The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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http://www.salon.com/books/int/2000/08/30/finkelstein/print.html

Shoah business

The son of an Auschwitz survivor accuses the "Holocaust industry,"
Elie
Wiesel and Jewish leaders worldwide of a vast shakedown.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Viktor Frölke

Aug. 30, 2000 |

With his clever, explosive and sometimes even wryly funny little book,
"The
Holocaust Industry," Norman G. Finkelstein, the 47-year-old enfant
terrible
of
Holocaust studies from Brooklyn, N.Y., hit a nerve. Such a big nerve,
in
fact, that it caused a blackout of virtually all intellectual circuits
--
at least in this
country.

Finkelstein's main and most devastating charge is that "American
Jewish
elites" and organizations are extorting billions of dollars from
European
countries
and corporations in the name of "needy Holocaust survivors" in order
to
fund Holocaust programs, Holocaust memorials, Holocaust studies,
Holocaust
literature and, in general, "the Jewish community." Together they form
not
just a cottage industry but a full-fledged "Holocaust industry"
sustained
by a
persistent ideology of "Holocaust correctness" that serves "certain
class
and political interests." Instead of helping the Jewish cause,
Finkelstein
goes on to
argue, the Holocaust industry has become "the main fomenter of
anti-Semitism in Europe" by spreading an image of greedy Jews.

While the book created a firestorm all over Europe, notably in England
and
Germany, in the U.S. a deafening silence has descended on it. Nobody
wants
to
touch it. Whereas Finkelstein first got mostly negative and later
mostly
positive reviews in major European newspapers and magazines, and was
given
various opportunities to debate his adversaries, here he hardly got
any
reviews (in spite of the 250 review copies he helped his small
publisher
mail out to critics).

Well, the New York Times did one. It reserved a full page in its
Sunday
Book Review to compare the book to "The Protocol of the Elders of
Zion," a
notorious anti-Semitic work, and called its author "indecent,"
"juvenile,"
"self-righteous," "arrogant" and "stupid."

"I've looked it up; this review is worse than the one of 'Mein
Kampf,'"
says Finkelstein, in his high-pitched voice, full of moral
indignation.

Finkelstein's theory that the memory of the Nazi Holocaust is being
abused
for political, moral and financial blackmail could only spring from a
deep-rooted
anti-Zionism and/or his own personal psychological problems, most
American
intellectuals silently seem to agree. Not surprisingly, Finkelstein
has
received
death threats from fanatics within the Jewish community and heard Elan
Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, say, "Mr.
Finkelstein is full of shit" before the nightly television news in
Germany.


Finkelstein, educated at Princeton and in Paris but now teaching his
"comrades-students" about Marxism and Nazism as an adjunct political
science professor at Hunter College in New York, is used to being
trashed.
In his 1998 essay, "A Nation on Trial," he carefully took apart Daniel
Goldhagen's 1996 bestseller, "Hitler's Willing Executioners." When New
Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier heard about it, he advised
Finkelstein's publisher, Michael Naumann of Henry Holt, that the
author was
"poison, a disgusting self-hating Jew, something you find under a
rock."

"I'm thick-skinned; I got that from my parents," Finkelstein says, in
his
tiny apartment decorated with pictures of his father, who survived
Auschwitz, and
his mother, who survived Majdanek, on one wall and a poster of Charlie
Chaplin on the other. "I try not to lose my sense of humor. When
everyone
keeps
saying you're ugly, first you think they're jealous. But after a while
you
start thinking that you're really ugly."


[Salon] Usually there are two sides in a controversy. But it seems you
are
the only one on yours.

[NF] I'm being censured. This is the Holocaust industry at work.
Almost
everyone I name is a beneficiary of the Holocaust industry. But I bet
they
feel like the ground beneath them is trembling.

Today I did get some positive feedback, though, from professor Raul
Hilberg, an expert on the Holocaust and a conservative Republican at
that,
so since I am
a person of the left, his support cannot be partisan. A Brazilian
journalist asked him about my book. Hilberg said Jewish organizations
have
gone too far
with their compensation claims and that they overestimate the number
of
Holocaust survivors. He calls this form of exploitation obscene. Now,
I
didn't
even use that word.

