The Second World War robbed an estimated grisly total of 70-85 million people of their lives. Central in the policies of the Nazi regime was the attempt to exterminate the Jewish People resulting in murdered 6 million of them. How do the general loss of life and the Jewish one relate?
Civilians and Soldiers
My mother lost almost all of her family, friends, colleagues, patients and acquaintances to the Nazi murder machine. A non-Jewish person showed her after the War her suffering. At the closure of the war, stray bullets had flown though her linen cabinet and all her linen was ruined. My mother conduced: each feels their own suffering the most.
Moreover, if your lot was not the loss of possessions but also the loss of people, who is anyone to mineralize such hurt? The Sages teach us that each person is a complete universe, unique and irreplaceable. Civilian deaths from WW II are so often ignored.
And how many Russian soldiers died fighting Hitler? Almost 9 million!
Would it be wrong to mention in one breath both the mass murder of Jews and of other nations branded inferior by Nazi-ideology, like the Poles?
And what about other groups it tried to exterminate as well, like the Gypsies? How about other groups of people deemed subhuman by Nazi ideology and fit for destruction, like the mentally or physically handicapped, the so-called insane, homosexuals?
Since Roma (Gypsies) until today have hardly anyone fighting for them, co-commemorating them with the Jews seems OK to me. But let’s not forget, Jews were especially targeted as the stem from which both Islam and Christianity have sprouted (see below). Any attempt to equate oneself with the Jewish victims must be suspect of trying to hide European antisemitism.
A special case must be the Poles. Most of the gassings were done on Polish soil. Something that would have been unthinkable in the Netherlands. Antisemitism in Poland, before and after the War, was notorious. But the Poles were targeted too by the Nazis. Their culture should be uprooted and it should be enslaved by the superior Arians. Poles were brutally murdered. The greatest number of Righteous Among the Nations (Gentiles risking their own lives by hiding Jews) were Poles. (Percentage-wise maybe the Dutch stand one, but also from that country, a record 75% of the Jews were murdered.) Many Poles resisted the Nazi occupation by taking up arms, some from nationalistic motives and some from ideological reasons; some seeing Jews as fellow victims, some still antisemitic. And as we see with Japan. it’s much easier to present oneself afterward as victims than to acknowledge oneself as cruel perpetrators.
Should Holocaust commemoration only refer to Jews? Other groups were interned and gassed in Auschwitz (iconic for the Holocaust) too.
Jealousy and Special Case
Isn’t isolation the suffering of the Jews an insult of all the other people who were killed? And doesn’t that extra attention create jealousy?
Yet, it seems wrong to try to generalize the Holocaust under the umbrella of other mass murders and even genocides for two reasons. The mass murder on the Jews was not “just” from hatred, disdain, racism or nationalism but with the explicit goal to exterminate all Jews. And it was the culmination of millennia of persecution of the Jews by Europeans.
The methodical industrial attempt to kill off the Jews, in fact, ended the racist myth that Europeans were the most civilized nation (Germany and Berlin before the War, were supposedly the centers of civilization and other cultures were in comparison barbaric!) and that Christians were the most loving. After the defeat, Germany and the Vatican (and some other Christian communities) repented and humbled themselves dramatically.
It Ain’t Over
Unfortunately, most European nations did pretty little soul searching. They rather hid their antisemitism behind blaming Germans and Nazis.
The Arab world as a whole did not disavow antisemitism at all. The complicity of some of their leaders with Hitler stayed a footnote in Arab history and unashamed antisemitism seems rampant in Arab society till today.
Europe now blames antisemitism within its borders on Muslim migrants and still doesn’t look at how it enables it by their racism against migrants (who then look for a scapegoat) and subtle indifference to its Jews.
And often the European messages towards Israel vary from hostile to paternalistic, often not standing with it unconditionally, not demanding that its Arab neighbors stamp out all antisemitism, giving away that still little has changed in the hearts of too many Europeans.
It seems that the phenomenon of ongoing antisemitism is a good extra reason not to hide the Holocaust between all the other death figures and mass murders, as long as hatred or indifference to Jews is still so prevalent in the West and Arab countries.
Prevention of jealousy could be a good argument to not set attention for Jewish victims of WW II apart. On the other hand, envy has so long been such a powerful part of antisemitism. (If one doesn’t (want to) see how hard Jews work for each other’s survival, it’s easy to get jealous.) Maybe this jealousy is just this old stuff, not caused by any undeserved attention.
Jumping on the bandwagon of Holocaust suffering is not done only by fellow Nazi victims. Antisemitic activists eagerly show off Arab Palestinian victims of Israeli persecution (not even the ultimate chutzpah – read on) and some have suggested that fallen Nazi-Germany soldiers could be commemorated together with the Holocaust victims as every death is terrible, these were young people, what suffering for their families, etc.
I don’t envy the lot of Nazi soldiers or Arab-Palestinian mass murderers, throwing away their good lives for the cause of Evil and choosing hatred of Jews as a lifestyle. But to confuse victim and perpetrator is evil itself.
I have a proposal. Let all those who want to commemorate the real victims of WW II incorporate the Jews. That’s good against the old let’s-ignore-them. And let next to that, there be special commemorations of the Holocaust. So that Europe, even after so many generations, will begin to finally really uproot its anti-Jewish bigotry of thousands of years.
And so no, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is NOT for remembering “every man, woman, and child who was abused, tortured, or murdered during [sic!] the Holocaust” and NOT about “the betterment of all mankind” as the US President’s speech writers just wrote.
There is a march for the plight of present refugees in the making that should start at the main Holocaust museum in the Netherlands. Bad idea.
Let it start asking attention to the regional differences of cooperation with or resistance against the Nazis. Let them call upon ordinary Dutch citizens to fight hatred for Jews. There is still plenty of work to be done.
Some proponents of the march from Westerbork have accused the people-against of ignorance. Westerbork, the main Nazi transit camp from the Low Countries to the gas chambers in Poland, after all, started out as a refugees camp. But that is the real ignorance. Surely, the Dutch cynically forced the prewar Dutch-Jewish community to finance a camp for German Jews fleeing Hitler, in order to keep those foreigners off the Dutch labor market. One’s own first! But after the War, the camp was used to jail the Nazi collaborators (how tactful, how economical). After that, the fleeing Moluccans were parked there. And after that, the camp was demolished in an attempt to erase the Dutch’ complicity with the Holocaust. Westerbork stands for the Holocaust and nothing else.
Gentile Poles protesting that World Holocaust Commemoration Day doesn’t look at their suffering too, should be ashamed of themselves.