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Review: 'The Holocaust Industry'
"The Holocaust Industry"
By Norman G. Finkelstein
Verso Books
Nonfiction
160 pages

September 6, 2000
Web posted at: 11:31 AM EDT (1531 GMT)


By Andrew Ross
Salon Magazine

(SALON) -- How Norman Finkelstein must have groaned when he read the
words of Hadassah Lieberman, wife of the Democratic vice presidential
nominee, as she addressed a crowd of Democratic Party supporters at the
War Memorial in Tennessee earlier this month. The memorial, she told
the audience, with her husband, Joseph, and Vice President Al Gore
standing by, commemorates "the American heroes, the soldiers who
actually liberated my mother in Dachau and Auschwitz."

As the New York Times gently pointed out, the memorial actually
commemorates the 3,400 Tennesseans who died in World War I; and it was
the Russians, not the Americans, who liberated Auschwitz. Even more
enraging to Finkelstein, no doubt, was this comment from Hadassah
Lieberman's friend, Mindy Weisel, who told the Times: "I think her
background as a (Holocaust) survivor's daughter has given her a
humanity that a lot of people don't have."

For Finkelstein, such cavalier inaccuracies and holier-than-thou
allusions are classic outgrowths of a phenomenon that has transformed
the Nazi atrocities against the Jews of Europe into a largely American-
driven myth designed to serve the narrow interests of homegrown Jewish
elites. The avalanche of books, movies, Holocaust memorials, university
chairs, high school courses -- and most recently the "shakedown" of
Swiss banks and German insurance companies on the issue of reparations
for Jewish wartime victims -- is all part of a corrupt "Holocaust
industry" that needs to be exposed and put out of business so that the
dead of Auschwitz and Treblinka can finally rest in peace.

Finkelstein is not the first to explore this theme. American, British
and Israeli scholars and critics have been saying something similar
over the past few years, most notably Peter Novick of the University of
Chicago, whose highly regarded 1999 book, "The Holocaust in American
Life," is about to be reissued in paperback. But where Novick and
others bring substance, reason and some empathy to the discomforting
issue, Finkelstein brings rage, dogma and ultimately a deep
unpleasantness.

'Double shakedown'
Finkelstein's argument goes like this: Postwar Americans, including
American Jews, appeared to know little and care even less about the
Nazi Holocaust. Echoing points made by Novick, Finkelstein argues that
Jews were more concerned about integrating fully into American life
than about harping on a dreadful historical episode that would set them
apart both as an ethnic group outside the mainstream and, worse, as
victims.

What changed? According to Finkelstein, U.S. foreign policy interests
in the Middle East, beginning in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War,
made a pronounced tilt toward Israel, a tilt cheered by powerful Jewish
lobby groups always on the lookout for fresh fundraising angles. And
what better way to lash Jews (and non-Jews) to the mast of a pro-Israel
foreign policy -- encouraged in the 1970s by right-wing Israeli
governments seeking to deflect attention from their own egregious
treatment of the Palestinians -- than to warn darkly that Arab
hostility to Israel threatened to explode into a second Final Solution?
And what better way to effect that than with an avalanche of Holocaust
propaganda and liberal doses of moral blackmail, foisted upon Jew and
non-Jew alike by such Holocaust self-dramatizers as Elie Wiesel,
reminding us everywhere of the uniqueness, unforgivability and ever-
possible reappearance of the death camps of decades ago?


Elie Wiesel comes under fire in "The Holocaust Industry," a book that
claims some individuals have made their livings as Holocaust victims

The Holocaust industry's latest frontier, says Finkelstein, is cold
cash. The drive for reparations, headed up by organizations such as the
World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Material Claims Conference,
constitutes nothing less than a "double shakedown" under the guise of
recovering assets belonging to and otherwise compensating Jewish
victims and survivors of the Nazis. Employing the services of
politically connected lawyers like former Republican Sen. Alfonse
D'Amato and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, these
organizations, charges Finkelstein, have grossly exaggerated the number
of Jewish survivors while using outright political threats against
European governments and institutions. The money itself has gone not to
the victims (who include Finkelstein's mother, a survivor of the Warsaw
ghetto, who received a paltry $3,500) but to
various "institutes," "memorials" and "Holocaust education" projects
and to assist Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe.

The reparations issue is the most detailed and troubling section of
Finkelstein's short book. Recent reports that $400 million has been
paid to U.S. accounting firms such as Arthur Andersen, KPMG and Price
Waterhouse, which charged sky-high auditing fees in connection with the
international investigation of Swiss banks, lend credence to many of
his charges.