[Salon] Your "J'Accuse" -- or rant, depending on your viewpoint --
doesn't
only target "corrupt" Jewish organizations like the World Jewish
Congress
and its leaders, such as billionaire Edgar Bronfman and real estate
tycoon
Israel Singer. You also attack Elie Wiesel. Why?

[NF] Elie Wiesel is such a ridiculous character. In private Elie
Wiesel is
the subject of much ridicule. The expression "There's no business like
Shoah-business" is literally coined for him. So it's not as if I'm the
first one to call the emperor naked, but in public -- yes.

[Salon] Isn't it a cheap shot to attack him on his lecture fee of
"$25,000,
plus limousine"?

[NF] Why is that a cheap shot? He's turned it into a business, where
he
casts himself as a person who's doing all this from anguish and pain
and
personal sacrifice, while he has made a fortune out of it. If it were
a
cheap shot, he wouldn't invest so much in denying it. With a cheap
shot he
would just have dismissed it. In the U.K. he was asked about it all
the
time and he was really -- what I would call -- in denial. [Laughs] He
always tells people, after referring to his childhood in Buchenwald,
that
he is living very modestly in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He has
his
books. But of course he forgets to say that such an apartment is
costing
him thousands of dollars a month.

[Salon] You're calling him a liar because he says he read Immanuel
Kant's
"Kritik der Reinen Vernunft" ("A Critique of Pure Reason") in Yiddish,
while you say there is no Yiddish translation of that book.

[NF] Wiesel claims to be a Kant scholar. He says that when he was a
teenager, girls were running away from him because all he could do was
talk
about Kant. I suspect they had other motives, but leaving that aside
for a
moment ...

[Salon] But Wiesel claims that there is a Yiddish translation -- a
book
called "Kant's Etik," published in 1929 in Warsaw. It's on his
bookshelf.

[NF] Absolutely correct! Now, I don't want to pour cold water on your
parade, but what was published in Warsaw in 1929 was Kant's "Critique
of
Practical
Reason." One chapter, 60 pages ... I know that! My sources are: 1) the
Widener Library at Harvard, 2) the Yivo Library in New York -- the
largest
Yiddish
library in the world -- and 3) the Hebrew University Library.
Everybody
agrees on that. There is no dispute. The "Etik" comes from Kant's
"Critique
of
Practical Reason." Confusing the two Kant books is like a Tolstoy
scholar
having read one chapter of "Anna Karenina" and confusing it with the
whole
of
"War and Peace." That's ridiculous!

[Salon] On a more relevant note, Wiesel defenders argue that thanks to
people like him, we understand more about genocides around the world.

[NF] Thanks to Elie Wiesel we have a distorted and disfigured and
frankly
meaningless version of the Nazi Holocaust and we only know about those
genocides that serve the interest of the U.S. and Israel, and we
forget the
ones that don't.

[Salon] Don't you think these personal attacks spoil your main
argument?

[NF] Obviously, there is no accounting for taste. I think I lay out my
argument really simply, in three parts. The first concerns the
question of
why the Holocaust came to the U.S. only after the Six Day War in 1967.
If
you agree that the Holocaust served as an ideological weapon in the
Palestinian conflict, the next question is how. I mean, the Holocaust
could
also be used for other reasons. For instance, my parents used it to
defend
certain Palestinian rights. The second part deals with how the Nazi
Holocaust is ideologically recast to serve certain political ends.
Which is
new, because I'm the first one, I think, to have established what I
call a
"Holocaust framework" -- a distinction between Holocaust scholarship
and
Holocaust literature. This latter literature, to which
Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" also belongs, has
two
dogmas at its core: the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the gentiles'
eternal irrational
hatred of the Jews.

[Salon] It's a very small step from "Holocaust framework" to
"Holocaust
conspiracy."

