What I learned from Elie Wiesel about the Nakba (the Holocaust of
the Palestinians at the Hands of Israeli Jews)
Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry
Elie Wiesel is 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
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
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
Jews during the Holocaust). But when I asked my Jewish friends about the Nakba of the
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
• 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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
• A brief essay by the novelist Sholem Asch in the
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
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
"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
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
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,