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The Holocaust Absolutely Was About Race

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

On yesterday’s episode of The View, co-host Whoopi Goldberg (who is not Jewish herself, despite the surname) caused an uproar with her comments opining that the Holocaust was “not about race”, thereby invoking the popular (and demonstrably false) canard that it was a “white on white” crime.

Goldberg’s statements happened during a discussion on a Tennessee school board banning Art Spiegelman’s book “Maus” – an illustrated allegory recounting his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor – from its eighth grade English curriculum.

Whoopi has since apologized for these statements, so I will not be focusing on her. Instead, this article is concerned with delineating how and why her formulation – which she has since retracted – is not only wrong and ahistorical, but extremely dangerous.

Fully elucidating the undergirdings of European/Nazi antisemitism will first require a thorough explanation of Jewish origins and the nature of our presence in Europe.
Jews are a nation and ethnic group native to present-day Israel, Palestine, and parts of Western Jordan.

Thus, when viewed through the Western prism of race, Jews (small numbers of recent converts and other outliers notwithstanding) are taxonomically a West Asian/Middle Eastern population, closely related to Arabs, Assyrians, Druze, Maronites, Samaritans, and other East Mediterranean populations such as Greeks and Sicilians (due primarily to Phoenician and Maghrebi influence in the latter two groups). According to recent population studies, modern Jews derive most of their genetic ancestry from Bronze Age Canaanites.

From here it follows that whether Jews constitute a “white” population or a population of color rests entirely on how non-Jewish populations of Southwest Asia are categorized. Whatever category they fall into, that’s where we go as well, but it is certainly unusual to consider Iranians or Syrians “white”, so that should not be done to Jews either.

When Romans and subsequent colonial powers invaded and occupied Israel, many Jews were either banished or taken as slaves to Europe. Over the course of the 1st millennium CE, Jews were gradually depopulated from the land.

This is how we ended up in places like Germany, England, Spain, France, Poland, and Russia. We were exiled to these lands, but we never assimilated into them. We never adopted or meshed with their identities, histories, or cultures. We were never absorbed into their native peoples, sometimes by our choice, sometimes by theirs.

We were not allowed to return to our homeland either. This meant that we were stuck, as strangers in a strange land, corralled into virtual Bantustans, surrounded by hostile foreigners, and struggling to eke out our survival and maintain our identity, culture, and way of life in such an alien climate.

This also meant that we looked different from the local populations. Being one of the only non-European diasporas in Europe at the time (the only other non-European diaspora of note being the Roma/Sinti, from India), we stood out like Nigerians in Hong Kong or, more to the point, like Middle Easterners in Bavaria and Warsaw, which is more or less exactly what we were, and still are.

The primordial stew of European racism that gave birth to the Nazi ideology has always held Jews in contempt for being Oriental/Asiatic – or, to borrow from American parlance, NOT white. This can be seen clearly in the events that followed our emancipation from the ghettos in the mid-19th century. Jews now had access to equal rights in Germany, France, and the UK (but not in Eastern Europe, where Jews remained confined to ghettos).

But for Jews in Europe, race remained an impassable barrier. Despite their upward mobility and earnest attempts at assimilation, they continued to stand out because of their race, and were largely shunned.

To get an idea of how Jews were perceived by Europeans…

“The Jew is the enemy of the human race. This race must be sent back to Asia or exterminated”. ~ Pierre Joseph Proudhon

“The Jewish people is and remains in Europe an Asiatic people alien to our part of the world” ~ Johann Gottfried Herder