[NF] Why? If you come across a body of literature with no historical
merit,
the question arises, Qui [sic] bono? Who benefits from it? For
example, if
you look at 19th century literature on race, eugenics and so forth,
once
you've demonstrated that it has no scientific, historical or artistic
value, you realize that it only exists to serve certain political and
ideological goals. These are such obvious questions in any other
context.
It's called the sociology of ideas.

[Salon] Could the success of Goldhagen's book also be at least partly
due
to an almost masochistic feeling of guilt in certain parts of Europe?

[NF] It could, but it's not probable. And besides, the book was a
bestseller in the U.S. too, and America had nothing to do with the
Holocaust.

Let me give you a mental game. A large number of individuals claim
that the
success of Goldhagen's book was due to the simplicity of its thesis:
All
Germans were anti-Semitic monsters waiting for Hitler to give them the
green light to start killing Jews. Now let's argue for the sake of
argument
that Goldhagen had said exactly the opposite: that the Holocaust was
the
work of Hitler and his henchmen, and that the whole nation was coerced
into
going along.

Now the title of his book would have then been "Hitler's Unwilling
Executioners." Would the book have achieved the same success? No. Why?
Because it was something about the way in which he carved out a simple
thesis that made it so compelling. Even though reading the book feels
like
chewing on tinfoil, its thesis turned out to be ideologically very
convenient. It is the same thing Cynthia Ozick said after the 1973 war
[when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel]: Why does everybody hate
Israel?
Simple answer: All the world wants to wipe out the Jews.

[Salon] If you see hidden motives everywhere, a conspiracy theory is
around
the corner.

[NF] The mechanisms of ideological control are very complex. This is
what a
close friend of mine, professor Noam Chomsky, calls the manufacture of
consent. I'm not dealing with that. I ask myself: If this is an
ideology,
whose interest does it serve?

[Salon] The problem with a conspiracy theory is that it can't be
falsified.
Everything, or nothing, supports it.

[NF] I'm not sure why you're invoking the conspiracy theory. Look,
whenever
you show patterns, whenever you go beyond the spontaneous actions of
people,
you hear conspiracy theory! I think that there's more to history than
just
the spontaneous actions of people.

[Salon] You're a historian, right?

[NF] I'm many things.

[Salon] If you're a historian, why didn't you write a serious study
about
the subject? Why didn't you do research yourself? Interview people,
etc.?

[NF] Why should I interview people?

[Salon] To find the truth.

[NF] Elan Steinberg was enraged that I didn't interview him. Why would
I? I
call him a master of disinformation. He has nothing interesting to
tell me.
I can easily do without him.

[Salon] So what made you write this book?

[NF] This book is a result of 15 years of reflection. While I was
working
to get financial compensation for my mother, I listed on a piece of
paper
around 60 things that really bothered me about the Holocaust business.
One
of these was the whole notion of "survivors." In the early days, I
knew
that a lot of Jews were stretching it a bit in order to be considered
as
"survivors" under the German reparation laws. If you were in the
Soviet
Union during the war, you weren't eligible. So I knew people had
falsified
their papers -- which was fairly easy because there was no way to
prove it.
The only numbers there were were from Auschwitz.

[Salon] So for a piece I did about the reparations issue, I looked in
the
old agreements, from the '50s, the Luxembourg Agreements. The German
government paid in all about $50 billion. And in addition it gave $10
million a year between 1953 and 1965 to the Conference on Jewish
Material
Claims Against Germany -- a billion dollars in current values. The
Germans
said that only 15 percent of this money went to the victims. The large
chunk of the rest of it, according to Ronald Zweig, an expert on the
subject, went to Jewish communities in the Arab world, such as Iraq,
and
institutions such as Yad Vashem in Israel.

You know why they didn't give everything to the survivors? That's what
is
so amusing. They said there weren't any victims anymore. All their
needs
had
been met. So the irony is, after misappropriating the money in the
'50s
because there weren't any more victims, now they claim all these needy
Holocaust
victims have languished in poverty all these years, because the
Germans
gave them no money. I find that funny.

[Salon] Your mother received $3,500 from the German government right
after
the war. What happened?

