Holocaust industry, Finkelstein Norman

The following article originally appeared in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Will THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY Incite Anti-Semitism?

By Norman G. Finkelstein

The main thesis of my new book is that The Holocaust has effectively
become an industry. Jewish elites, acting in concert with the US
government, exploit the horrific suffering of the millions of Jews
exterminated during World War II and the few who managed to survive for
power and profit. In its ruthless exploitation of Jewish suffering,
the Holocaust industry has arguably become a fomenter of anti-Semitism
and a purveyor of Holocaust denial.

The book is divided into three chapters. In the first chapter I explore
the genesis of the Holocaust industry. During the postwar years American
Jewish leaders, eager to please the US government as it aligned with a
barely de-Nazified West Germany, banished The Holocaust from public
discourse. After the June 1967 Middle East war, Israel became a key ally
of the US. American Jewish elites, hitherto wary of Israel (they feared
the bogey of “dual loyalty”), fervently embraced the Jewish state. For
Jews now stood on the front lines defending American interests against
the retrograde Third World/Arab hordes. Supporting Israel accordingly
facilitated Jewish assimilation in the US. Posing as the natural
interlocutors between the US government and its “strategic asset” in the
Middle East, Jewish elites could also enter the inner sanctums of
American power. To deflect criticism, American Jewish elites
“remembered” the Nazi holocaust which, ideologically recast, proved a
potent weapon.

In chapter 2, I critically scrutinize the central dogmas of Holocaust
ideology: (1) The Holocaust marks a categorically unique event, and (2)
The Holocaust marks the climax of an irrational, eternal Gentile hatred
of Jews. The main proponent of the “uniqueness” doctrine is Elie Wiesel.
For Wiesel, The Holocaust “leads into darkness,” “negates all answers,”
“defies both knowledge and description,” and so forth. Such
formulations obscure more than they illuminate. The “uniqueness”
doctrine, although intellectually stifling and morally discreditable
(the suffering of non-Jewish victims “cannot compare”), persists on
account of its political utility. Unique suffering confers unique

According to the complementary Holocaust dogma of “eternal Gentile
hatred,” Jews were exterminated during World War II because all
Gentiles, be it as active perpetrators or as passive collaborators,
wanted them dead. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s ponderous effort to prove
one variant of this dogma in Hitler’s Willing Executioners lacked
scholarly value. But like the “uniqueness” doctrine, it has proven to be
politically useful. To account for criticism of Israel, American writer
Cynthia Ozick had a ready answer: “The world wants to wipe out the
Jews…the world has always wanted to wipe out the Jews.” Indeed this
dogma confers total license: intent as the Gentiles always are on
murdering Jews, Jews have every right to protect themselves, however
they see fit. Deploring the “Holocaust lesson” of eternal Gentile
hatred, respected Israeli scholar Boas Evron observes that it is
“really tantamount to a deliberate breeding of paranoia…. This
mentality…condones in advance any inhuman treatment of non-Jews, for
the prevailing mythology is that ‘all people collaborated with the
Nazis in the destruction of Jewry,’ hence everything is permissible to
Jews in their relationship to other peoples.”

Holocaust dogma exerts a pernicious influence on scholarship. Consider
for example Guenter Lewy’s The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies.
Published this past year by Oxford University Press and praised by
Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander for its “great compassion,” the
central thesis of this study is that Gypsies didn’t suffer like the Jews
– indeed, didn’t even suffer a genocide – during World War II. Lewy’s
argument goes like this: Gypsies were ruthlessly slaughtered by the
Einsatzgruppen like the Jews, but only because they were suspected of
spying; Gypsies were deported to Auschwitz like the Jews, but only “to
get rid of them, not to kill them;” Gypsies were gassed at Chelmno like
the Jews, but only because they had contracted typhus; most of the few
remaining Gypsies were sterilized like the Jews, not however to prevent
their propagation but only to prevent contamination of ‘German blood.'”
It’s not hard to imagine the public and scholarly reaction if one
replaced Gypsies with Jews in Lewy’s book.

