Magazine article The Spectator

Did Six Million Die for This?

Magazine article The Spectator

Did Six Million Die for This?

Article excerpt

THE Holocaust dominated the moral imagination of the 20th century. Before the rise of Hitler, anti-Semitism was a parochial concern of the Jews; after the war it was everyone's concern, and everyone regarded it with horror.

The cause of anti-Semitism is a mystery to most Jews and most Gentiles, but it was not a mystery to Isaiah Berlin. He blamed it on the New Testament. That is true of one kind of anti-Semitism, based on history and doctrinal differences. Another kind is more subtle and only a century or two old. Rebecca West discovered it during her travels through prewar Yugoslavia: 'Now I understand some other cause for anti-Semitism; many primitive peoples must receive their first indication of the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of scepticism.' This feeling is shared by those who saw the Jews behind such forces as Bolshevism and 'progressive' movements of all kinds: a supposed Jewish 'weakness for communism' was observed by such genial anti-Semites as Gregor von Rezzori, villains like Hitler, and, in an interesting new book on the Vietnam war, by the wellliked young American liberal Michael Lind.

But a new kind of anti-Semitism may emerge in the 21st century, in reaction to the attempt to make 'the Holocaust' central to our civilisation. The proliferation of Holocaust memorials and museums, and the emergence of a new academic discipline called Holocaust and Genocide Studies, threaten to undermine a proper understanding of the Nazi war against the Jews. More disturbingly, however, it is igniting resentment against what is seen as moral and political posturing on the part of some Jews.

The National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, is the perfect example of what happens when the attempt to understand the Holocaust breaks free from historical discipline and is raised in a hothouse of preening, modish concern; when it becomes 'Holocaustology'. The museum's director of education, Joan Ringelheim, has been attacked by Gabriel Schoenfeld in the magazine Commentary for drawing a connection between Nazi 'sexism' and the age-old 'exploitation' of Jewish women by Jewish men. 'In this very link,' writes Mr Schoenfeld, 'Ringelheim has located a key to the puzzle of why "malestream" scholarship has allegedly erased the history of women in the Holocaust. After all, she writes, many people today simply find it "too difficult to contemplate the extent to which ... the sexism of Nazi ideology and the sexism of the Jewish community met in a tragic and involuntary alliance".'

In the world of Ms Ringelheim the Holocaust becomes a means to other ends. It is important for Holocaustology to show, for example, that the Nazis were sexists as well as butchers; that the extermination of the Jews has to be put in historical context with other persecutions; that persons of colour and members of the working class lived in Auschwitz-like conditions before and after the historical Holocaust. More recently, another feminist scholar has reexamined Anne Frank's diaries and discovered that, had Ms Frank escaped the crematorium, she might well, with luck, have become a lesbian.

In America, in one 'mission statement' after another, universities advertise their Holocaust and Genocide Studies programmes as specific remedies for Holocaust relapse. The University of Minnesota declares that the basic purpose of Holocaust studies is 'to educate people to be sensitive and vigilant toward behaviour with potential for a Holocaust' (as if genocides lurked around unlit alleys in downtown St Paul). …

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