What I learned from Elie Wiesel
by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry
The picture to the right is of Elie Wiesel, a victim of the Nazi concentration camps who survived and went on win a Nobel Peace Prize. While I never met Elie Wiesel, I have worked closely with other Jewish Holocaust survivors, poets and translators who helped The HyperTexts become a leading online venue for Holocaust poetry. Some of the poems we published together were translations of Jewish Ghetto poets whose poems survived even though their persons and even their names were lost forever. I have always considered working on such poems to be a sacred trust, and I often found my eyes brimming with tears as I muttered "Never again!" angrily to myself, while publishing testimonies I hoped might help keep such terrible things from ever recurring. But then something happened, which I never could have imag-ined: as I worked with my Jewish friends and we sometimes discussed the ongoing conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, I began to sense that something was very wrong "under the hood." Like a driver whose vehicle starts to lurch and shud-der uncontrollably, I began detecting very "bad vibes" whenever our discussions turned to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. So I decided to investigate the matter independently. What I discovered shocked and appalled me, but what I learned also led me to believe that peace in Israel/Palestine is possible, if only we confront the facts, and don't do what so many Germans did during World War II: pretend very real horrors don't exist, by burying our heads in the sand and willfully ignoring them. In fact, as silly as it may sound, I came up with what might be called a "program for world peace" as a result of my studies ...
There is divine beauty in learning,
just as there is human beauty in tolerance.
Like Elie Wiesel, I value learning and I believe in the beauty of tolerance. But what are we to do, when we learn that our best friends and most trusted allies are practicing intolerance?
I grew up in an evangelical Christian family that was staunchly pro-Israel, so like many Americans I considered it virtually the "duty" of Americans to support Israel. But of course I also grew up in a country that has come to believe in the self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal. Like many Americans, I was ecstatic to learn that the majority of Americans had truly embraced the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when we elected a biracial president, Barack Obama. Regardless of whether he turns out to be a great president or not, the fact that he was elected proves that many Americans have made real progress on the racial front, in a fairly short period of time. After all, the United States had only paid lip service to "democracy" before the Civil Rights reforms of the mid 1900s, making American democracy a relatively new phenomenon.
But just when I believed things really had changed for the better, I was confronted by a new source of angst from a most unexpected source. I and my Jewish friends had seemed to be in complete agreement that racism is an abomination, as we said "Never again!" to the virulent anti-Semitism that spawned the myriad sickening atrocities of the Jewish Shoah. (The Hebrew word Shoah means "catastrophe" and is used to describe the unspeakable horrors that befell so many Jews during the Holocaust). But when I asked my Jewish friends about the Nakba of the Palestinian people, I found their answers evasive, unsatisfying and disturbing. (The Arabic word Nakba also means "catastrophe.") My Jewish friends made it abundantly clear that they had little or no sympathy for the Palestinians, which struck me as anti-Semitism, since most Palestinians are Semites. One Holocaust survivor actually insisted, "The Palestinians are not suffering!" even though the entire world is aware of the terrible conditions inside Gaza, the West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps. So I was shocked and had the sinking feeling that we weren't really in agreement, after all. It seemed to me that one catastrophe was being used to excuse another, and I found that idea unfathomable. It was as if my Jewish friends were saying that because someone had beaten their mothers, their brothers should be excused if they beat someone else's women and children. Was it possible that Holocaust survivors who angrily denounced Holocaust deniers were in denial themselves? Not at all sure what to think, I launched into a "crash course" of independent study about the history of Palestine, Israel and the Nakba ...
Even if only one free individual is left,
he is proof that the dictator is powerless against freedom.
But a free man is never alone; the dictator is alone.
The free man is the one who, even in prison,
gives to the other prisoners
their thirst for, their memory of, freedom.
My studies soon convinced me that I had been deceived about the Nakba and the true intentions of the government of Israel. Now, please don't get me wrong. I didn't suddenly become an anti-Semite and start hating my Jewish friends. But I strongly disagree that what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust in any way excuses the terrible things being done to the Palestinians today, such as their houses being demolished without just cause or due process, so that they end up homeless while robber barons suck up their land. But of course we cannot confuse individuals with groups or resort to stereotypes. People are people, and governments are institutions. I love my country and am often highly critical of its government, so it makes perfect sense to me that I can be "for" the people, but opposed to their government. However, democratic governments are "of the people" and elected "by the people," so I must admit that I became extremely disillusioned about Israel (after all, who elects racist leaders?), especially when I realized that my Jewish friends had either lied to me on purpose, or were in denial about the Nakba ...
That day I encountered the first American soldiers
in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
I remember them well.
Bewildered, disbelieving, they walked around the place,
hell on earth,
where our destiny had been played out.
They looked at us,
and did not know what to do or say.
Survivors snatched from the dark throes of death,
we were empty of all hope—
too weak, too emaciated to hug them or even speak to them.
Like lost children, the American soldiers wept and wept with rage and sadness.
And we received their tears as if they were heartrending offerings
from a wounded and generous humanity.
—Elie Wiesel, from "The America I Love"
Like the American soldiers who first discovered the SS death camps, when I learned the truth about the Nakba, I too was bewildered and disbelieving. Perhaps I was even more bewildered, disbelieving and heartbroken than the soldiers, because I discovered to my horror that my own government was funding and supporting this new Holocaust, using my tax dollars. I was shocked, aghast, sickened. At least the American soldiers had experienced the satisfaction of opposing the Nazis who had created the German concentration camps. I felt like one of the builders, and a gullible, hoodwinked one at that. I believe I was literally in a state of shock for days, and I still find it hard to carry on conversations with people who refuse to admit the truth about what Israel has done to completely innocent Palestinian women and children.
I was an editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry, who had seen and imagined such terrible visions as the one Elie Wiesel paints above. But I could never have imagined, in even my wildest nightmares, that I might be complicit, however indirectly, in inflicting so much suffering and death on so many innocents. It was as if someone had slugged me in the gut; I wanted to throw up and I wanted to slug someone, although I have never believed in violence and have never been in a fight worth talking about.
My friend the Jewish Holocaust survivor was obviously wrong when she said Palestinians were not suffering. No one can deny the suffering Palestinians endure inside the walled ghetto of Gaza, which has been cut off from the rest of the world by a multi-year siege and blockade, or in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. No one can deny the suffering of Palestinian olive farmers and their families, who have seen more than a million trees destroyed by Israelis so intent on "cleansing the land" of any evidence that Arabs ever lived there, that they seem compelled to bulldoze everything in their path: houses, trees and everything else not created or planted by Jewish hands. No one can deny that the United States has give hundreds of billions of dollars in financial aid and advanced weapons to Israel. No one can deny that the United States has vetoed one UN resolution after another that might have helped the Palestinians achieve independence. The only question, really, is whether the policies and actions of the governments of Israel and the United States can somehow be justified.
If not, I was beginning to understand why the United States was attacked on 9-11. If Israeli Jews and Americans were colluding to cause the suffering and deaths of multitudes of Palestinian women and children, then of course Muslim men were going to be incensed, and retaliate. Things were starting to add up, and I didn't like the implications. And I especially didn't like the fact that it seemed the Holocaust was being used as a hole card in a stacked deck, which meant that I had been used for a vile, sickening purpose.
While millions of the victims of the Holocaust were Jews (anyone who quibbles over the exact numbers is nuts), many of the victims were Gypsies, Slavs, Russians and other people considered "inferior" by the Nazis. To me it made absolutely no difference who the victims were, in terms of race or creed. I am against the torture and murder of any human being, period. But I felt the most horror when I contemplated women and children being brutalized. Even if all the men on both sides of the conflict had willfully chosen violence (of course this was not the case), still there was no reason for women and children to be harmed. So for me to be able to support the government of Israel, I would have to be convinced that Israel was not causing innocent women and children to suffer and die unjustly. Unfortunately, this is not what I discovered ...
To learn means to accept the postulate
that life did not begin at my birth.
Others have been here before me,
and I walk in their footsteps.
The books I have read were composed
by generations of fathers and sons,
mothers and daughters,
teachers and disciples.
I am the sum total
of their experiences, their quests.
And so are you.
—Elie Wiesel, from "Have You Learned the Most Important Lesson of All"
Like Elie Wiesel, I believe in reading, studying and learning. So I set out to learn whether Israel really was an oasis of tolerance and democracy in the Middle East, as I had always been led to believe. Sadly, the answer was an emphatic "NO!"
Sometimes we have to move beyond what our teachers tell us, even when the teacher is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Throughout this page, Elie Wiesel speaks passionately and eloquently of the need for freedom and equality in human relationships, but in reality he seems to exclude Palestinians as if they were non-entities. For instance, on April 15, 2010, Wiesel took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers. In those ads he claimed that Jerusalem "belongs" to the Jews, even though Palestinians have lived in Jerusalem for at least thirteen centuries. In the ads, his claim to Jewish "ownership" of Jerusalem was based on the word "Jerusalem" appearing in the Bible, but not in the Koran. But how can ownership of land today be determined by something men did or didn't write, more than a thousand years ago? Would any American surrender his land, house or property, if someone showed him an ancient text that happened not to include the name of an American city? How absurd! No American city is named in any text as old as the Bible, and yet Americans can own land, houses and property. So why should Palestinians be treated any differently?
Wiesel also claimed Jewish "ownership" of Jerusalem as a consequence of Jewish "memories" about and "longing" for the city. But what about Palestinian memories and longing? Such things seem to be of no consequence in Wiesel's strange vision of the world, where the living presence of more than 200,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem is trumped by a nebulous blend of Jewish religion, memories and longings ...
Heroes and martyrs become the pride of their people
by fighting with a weapon in their hand
or a prayer on their lips.