[NF] In the '50s my mother, a mathematician who worked for Chase
Manhattan
Bank, was diagnosed by a doctor -- I believe it was a Jewish doctor --
as
having extreme hysteria, but this was not from her experiences in
Majdanek,
she was told, but from her difficulty with adjusting in the U.S. --
which
is, of course, a filthy diagnosis. The Claims Conference was exactly
designed to pay out money to people like my mother, who were either
unfairly or inadequately
compensated by the initial reparations. Cases like hers were being
corrected by giving a lump sum. But she didn't get a penny. Only
so-called
outstanding
Jewish leaders and rabbis got anything.

My father got injured in Auschwitz and was given a lifetime pension by
the
Germans. They delivered the money promptly and efficiently. I still
remember
the blue envelopes from Trier. My father had Alzheimer's near the end
of
his life and I was his guardian. Every three months I had to go to the
German
consulate to pick up his checks and to prove that he was still alive.
At
the end of his life it came down to $600 a month. All in all, $250,000
during his
lifetime.

All the survivors I talk to -- the Finkelstein residence quickly
became
known as CCBC, Claims Conference Buster Central -- say the same thing:
We
want the
money that was distributed by the German government; we don't want the
money given to the Jewish organizations. I think that is one of the
most
devastating insights on the Holocaust industry -- that the victims of
Nazi
persecution trust the German government more than they do the Jewish
organizations.

[Salon] On the one hand you complain about Jewish organizations
claiming
too much money; on the other you complain that people like your mother
didn't get enough.

[NF] Some people misinterpret my book as saying I'm against
compensation.
Oh no, I'm not! I'm all for compensation. But it should only go to the
real
victims,
and not to pseudo victims or to Jewish communities and organizations.

[Salon] Your parents are Holocaust survivors. Doesn't that make you a
second-generation survivor?

[NF] I think such a concept is repulsive. That's simply an effort to
milk
the Holocaust for another generation. If I had ever said that to my
mother,
she would have given me a good smack in the face! And rightfully so!

[Salon] You suggest but never state explicitly that only camp
survivors are
real Holocaust survivors. What about Jews who fled to the Soviet
Union,
came
back and had nothing -- why not call them "Holocaust survivors" as
well?

[NF] Fine, then we should call Palestinians "Holocaust survivors." If
you
make the definition so elastic, so flexible that it includes refugees,
then
you should count them all.

[Salon] That wouldn't be fair to the real survivors.

[NF] It's not a question of fair. You can't argue on the one hand that
the
Holocaust is fraught with moral meaning, and then trivialize the term
"Holocaust survivor" by including everyone. There is a difference
whether
you spent the war on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, like Mr.
Kissinger,
or you spent it in Auschwitz.

[Salon] Mr. Kissinger is not calling himself a survivor, is he?

[NF] Since Hitler targeted all of world Jewry, Israel Singer says,
anybody
who has survived is a Holocaust survivor. But I would say, what about
all
the
Vietnamese people who suffered from the politics of Mr. Kissinger? Are
they
Holocaust survivors? No, no, we can't call them that. Do you think the
Vietnamese received one nickel of compensation? Forget it. The U.S.
won't
even officially apologize.

[Salon] You go a step further and argue that the "Holocaust industry"
has
become an even bigger Holocaust denier than the usual Holocaust
deniers.
How so?

The official number of Holocaust survivors the Israeli government now
gives
is a million. Or 960,000, to be exact. At the same time Jewish
organizations
have been claiming, since the early '90s, that 10,000 die each month.
So
that would mean that in 1990 there were 2 million survivors left. In
1990,
not more that a quarter could be alive from World War II. That means 8
million in May 1945. Well, there were fewer than 8 million Jews in all
of
Nazi-occupied
Europe. In other words, if these numbers are correct, the Holocaust
didn't
happen. As my mother used to say, if everyone who claims to be a
Holocaust
survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?

[Salon] In 1998, Swiss banks restituted $1.25 billion to Jewish
organizations for dormant Jewish accounts. Should they get their money
back?

