A day after the controversial Polish Holocaust law came into force, a Polish pro-government nationalist group Polish League Against Defamation (RDI) filed a lawsuit against a newspaper located more than 12.000 kilometers away from Warsaw. The subject was the Argentinian daily Pagina 12 that had published an article on the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom, a massacre of more than 340 local Jews by their Polish neighbors during the Holocaust. According to the RDI, the photograph used to illustrate the article was not about Jedwabne pogrom, but about anti-Communist resistance fighters after World World II.
The RDI may be right about the picture itself. Results of a reverse image search hint the photograph is indeed from the post-World War II period. Previously, the RDI has sued several media companies, including the BBC. Nevertheless, one could ask if it is meaningful to deal with beliefs, ideas or even facts in terms of legislation. Laws may affect external behavior, but they do not touch the internal reality from which hatred grows.
Here, I try to bring a new angle to the on-going debate. First, let’s deal with the question of the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
When the European refugee crisis started, I heard people suggesting multiple times, “then it was Jews, but now it is Muslims and Christians.” But I am afraid, this is not the case. Of course, there were millions of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and whoever becomes a victim, the loss of life is enormous. Still, I believe there is something that makes the Holocaust primarily a genocide of the Jews.
In his essay entitled, “What Makes the Holocaust a Uniquely Unique Genocide?” Professor emeritus Gunnar Heinsohn (b. 1943) argues that the Holocaust is a unique genocide because Adolf Hitler hated Judaism so much that he wanted to destroy every physical, spiritual and intellectual mark of it. Hitler knew exactly what he was doing. Heinsohn shows that Hitler admired ancient Sparta because the Spartans killed their disabled babies. On the other hand, Hitler hated Jews because of the Jewish code of ethics according to which every human life is sacred. Hitler loved death more than Jews love life.
According to Heinsohn, Hitler wanted to re-establish the Spartan code of ethics, but he could not complete his mission without first eliminating the bearers of the most sacred text of Judaism from the earth. For him, it turned out the Holocaust was the only reasonable method to permanently delete the Jewish code of ethics from German consciousness. Thus, in Heinsohn’s own words, Hitler’s move from “back behind the ‘Tables of Mount Sinai’ to ‘antique principles’ was set in full motion” in war and by the Holocaust. Heinsohn concludes that the “Holocaust was ‘uniquely unique’… because it was a genocide for the purpose of reinstalling the right to genocide.”
Unique events happen only once. Zyklon B will never be used again. But this is a very dangerous point where one can get it all wrong. History teaches us that the most striking feature in anti-Semitism is that as in Darwin’s theory, it survives by mutation and by natural selection. That is how plagues prevail. Thus, when the beast comes for the next time, we might not notice what is coming up. We—and I speak from a non-Jewish perspective—need to embrace a deeper understanding of anti-Semitism.
There is an element in Professor Gunnar Heinsohn’s theory that I—a hopelessly impenitent liberal Christian—find horrendous. For centuries, Jews were murdered by Christians who wanted to erase Judaism by replacing it by Christianity. Apostle Paul tried to replace Judaism with the Christian faith, and so did Martin Luther as well. The idea of proselytizing Jews is not strange even to Christian Zionists. Christians may argue that converting Jews has nothing to do with anti-Semitism (just like baptizing a convert from Islam does not indicate Islamophobia), but how come, in 2016, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) officially renounced its mission to evangelize Jews – the reason for that being a moral need to renounce anti-Semitism officially.
By the same token, on the liberal Christian front, there are Palestinian Christian priests who re-write history by applying a method of allegorical interpretation to the Bible to dispel Jewish identity from Biblical narrative. Thus, a Bethlehem based Lutheran pastor, Dr. Mitri Raheb spreads a gospel where the state of Israel is portrayed as the ancient Roman occupier. Surely, we might wish there would not be churchmen promoting racial doctrines in the 21st century, but unfortunately that is not the case, for Raheb once went so far to declare that he as a Palestinian carries the same DNA than that of Jesus of Nazareth and King David, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s DNA matches with “East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.” If this is not a racist theory, then what is?
However, hating Jews because of the Jewish religion, culture and people is not only a Christian or a Nazi phenomenon, for the very reason radical Islamists’ hatred of Zionists is not the question over so-called 1967 borders, but from the characteristically religious belief that the whole of the Jewish state from the river to the sea, is an insult of Allah. Liberals in the west call Islamists’ struggle a “resistance,” but even Yasser Arafat made sure it was “Jihad.” Moreover, when UNESCO passed the famous resolution, which referred to the Temple Mount as illegally occupied Palestinian land with no rights for Jews to it, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) hailed the resolution joyously, because the resolution acknowledged the Temple Mount to be an exclusively Islamic holy site with no links to Jewish history.
But it’s not only that some Christians, Nazis or radical Islamists try to wipe away Judaism or replace it with something else. Famous radical leftist cartoonist Carlos Latuff hates it too. In one of his drawings he presents the IDF as “the chosen people,” as a reason for him to portray Palestinians as the “chased people.” One can easily find memes of Prime Minister Netanyahu set side-by-side with Hitler, the latter saying, “we are the master race,” and the former saying, “we are the chosen people.” Indeed, in many cases, the anti-Semitic equating of Jews with Nazis is not based on the so-called Holocaust inversion where “Gaza is the new Warsaw ghetto,” but on the special role of the Jews as the chosen people.
In each of the cases above, anti-Semitism manifests itself as a desire to annihilate either the Jewish people, Jewish history, Jewish faith or the most significant embodiment of the modern-day Jewishness, namely the independent Jewish state.
It is true that Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945. And it is true that the Polish town of Oświęcim was an occupied territory when the Nazis built up Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II.
But if there is any truth to Gunnar Heinsohn’s theory, then, as for the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, we move on the darkest level of human mind where no law reaches its power. Thus, it makes little sense for the government of Poland to pass laws that limit free speech on anti-Semitism. For in the light of the distribution of today’s anti-Semitism, laws that make it illegal to speak about anti-Semitism even in geographically or historically limited way, can be harmful for combating hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism. If the government of Poland truly wishes to shine the image of Poland, I guess they better fight anti-Semitism rather than deny it.