In a thousand ways, each proclaims
that freedom alone gives meaning
to the life of an individual
or a nation.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
A basic premise of the American Declaration of Independence, which is echoed in the words of Elie Wiesel above, is that all human beings must be free. Patrick Henry, one of the American Founding Fathers, famously exclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death!" In just societies, freedom is established by fair laws and upheld by fair courts. Knowing this, I began my studies with the laws and courts of Israel, which are matters of public record and cannot be hidden. It took me only a few minutes of research to learn that Israel has Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts, just as we once had here where I live, in Tennessee.
Being a student of the Holocaust, I knew exactly what happens when women and children are not protected by fair laws and courts: the Shoah, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears, South African apartheid, American slavery followed by a terrible Civil War, then a century of Jim Crow laws, kangaroo courts and public lynchings, and now the Nakba of the Palestinians.
Anyone who wants to understand the genesis of such horrors should watch the movie "Judgment at Nuremburg," which features an all-star cast headed by Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes) and a very young, very brash William Shatner. (The cast was so packed with talent that Maximilian Schell won the best actor Oscar despite appearing only fifth in the billing.) As the movie clearly illustrates, German judges could have prevented the Holocaust by upholding the individual rights of the victims of Nazi oppression. But German judges failed to do this, and thus they allowed the Holocaust to evolve (or, more properly, devolve) into genocide. If you want to understand how Holocausts happen, and how to prevent them, please watch the movie and pay close attention to what the German judges say to the American judges, and vice versa. The Holocaust began with a man here and a woman there being denied such basic civil rights as being able to keep their houses when they had done nothing to warrant losing them. (Today Palestinian houses are continually confiscated, then bulldozed. There is an organization called the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions which exists specifically to oppose, track and document this terrible aspect of the Nakba.)
Make no mistake about it: on this planet, peace, freedom and justice require fair laws and fair courts. When I determined that the laws and courts of Israel were racially biased, I knew Palestinians were in the same position as blacks during the days of "white only" water fountains and public lynchings in the United States. The only question was how terrible things had become; the answer unfortunately was "terrible enough to make any compassionate person vomit." But this begs the question: why aren't Elie Wiesel and all the other Jewish Holocaust survivors retching up their guts? Are they in denial? ...
The Jews who lived in the ghettos under the Nazi occupation
showed their independence by leading an organized clandestine life.
The teacher who taught the starving children was a free man.
The nurse who secretly cared for the wounded, the ill and the dying was a free woman.
The rabbi who prayed,
the disciple who studied,
the father who gave his bread to his children,
the children who risked their lives by leaving the ghetto at night
in order to bring back to their parents a piece of bread
or a few potatoes,
the man who consoled his orphaned friend,
the orphan who wept with a stranger for a stranger—
these were human beings filled with an unquenchable thirst for freedom and dignity.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
Elie Wiesel's eloquent lines above describe what life was like for Jews who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto. But they also describe what life is like for Palestinians who live in Gaza, a ghetto surrounded by walls twice as high as the Berlin Wall, and in refugee camps across the Middle East ...
The young people who dreamed of armed insurrection,
the lovers who, a moment before they were separated,
talked about their bright future together,
the insane who wrote poems,
the chroniclers who wrote down the day's events
by the light of their flickering candles—
all of them were free in the noblest sense of the word,
though their prison walls seemed impassable
and their executioners invincible.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
Having studied Israel's laws and courts, and having been dismayed to find them racist abominations, I then turned my attention to Israel's "security walls." Walls built for national security are, of course, built along a nation's borders. But Israel's so-called "security walls" snake deep inside Occupied Palestine (the West Bank), stealing land and valuable water sources from increasingly destitute Palestinians. Israel has also created "Jewish only" roads, waterworks and settlements deep inside Palestinian territory, in clear violation of international law, UN resolutions, the Camp David accords, and simple humanity. What sort of government tells Palestinian women and children that they aren't "good enough" to drive on the same roads as Jews, or to drink the same water, on their own native soil? As terribly as Native Americans were treated on reservations, still I have never heard of American Indians being banned from traveling on "white only" roads inside the reservations, or being denied access to water sources inside the reservations. But the theft of land by robber barons from the inmates in both cases was very much the same. Great humanitarians like Gandhi, Albert Einstein (a Jew), Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have shown the world in no uncertain terms that Israel's policies and actions are racist and unjust. But the question remains: why do Gandhi, Einstein, Carter, Mandela and Tutu clearly see racism and injustice, while many of my Jewish friends do not? Are they in denial? ...
"Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil."
But if indifference is evil, why has Elie Wiesel spoken for the rights of people all around the world, but not for the rights of those living in the closest proximity to Israeli Jews? When queried about the oppression and dehumanization of Palestinians by Israel, Wiesel "abstains" and dismisses the subject, claiming "I cannot say bad things about Jews," or "Such comparisons [i.e., of the Shoah to the Nakba] are unworthy."
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
But Elie Wiesel seems shockingly indifferent to the fate of Palestinians. For instance, in 1982 after the massacres of the inhabitants of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, including women and children, Wiesel was asked to comment by the New York Times. He was "one of the few American Jews approached on the matter to express zero remorse," saying "I don't think we should even comment." He went on to say that he felt "sadness with Israel, and not against Israel." For the victims, he had "not even a perfunctory word." Does Wiesel care about Palestinians only insofar as their suffering and deaths don't tarnish Israel's image and standing in the world? He certainly gives me very "bad vibes," just as some of my Jewish friends gave me very bad vibes. They don't seem to see the Palestinians as human beings, but only as obstacles standing in the way of Jews achieving great things, such as Tikkun Olam (the healing or repair of the world). But it goes without saying that healing the world cannot be accomplished by killing women and children, or by denying millions of people basic human rights and dignity. It seems to me that fear of a Holocaust that has long been over has caused survivors like Elie Wiesel and my Jewish friends to willfully ignore the suffering and deaths of other innocents, even women and children.
According to Alexander Cockburn: "Although the Nobel committee extolled him as a 'messenger to mankind' it is difficult to find examples of Wiesel sending any message on behalf of those victimized by the policies of the United States, and virtually impossible when it comes to victims of Israel. Wiesel's pusillanimity was well illustrated in an interview with The National Jewish Post & Opinion (November 19, 1982). Asked about the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, he said he felt 'sad'. Lest anyone leap to the conclusion that Wiesel was at last expressing sadness for the victims of Israel's invasion―he remained silent throughout the bombing of Beirut―Wiesel added that this sadness was 'with Israel, and not against Israel'. As he put it, 'After all, the Israeli soldiers did not kill'. [No, but they just stood by and let other thugs do the dirty work.] In 1985, Wiesel was asked by a reporter from Ha'aretz about Israel's aid to the military junta in Guatemala. By way of response Wiesel remarked that he had received a letter from a Nobel laureate (Salvador Luria of M.I.T. had written to him on this subject a month earlier) documenting Israel's contributions to mass murder in Guatemala and urging Wiesel to act privately to pressure Israel. Wiesel 'sighed', the Ha'aretz reporter wrote, and said, 'I usually answer at once, but what can I answer him.' Wiesel could, I suppose, argue that a sigh constitutes a technical breach of silence, but why did he not go further?"
In an interview published in the second volume of Against Silence, Wiesel says that, as a Diaspora Jew, the "price I chose to pay for not living in Israel . . . is not to criticize Israel from outside its borders." In another interview, published in the London Jewish Chronicle (September 10, 1982), he lamented criticism of Israel during the Lebanon invasion and asked these rhetorical questions: "Was it necessary to criticize the Israeli government, notwithstanding the spate of lies disseminated in the press? Or would it not have been better to have offered Israel unreserved support, regardless of the suffering endured by the population of Beirut? In the face of hatred, our love for Israel ought to have deepened, become more whole-hearted, and our faith in Israel more compelling, more true." He sounds like a Nazi propagandist demanding love and patriotism for Germany, regardless of the atrocities committed against Jews by the Third Reich.
"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
But when confronted about his self-imposed silence on the subject of Palestinian human rights and the Nakba, Wiesel contradicted himself, saying in an essay, "Jerusalem in My Heart," published on January 24, 2001 by the New York Times: "As a Jew living in the United States, I have long denied myself the right to intervene in Israel's internal debates ... My critics have their conception of social and individual ethics; I have mine. But while I grant them their right to criticize, they sometimes deny mine to abstain." In this essay, he went on to adamantly deny the right of return to millions of Palestinian refugees, using the long-discredited argument that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians "left" in 1948 (the insinuation being that they left "voluntarily," when the real question is why they weren't allowed to return, and why hundreds of their villages were deliberately and methodically razed by Israeli Jews to keep them from ever returning).
In Koteret Rashit Tom Segev, an Israeli journalist, wrote of Wiesel: "He is always careful not to criticize his nation ... What does he have to say about the situation in the territories? When people from Peace Now asked him to criticize the Lebanese War he evaded the request. He's never been in the habit of standing up seriously against Israeli leaders ... What in fact has he done to realize his fine intentions? Bob Geldof has done more ... How nice it would have been if they had divided the prize among those truly good people of the world, those still alive, those people who endangered their lives at the time of the Holocaust in order to save Jews."
Wiesel also employs a very strange argument for a "man of peace," saying that for Jews "to compromise on history is impossible." But according to history, the Palestinians clearly have the far better claim to the land, since they have lived in the region continuously for more than a thousand years, while the Jews went into Diaspora nearly 2,000 years ago and only began to return in large numbers around a hundred years ago. Why then is it "impossible" for Wiesel to consider the history of Palestinians? Is he a racist? Why does he insist that only Jewish religious texts, memories, longings and history are of any consequence? Why did he swear never to be silent when human beings endure suffering and humiliation, only to lapse into pious silence whenever Israel became the oppressor and tormentor of Palestinians? Is he in denial? ...
"No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them."
