Whoopi Goldberg recently commented that the Holocaust was not about race, saying, “I think of race as being something that I can see. How can you say it’s about race when you’re (i.e. white men) fighting each other?”
Immediately following these comments she was, predictably and understandably, placed under a barrage of criticism from multiple Jewish organisations worldwide.
But what if Whoopi Goldberg was right?
What if the Holocaust was not caused by racism?
What if there were another reason for Jew hatred that is not primarily based on race?
And I ask this question because, unlike Whoopi Goldberg, I am aware that there are Jews of all ‘races’ – there are white Caucasian Jews, Black Jews, Chinese Jews, Indian Jews and even Eskimo Jews. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (ztz”l) states, in his book “We Jews”, that Jews are not a race but a “family”. My grandfather (of blessed memory) used to play golf in London with an elderly Jewish refugee from Germany who was called “Adolf” and the surname, “Hitler”, was not uncommon amongst Jewish families in New York in the 1930’s. Racially it may have been very difficult to recognise a Jewish “Adolf Hitler” from the Fuhrer at that time!
So, if the Nazis didn’t hate us for racial reasons (although they claimed that they did), why DID they hate us?
There is a word that only recently entered the English language (early 20th century), and yet, still today, is not frequently used. The word is “Culturalism”.
I am not a racist. But I am a proud Culturalist.
That is to say that I (hope that I) do not discriminate based on the colour of someone’s skin or or their place of birth. That would be racist. But I certainly do discriminate based on their culture (or religion).
If my children were to marry someone black, Chinese, Indian or Yemenite, I would be delighted. But if they were to marry someone from a different culture (i.e. not Jewish) I would be devastated. That’s not racist, but it is overtly Culturalist.
I would go as far as to say that any proud Jew, Christian, Muslim, liberal, conservative or Atheist is also a proud Culturalist. They generally believe that their culture / religion / creed is superior to others and not just something that they arbitrarily cling to.
I am a proud Culturalist Jew who believes that Jewish values (and culture) creates a way of life that is, simply, better – stronger marriages, family relations, community, educational values – I could go on and on. And I am certain that a proud liberal or atheist could give their own list of reasons why they feel that their approach to life is superior to mine.
Culturalism is (usually) healthy. It means that people have beliefs that they wish to pass on to their children and beyond. Extreme Culturalism is very dangerous – it believes that, because my Culture is superior to yours, I can force you to change your Culture, or even worse that I can fight you or kill you.
Could it be that the Holocaust was an extreme emanation of Culturalism at a time when Nation states were trying to affirm their Culture as superior?
Could it be that the Nazis created a myth about the “Jewish Race” because they did not wish to admit that what they really hated was “Jewish Culture”?
At a time when Germany was falling apart, due to the Great Depression and rampant inflation, is it possible that Germans – who observed strong nuclear Jewish families, educational institutions, successful businesses and active community support organisations – felt an extra degree of envy and hatred towards the Jews? Did they perceive us to be suffering less than them through the hard inter-war years? In the same way that Mediaeval Europeans blamed Jews for the black death (because Jews were washing their hands before eating and suffering less casualties)?
So, what if the Holocaust was not really about race, but really about Culture?
Shouldn’t this, at least, be a discussion?
The Pew Report consistently identifies Jews as the most affluent sub-group in contemporary US society, and other research has shown that religious Jews have a higher life expectancy, lower divorce rate and higher levels of happiness (than the average American) measured on almost every scale. Should we not be interested to understand why this is? Could some cultures actually be more healthy, beneficial or satisfying than others? Why has there been so little research into this fascinating and crucial topic?
Jews do not believe in extreme Culturalism. Not since the days of the Bible have we waged war to force others to convert. Jews have lived peacefully amongst the Nations for thousands of years and our influence has been only through our example.
Extreme Culturalism, such as that of the Nazis, should be spurned at all costs. But a healthy bout of pride in one’s culture can only benefit the world.
I’m not sure what Whoopi Goldberg meant when she said that the Nazis were not “racists”, but I am glad that she opened up this discussion. In the words of Rav Kook (ztz”l), when we disagree with someone, we should still try to identify the glimmer of truth in what they have said.
Let’s not lose that glimmer.
And thank you Whoopi!