“The Palestinians living among us have, for the most part, earned a not-unfounded reputation for being cheaters, because of their spirit of usury since their exile. Certainly, it seems strange to conceive of a nation of cheaters; but it is just as odd to think of a nation of merchants, the great majority of whom, bound by an ancient superstition that is recognized by the State they live in, seek no civil dignity and try to make up for this loss by the advantage of duping the people among whom they find refuge, and even one another. The situation could not be otherwise, given a whole nation of merchants, as non-productive members of society (for example, the Jews in Poland). So their constitution, which is sanctioned by ancient precepts and even by the people among whom they live (since we have certain sacred writings in common with them), cannot consistently be abolished — even though the supreme principle of their morality in trading with us is “Let the buyer beware.” I shall not engage in the futile undertaking of lecturing to these people, in terms of morality, about cheating and honesty. Instead, I shall present my conjectures about the origin of this peculiar constitution (the constitution, namely, of a nation of merchants).” ~ Immanuel Kant

“In almost all parts of Europe the laws and the entire constitution of the state seek to prevent as much as possible any increase in the number of those unfortunate Asiatic refugees, the Jews. Should these hardworking and good citizens be less useful to the state because they come from Asia, because they differ from others in their beards, circumcision and the particular way of worshiping the supreme being they have inherited from their oldest ancestors?” ~ Christian Wilhelm Dohm

Hitler, in this respect, was no different from any other European.

As he himself wrote in Mein Kampf…

“This pestilential adulteration of the blood, of which hundreds of thousands of our people take no account, is being systematically practised by the Jew to-day. Systematically these negroid parasites in our national body corrupt our innocent fair-haired girls and thus destroy something which can no longer be replaced in this world.”

And here we have a quote from an undated pamphlet issued by the German High Command, entitled The Jewish Question and Its Significance for the German People:

“Jewry represents not a uniform race but a race mixture. It consists of Near-Eastern and Oriental race ingredients, intermingled with Negro strains.”

If ever one needs proof that Nazi antisemitism had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with us being an unwanted group of non-white non-European foreigners, one could hardly ask for a clearer example than that.

Our status as unwanted Asiatics was a constantly recurring theme in Nazi propaganda, emphasizing (and often exaggerating) our Middle Eastern traits, e.g. dark skin, aquiline noses, curly hair. More often than not, these features would be grafted onto verminous or menacing animals such as spiders, snakes, and octopi.

The Nuremburg laws did not differentiate between secular and observant Jews. Having even a single Jewish grandparent meant being earmarked for extermination.

Whoopi’s proclamation that the Holocaust “had nothing to do with race” and that Nazi Germany, in attacking Jews, was attacking a “fellow group of whites” is ludicrously offensive and even a form of Holocaust denial.

The Shoah was not some internecine freak incident of “white on white infighting”. It wasn’t, as Whoopi Goldberg ludicrously suggested, two members of the same “white family” having a little tiff. It was a racist, white supremacist, industrial scale genocide conducted against a West Asian ethnic community of color that wiped out nearly 2/3 of their entire population.

Anti-Jewish racists in general do not care if we practice Judaism or not. They see our West Asian swarthiness and other exotic facial features, they see our surnames like Rosen and Levine and Spector, and that’s all they need. You could be a practicing Christian, Muslim, or even atheist. You could be more culturally German than the Germans or more American than the white-Americans. It won’t make an iota of difference. They will still hate you. They will still hunt you.

Antisemites have never asked me whether or not I go to synagogue. They never said to me “oh dear, I didn’t realize you were an atheist. Sorry for bothering you” when I told them of my atheism.

Because even those who loudly insist that Jews are a religion still target us as though we are a race. They will never give a free pass to atheist Jews or secular Jews or even Jews who practice other religions. The bare fact of our Jewish ethnicity, our blood, alone makes us inherently suspect.

The revisionist view that Jews are exclusively a religion and that Ashkenazi Jews are “white” i.e. the same “race” as the Nazis, is ludicrously offensive, erasive, clearly untrue and absolutely must be resisted. Yesterday, we saw first hand precisely where such claims inevitably lead:

To the rewriting of our origins.
To the delegitimization of our indigenous rights.
To the complete erasure of Jewish experiences.
To the wholesale devaluation of our suffering.

About the Author
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.
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