But Elie Wiesel obviously believes that words in the Bible trump words in the Koran, and that Jewish longings and memories trump Palestinian longings and memories. How does that not make him a racist? As I researched material for this page, I found an illuminating letter written by a Jewish woman, M. J. Rosenberg, in response to Wiesel's ad in the New York Times. She said:
My criticism of Nobel prize winner Wiesel is tempered with awe. I suppose that adds to my discomfiture with his Times column. The most significant thing wrong with Wiesel's column is its central premise, that it is inappropriate for American Jews to protest when "Israeli police or soldiers react excessively to violence from Palestinian soldiers or civilians." When asked to do so, Wiesel writes, "I rarely answer. My critics have their conception of social and individual ethics; I have mine."
At first, I could hardly believe what I was reading. Elie Wiesel's reputation rests largely on writings which insist that no one has the right to look away upon encountering injustice or human rights violations. Surely, he does not believe that white southerners who refused to answer Dr. King's call are exempt from criticism because they had their own "conception of social and individual rights." One certainly knows that Wiesel would not accept that morally relativist defense in the case of those who looked away during the Holocaust. What could he possibly mean?
After a little thinking I understood, because in earlier writings Wiesel told us. He does not believe Israeli policies should be criticized from the outside because Israel is the last refuge of the survivors of the Holocaust. He believes, as we all do to an extent, that after the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people, Israel has earned a certain immunity from critics who may not understand its significance and its history, its never-ending pain.
As I said, to an extent, all friends of Israel believe as Wiesel does. Israel is not just another country. It is not France or New Zealand. The problem is that peace through compromise could never be achieved anywhere if Wiesel's approach was adopted, as, in fact, it too often is.
Throughout the world, terrible human rights violations take place because the perpetrators honestly believe that history exempts them from judgement. For us, Jewish history is uniquely tragic and the Holocaust was a crime that cannot be compared to any other. But other groups feel that their own history entitles them to a pass on human rights abuse issues. Anyone who has ever spoken to a Serb has heard the argument that the mass murder of their people by Croats justified their actions during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990's. Irish terrorists—Catholic and Protestant—will tell you that hundreds of years of attacks inflicted by the other side makes terror, even against children, understandable. In this country we have, of late, experienced trials where African-Americans have refused to convict the guilty because, after 300 years of slavery and oppression, enough black men have suffered.
We do not have to accept the idea that the suffering of these groups is equal to the Holocaust to understand that the logic is unacceptable. History does not excuse anything. We can look away if we so choose but we cannot say that our indifference is excused by historical circumstance; it is not.
This is not an argument, however, for holding Israel to a higher standard than other western style democracies. Over the past couple of weeks I have watched the PBS documentary series on the history of jazz. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on American history, I was repeatedly shocked to see that American racism was far more systematic and pervasive than I had thought, in both north and south—as systematic and ugly as anything in South Africa. Americans should think twice before pointing fingers at anyone. But that does not mean we should not be encouraging others—including Israelis and Palestinians—to make difficult sacrifices to achieve peace. On the contrary, it is our obligation to do so. Wiesel has got it precisely backwards. History does not offer excuses; history teaches that no excuses are accepted.
"A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent."
If any one man could prevent the Nakba, it is probably Elie Wiesel. If any group of people could prevent the Nakba, it is probably the remaining Jewish Holocaust survivors. The Jewish people would listen to them. The world would listen to them. But with a few enlightened exceptions such as Reuven Moskovitz and Hedy Epstein, most Holocaust survivors remain inexplicably and implacably silent about the terrible parallels between the Shoah and the Nakba. I have asked my best friend among the Holocaust survivors to speak for the Palestinians, but she refuses to denounce the Nakba, while roundly criticizing anyone who denies the Shoah. I believe she, Elie Wiesel and millions of other Jews have become anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, primarily out of fear. But how can they denounce the German people for what they do themselves, especially when their knowledge of the Nakba is greater than the knowledge of most Germans about the Shoah? After all, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and hundreds of other websites are literally overflowing with graphic images and details of the Nakba, while German newspapers and radio stations never breathed a word about the Shoah, since they were controlled by the Nazis.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
But Elie Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors/deniers seem incapable of protesting injustices, if they are committed by Jews. To them, any injustices committed by Jews are excused by the Holocaust. But what would they say if Native Americans went on a rampage and started torturing and killing Jews, because of what happened during the Trail of Tears? Then, of course, they would apply a double standard and say such retribution was misguided. And of course the Nazis excused their injustices by complaining about the suffering of the German people in the wake of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. If German suffering did not excuse the Shoah, how can Jewish suffering excuse the Nakba?
"Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world."
But Elie Wiesel obviously values Jewish life above Palestinian life. In The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians, Noam Chomsky points out the obvious questions raised by Wiesel's strange double standard, in which the rest of the world is required to admit and accept responsibility for all atrocities committed against Jews, but in which Israel is never to be criticized (or even questioned publicly) about its atrocities against Palestinians. [Indeed, this was one of the "bad vibes" I received from my Jewish friends: even when the policies and actions of Israel were clearly wrong or at least highly questionable, they insisted that Israel must never be questioned, much less criticized.] Chomsky cites Wiesel saying the following in regard to Israeli policies in Occupied Palestine: "What to do and how to do it, I really don't know because I lack the elements of information and knowledge ... You must be in a position of power to possess all the information ... I don't have that information, so I don't know ..." Similarly, after the Sabra and Shatila massacres, Wiesel said, "I don't think we should even comment since the investigation is still on .... We should not pass judgment until the investigation takes place." Wiesel "regularly passes judgment on the actions of other governments," but the government of Israel always "gets a free pass." Wiesel has actually said, "I support Israel, period. I identify with Israel, period. I never attack, I never criticize Israel when I am not in Israel." Chomsky hammers away at Wiesel's unwillingness to criticize Israel on the theory that "you must be in a position of power to possess all the information." It would seem to follow that Holocaust deniers and do-nothings were acting judiciously, if they were not in Hitler's inner circle, since they "did not possess all the information." One of Wiesel's repeated accusations against "the world" is that it did not say or do enough about the Holocaust while it was in progress. But if it was wrong for "the world" not to say or do enough to prevent the Holocaust while lacking perfect knowledge, how is it not wrong for Wiesel to remain silent about the Nakba? Why does he give every appearance of being a Holocaust denier, whenever Palestinians are the victims and Israel is the oppressor?
But we really can't credit Elie Wiesel's claims not to "know" what Israel is doing and why. The reason we cannot believe him is explained by excerpts from a letter by Daniel A. McGowan, the Director of Deir Yassin Remembered, a program of the Middle East Cultural and Charitable Society, Inc.:
He [Wiesel] knows from personal experience that on April 9, 1948 Arab civilians, including women and children, were murdered in cold blood in the village of Deir Yassin on the west side of Jerusalem by Jewish terrorists known as the Irgun and the Stern Gang. Wiesel worked for the Irgun, not as a fighter, but as a journalist and knows the details of this infamous (but not the only nor the largest) massacre of Arabs by Jews. And while he piously demands public apologies for atrocities committed against Jews (for example in 1946 at Kielce, Poland), he has never apologized for the atrocities committed by his own employer.
Wiesel pontificates that Auschwitz "represents a grave theological challenge to Christianity." The implication is that Christians created the Holocaust and should apologize to Jews repeatedly and never criticize Israel. [This argument was used against me by some of my Jewish friends, in an effort to shame me into not criticizing Israel; I simply pointed out that neither I, nor anyone in my family, nor any Christian that I have ever met, had ever done anything to harm any Jew. Most Americans have befriended Jews, not "persecuted" them.] That is the essence of his ecumenical deal: we Jews may some day forgive what you Christians did to us (and only to us) in the Holocaust (spelled with a capital H) if you promise to ignore what we have been [doing] and continue to do to the Palestinians in our Zionist quest to build a Jewish state. Questioning any aspect of the Holocaust discourse is to be considered "Holocaust denial" and therefore evil. So is mentioning the concentration camps built by Israel to incarcerate Palestinians (e.g., Ketziot in the Negev Desert); so is mentioning the relentless persecution, dispossession, and murder of Palestinians in the name of Zionism for over 100 years.
Wiesel supports "the right of return" for Jews, but only for Jews. An American Jew, who can trace his ancestors back to the Revolutionary War, has the right to return to Israel, obtain dual citizenship, obtain subsidized housing on land expropriated from Palestinians, and drive to settlements on roads "for Jews only." Palestinians who can trace their ancestors to the same land for centuries and who have a title and key to property from which they were driven in 1948 have no right to return. Why not? Because, Wiesel explains, it is "unthinkable; young Palestinians faces are twisted with hate; it would be suicide for the Jewish state." This is incredible hypocrisy especially from a professor of humanities and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Perhaps it is not feasible for all Palestinians to return to their homes lost in 1948. But Wiesel cannot even bring himself to tell the truth about what caused their Diaspora. He continues to spread one of the most insidious myths in Zionist discourse saying, "Incited by their leaders, 600,000 Palestinians left the country convinced that, once Israel was vanquished, they would be able to return home."
Wiesel knows Arab leaders did not tell their people to leave; that lie was thoroughly disproved by historians [including Jewish historians like Benny Morris] years ago. Second, he knows that the best estimates are that 750,000 Palestinians fled in 1948. (Note the outrage by Wiesel and others whenever anyone dares to question the number of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.) And third, these original Palestinian refugees did not just leave; they were driven out, often by the very terrorists for whom Wiesel proudly worked. [Wiesel's employer the Irgun was headed by Menachem Begin, whom Albert Einstein and other Jewish intellectuals roundly denounced as a terrorist in a letter published by the New York Times on December 4, 1948.] The massacre at Deir Yassin was emblematic of this. [The "Einstein Letter" specifically mentions the Deir Yassin massacre.]
