August 25, 2007

Finkelstein on Hilberg, "history" and the holocaust

I've had a couple of people draw my attention to this Finkelstein article in Counterpunch on the death, well actually on the work, of Raul Hilberg. Of course Finkelstein can't resist giving us a history of the "history" of the holocaust from it being a taboo subject commemorated only by, mostly anyway, communists, through it being a subject for serious, if acrimonious, study, up to it becoming a western religion and industry in its own right:
It is hard now to remember that the Nazi holocaust was once a taboo subject. During the early years of the Cold War, mention of the Nazi holocaust was seen as undermining the critical U.S.-West German alliance. It was airing the dirty laundry of the barely de-Nazified West German elites and thereby playing into the hands of the Soviet Union, which didn't tire of remembering the crimes of the West German "revanchists." The major American Jewish organizations rushed to make their peace with Konrad Adenauer's government (the Anti-Defamation League took the lead) while those holding commemorations for the Jewish dead were tagged as Communists, which as a rule they were.

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, published in the mid-1960s, Hannah Arendt could draw on only one other scholarly study apart from Hilberg's on the Nazi holocaust in the English language. Nowadays there are enough studies to fill a good-sized library, although it is perhaps not accurate to grace all these publications with the descriptive "scholarly."

Arendt borrowed extensively from Hilberg's work with less-than-generous attribution. He never forgave her this oversight and--what truly is unforgivable--her condescending references to his study in private correspondence and her recommending against its publication by Princeton University Press. In his memoir Hilberg parries the insult, asserting, wrongly in my opinion, that Arendt's study The Origins of Totalitarianism lacked originality. It is true that Arendt could be lazy about facts, which might account for Hilberg's harsh judgment, but the first part of Origins contains many shrewd insights on the dilemmas of Jewish assimilation and paradoxes of the nation-state.

Hilberg reserved even greater contempt (and loathing) for Lucy Dawidowicz, author of the highly touted The War Against the Jews. Here it can be said that his verdict was faultless. During the heyday of the Holocaust religion in the 1970s-1980s, Dawidowicz was its designated high priestess. The problem was that, as Hilberg brutally demonstrates in his memoir, she got the most elementary facts wrong. I once asked my late mother, who survived Maidanek concentration camp, about Dawidowicz's depiction of all the Jews in the ghettos and camps furtively staying faithful to their religion until their final steps into the gas chambers. "When I first entered my block at Maidanek, all the women inmates had dyed-blond hair," my mother laughed. "They had been trying to pass as Gentiles." The shocking accounts of Jewish corruption that could be found in conveniently forgotten memoirs like Bernard Goldstein's The Stars Bear Witness were deleted in Dawidowicz's fantasy....

Hilberg didn't truck in the pieties of what became the Holocaust industry that exploited the colossal suffering of Jews for political and financial gain.
And of course Finkelstein has his swipes at the people he can't stand. Take Deborah Lipstadt (please! arf arf)
Her lawyers imposed a gag rule on Deborah Lipstadt during her trial with David Irving--she was banned not only from testifying in court but also from speaking to the press--because they knew full well that a single word from this know-nothing's mouth would sink the ship. In her account of the trial Lipstadt can barely conceal the lawyers' contempt for her, yet she is too thick-headed to notice the absurdity of her smug two thumbs-up after the jury announced its verdict. She had as much to do with the victory as I did with last night's performance of the Bolshoi.
And Goldhagen:
When Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners was released in 1996, I approached it with an open mind. Both my late parents were of the conviction that all Germans wanted the Jews dead (my father survived Auschwitz) so I figured maybe there was something to Goldhagen's thesis. Reading the book was quite the shock. The reasoning was bizarre, the evidence nonexistent. In debates on it I was accused of polemical overkill. It couldn't be that bad: look at what reviewers were saying. Indeed, who can forget the endless months of breathless prose in the New York Times for the Holocaust industry's new poster boy? It was a singular relief when I read Hilberg's verdict: "worthless."
And doyens of the World Jewish Congress, Bronfman and Singer (now divorced or whatever it is rabbis and lay leaders do when they part company):
Prior to publication of The Holocaust Industry Hilberg had himself denounced American Jews for resorting to the "blackmail weapon" against Europe. His disgust for the megalomaniacal Edgar Bronfman and the irredeemably vulgar Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress, which orchestrated the shakedown, is barely disguised in the recently updated Yale edition of his study.....

Hilberg's last statement for the camera was that next to the likes of Bronfman and Singer, even Shylock looked good. Fully aware of just how incendiary the juxtaposition was, Hilberg chuckled after the camera stopped rolling that he'd probably gotten himself into a lot of trouble. Ironically the British television station forced the producer to edit out this statement. Not even Hilberg could be allowed to utter certain truths.
Finkelstein also expresses his wonderment at the fact that Raul Hilberg was so supportive of his work in spite of Hilberg being a life long Republican and Finkelstein being identified with the left. I just don't get how someone so determined in his pursuit of truth can be a Republican, in the American party sense. I don't think we'll see his like again.

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