[NF] The case should have been handled by the international Claims
Resolution Tribunal, instead of by the World Jewish Restitution
Organization. They could
have processed the claims and given out the money to those who deserve
it.

By the way, nobody noticed one of the most interesting revelations in
the
book: that banks in the U.S. also sit on dormant Jewish accounts from
the
war. It's
not even my own finding. It's on Page 2 of the Volcker Report [the
$500
million audit report on Switzerland that came out in 1999]. It amounts
to
$6 million,
of which only $500,000 is going to be paid. In other words, the
American
record is worse than the Swiss! That's what Seymour Rubin, American
delegate
during the negotiations, testified to the House Banking Committee. Not
a
word reported anywhere. Not a word.

[Salon] What American banks are involved?

[NF] Nobody knows. We have to do a $500 million research report just
like
the Swiss to find out. We might never. We would be on a slow boat to
Munich.

[Salon] You are totally opposed to the claims that are now being laid
on
property owned by the 3.5 million Jews who lived in Poland. Your
family is
from Poland. You could get some money back after all.

[NF] No! It never occurred to us. We don't want the money. My mother's
father owned a little tobacco store, my father's father owned a little
lumber mill. Jewish organizations are claiming back my grandparents'
property without asking our permission. We never gave our sanction!
It's
grave robbery!

I say: Enough. The American Jewish community is rich enough. It
doesn't
need to evict Polish peasants from their land, Polish tenants from
their
homes and Polish sick from the hospitals for more money. They have
plenty
of money. Mr. Bronfman just sold Seagram for $27 billion. That's
plenty.
You don't have to impoverish Polish people even more.

[Salon] What if your grandparents' lumber mill is owned not by a poor
Polish family but by a wealthy former Communist apparatchik? Still not
interested?

[NF] That wouldn't make any difference.

[Salon] Have you ever been to Auschwitz?

[NF] No. I've lived with the Holocaust for 40 years. That's enough. I
don't
need to have more of it. I'm not like one of those second-generation
Holocaust victims that go lie in a gas oven.

[Salon] Have you seen "Schindler's List"?

[NF] I never had the nerves. I tried to see some of those films. I
started
with "Sophie's Choice." I left after 40 minutes. I thought it was
vulgar. I
didn't see Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah," but my parents saw it and they
both
liked it very much.

[Salon] Your book is meant to preserve the legacy of your parents, who
both
died in 1995. Would they have been pleased by the book?

[NF] My mother was one of the smartest people I've known. I put a lot
of
her wisdom in the book, so I think she would have liked it. I don't
know
about my
father. He didn't say much. Perhaps both of my parents, like most
Holocaust
survivors, would have had a little difficulty with my views on Israel,
which is
perfectly understandable.

[Salon] Weren't you afraid that your book would fall into the wrong
hands
and be used against exactly the causes you stand for?

[NF] I thought about that. I recognize that problems can arise from
the
book. I had to do a kind of moral balancing act. I asked myself: Which
poses the greater
danger now, the Holocaust industry or the Holocaust deniers? Actually,
what
I wanted to do is disarm the Holocaust industry and the Holocaust
deniers
at
the same time.

[Salon] How are you disarming the Holocaust deniers? Now they say:
"Told
you so."

[NF] If David Irving [the British Holocaust denier] is saying, "Well,
an
Auschwitz survivor is born every day," he can say that, because if you
look
at the numbers of the Holocaust industry, it's true. The way you
defang the
deniers is by scrupulously preserving the historical record.

The only way we can learn from the Holocaust is by restoring it as a
rational object of historical inquiry, and the only way we can do that
is
by putting the
Holocaust industry out of business.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Viktor Frölke is a New York correspondent for Het
Parool, a daily published in Amsterdam, and
Elsevier, Holland's biggest weekly. He lives in
Brooklyn, N.Y.






--
Chris 

"All truth goes through three steps:
First, it is ridiculed
Second,it is violently opposed
Third, it is accepted as self-evident"
Schopenhauer


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