For years Wiesel has remained silent regarding the suffering inflicted on Palestinians and the endless injustices committed against them by Zionists, including Christian Zionists like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham. Many students and scholars consider his silence to be hypocritical, especially after the publication of his trilogy Against Silence, wherein he passionately and piously encouraged readers to speak against oppression in all its forms. But his indifference to the myriad injustices suffered by the Palestinians removes any "moral high ground" that might otherwise be attributed to him.
Time and time again, he has employed a double standard, on one hand deploring the world's silence in the face of the unspeakable atrocities of the Shoah, while on the other hand refusing to denounce Israel publicly for its brutal role in the Nakba, when in reality both pogroms constitute terrible crimes against humanity. The methods may not be exactly the same, nor the scope of the savageries, but the immense human suffering levied by both cannot be denied. If children are being savagely beaten, though the precise methods may differ from those employed in the past, should I lapse into acquiescent silence, or strongly oppose all such atrocities?
Even when Wiesel goes to Jerusalem and stays at the King David Hotel, he cannot help but see Palestinian faces. (One wonders what he thinks when he is alone in the famous hotel that was bombed by his employer, The Irgun, killing scores of Englishmen and 15 innocent Jews.) He can go to the Jewish quarter of the Old City and pray at the Wailing Wall. But on top of that wall are those same goyim praying to his God whom they call Allah. And when he goes to the most famous Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem one wonders if he is refreshed to be in "Jewish Jerusalem" or is he haunted by the thought that the museum is built on the Arab lands of Ein Karem. When he walks through the new tunnel at Yad Vashem to emerge in the sunlight and face the Jewish settlement of Har Nof, is he at all troubled by the fact that he is also looking at the homes of Deir Yassin? Can he see the Palestinian faces of those who were piled up and burned in the quarry on the hill directly across from the museum? And when he goes to the settlement called Gilo, does he speak with Moshe Ben Eitan who ordered the wounded Arab women and children at Deir Yassin to be shot so they would not tell what his and Wiesel's employer did there?
The answer to these questions is "No, no, and no again." And the answer to the question, "Is Elie Wiesel a great humanitarian?" is also a resounding "No."
It was the same even in the death camps.
Defeated and downcast,
overcome by fatigue and anguish,
tormented and tortured day after day,
hour after hour,
even in their sleep,
condemned to a slow but certain death,
the prisoners nevertheless managed
to carve out a patch of freedom for themselves.
Every memory became a protest against the system;
every smile was a call to resist;
every human act turned into a struggle
against the torturer's philosophy.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
Elie Wiesel's lines above are a near-perfect description of what the Palestinians are enduring today, in Gaza, in Occupied Palestine, and in refugee camps throughout the Middle East. (Just remember the concentration camp depicted in the movie District 9, to understand the horror.) But how can people who fled one concentration camp not understand the horror of another? ...
... The executioner did not always triumph.
Among his victims were some who placed freedom
above what constituted their lives.
Some managed to escape
and alert the public in the free world.
Others organized a solidarity movement within the inferno itself.
One companion of mine in the camps
gave the man next to him a spoonful of soup every day at work.
Another would try to amuse us with stories.
Yet another would urge us not to forget our names—
one way, among many other, of saying "no" to the enemy,
of showing that we were free, freer than the enemy.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
Again, Elie Wiesel's lines accurately depict existence for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and refugee camps. But why isn't he writing similar words about their suffering today? Do horrors of the past which ended long ago somehow excuse horrors which continue? If a boy was beaten as a child, does that excuse him beating his own children, or standing by mutely as someone else beats them? How can we ever break the cycle of violence, if past acts of violence endlessly excuse new ones? ...
Even in a climate of oppression,
men are capable of inventing their own freedom,
of creating their own ideal of sovereignty.
What if they are a minority?
Even if only one free individual is left,
he is proof that the dictator is powerless against freedom.
But a free man is never alone; the dictator is alone.
The free man is the one who, even in prison,
gives to the other prisoners
their thirst for, their memory of, freedom.
—Elie Wiesel, from "What Really Makes Us Free"
According to Elie Wiesel's words above, it is the Palestinians who are free and Israeli Jews who are the dictators, as long as they deny freedom to Palestinians. Elie Wiesel has "defended the cause of Soviet Jews, Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians, Argentina’s Desaparecidos, Cambodian refugees, the Kurds, victims of famine in Africa, victims of apartheid in South Africa, and victims of war in the former Yugoslavia." But why hasn't he defended Palestinians from the racism and injustices of the government of Israel? Where are his ringing words in defense of Palestinian women and children? ...
At the end of "What Really Makes Us Free," Elie Wiesel relates: "I went to the Soviet Union for the fourth time last October. In a private apartment somewhere in Moscow, in a crowd of 100 or so Refuseniks, a man still young addressed me shyly: 'A few years ago,' he said, 'I decided to translate your first three books in samizdat [the illicit publication of banned literature in the USSR]. Friends and I distributed thousands of copies, but I knew I would meet you someday, so I kept the first copy. Here it is.' Blushing, he held it out to me, and I felt like embracing him in thanks for both his courage and his devotion. An hour later, in the same apartment but in a different room, an older man came up to me: 'I have something for you,' he said, smiling. 'A few years ago, I translated your first three books. I kept one copy. I knew I would meet you someday.' I took him by the arm and introduced him to the first translator. They fell into each other's arms, crying. Yes—joy makes people weep. Freedom does too."
But then what about the right of Palestinian women and children to be free? Are they not human beings with exactly the same rights as Israeli Jews and Russian Refuseniks? It seems Wiesel suffers from the same hubristic hypocrisy and moral blindness as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote eloquently of every man's God-given right to be free, yet owned hundreds of slaves and raised his own children by Sally Hemmings as slaves in his spectacular mansion, Monticello. Jefferson wanted to live in the lap of luxury; he was an important man with big plans and enormous bills to pay. His economic interests and desire for personal "security" trumped the most basic human rights of his slaves. Isn't this what Wiesel's hypocrisy boils down to, in the end: the "security" and "economic interests" of Israeli Jews short-circuiting the most elemental rights of Palestinian children, who thus become slaves and serfs to their Jewish "superiors" just as Sally Hemmings' children were to the "superior" Jefferson?
In "The America I Love," Elie Wiesel says, "Hope is a key word in the vocabulary of men and women like myself and so many others who discovered in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair. Remember the legendary Pandora’s box? It is filled with implacable, terrifying curses. But underneath, at the very bottom, there is hope. Now as before, now more than ever, it is waiting for us."
But why do so many Jews insist that this hope is for every human being, except Palestinians? Is it because the Palestinians were the rightful owners of the land large numbers of Jews claimed as their safe haven while fleeing European and Russian anti-Semitism? If I was about to jump out of a burning building and saw a little girl below, who could break my fall, would I be within my "rights" to deliberately land on her and break her back, in order to save my own? If I deliberately broke her back in the process of saving myself, might I spend the rest of my life trying to rationalize why her "sacrifice" was "necessary"? ...
Should you encounter temporary disappointments, I pray:
Do not make someone else pay the price for your difficulties and pain.
Do not see in someone else a scapegoat for your difficulties.
Only a fanatic does that—not you, for you have learned to reject fanaticism.
You know that fanaticism leads to hatred,
and hatred is both destructive and self-destructive.
I speak to you as a teacher and a student—
one is both, always.
I also speak to you as a witness.
I speak to you, for I do not want my past to become your future.
—Elie Wiesel, from "Have You Learned the Most Important Lesson of All?"
But has Elie Wiesel ever learned the lesson he wants to impart to us? Or has he, like so many other Jewish Holocaust survivors, made Palestinian children his scapegoats? Yes, the Jewish Shoah was a terrible catastrophe. Yes, all compassionate human beings must empathize with the suffering of the victims of the Shoah. But the Shoah has been over for more than sixty years, while the Nakba has continued for more than sixty years. Isn't it time to stop breaking the backs of little Palestinian girls, who shouldn't have to suffer and die, when there is enough land and water in Palestine for everyone, if only men like Elie Wiesel would stop trying to excuse the inexcusable? ...
In his essay "When Passion Is Dangerous," Wiesel tells us, "I would say that an idea becomes fanatical the moment it minimizes or excludes all the ideas that confront or oppose it. In religion, it is dogmatism; in politics, totalitarianism. The fanatic deforms and pollutes reality. He never sees things and people as they are; his hatred makes him fabricate idols and images so ugly that he can become indignant about them."
True, and it seems some Jews have demonized Palestinians, just as some Germans once demonized Jews. But there is another form of fanaticism: the fanaticism of denial. I once lived in Germany because my father was stationed at an American air force base in Wiesbaden. We never met a German who knew anything about the concentration camps, or who fought against anyone but the Russians. The Germans we knew were not "evil," but they had learned to deny the horrors their nation had inflicted on so many other people. My experience working with Jewish Holocaust survivors and reading their poems, essays, letters and emails makes me believe they too are in denial. Somewhere "under the hood" they must understand the horror of jumping out of a burning building and landing deliberately on the back of an innocent little girl, of accepting her unwilling "sacrifice." Nothing can ever make her "sacrifice" just or reasonable, so the human brain resorts to denial. It fabricates a different "reality" in which the victim was "evil" and "deserved" what she got. Once the Germans convinced themselves that the Jews were only getting what they deserved. Once white slaveowners convinced themselves that black slaves were only getting what they deserved. Today millions of Jews have convinced themselves that Palestinian children are only getting what they deserve, but of course no child deserves to be made a pariah.
Elie Wiesel describes the fanatic: "In his eyes he, and only he, has the right to put his ideas into action, which he will do at the first opportunity. One can encounter fanaticism in the framework of all monotheistic religions—Christian, Jewish, Moslem—and extremism in any form revolts me. I turn away from persons who declare that they know better than anyone else the only true road to God. If they try to force me to follow their road, I fight them. Whatever the fanatic's religion, I wish to be his adversary, his opponent ... Yes, the fanatic is passionate. But his passions can be dangerous. In religion, love is neither the problem nor the solution. The problem is exaggerated love, fanatical love, which turns religion into a personal battlefield that is dangerous to others and demeaning to the very faith it professes to cherish. If religious fanaticism hides the face of God, so does political fanaticism destroy human liberty. In fact, there are some who, seeking to combat religious fanaticism, battle it with another kind of fanaticism that is equally evil. We cannot yield to fanaticism of any type. Fanaticism is a basic element of every dictatorship. In science, it serves death; in literature, it twists truth; in history, it tells lies; in art, it creates ugliness. The fanatic never rests and never quits; the more he conquers, the more he seeks new conquests. For him to feel free, he must put everyone else into prison—if not physically, at least mentally. In doing so, he never realizes that he himself is in jail, as a guard if not as a prisoner. A fanatic has answers, not questions; certainties, not hesitations. In dictatorial regimes, doubts were considered crimes against the state."
Exactly, and today Wiesel expresses no doubt about Israel because it is a dictatorial regime and he is its fanatical disciple.
Wiesel concludes his sermon on the dangers of fanaticism: "The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expressed it this way: Madness is the result not of uncertainty but certainty. Substitute the word fanaticism for madness, and the equation holds."
Unfortunately, Elie Wiesel has just described the current mental state of Israel, whose leaders are fiercely, dogmatically and fanatically dedicated to the proposition that the rights of Jews are infinitely superior to those of Palestinians, just as in the antebellum South white plantation owners were once fiercely, dogmatically and fanatically dedicated to the proposition that the rights of whites were infinitely superior to those of blacks. Just as fanatical white slave owners once used the Bible to justify their heavy-handed feudalism, the fanatical overlords of Israel now use the Bible to proclaim themselves the owners of all they survey, never pausing to consider what their "lordship" means to the innocent Palestinian children whose rights, dignity and happiness they grind into the dust. Yes, unfortunately, Elie Wiesel has just described Israel's fanaticism, and probably his own.
Furthermore, I find it difficult to credit Wiesel's claim that "the world" was deliberately "silent" and insensitive about something most of the world seemed to only dimly comprehend, at best. It seems to me that his silence is far more deliberate than that of the world he condemns. I say this for a number of reasons:
• Albert Einstein thanked the "democracies of the world" for the "splendid manner" in which they received Jewish refugees, saying those refugees owed a "debt of gratitude" to their "new countries." Granted, there was a catastrophe because millions of Jews did not manage to find safe havens, but as we will see, this was not due to "denial" or "insensitivity," but to a variety of factors which included a Great Depression which had already created hordes of refugees among the citizens of the world's democracies.
• Einstein also complimented the "humane attitude of the Soviet Union," which had "opened her door to hundreds of thousands of Jews when Nazi armies were advancing on Poland." If the entire world was insensitive to Jewish suffering, why did the most brilliant Jew commend the Allies for their efforts to help Jewish refugees?
• Unfortunately millions of Jews would become displaced persons or end up in Nazi ghettoes and concentration camps. The world was unable to accommodate them all, but it has been estimated that 70 million people died during World War II. What happened to Jews unfortunately also happened to millions of Slavs, Russians, Gypsies, Chinese and other nationalities. People like Elie Wiesel demand that we grant Jewish suffering some sort of special status, but is that fair? What about the suffering of 70 million people of many nationalities?
• Dwight D. Eisenhower was the supreme Allied commander and obviously a man "in the know." But when he saw the Nazi death camps, he was horrified and quickly instructed his troops to photograph, document and preserve the evidence. But if he had had advance knowledge of the magnitude of the horrors to be encountered inside the camps, wouldn't he have given such orders before the camps were liberated? The Jewish Virtual Library says, "The utter shock of senior Allied commanders who liberated camps at the end of the war may indicate that this understanding [of the Nazi 'final solution'] was not complete."
• It is obviously true that the world failed to provide safe havens for all the Jews fleeing Nazi oppression. But just as obviously, there were greatly extenuating circumstances. First, the world was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work and suffering; they quite understandably didn't want to compete for hard-to-find jobs or soup line positions with starving immigrants. The United States was a democracy and a substantial majority of its population was vehemently opposed to any and all immigration, so Jews weren't being singled out for special attention. Second, it seemed (and was probably true in the early stages of the Holocaust) that Germany was trying to export its "Jewish problem" at a time when other nations couldn't afford to take them in. Third, the United States was reluctant to allow communist sympathizers to enter its borders, and many of the people fleeing the Nazis were communists targeted by Hitler and his goons for "special attention." Fourth, millions of black Americans were suffering. Should the United States have "imported" multitudes of foreign refugees when millions of its own citizens were living on the margins of existence? And fifth, if millions of Jews had been allowed to enter the United States during the middle of the Great Depression, they might have starved to death and/or been attacked by the people they competed with for food, lodging and jobs. As far as anyone knew in the early stages of the war, things might have been worse for the Jews in the United States.
• The Holocaust was actually reported from the very beginning, but it was not at all apparent that it would become a genocide. According to "The Holocaust in American Life" by Peter Novick, "Kristallnacht, in which dozens of Jews were killed, had been on the front page of the New York Times for more than a week." That hardly constitutes "silence" or "denial," as the deaths of dozens of Jews received substantial coverage, until other people started dying in far larger numbers when Nazi Germany began invading other nations. As Novick explains, "From the autumn of 1939 to the autumn of 1941 everyone's attention was riveted on military events: the war at sea, the fall of France, the Battle of Britain, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. As Americans confronted what appeared to be the imminent prospect of unchallenged Nazi dominion over the entire European continent, it was hardly surprising that except for some Jews, few paid much attention to what was happening to Europe's Jewish population under Nazi rule." With France under Nazi control, and Great Britain and Russia at times hanging on by the slenderest of threads, would it have made sense for Americans to put the fate of Jews above the fates of its main allies and their much larger endangered populations?
• After Pearl Harbor, the main focus of most Americans became the war with Japan. In Europe we had Great Britain and Russia as allies, and as long as they remained unvanquished, Germany had its hands full. But in the Pacific Americans had their hands full. They were not willfully "ignoring" the Holocaust, or being "silent" about the suffering of Jews out of insensitivity; they were understandably very concerned about and preoccupied with the major events of the war, as they impacted the United States. Japan was the primary enemy. If the average American had been asked to describe "Axis atrocities," he would have in all likelihood mentioned American soldiers suffering and dying on the Bataan Death March, not European Jews. The worst horrors Americans knew about at the time were happening to Americans.
• While Americans were aware of Nazi persecution of Jews, the details were hazy. For instance, one of the most important reports to reach the West came from in mid-1942 from Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland. But Riegner forwarded the report "with due reserve" about its factuality, as his German informant claimed to have "personal knowledge" of Jewish corpses being rendered into soap, "a grisly symbol of Nazi atrocity now dismissed as without foundation by historians of the Holocaust." In 1943 the U.S. State Department finally concluded that such Jewish-provided reports were "essentially correct" but observed that the reports were "at times confused and contradictory" and "incorporated stories which were obviously left over from the horror tales of the last war." If the Jews themselves were confused and contradictory, can the world be blamed for not knowing exactly what to believe?
• American newspapers were trying to cover the Holocaust, but the quality of information was questionable, at best. Novick again: "[That] the deportation of German and Austrian Jews to Polish ghettos had brought enormous suffering no one doubted. Beyond this, little was known with any certainty, and the fragmentary reports reaching the West were often contradictory. Thus in December 1939 a press agency first estimated that a quarter of a million Jews had been killed; two weeks later the agency reported that losses were about one tenth that number. (Similar wildly differing estimates recurred throughout the war, no doubt leading many to suspend judgment on the facts and suspect exaggeration. In March 1943 The Nation wrote of seven thousand Jews being massacred each week, while The New Republic used the same figure as a conservative daily estimate.) In the course of 1940, 1941, and 1942 reports of atrocities against Jews began to accumulate. But these, like the numbers cited, were often contradictory. In the nature of the situation, there were no firsthand reports from Western journalists. Rather, they came from a handful of Jews who had escaped, from underground sources, from anonymous German informants, and, perhaps most unreliable of all, from the Soviet government. If, as many suspected, the Soviets were lying about the Katyn Forest massacre, why not preserve a healthy skepticism when they spoke of Nazi atrocities against Soviet Jews? Thus, after the Soviet recapture of Kiev, the New York Times correspondent traveling with the Red Army underlined that while Soviet officials claimed that tens of thousands of Jews had been killed at Babi Yar, "no witnesses to the shooting ... talked with the correspondents ... it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us; there is little evidence in the ravine to prove or disprove the story." Today we know much more about the Holocaust than any Americans did during the war.
• One skeptical British diplomat observed that "we ourselves put out rumours of atrocities and horrors for various purposes [i.e., as wartime propaganda], and I have no doubt this game is widely played." So if American newspapers offered what seemed to be spotty coverage of the Holocaust, it was probably because there was little hard news to report and it was almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. And in this case, the facts sometimes sounded like the wildest fictions imaginable. It seems quite possible that American intelligence may have concluded that Jews were exaggerating things in order to win sympathy for rescue operations behind enemy lines, and for the Zionist agenda in Palestine.
• World War II resulted in fifty to seventy million deaths worldwide. What we now think of as a particular event, the Holocaust, was then considered part of the general horror. According to Novick, "... 'the Holocaust,' as we speak of it today, [is] largely a retrospective construction, something that would not have been recognizable to most people at the time. To speak of 'the Holocaust' as a distinct entity, which Americans failed to respond to, is to introduce an anachronism that stands in the way of understanding contemporary responses [of that era] ... By the time the news of the mass murder of Jews emerged in the middle of the war, those who had been following the news of Nazi crimes for ten years readily and naturally assimilated it into the already-existing framework." In other words, Americans who lived through World War II thought of the entire conflagration as a single phenomenon, whereas we now think of the Holocaust as an event within a larger event. But in any case, most Americans of that era weren't "denying" the Holocaust or being silent about it. During the early stages of the Holocaust, they were roundly denouncing the Nazis while trying to avoid war, if at all possible. Once they entered the war, they were wholeheartedly against everything the Nazis stood for and did, but they didn't focus on the atrocities committed against a single race, as so many Americans do today. And perhaps they had good reason, since the victims of World War II included millions of non-Jews.
• Americans were aware of certain aspects of what we now call the Holocaust, but they simply didn't think then as we do now. Novick explains: "Although no one could imagine its end result, all Americans were well aware of Nazi anti-Semitism from the regime's beginning in 1933, if not earlier. Prewar Nazi actions against Jews, from early discriminatory measures to the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 and culminating in Kristallnacht in 1938, were widely reported in the American press and repeatedly denounced at all levels of American society. No one doubted that Jews were high on the list of actual and potential victims of Nazism, but it was a long list, and Jews, by some measures, were not [perceived to be] at the top. Despite Nazi attempts to keep secret what went on in concentration camps in the thirties, their horrors were known in the West, and were the main symbol of Nazi brutality. But until late 1938 there were few Jews, as Jews, among those imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in the camps. The victims were overwhelmingly communists, socialists, trade unionists, and other political opponents of the Hitler regime. And it was to be another four years before the special fate that Hitler had reserved for the Jews of Europe became known in the West." Thus the early victims of Holocaust, being primarily male political opponents of Hitler and the Nazis, were not perceived to include women and children, and this is why we don't see wartime American propaganda calling the Nazis cold-blooded torturers and murderers of women and children. It is only in the perfect 20-20 vision of hindsight that we now "know" our ancestors "failed to denounce" things they really didn't know at the time. In the early stages of the war, Americans didn't see Jews as being the special targets of Nazis. Indeed, Americans saw themselves as potential racial targets of the Nazis. One wartime New York Times article warned that American "mongrels" would be in danger of extermination if the Nazis, who were obsessed with racial "purity," won the war. Today it's all too easy to forget that Americans were justifiably concerned about themselves. Americans also risked slavery, serfdom or extermination if the Nazis won. Would it have made any sense for them to focus narrowly on the fate of Jews?
• If the world was silent about what it "knew" for most of the war, was it because the Holocaust unfolded over time and Hitler himself didn't "know" that it would eventually end in genocide? Nazi party documents first mentioned the "final solution" in 1931, but there was no suggestion of genocide at that time, although the stated intentions were terrible enough: "... for the final solution of the Jewish question it is proposed to use the Jews in Germany for slave labor or for cultivation of the German swamps administered by a special SS division." And of course this jibes with what actually happened between Hitler's appointment as Germany's Chancellor in 1933 and the implementation of the "revised" final solution in 1941. In the early stages of the Holocaust, the Nazis confiscated the land and property of Jews, leaving them homeless and unable to provide for themselves. The Jews were then transported to ghettos and concentration camps, where they were forced to provide slave labor as long as they were able to work. I have seen no real evidence that Hitler himself "knew" that the Holocaust would end in genocide, although in at least one of his many manic rants he did "prophesy" their "annihilation." But Hitler said a lot of things, and repeatedly changed his mind. For some considerable time he tried to contrive ways to "export" Jews to the island of Madagascar, but he never found a plan that was affordable and viable in the middle of a world war. The so-called "Madagascar Plan" was finally abandoned in mid- to late-1940, and the revised "final solution" followed soon thereafter. But if Hitler himself didn't know the true nature of the Holocaust for the better part of a decade, how can the world be condemned for not knowing?
• It seems the revised Nazi "final solution" remained unknown even to Hitler, until he decided to invade Russia and realized that doing so would add millions of Russian Jews to his "problem." Those Jews were spread out over a huge geographic area, so it would have been a nightmarishly complex, expensive and dangerous task to relocate them to concentration camps while battles were raging against a formidable military foe. So Hitler and his goons ordered SS paramilitary death squads called the Einsatzgruppen to accompany the Wehrmacht and eliminate Jews and other "undesirables" as economically as possible, with inexpensive bullets delivered at point-blank range. Einsatzgruppen assassins murdered more than a million people and conducted the first systematic, organized mass killings of civilians by Nazis. The Jews were not their only targets. Once the decision had been made to shoot Russian Jews on sight, including women and children, it seems the decision to start gassing Jews in the concentration camps was the next "logical" step, for men capable of such chilling calculations. But this revised "final solution" was never written down or discussed openly, so most Germans remained unaware that the new Nazi "game plan" was mass murder. But the rest of the world can hardly be held accountable for not knowing what Hitler didn't know himself until 1941, and what most Germans and Jews didn't know until 1942 or later. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, "although the Nazis did not publicize the 'Final Solution,' less than one year after the systematic murder of the Jews was initiated [in mid-1941], details began to filter out to the West. The first report which spoke of a plan for the mass murder of Jews was smuggled out of Poland by the Bund (a Jewish socialist political organization) and reached England in the spring of 1942. The details of this report reached the Allies from Vatican sources as well as from informants in Switzerland and the Polish underground. (Jan Karski, an emissary of the Polish underground, personally met with Franklin Roosevelt and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden). Eventually, the American Government confirmed the reports to Jewish leaders in late November 1942. They were publicized immediately thereafter." The Wiesenthal report continues that the details known were "neither complete nor wholly accurate," and we can hardly fault the world for not knowing what Hitler refused to discuss in written orders or public declarations.
• So the Allies did respond, once they had become aware of the mass killings, but that awareness dawned slowly. The Jewish Virtual Library agrees, saying, "Information regarding mass murders of Jews began to reach the free world soon after these actions began in the Soviet Union in late June 1941, and the volume of such reports increased with time ... On December 17, 1942, the Allies issued a proclamation condemning the 'extermination' of the Jewish people in Europe and declared that they would punish the perpetrators. Notwithstanding this, it remains unclear to what extent Allied and neutral leaders understood the full import of their information. The utter shock of senior Allied commanders who liberated camps at the end of the war may indicate that this understanding was not complete." This seems to confirm my conclusion that even high-ranking Allied generals like Eisenhower really didn't "know" what we now know in hindsight. And many Germans may have only partially realized what was really happening. After General George Patton forced the mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife to view the nearby SS death camp, they went home and hanged themselves. The suicide note they left said, "We didn't know, but we knew." But again, how can the rest of the world be condemned for not knowing what Eisenhower really didn't "know" and what many Germans only partially understood?
• The Allies were at war with Germany and had no reason to "protect" Hitler and the Nazis. Quite the contrary. What better wartime propaganda and recruiting material could have possibly been concocted, than such things based on the evidence that the Nazis were mass-murdering women and children? While there are wartime movies and newsreels that paint Hitler as a fanatical madman and warmonger, where are the ones that paint him as the creator of the death camps and the executioner of captive women and children? If such things exist, I have never seen them, so I believe the Allies were largely unaware of the shocking reality. But I doubt that this is the result of deliberate actions on their part. From what I have read, the New York Times published six front-page articles related to the Holocaust, between 1940 and 1943, and mentioned the "holocaust" as early as 1936 (perhaps the first such usage of the word), in an article titled "Americans Appeal for Jewish Refuge." Were American citizens insensitive louts and American newspapers lax, or was there simply a world of confusion about the true nature of the Holocaust? I believe the latter to be the case. Except for "intimations" in 1939, it seems most of the details didn't begin to appear until 1942, which makes sense considering the timeline developed herein. Here are relevant excerpts from the New York Times which seem to verify that timeline and a "slowly dawning" recognition of the true nature of the Holocaust as an attempted genocide of the Jews:
• On Sept. 13, 1939, two weeks after Hitler invaded Poland, the Times ran an article captioned NAZIS HINT PURGE OF JEWS IN POLAND, which began, ''First intimations that a solution of the 'Jewish problem' in Poland is on the German-Polish agenda are revealed in a 'special report' of the official German News Bureau.'' Given the report's claim that Polish Jewry ''continually fortified and enlarged'' Western Jewry, the Times correspondent added, it was hard to see how their ''removal'' would change things ''without their extermination.''
• On March 1, 1942, just seven weeks after the notorious Wannsee Conference distributed orders about the mass-murder weapons to be used against Jews, a Times article bore this headline: EXTINCTION FEARED BY JEWS IN POLAND. Polish intellectuals and officials cited underground sources warning that 3.5 million Jews stood condemned ''to cruel death—to complete annihilation.''
• In May 1942, a Times article discussed ''probably the greatest mass slaughter in history'' which had already claimed the lives of 700,000 Jews in Poland—a slaughter employing ''machine-gun bullets, hand grenades, gas chambers, concentration camps, whipping, torture instruments and starvation.''
• By June 13, 1942 the threat had become official: ''Nazis Blame Jews For Big Bombings'' read a Times headline. The accompanying article quoted Joseph Goebbels as vowing that the Jews would pay for German suffering ''with the extermination of their race in all Europe and perhaps even beyond Europe.''
• On June 30, 1942 a Times article said the World Jewish Congress put the death toll at one million.
• In the July 2, 1942 Times, a London report quoted the Polish government in exile. It cited the use of gas chambers to kill 1,000 Jews a day in different cities and the staging of a blood bath in the Warsaw ghetto. It said that ''the criminal German government is fulfilling Hitler's threat that, whoever wins, all Jews will be murdered.''
• On Nov. 25, 1942 a lengthy Times London dispatch cited roundups, gassings, cattle cars and the disappearance of 90 percent of Warsaw's ghetto population. It said Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo head, had ordered the extermination of half of Poland's Jews before the end of 1942.
• Also in Nov. 1942 according to the Times the State Department confirmed the extermination campaign but insisted that the Allies were helpless to prevent it [since the death camps were located deep inside Nazi-controlled territory].
• On Dec. 9, 1942, according to the Times, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reported to have promised Jewish petitioners eventual punishment of the Nazi murderers. He was told that ''the scientific and low-cost extermination'' had claimed almost two million lives.
• On Dec. 2, 1942, after the State Department had unofficially confirmed that two million Jews had already been slain and that five million more were ''in danger of extermination'' a Times editorial called the Jews ''The First to Suffer'' and said the same fate awaited ''people of other faiths and of many races,'' including ''our own mongrel nation'' and even Hitler's allies in Japan, if he were to win the war.
• On Dec 18, 1942 a front-page notice announced "11 Allies Condemn/Nazi War on Jews.'' An editorial that day observed that this protest responded not just to the outcry of victims but to ''officially established facts.''
• A brief essay by the novelist Sholem Asch in the Times on Feb. 7, 1943, recounted ''the inhuman process of transportation in sealed, unventilated, limed freight cars, which are death traps.'' ''Those that survive,'' he wrote, ''become as human waste to be thrown into mass-slaughter houses.''
• In March 1943 the Times published an article by Anne O'Hare McCormick, a foreign affairs columnist who spoke of the Holocaust as ''the shame of the world," saying, "'There is not the slightest question' that the persecution of the Jews has reached its awful climax in a campaign to wipe them out of Europe. If the Christian community does not support to the utmost the belated proposal worked out to rescue the Jews remaining in Europe from the fate prepared for them, we have accepted the Hitlerian thesis and forever compromised the principles for which we are pouring out blood and wealth.''
• Also in March 1943, a Times editorial said Hitler had condemned Jews to death ''where others are sometimes let off with slavery.'' Urging the United States to revise ''the chilly formalism of its immigration regulations,'' it urged other free nations to let no ''secondary considerations'' bar entry of those refugees who might yet escape from the Nazis' control.
• Also in March 1943 the front-page headline of the Times read SAVE DOOMED JEWS, HUGE RALLY PLEADS with the day's coverage calling for urgent measures to save Jews from Hitler's grasp.
• A Times article by Arthur Koestler on June 9, 1944, dealt mainly with the difficulty of comprehending ''the greatest mass killing in recorded history.''
• Also, half a dozen large Times advertisements were published, pleading for ''ACTION ― NOT PITY!'' They were from groups urging the rescue of Jews or the formation of an avenging Jewish army in Palestine. Notices recorded the mounting Jewish death toll: 3 million in August 1943, 4 million in July 1944, 5.5 million in November 1944.
• After the Nazi slaughter of Jews was fully exposed at war's end, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, the influential daughter, wife and mother of Times publishers, changed her mind about the need for a Jewish state and encouraged her husband, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, to accept the statehood of Israel and befriend its leaders. Later, led by their son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and their grandson Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times "allowed Jews to ascend to the editor's chair" and "warmly supported Israel in many editorials."
• So, all things considered, it doesn't seem there was some nefarious plot hatched by insensitive Gentiles to squelch news about the Holocaust. Rather, it seems that before 1941 there wasn't a planned genocide, although there were copious and terrible atrocities being committed. From mid-1941 to 1942, knowledge of the "final solution" began to leak out and slowly became assimilated into the consciousness of a public that had a hard time grasping the true scope of the horror. Toward the end of the war, the genocide was being reported, but it seems even high-ranking Allied generals like Dwight D. Eisenhower still didn't comprehend the full reality.
• If the true nature of the Holocaust was completely understood, why didn't prominent Jews like Albert Einstein make the public aware of the worst atrocities, such as the fact that children were being exterminated? Did anyone really "know" the full extent of the horror, during the war? Now that we know the terrible facts, it is very easy to point accusative fingers. But much of what Wiesel claims about "insensitivity" and "silence" doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. It seems the world came to understand the horrors of the Holocaust in stages, because the Holocaust unfolded in stages. We should not judge our ancestors for not comprehending what many Germans and Jews failed to comprehend, or only comprehended dimly.
• And we must remember that before World War II started, the United States was in the grips of the Great Depression and had its own homeless, destitute citizens to feed. While it's easy to think of the initial American response to reports of German anti-Semitism as being that of inconsiderate "fat cats" to destitute beggars, the reality was quite different. Unemployment in the United States only dropped below 10% after Pearl Harbor, so the idea that foreign Jews could have easily been saved by a Utopian United States is difficult to credit. Americans had terrible hardships of their own to endure. Once the war started, the Allies had zero influence over what happened inside Germany; in fact, anything the Allies said or did was likely to be violently opposed by the Nazis.
• One seemingly legitimate criticism of Jews is that the Allies didn't do enough to prevent the Holocaust. The Wiesenthal Center says, "On December 17, 1942, the Allies issued a condemnation of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, but this was the only such declaration made prior to 1944." But the Allies were already fighting the Nazis tooth and nail, and what good would anything said to the Nazis have done, really, as opposed to winning the war? The Wiesenthal Center says "the Allies refused to bomb the death camp of Auschwitz and/or the railway lines leading to that camp, despite the fact that Allied bombers were at that time engaged in bombing factories very close to the camp and were well aware of its existence and function." But bombing the camp could have killed the prisoners and even if they had escaped, where could they have gone? Bombing the railway lines might have prevented more Jews being transported to Auschwitz, but where would they have gone? By this time Jews in Russia were being shot on sight, as part of the "final solution." So what was to prevent the Nazis from shooting other Jews on sight, if they couldn't be transported to concentration camps? Bombing the railways might have resulted in the camps running out of food and other necessities, leading to more suffering and deaths inside the camps. Was there any military solution to the problem? It seems doubtful.
• Efforts during the early years of the Nazi regime concentrated on facilitating emigration from Germany, although there were those who initially opposed emigration as a solution [for instance, Albert Einstein opposed the expulsion of German Jews, so he obviously didn't see genocide looming]. Unfortunately, the views on how to best achieve these goals differed and effective action was often hampered by the lack of internal unity. Moreover, very few Jewish leaders actually realized the scope of the danger. So why has Elie Wiesel condemned Gentiles for remaining "silent" about facts even Jewish leaders failed to fully comprehend?
• And it seems even the European Jews didn't really understand what was happening to them. According to the Wiesenthal Center: "The news of the persecution and destruction of European Jewry must be divided into two periods. The measures taken by the Nazis prior to the 'Final Solution' were all taken publicly and were, therefore, in all the newspapers. Foreign correspondents reported on all major anti-Jewish actions taken by the Nazis in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia prior to World War II. Once the war began, obtaining information became more difficult, but, nonetheless, reports were published regarding the fate of the Jews. The 'Final Solution' was not openly publicized by the Nazis, and thus it took longer for information to reach the 'Free World.' Nevertheless, by December 1942, news of the mass murders and the plan to annihilate European Jewry was publicized in the Jewish press." So it was almost 1943 before the Jewish press knew the Holocaust had become a genocide. Even the European Jews who were being exterminated didn't really understand what was happening, until the end stages of the war. Perhaps the best example of this "belated comprehension" is the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This uprising was caused by the terrible realization that the Nazi "final solution" was extermination. But the Warsaw Ghetto uprising didn't occur until January 1943. So where is there any evidence that the non-Jewish world was being "silent" or ignoring obvious, well-known facts? The New York Times was publishing bits and pieces of information about the unfolding genocide before the Jewish press finally "got it."
• How could the European Jews not fully realize what was happening to them? According to the Wiesenthal Center, "Regarding the knowledge of the 'Final Solution' by its potential victims, several key points must be kept in mind. First of all, the Nazis did not publicize the 'Final Solution,' nor did they ever openly speak about it. Every attempt was made to fool the victims and, thereby, prevent or minimize resistance. Thus, deportees were always told that they were going to be 'resettled.' They were led to believe that conditions 'in the East' (where they were being sent) would be better than those in ghettos. Following arrival in certain concentration camps, the inmates were forced to write home about the wonderful conditions in their new place of residence. The Germans made every effort to ensure secrecy. In addition, the notion that human beings—let alone the civilized Germans—could build camps with special apparatus for mass murder seemed unbelievable in those days. Since German troops liberated the Jews from the Czar in World War I, Germans were regarded by many Jews as a liberal, civilized people. Escapees who did return to the ghetto frequently encountered disbelief when they related their experiences. Even Jews who had heard of the camps had difficulty believing reports of what the Germans were doing there. Inasmuch as each of the Jewish communities in Europe was almost completely isolated, there was a limited number of places with available information. Thus, there is no doubt that many European Jews were not aware of the 'Final Solution,' a fact that has been corroborated by German documents and the testimonies of survivors." But then why have we been made to feel as if the Western World is somehow responsible for remaining "silent" about the Holocaust, when even the Jews found the stories almost impossible to believe?
• What was Hitler's ultimate goal in launching World War II? According to the Wiesenthal Center, "Hitler's ultimate goal in launching World War II was the establishment of an Aryan empire from Germany to the Urals. He considered this area the natural territory of the German people, an area to which they were entitled by right, the Lebensraum (living space) that Germany needed so badly for its farmers to have enough soil. Hitler maintained that these areas were needed for the Aryan race to preserve itself and assure its dominance." But this is Israel's main goal in launching the Nakba: "living space" for Jews in Palestine. And people Elie Wiesel seem to be laying a "guilt trip" on Americans, in order to justify or excuse the Nakba.
• According to the Wiesenthal Center, "There is no question that Hitler knew that, by launching the war in the East, the Nazis would be forced to deal with serious racial problems in view of the composition of the population in the Eastern areas. Thus, the Nazis had detailed plans for the subjugation of the Slavs, who would be reduced to serfdom status and whose primary function would be to serve as a source of cheap labor for Aryan farmers." But this is precisely Israel's "master plan": to subjugate and master the Palestinians. And how often do we hear Slavs demanding special exemptions to subjugate and harm other people, because of what they went through during the Holocaust?
• According to the Wiesenthal Center, "In Hitler's mind, the solution of the Jewish problem was also linked to the conquest of the eastern territories. These areas had large Jewish populations and they would have to be dealt with accordingly." Well, there are elements with Israel that consider "eastern territories" as far as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to "belong" to Israel, due to certain verses in the Hebrew Bible, or Torah. While there is no indication that Israel's "plan" includes mass annihilation of non-Jews, the utter disdain of men like Elie Wiesel for non-Jewish life seems to presage terrible things for Israel's neighbors, if Israel gets the upper hand on them.
• Was there any opposition to the Nazis within Germany? According to the Wiesenthal Center, "Throughout the course of the Third Reich, there were different groups who opposed the Nazi regime and certain Nazi policies. They engaged in resistance at different times and with various methods, aims, and scope. From the beginning, leftist political groups and a number of disappointed conservatives were in opposition; at a later date, church groups, government officials, students and businessmen also joined. After the tide of the war was reversed, elements within the military played an active role in opposing Hitler. At no point, however, was there a unified resistance movement within Germany." The same seems to be true within Israel today: there is resistance from the left, but not enough to prevent the Nakba.
All this is not to say that the Jews weren't victims of virulent, despicable anti-Semitism, because obviously they were. Nor should anyone deny that "the world" eventually heard inklings and rumors of what was happening to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. But the free world ended up fighting the Nazis. There was wartime propaganda flying around on both sides. So it seems the free world didn't comprehend the true nature of the Holocaust, until the death camps were finally liberated in the later stages of the war. Even if the Holocaust had been completely understood, until the war was won there was little the Allies could have done. The fact that most American POWs remained under Nazi control until Germany fell proves the Allies were telling the truth when they said there was little they could do about the Holocaust, until Germany was defeated. In the early stages of the Holocaust, Germany was trying to "export" its Jews and other nations were resisting this shifting of Germany's problems and responsibilities for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the Great Depression. Now that we "know" the results of the Holocaust, it's easy to blame the Allies. But this "blame game" seems to have been primarily devised "after the fact" to lay a "guilt trip" on non-Jews and persuade them to overlook the Nakba, when in reality Israel has adopted the tactics of the Nazis: virulent racism, injustice, propaganda, disinformation, the confiscation of homes and property without due recourse, etc.
But in any case, now, according to Wiesel, Jews "own" Jerusalem by right of birth (i.e., by ineffable magic and luck of the draw), while Palestinian children must shuffle meekly to the back of the bus and suffer a litany of deprivations, humiliations and abuses, for the "crime" of having been "born wrong." How can any person of good conscience accept this new, vile brand of fascism, when millions of innocents are its helpless, defenseless victims? Wiesel is absolutely correct that the world should have acted to prevent the Shoah. But he is absolutely wrong to assume a reverent silence while Israel goosesteps Palestinian children down into the dust of oblivion. Why should we remember and reverence Jewish suffering that is long past, while forgetting Palestinian suffering that continues and constantly worsens? If I truly honor the Shoah, how can I fail to oppose the Nakba?
In "How Can We Understand Their Hatred?" Elie Wiesel asks, "How can the fanatics be brought back to moral sanity? How can the killers and suicide warriors be disarmed? If there is a simple answer, I do not know it. All I know is that, as we embark on this newest century, we cannot continue to live with fanaticism—and only we ourselves can stem it. How are we to do this? We must first fight indifference. Indifference to evil is the enemy of good, for indifference is the enemy of everything that exalts the honor of man. We fight indifference through education; we diminish it through compassion. The most efficient remedy? Memory. To remember means to recognize a time other than the present; to remember means to acknowledge the possibility of a dialogue. In recalling an event, I provoke its rebirth in me. In evoking a face, I place myself in relationship to it. In remembering a landscape, I oppose it to the walls that imprison me. The memory of an ancient joy or defeat is proof that nothing is definitive, nor is it irrevocable. To live through a catastrophe is bad; to forget it is worse."
But the cover of TIME Magazine recently contained a star of David with the caption, "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace." Like Southern Plantation owners who sang hymns of praise to God in whitewashed churches, and who attended gala balls and operas while black children suffered and died in decrepit hovels, many Israeli Jews seem to have abandoned compassion for an icy indifference to human suffering. While I would like to believe Elie Wiesel and my friends among the Jewish Holocaust survivors, I can only conclude that they are in denial. Denial negates both memory and understanding. Unfortunately, the people who rightly denounce Holocaust denial are themselves Holocaust deniers, because they deny the Nakba of the Palestinians. But why keep on endlessly remembering the horrors of a catastrophe that is long over, while endlessly denying the fresh horrors of a catastrophe that continues daily?
"Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe."
But then, according to Elie Wiesel, the moral center of the universe should be the Nakba and the suffering of the Palestinians. While my heart goes out to the victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust has long been over, while the suffering of the Palestinians continues. What have I learned from Elie Wiesel and my friends among the Jewish Holocaust survivors? I have learned that we must not deny any Holocaust, of any people, and that one Holocaust cannot be used to excuse another. When we stop denying that Palestinians are human beings who were used to "break the fall" of Jews fleeing a burning building, and when we stop excusing the governments of Israel and the United States for treating Palestinians as if their suffering somehow doesn't "measure up" to the hallowed suffering of Jews, then peace in the Middle East will finally become possible. Obviously, we cannot have world peace until we have achieved peace in the Middle East. But until we learn the hard lessons of the Holocaust, the Shoah, the Nakba, the Trail of Tears, American slavery, and South African apartheid ... we are doomed to live through endless cycles of oppression and violence.
While Wiesel assailed the silence of the world about the Jewish holocaust throughout his career, he required that Jew and Gentile alike remain silent about Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
But in my studies I did find the "silver lining" inside a very dark cloud, because I learned the one sure cure for all such atrocities: fair laws and courts. Fair laws and courts keep people of one race from taking advantage of people of other races. If we want peace in the Middle East, we need to require the governments of Israel and the United States to respect the rights of Palestinians, and of people of all races and creeds, without creating litanies of excuses for the inexcusable. If we establish peace through justice in the Middle East, then we will demonstrate to the world that world peace is possible, without violence. I believe the key to world peace really is that simple: fair laws and fair courts, for everyone, irrespective of race, creed, gender, age or sexual preference. We have the key to peace, if only we have the wisdom and fortitude to employ it, rather than living in denial and trying to excuse the inexcusable.
While I don't consider it necessarily germane to my argument, since I know the Holocaust did take place and am simply pointing out that one Holocaust cannot be used to excuse another, there are legitimate questions about Wiesel's personal truthfulness. For instance:
TIME Magazine, March 18 1985:
How had he [Wiesel] survived two of the most notorious killing fields [Auschwitz and Buchenwald] of the century? "I will never know" he says. "I was always weak. I never ate. The slightest wind would turn me over. In Buchenwald they sent 10,000 to their deaths every day. I was always in the last hundred near the gate. They stopped. Why?"
Compare this with Encyclopaedia Britannica (1993), under 'Buchenwald':
"In World War II it held about 20,000 prisoners. Although there were no gas chambers, hundreds perished monthly through disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings and executions."
Obviously, Buchenwald did not send 10,000 people to die in gas chambers every day, since it had no gas chambers and within two days it would have run out of prisoners. Has Elie Wiesel become such an apologist for the excesses of Israel that he believes anything can be said or done, in its name? The Nazis once felt that way about Germany and the Third Reich: any lie, any atrocity no matter how horrendous, could be justified by "love of fatherland."
"A Terrible Fraud"―Wiesel Ignores Palestinians
To the Jerusalem Post, Oct. 9, 1998 (as submitted)
From Prof. Daniel McGowan, Professor of Economics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY
In your Oct. 9 article on Elie Wiesel, the American icon of Holocaust survivors, he is paid a special tribute as a "speaker of truth." This is the same Elie Wiesel who is continually referred to by Noam Chomsky and others as "a terrible fraud." What can explain such disparity of opinion?
Perhaps it is because Wiesel, who has written literally volumes Against Silence, remains silent when it comes to such issues involving Palestinians as land expropriation, torture and abrogation of basic human rights.
Perhaps it is because Elie Wiesel proclaims with great piety that "the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference," while he remains totally indifferent to the inequality and suffering of the Palestinians. Perhaps it is because he enjoys recognition as "one of the first opponents of apartheid" in South Africa, while he remains totally silent and indifferent to the apartheid being practiced today in Israel.
Perhaps it is because he decries terrorism, yet never apologizes for the terrorism perpetrated by the Irgun at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. He refuses even to comment on it. He dismisses this act of terrorism in eight short words in his memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea. He remembers the Jewish victims at Kielce, Poland (July 1946) with great anguish, but ignores twice as many Palestinian victims of his own employer at Deir Yassin. The irony is breathtaking.
It is even more shocking that the world's best known Holocaust survivor can repeatedly visit Yad Vashem and yet keep silent about the victims of Deir Yassin who lie within his sight 1,400 meters to the north. He bitterly protests when Jewish graves are defaced, but has nothing to say when the cemetery of Deir Yassin is bulldozed. He refuses even to acknowledge repeated requests that he join a group of Jews and non-Jews who wish to build a memorial at Deir Yassin.
Elie Wiesel may profess modesty and claim he is "not a symbol of anything" but, unfortunately, he has become a symbol of hypocrisy.
Daniel A. McGowan, Director, Deir Yassin Remembered, Geneva, NY