In my last chapter I explore the material compensation issue. I contend
that the Holocaust industry is guilty of a “double shakedown”: it
misappropriates monies from European governments as well as from the
actual survivors of Nazi persecution. Even the official history of the
Jewish Claims Conference acknowledges that the Conference made improper
use of the monies originally earmarked by the German government for
Holocaust victims. During the recent slave-labor negotiations, the
Claims Conference put forth wildly inflated figures for still living
former Jewish slave-laborers. In doing so, the Conference forces a
radical revision of our understanding of the Nazi holocaust: increasing
the number of survivors means decreasing the number of victims. Indeed,
the numbers used by the Claims Conference place it uncomfortably close
to the arguments of Holocaust revisionists. “If everyone who claims to
be a survivor actually is one,” my mother (a concentration camp
survivor) used to exclaim, “who did Hitler kill?”

Nearly all the charges the Holocaust industry leveled against the Swiss
banks were either false or grossly hypocritical. The definitive Volcker
Committee report found that the Swiss banks did not systematically deny
Holocaust victims or their heirs access to accounts after the war and
did not systematically destroy bank records to cover their tracks. My
book’s most important finding was that, alongside Switzerland, the
United States was also a primary safe haven for transferrable Jewish
assets before and during World War II. The obvious question is, What
happened to the dormant Holocaust-era accounts in American banks?
During the Congressional hearings on the Swiss banks, one expert witness
– Seymour Rubin of American University – was called to testify on this
matter. Rubin concluded that the record of the American banks was worse
than the record of the Swiss banks: “The United States took only very
limited measures to identify heirless assets in the United States, and
made available…a mere $500,000, in contrast to the $32,000,000
acknowledged by Swiss banks even prior to the Volcker inquiry.” The New
York Times devoted a full page of its book review to a savage ad hominem
assault on me; it made no mention of this remarkable – and damning –
revelation. The Holocaust industry demanded a final settlement with the
Swiss bankers before the Volcker committee completed its work because
“needy Holocaust victims are dying every day.” Yet once the Swiss agreed
to a $1.25 billion settlement in August 1998, the urgency suddenly
vanished. Two years have elapsed but not a single cent of the Swiss
monies has been distributed to the actual claimants.

The Holocaust industry has diminished the moral stature of the Jewish
people’s martyrdom. For this reason alone it deserves public censure.
Many well-meaning Germans worry that my book may incite anti- Semitism.
I respect and fully share this concern. To deny the danger would be
disingenuous. Yet, moral action is never unalloyed: there are always
unintended or undesired repercussions. To decide whether to proceed one
must exercise judgment – hopefully good judgment but at least judgment
in good faith. It is primarily the ruthless and reckless tactics of
the Holocaust industry that foment anti-Semitism. During the slave-labor
negotiations, I met privately with a member of the German delegation
holding unimpeachable moral credentials. For several hours he defended
the Claims Conference as vehemently as I denounced it. Just before
leaving, however, he turned to meand said: “I’ll be honest with you. On
our side, we all feel like we’re being blackmailed.” I suspect that
privately many decent Germans agree – regrettably, with good reason. One
can also assume that many decent Swiss privately echo these sentiments.
And it is not difficult to guess what East Europeans think as the
Holocaust industry, falsely claiming as its own the property of
murdered Jews, presses for an acceleration in the pace of property
evictions. Incidentally, while American Jewish organizations have
called for a worldwide boycott of the new Austrian government, Stuart
Eizenstat,US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and the Holocaust
industry’s chief diplomat, entered restitution negotiations with this
same Austrian government and then acclaimed it for having “shown
leadership and not just in Austria but leadership to the rest of Europe
and to the world about how one can reconcile with one’s past, and how
one can heal wounds even many decades later.” The purpose of my book is
to facilitate a long overdue opendebate. Kept under wraps in deference
to “political correctness,” the discontent will only fester. To avert a
resurgence of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust profiteers must be publicly
exposed and repudiated.

Finally, I emphatically believe that the Nazi holocaust should be
studied. Yet one cannot learn anything substantive until and unless the
Holocaust industry is shut down. Meaningful historical inquiry
practically requires that comparisons be made. And what significant
moral lesson can possibly be drawn from a dogma that reduces the Nazi
holocaust to a Manichaean struggle between Gentiles and Jews? Holocaust
dogmatism preempts understanding the crucial individual and historical
dimensions of Nazism. In The Holocaust Industry I attempt to represent
my parents’ legacy. The main lesson they imparted is that we should
always compare. To make out moral distinctions between “our” suffering
and “theirs” is itself a moral travesty. “Do not compare” is the mantra
of moral blackmailers.