Justified questions, questionable tone
On a broader level, Finkelstein is justified in questioning the
authenticity of the emotional and other claims staked by Holocaust
keepers of the flame. The memory of this singular event has too often
been soiled by vulgarity, political calculation, hypocrisy and greed.
Former Israeli Foreign Secretary Abba Eban long ago observed: "There's
no business like Shoah business." But Finkelstein's swings are so wild
and his tone so vitriolic as to raise doubts about his agenda, and even
about that which may lie deeper in his heart.

On the issue of reparations, he barely acknowledges the wrongs
committed by the Swiss and German institutions -- the burying of Jewish
bank accounts, the use of slave labor -- that gave rise to the recent
reparations drive. The fear that the reparations will not wind up in
the hands of those who need and deserve them most is a legitimate
concern. But the idea that survivors have been routinely swindled by
Jewish institutions is a gross distortion. The chief reason why
survivors have so far seen nothing of the $1.25 billion Swiss
settlement, reached in 1998, is that U.S. courts have yet to rule on a
method of distribution. On other reparations and compensation
settlements, the Claims Conference, a particular bete noire of
Finkelstein, says that it distributed approximately $220 million to
individual survivors in 1999 alone.

Other Finkelstein generalizations are as absurd as they are sweeping,
and do a great disservice to the serious and enlightening scholarship
that has been produced by Holocaust writers over the past 40 years.
Thus Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners," which
explains the extermination of the Jews as an outgrowth of purely German
anti-Semitism, Finkelstein asserts, is "standard Holocaust dogma," when
in fact it has been furiously disputed by other Holocaust
historians. "Fragments," the wholly fictitious account of a child
survivor by Binjamin Wilkormirski, Finkelstein adds, is "the archetypal
Holocaust memoir," ignoring major contributions from survivors such as
Primo Levi ("The Drowned and the Saved") and German Jewish observers
like Victor Klemperer ("I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi
Years"), both published when the so-called Holocaust industry was
supposedly in full flourish.

Predictable swipes
An ideologue of the left, Finkelstein takes predictable swipes at
the "criminal policies of the Israeli state," backed, naturally, by an
imperialist U.S. foreign policy. Never mind that U.S. administrations
and Jewish interest groups in fact have often been at odds, especially
during the Bush administration, Finkelstein insists on seeing "elites"
everywhere, notably those of the Jewish persuasion, "marching in
lockstep with American power." These elites, the hidden hand
of "organized American Jewry" behind the Holocaust industry, have one
goal: not the teaching of history but the furthering of "Jewish
aggrandizement."

Finkelstein employs such sentiments and language, so associated with
standard anti-Semitism, quite freely. Not only might historical anti-
Semitism be "grounded in a real conflict of interests" (a classic
formulation of Stalinesque leftism), but the Jews, in Finkelstein's
view, are often to blame for it. The pursuit of reparations, in another
of Finkelstein's wild and baseless charges, "has become the main
fomenter of anti-Semitism in Europe." His assertions become ever more
rancid: Israelis and American Jews are nowadays the great oppressors --
 "lording it over those least able to defend themselves" -- the former
over Palestinians, the latter over American blacks. Holocaust denial is
also the fault of the Jews. "Given the nonsense churned out daily by
the Holocaust Industry," Finkelstein writes, "the wonder is that there
are so few skeptics."

Finkelstein is quick to remind us of his credentials as a child of
survivors. Nevertheless his distrust of and distaste for his co-
religionists are rather apparent. In a telephone interview with a
British publication recently he said: "I'm not exaggerating when I say
that one out of three Jews you stop in the street in New York will
claim to be a survivor." Particularly irksome are those "arriviste and
shtetl-chauvinist Jews of Eastern European descent like New York City
mayor Edward Koch and (former) New York Times Executive Editor A.M.
Rosenthal," whom Finkelstein holds largely responsible for the
Holocaust industry and all its foul works.

In the end, Finkelstein acknowledges the "staggering dimensions of
Hitler's Final Solution," seeking merely to restore the phenomenon "as
a rational subject of inquiry." But what we have here, ultimately, is a
rather rancid settling of personal and ideological scores. How that
furthers rational inquiry is hard to see. And if truly, as he states at
the very end, he wishes for nothing more than for the vanquished
to "finally, rest in peace," he might ask himself how his own rage and
dogma will help them achieve that.



------------------------------------------------------------------------
--------
RELATED STORIES:
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August 24, 2000
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August 17, 2000
Review: Journeys through the Holocaust
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Germany signs agreement to compensate Nazi slave laborers
July 17, 2000


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"Nobody can opt out of the struggle, unless he
wants to succumb".




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