enjoying real equality with the Hungarian Gentiles, but they were alive, and this was what really mattered. then came the Nazi occupation of Hungary on 19 March , and Adolph Eichmann came to town and with him came the trains. Nazi Germany already lost the war , for all intents and purposes, it had a shortage of means of transportation, particularly trains, it incurred a shortage of coal and oil, but it did not lack any desire to murder Jews, a desire in common with what many Hungarians felt and wanted.

So trains were available, and in one of the most dramatic chapters of the Holocaust, 440,000 Jews were led to trains and sent to their death in Auschwitz. Is this the similarity between then and now, when too many
write about trains as a symbol, as the reminder of our national disaster. No trains THEN would have been a salvation for our people. NO trains now, a matter of a short delay, is exactly what it is, a short delay on the road of people to freedom and better life. ”Some” difference with happened with Jews and trains 70 years back
in Budapest.

The famous Hannah Arendt[1906-75], developed the much-maligned thesis about the Banality of evil , referring to the Eichmann trial, in her now much-ridiculed Eichmann in Jerusalem. Those among us who implicitly or explicitly evoke the memory of the Holocaust in relation to the current crisis, may have good intentions, may believe that this is their Jewish duty, but they are wrong. Banality and trivialization of the Holocaust are part of a bigger world-wide campaign to attack our people and further delegitimize Israel.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina