Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK is the kind of movie that gives me and other Christian critics jock itch. The film’s entertainment and artistic value is, I think, unquestionable but, like the turd in the punch bowl, there’s a couple of “couldn’t leave well enough alone” moments of indefensible Christian-bashing.
In many respects, surface trappings of “Holocaust movie” and the Dutch shadow of “Anne Frank” aside, BLACK BOOK is a throwback to the spy thrillers of the 40s and 50s. Set in a moral muddle worthy of Carol Reed’s Vienna where friend and foe shift from moment to moment, BLACK BOOK mostly follows a single protagonist Rachel (Carice van Houten) weaving her way through wartime intrigue between the Dutch Underground and the Nazis, including infiltrating the SD headquarters, at the very end of the war.
But at the level of a boy’s comic-adventure serial, that might have run in Hotspur or Warlord when I was a wee lad, Verhoeven handles the genre mechanics expertly; I deliberately chose that lead image for its iconic, comic-book visual quality. He also keeps believable the shifts in alliances that take place owing to the war’s fortunes and internal tensions among both the Germans and the Dutch. He handles the set pieces, both violence and suspense, with the aplomb and verve you’d expect from the man who made ROBOCOP and Schwarzenegger’s TOTAL RECALL.
Verhoeven also gets a great central performance from van Houten as a Jewish ex-cabaret singer, who’s trying to play Mata Hari (a parallel made in the film). Van Houten won the Skandies¹ without the help I would have given her, a Top 5 slot, had I seen BLACK BOOK in time. Van Houten has it all for the star performance that Rachel requires — she’s smart behind the eyes, classically beautiful, can sing, and, most important of all, has the charisma to hold the screen like a Stanwyck or a more-interior Katharine Hepburn. Van Houten, even when the script dumped a bucket of shit on her, made this movie *hers* in a way that no other actress did in 2007 (i.e., except for Ellen Page in JUNO, all the others among my Top 5 Lead Females were in ensembles).
Sebastian Koch, who played the spied-on writer in THE LIVES OF OTHERS, is quietly excellent in the less-showy role, playing another Good (or maybe Not-So-Bad) German, doing something good from not-so-pure reasons within a structure of sin. Halina Reijn as Ronnie, the other secretary in the SD office, both seems more committed and less committed than Rachel. She also is about the only person Rachel can truly confide in, in the “just us girls” moments in the ladies room, which seems to offer a privileged space for honesty between them, though the two women immediately revert to their survival personae when their Nazi men come-a-knockin’ and don’t wait for it to be answered.
Verhoeven also leavens (the unsympathetic would say “weighs down”) the traditional black-and-white comic-genre storyline with his strange mixture of moralism and perversity. For one thing, survival is mostly incidental and a matter of chance, which often has a sense of humor. Ronnie picks up a Canadian soldier on Liberation Day and is showing it off in her oranje dress in the victory parade as if the previous five years had never happened. For another, Rachel’s being Jewish is mostly incidental, though it obviously amps up the tension. She could be a British spy with hardly a rewrite for the middle hour or so. Her SD lover, played by Koch, easily finds out she’s a Jew and contemptuously ignores it, partly because he’s getting some, and partly because they share a kinship in having had their families wiped out; his in a Hamburg bomb shelter that took a direct hit.
It’s one of many signs of Verhoeven’s perversity that the movie’s most memorable scene is exactly one where the characters acknowledge doing something they perhaps shouldn’t … I will speak vaguely … someone is in the middle of being killed and two other characters sit quietly mere yards away, unconstrained, and say to each other “we should let him go.” “Yes.” They sit quietly until he dies. Another sign is the very end — Rachel is in a kibbutz after the war (not a spoiler … the main war-year story is told in flashback from a framing device set in 1956 Israel, so that “Rachel survived the war” is practically the first thing we’re told). As the classic up-and-out final crane shot fades to black for the last time, we hear jet planes and an air-raid siren and see Israeli soldiers line up in formation and start firing their guns. Survival merely guarantees survival for the next time fortuna’s raging rivers overflow their banks; in politics, there is no eschaton or End of History.
In the same perverse vein, Verhoeven shows as much anti-Semitism among the Dutch Underground than the Germans frankly, and how their belief that Rachel had turned collaborator made the German surrender in Holland a threatening day for her. Speaking of the Dutch Underground, they’re mostly portrayed as an half-baked bunch of semi-competents, the Keijesteen Kops, botching everything they try to do, killing when they shouldn’t, not killing when they should and making a dog’s breakfast out of a jail break-in to rescue prisoners. Verhoeven rhymes this raid with another on the same facility, but done by people who know what they’re doing.
But there’s one member of the underground who feels false, and it tips the hand for where BLACK BOOK becomes difficult for me to take. There is a Christian named Theo among the Underground cell and practically the first words out of his mouth are “we need to give these men,” German soldiers killed in a raid on an Underground safe house, “a proper Christian burial.” He’s reluctant to carry a weapon and argues for “peaceful resolution.” While in the Underground. It’s not that there aren’t many (misguided in my mind) Christians who refuse to bear arms and would say that kind of thing about dead Nazis. But ask yourself: How many of THAT kind of Christian join an underground resistance group (“terrorists,” the Germans call them). Then, during a botched kidnapping of a suspected Dutch collaborator, the intended victim says “damn” or some similar Anglo-Saxon. And Theo goes berserk, shooting him repeatedly, including pumping bullets in his back as he floats in the canal, obviously dead, until the gun stops clicking, and then he squeezes a few more. All for saying “damn.” Again … is this meant to be something half-believable or even quarter- or eighth-believable, even as standing for something or other (what … that can be taken seriously by non-adolescents). Or was Theo’s behavior just a cheap shot at Xtians that Verhoeven couldn’t resist.
Nor is that the only moment in this vein. At the beginning of the movie, Rachel is being harbored by a Christian family in a farmhouse attic, Anne-Frank-style. But in order to get her meal, she has to recite a New Testament verse, like a dog begging for a biscuit. And while she’s eating with the family, the paterfamilias says something close to “if you Jews hadn’t rejected Christ, none of this would be happening.” Now, I am not saying a 1940s Christian saying a line like that would be unbelievable, per se. I’m not a “Christians can do wrong” sort (habitual confession tends to cure one of such illusions) — many Christians of that era held views like that and some accordingly collaborated with the Nazis, passively or enthusiastically. But what I AM saying is scarcely believable is that a Christian family **that would hide a Jew** would hold such views. And what is completely implausible — no ifs ands or buts — is that, even if they held such views, they would also taunt her with them and/or only feed her upon such an ritual.
These are small moments in an excellent movie and all they really did for me was give my eye-rolling muscles an extra-hardcore, high-burn workout. I might even be inclined to overlook them except for who the film’s director is. I can’t believe these are innocent or unintended moments from Jesus Seminar participant Paul Verhoeven, who has on more than one occasion proven that as a theologian, he makes a great film director and anti-Christian bigot. I mean, this is a man who said that he wanted to make a movie about Jesus The Man (i.e., Not Jesus The Christ, or Jesus The God) but said he was warned “not to do the movie in the United States because they might shoot me” and so as a safety precaution, he will write a book instead, though “of course, they might shoot me for even writing the book.” No amount of contempt will suffice, so here is the former Luther at the Movies in reaction to this fatuous Eurochic hate:
Yes, you remember how the perpetrators of the Jesus Seminar scam — where casino-inspired card flips passed for real scholarship — were mowed down, Mob-style. You remember how the streets ran red with blood when The Da Vinci Code sold skatey-eight million copies and then went on to make more than $200 million in fundamentalist America. And, of course, there was that dirty bomb that went off on publication of the Gospel of Thomas and that continues to make several area codes in the Mid-Atlantic states uninhabitable.
Hint, Paul: There actually IS a religion that has led its followers to assassinate a Dutch filmmaker for blasphemy. And it’s not especially fastidious about the media used or the physical location — ask the makers of Danish cartoons and British magic-realist novels. I dare you, double-dog-dare you, to make a film debunking its central doctrines or divine claims or holy book. But you’re nowhere on the track of that religion. Until you do that, you’re nothing but a poseur, taking advantage of … how does one asshole put it … the fact that Rome does not issue fatwas.
¹ Honestly, the win for Van Houten’s performance is why the Skandies are a far better awards/poll than any other. We remember early-year films, don’t discriminate (much) against foreign films, and remember genre pics. Van Houten had no hope with, e.g., AMPAS, because she appeared in a Dutch film that was released in March.
I saw this before law school intervened in my life. The utter absurdity of that opening scene where the family is saying grace (how could you omit mentioning that hilarious shot of her mashing the sugar cross on her porridge into submission, as if Verhoeven hadn’t made the point about how nasty and intolerant he thinks those little Christians are) put me on a bad foot with the movie and I don’t think I ever recovered. I found the comic-book style of it to be a little off-putting; subconsciously, I think I was expecting something more along the lines of ARMY OF SHADOWS, with which this film shares a lot of common subject matter. BLACK BOOK has moments where it takes on the gravity of that sort of movie, but on the whole it plays much more like dime-novel fiction, with van Houten playing a girl who could have been torn out of a Mickey Spillane book, albeit slightly more admirable (as could her various sexual exploits). My brain never really resolved the dissonance between the film’s more sobering elements and its sensualist, bold-colors-and-bright-lights style, and I think the film suffers as a result. It is handicapped by not being clearly one thing or the other, when the subject matter is so grave, if that makes any sense.
I like your Mickey Spillane/detective-story analogy. Rachel belongs quite clearly in the “tough moll” tradition. Like you told me privately, this review is the most-negative “8” review in history and with just three or four edits to the film, it would have been in my Top 10. And yes, I need to see ARMY OF SHADOWS.
I can’t say I agree that there’s any contradiction between the movie’s frequently comic-book visual style and serious subject matter because I don’t take the former to be essentially linked to frivolity, separate from particular subject matter and the behavior of the characters within the frame. As I say, I read a lot about WW2 subject matter in my boyhood comics — so it was just never an issue for me.
As for the Cross of Golden Honey … I didn’t mention it partly to avoid gilding the lily (as Verhoeven does with the very gesture) but also because I actually thought it was at least a halfway-witty touch. After all … one does have to mix sweeteners throughout porridge …
Roommate Robert Parks talked me down a bit from my initial skepticism about this black-and-white film, which has weaknesses as plain as a Balkan shit joke. It’s obviously overdone stylewise, it obviously takes the kitchen sink approach. But I don’t think a film this … accomplished, in its way, can be as easily dismissed as Michael Sicinski does. There’s more to ZIFT than post-Commie misogynist Guy-Ritchie posturing. For one thing, I’ve had friends from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia tell me that broadness, extensive vulgarity and obsession with sex (sample: “instead of using your ass to think with, why not play a patriotic song with it”) is a feature of all Balkan humor — pre-, during- and post-Communism — as opposed to the drier Polish-Czech style of Commie-era humor. Also, Gardev is parodying two different things — film noir and Soviet kitsch — that are both hyperstylized, over the top and covers for brutishness. Soviet kitsch in particular was notorious for not leaving anything to the imagination or un-pounded-in. So surely bluntness is to be expected and even demanded. There’s ideas and ideals here — a kind of brutish pessimism that is in fact also the worldview of film noir — sometimes badly and always baldly done though they may be. For an example of what the film does right, look at the scene where the protagonist prostrates himself before the rebuilt Sofia, right after a confessional encounter in a church (it has the power of Winston Smith learning to love Big Brother). For an example of what the film does wrong, look at the intercutting of a sex scene between two humans and footage of preying-mantis sex, with a voiceover helpfully explaining the linkage. For an example of what the film apparently does wrong but which I can’t dismiss, consider the GILDA song ripoff scene, which features an actress in an identical black dress but who is neither singing nor acting in the sexual way Rita Hayworth was. But who is also singing a different-themed song — “put the blame on the moon” — to a much slower tempo and a different arrangement. Whatever else might be said of that scene, it is not a failed attempt to achieve what Charles Vidor and Rita Hayworth did.
LAST STOP 174 (Bruno Barreto, Brazil, 2008) — 8
I was prepared to dislike this movie as an unnecessary desecration in a world where the great BUS 174 already exists. I wouldn’t have seen it at all had a high-buzz title been playing at this hour. But to paraphrase Chris Berman — This. Is. Why. We. Watch. The. Films. LAST STOP 174 grabbed me and won at least my confidence right away with two crime scenes — one of a baby being stolen by a drug dealer from his junkie mother, the other being a boy finding his mother’s dead body in a restaurant robbery. Both scenes are taut, brutal and without a shred of sentiment. Though I still think BUS 174 is the better film, Barreto and (more importantly, I think) writer Braulio Mantovani find a way to give interest to a fictionalization of hijacker Sandro’s back story: via the Dickensian move of creating two characters named Sandro in the Rio slums and having their fates intersect. Mantovani also wrote CITY OF GOD and the upcoming ELITE SQUAD, making him apparently Brazilian Cinema MVP. And what those three films have in common (and BUS 174 too) and what was absent from LINHA DE PASSE and so many other social-realist slum-set movies, is that Mantovani-written films do not sentimentalize their criminal protagonists: one exhibit being the scene late in LINHA DE PASSE where the criminal brother hijacks a rich Brazilian’s SUV but neither takes the vehicle nor his goods, instead chasing him away (the wuss!!!) after making him answer “do you see me” (and then walking away himself). It’s crime as social protest, which is bovine scatology. Mantovani’s criminals (and policemen) are the product of a brutal world where morality is a vice, but they are also brutal in their own right and by their own choice. “Most criminals are deprived” and “most deprived people are not criminals” are both true statements, but only the first is guaranteed to be remembered in the typical liberal-leaning “poor criminal” movie. Sandro is both a victim and a victimizer — and mostly of people who are just as much victims as himself. My favorite scene in LAST STOP 174 has Sandro rob a minister (BTW: it’s intriguing that in both this fest’s Brazilian movies, religion plays a significant role, and in both cases, it’s evangelical Protestantism, not Catholicism). What this scene understands deep down, and dramatizes, is something that foreign-policy doves will never get — not merely that force works, but that force is a matter of will, not means. One who is not feared can never plausibly threaten. In all these ways, Mantovani, in LAST STOP 174 and elsewhere, gives us “both/and” rather than an uplift of liberal saccharin.
FLAME AND CITRON (Ole Christian Madsen, Denmark, 2008) — 4
Now to completely contradict myself — I think this film is a thinned-down rehash of BLACK BOOK, but one that manages to drag out and overstay its welcome. It goes on about 20 minutes too long, stringing out the set pieces and confrontations — was one thing about the last scene involving Citron believable?, was how they managed to escape a Danish police roundup believable? But the specifics surrounding Carice Van Houten’s performance and “insider” role at Gestapo HQ are set aside, FLAME AND CITRON centering instead on its eponymous central characters, both assassins for the Danish Resistance. But other than that, the elements are the same: compromised Resistance figures, not-so-bad Germans, botched or incompetent Resistance actions. It’s often effective, mind you. But the physical contrast between the two assassins comes across as too cutesy, like Mutt and Jeff, when it’s actually realized on the screen. One general point worth making about films today. During the post-film Q-and-A, Madsen said he doesn’t like “heroes unsprinkled” with flaws, and that he wanted to show heroes not acting heroically. Prescinding from the specific example of the WW2 resistance used here and in BLACK BOOK … is there anything more commonplace, easier, less brave and more cliche in this day and age than that sort of “sprinkling” of heroism, demythologizing the past, showing hero’s flaws, etc. It long since ceased to impress me, per se. “There’s no just or unjust any more, only war” is one line too many.
HUNGER (Steve McQueen, Britain, 2008) — 9
More than any other film here — good, bad or indifferent — I am curious how well this film will do on US screens. It’s a Northern Ireland “Troubles” movie, about the 1981 hunger strike by IRA terrorist Bobby Sands, and that genre usually manages to pull them in. But HUNGER is also a stylistically eccentric movie, albeit a brilliant one. For one example, it starts with a prison guard for about 2-3 minutes, who brings us to one IRA prisoner whom HUNGER follows for about 3-5 minutes, who joins another IRA man for the movie to follow the two of them for the next 15 minutes or so. Then we get a scene involving a bunch of the terrorists, which, apparently incidentally, produces our first glimpse of Sands, perhaps 25-30 minutes into the movie. For another, the first act (and this film segments itself into three acts as clearly as anything not involving a curtain ever has) has very little dialogue, but then the second act is like a free-standing one-act play between two characters who sit at a table and talk, for what feels like 20-30 minutes. And then we get the third act, which is the hunger strike that is the film’s selling point (finally). It’s a constant pleasure, though it’s not a conventional one, to follow a movie that you can’t figure out and aren’t ten steps ahead of, even when you already know the basic story as I do. Visually, the film is simply astonishing and confident in ways few first-time directors are. A quick example from the very beginning: we see a man eat his breakfast, not from the usual POV but via a closeup of crumbs falling on his lap napkin, with the sound of toast crunching on the soundtrack. OK, that avoids cliche, but more importantly, by using such a low view early, it sets up and makes it not an affectation the “rat’s eye POV” for a scene a minute later where it’s absolutely essential psychologically. The sequence and juxtaposition, more than the angles per se, show McQueen has “seen” and “heard” his movie before he made it (his expressive use of sound is simply sensational throughout).
Other reasons I like HUNGER so much: (1) similar to my praise for LAST STOP 174, are that it neither pushes the easy-but-false Troubles-history buttons that never fail to aggravate me nor does it sentimentalize the IRA (the few scenes outside Maze prison should disabuse all the Irish pub bravado of North Americans); (2) the feces-smeared prison walls are made into works of abstract expressionism, which is both inherently visually arresting but also dramatically believable (what else can guys with nothing else to occupy them do once they’ve decided to desecrate the walls that way); (3) while it isn’t an apologia for rubber-hose tactics, HUNGER makes it quite clear how difficult they are to avoid, most particularly in a scene of barbering, when dealing with determinedly obstreperous prisoners (and thus how stupidly demagogic it is to show a picture and point); (4) the second act consists of a lengthy semi-debate between Sands and a priest-friend (we’ve already learned that these “Catholic” terrorists are hardly religious) that shows the priest giving as good as he gets while realizing at the end that some things are not in his hands. But at the same time, the scene shows McQueen (here’s that concept again) having the directorial confidence to turn this film over to his two actors, if that’s what is required, and not try to tart it up for the sake of showing off. And like the directorial choices above, it reinforces our confidence in him, that when he’s being showy, he’s not doing it to show off.
THE SORROW AND THE PITY — Marcel Ophuls, France, 1971, 7
Color me impressed by Rod Dreher’s Herculean feat of watching the legendary French documentary about WW2, THE SORROW AND THE PITY, in one sitting. Unlike Rod, I didn’t have the option of watching it in one sitting (and I didn’t take along a girlfriend like Alvy Singer did either). When I saw SORROW a few years ago on TCM, it was shown in the two-hour-or-so foreign-film-of-the-week slot and thus in its two segments a week apart — “The Collapse” and “The Choice,” a division made by Ophuls himself for the film’s theatrical release years earlier. And ironically, Rod reminded me of the film the same day I posted on BLACK BOOK, which, though a fiction film, covers some of the same territory. The nut of what Rod wrote:
The most unsettling thing about the film, though, is not the examples of villainy or heroism, but how most people simply made their peace with tyranny … What you get from the film, which is mostly interviews with a variety of people who had been involved with the drama of the time (most of them inhabitants of the French city Clermont-Ferrand) is a sense of how difficult it would have been to have done the right thing. To be sure, the film does not excuse the collaborators. But it does reveal them to be human, all too human.
As Rod says, SORROW is not an easy film to sit through (and not because of its length or because of “Holocaust porn,” which is absent). But unlike him, I wasn’t terribly impressed by it. Or rather don’t consider the film a masterpiece — which equally “not impressed by it,” considering its reputation.
SORROW is obviously as morally fraught as Rod says, particularly for those like us who generally identify, in some sense, with “the right.” And I agree that easily the most interesting person Marcel Ophuls interviews was the fascist-sympathizing Christian de la Maziere (there’s a lengthy clip at Rod’s site), who eventually joined the Waffen SS and is quite quietly eloquent on the why’s — namely the extreme political context not simply of the conquest, but the decade prior. Though I insist that simple or direct comparisons between the post-1946 and the pre-1946 right and between the Continental and the Anglo-American right are dubious in the extreme — I have more natural sympathy for him than I would a Communist. But de la Maziere seemed to have matured in a way that stands for how postwar politics itself did. Still, I remember being a bit annoyed that Ophuls made great sport out of a Vichy official saying Germany was preferable to Bolshevism, but never asked the at least two Communists what they were doing in the whole year between the fall of France and Hitler’s invasion of the Stalin’s USSR, before the bourgeois, imperialist war to fill the coffers of British bankers became The Great Patriotic War.
But I also remember the British homosexual who parachuted into France, in part he says, to prove his courage and because with no family, he had nothing to lose (his story, which involved taking a German soldier as his lover, sounds worthy of a film of its own). And the couple of farmers who joined the Resistance and got captured, but refused to take revenge against their betrayers (whom they said they knew) after the war — “what would be the point,” they say. And the French woman who had her head shaved. And the two German soldiers — the film actually begins with a wedding in West Germany where a man stationed with the Wehrmacht in Clermont-Ferrand is marrying off his daughter and has a son in a West German military uniform.
So there’s definitely an interesting cast of characters here. My problem was that the film seemed a bit pedestrian in its style and presentation. My memory is several years old, but I remember it being mostly talking heads and there not being much of a structure or logical through-thread. It generally followed chronology, but not in a way that was really clear to me. For example, to cite a detail tickled by what Rod wrote, I remember having to look up the postwar fate of Marshal Petain, which Ophuls alluded to late in the film, asking Sir Anthony Eden to comment on whether it was too harsh (Eden demurred, saying that Britain never was conquered, so it’s not a Briton’s place to pass judgment).
In other words, the film just seemed to be a collection of footage more than a film and thus became a bit tiring to watch, and would have been even at two hours. I always felt like I was trying to make sense of “what next” and “why this, now.” We hear at about the 180- or 200-minute mark that Clermont-Ferrand was liberated and go into some of the reprisals, against the Germans and collaborators, and I was asking myself — “how? by whom? with or without a fight? when during the broader war? … actually where the heck IS Clermont-Ferrand??” And the Maurice Chevalier bit at the end struck me as just … bizarre, both in its point (Ophuls’s point, that is, if any) and its pictorial quality. I realize that Ophuls was making the film for a French audience for whom the broadest outlines of history was universal knowledge, but … well … I’m me. (And also, one claim commonly made about the film was its groundbreaking muckraking and demythologizing, which rather suggests that some of this knowledge wasn’t so universal.)
Photos from Kevin Lee of Shooting Down Pictures (his review of SORROW here).
We are now all so familiar with Holocaust rhetoric from Jewish organizations that its characteristic audacity can easily pass unnoticed:
When Jews feel and say that Germany and those in Europe who supported, or at least did not oppose the Nazi regime, should never be allowed to forget, events back them up.(Anti-Defamation League’s Letter From Europe, July 2000.)
The number of Germans and other Europeans who “supported . . . the Nazi regime” is by now very small; more than a half-century has passed since Adolf Hitler’s death. So the ADL do not mean, despite the literal sense of the sentence quoted above, that Jews will never allow eighty-year-old Germans to forget their support for National Socialism sixty years ago; nearly all will be dead within the decade. They really mean young Germans — and young Lithuanians, young Croats, young Italians, young Finns etc. The nations themselves, they are saying, should never be allowed to forget, and Jewish organizations like the ADL plan to make their collective guilt for Nazism a permanent feature of their national identities.That much should be obvious. Perhaps it even makes sense. Nations often feel collective pride in their ancestors’ achievements; perhaps they should also feel collective shame for their ancestors’ crimes.
But there is an additional, very large group that finds itself included in the ADL’s program for punitive Holocaust remembering: “those in Europe who . . . did not oppose the Nazi regime.” The ADL are, again obviously, not concerned about eighty-year-old Spaniards or eighty-year-old Swedes or eighty-year-old Swiss “who . . . did not oppose the Nazi regime.” Nor do they mean a French housewife who, sixty years ago, neglected to rescue Jews from the clutches of the German occupiers. The ADL mean young Frenchmen and young Spaniards and young Swedes and young Swiss. They, too, must always remember.
So you are guilty and must never be allowed to forget, nor should your children be allowed to forget, if your grandfather “supported the Nazi regime”; you are also guilty and must never be allowed to forget, and your children should never be allowed to forget, if your grandfather merely failed to “oppose the Nazi regime.” Not opposing Hitler and supporting Hitler incur the same guilt and the same obligation to remember. That means that most Europeans and their children must never be allowed to forget the Holocaust, and the ADL assume not only their own ability to speak, but also their power to ensure that others listen. If Jews want twenty-year-old Swedes and their children never to forget, their remembering is certain.
What if your grandfather did, in fact, oppose the Nazi regime? You might at least think that twenty-year-old Americans or Englishmen would be under no obligation to remember perpetually the Holocaust. But if that idle thought briefly crossed your mind, you were mistaken. Mandatory Holocaust remembering is almost as pervasive in the United States and Great Britain, nations that fought to destroy National Socialism, as in the nation where it was born.
That European Jews were killed not only by Germans but also by “apathy” and “silence” in the United States and Great Britain, the apathy and silence being products of an ingrained “anti-Semitism” that the Anglo-American world shared with its German enemies, is now a standard teaching of Holocaust lore, which treats inaction and collaboration as crude synonyms. The failure of the Allies to bomb rail lines leading to Auschwitz, now the subject of a $40 billion law suit by Jewish “survivors” against American taxpayers, is the preferred example of this inaction/collaboration; the failure of the Western democracies to rescue Jews on the St. Louis — a failure also, though rarely mentioned, of the Jewish Agency in Palestine — is another popular complaint. The West, all Holocaust promoters agree, either killed Jews in, or failed to rescue Jews from, history’s most horrible crime, so the West as a whole stands condemned by both its acts and its inaction, with a mere handful of Righteous Gentiles, the vast majority being decidedly unrighteous, providing rare exceptions that only prove the rule.
“The free and ‘civilized’ world,” Elie Wiesel claims, handed “[the Jews] over to the executioner. There were the killers — the murderers — and there were those who remained silent.” Wiesel invokes here the newly minted crimes of “indifference” and “abandonment,” which Jewish Holocaust promoters have manufactured in order to add the former heroes of World War II to its cast of villains, almost as guilty as the Germans they fought. Nazis and anti-Nazis are conflated, by their shared guilt, into a single category, the former for their crimes against Jews, the latter for their sinful indifference to the crimes. “The Jews of Europe,” Jewish historian Irving Abella writes, “were not so much trapped in a whirlwind of systematic mass murder as they were abandoned to it.”
The simple truth, of course, is that Jewish organizations and Jewish historians and Jewish “survivors” want every White Gentile to feel guilt for the Holocaust, so they have invented a series of ad hoc excuses for broadening the class of the “guilty” to include all of us, whatever our grandfathers were doing sixty years ago.
The Holocaust Industry
One of the undeniable strengths of The Holocaust Industry, Norman Finkelstein’s often furious denunciation of rapacious Holocaust profiteering, is its demystification, for a mainstream audience, of all this Holocaust lore as nothing more than an instrument of “Jewish aggrandizement” wielded for both political power and profit. The Holocaust industry of the title is a network of Jewish historians and Jewish institutions that exploits the Holocaust in order to acquire the diverse political benefits that a history of victimhood now offers, in addition to the very substantial pecuniary rewards that Jewish organizations have successfully squeezed from European governments and corporations in what Finkelstein calls “an outright extortion racket.” Holocaust “scholarship” and Holocaust “memory,” themselves often funded from the racket’s proceeds, are seldom, Finkelstein argues, disinterested historical investigations or politically innocent recollections of Jewish suffering, as their practitioners would have us believe, but are instead expressions of an ideological structure that serves current political interests, principally the Jewish Heimat in Palestine and its Zionist supporters in the United States. German atrocities against Jews are the Holocaust industry’s raw material, ethnically self-serving propaganda its finished product.
Prof. Finkelstein identifies two central ideas underlying the Holocaust industry’s omnipresent propaganda: “(1) The Holocaust marks a categorically unique historical event; (2) The Holocaust marks the climax of an irrational, eternal Gentile hatred of Jews.” The former he dismisses as “intellectually barren and morally discreditable,” the latter as a simple fiction, popular among Jews but transparently false. Both dogmas are, however, mutually self-sustaining and jointly they construct a radically ethnocentric world-view, with the Holocaust at its center. Jews are distinguished from everyone else by virtue of their historical moment of unparalleled suffering, and Gentiles are distinguished from Jews by having nurtured the hatreds that culminated in this moment of unparalleled suffering. Jews were victims of history’s greatest crime, and they have been, over millennia, the objects of the perennial Gentile hatred that eventually caused history’s greatest crime. The entirety of non-Jewish history is therefore indicted. At any moment the unique evil of the Holocaust could have occurred, the hatreds that caused it being perennial, and since the hatreds are entirely irrational, with no relation to antecedent Jewish behavior, Jews bear no responsibility for having in any way provoked them. “For two thousand years,” Elie Wiesel believes, “. . . we were always threatened. . . . For what? For no reason.”
The political benefits of Holocaust dogmas are substantial. Cynthia Ozick can explain hostility to Israel by denying the need for an explanation: “The world wants to wipe out the Jews . . . the world has always wanted to wipe out the Jews.” The incommensurate evil of the Holocaust also offers an esthetically compelling symmetry. Thus Leni Yahil, in her unapologetically Zionist study of The Holocaust, on the establishment of the Jewish State: “Destruction unparalleled in history was contrasted with a creation unparalleled in history.” Anyone who has seen Schindler’s List should be familiar with the symmetry: From the black-and-white darkness of the Holocaust European Jewry emerges into the bright colors of its own Jewish State. And if, as Wiesel says, Auschwitz represents “the failure of two thousand years of Christian civilization,” then each escalation of the preeminent evil that Auschwitz now signifies is an additional indictment of Christian civilization and an additional justification for a Jewish State physically separate from it. Zionists therefore have an interest in maintaining Holocaust dogmas and in ensuring their dissemination, since the Holocaust helps immunize Jews against criticism in the Diaspora, where they form a vulnerable minority among potentially genocidal majorities, and inhibits criticism of Israel, which serves a permanent refuge for Jews should eliminationist anti-Semites once again attempt unparalleled destruction.
The monetary benefits of Holocaust dogmas are also substantial. Finkelstein’s case against Holocash extortion, the core of his book, is detailed and devastating. No one who has read The Holocaust Industry could fail to find unintended humor in Abraham Foxman’s recent claim that Jewish organizations regard the collection of Holocaust reparations as a “sacred mission.” Some highlights:
Holocaust profiteers wildly exaggerated the value of dormant accounts in Swiss banks, the subject of a massive Jewish campaign of national vilification directed against Switzerland, including the fraudulent claim that the banks robbed Jews of as much as $20 billion. Of the $1.25 billion eventually paid by the Swiss to the World Jewish Congress (WJC), at most only $200 million were genuinely owing, and contradicting the repeated claims of Jewish organizations, the independent Volcker Committee found no evidence that Swiss banks mishandled dormant Jewish accounts.
Holocaust profiteers, in this case the Simon Wiesenthal Center, falsely charged, in order to assist the extortion racket, that the Swiss interned Jewish refugees in “slave labor camps” during the war. The historical record is clear: They didn’t.
Holocaust profiteers, the WJC and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, have formally agreed to exclude Israeli banks from their extortion campaign, even though they also hold dormant Holocaust-era accounts. Finkelstein comments: “The writ of these Jewish organizations thus runs to Switzerland but not to the Jewish state.” Further: “The most sensational charge leveled against the Swiss banks was that they required death certificates from the heirs of Nazi holocaust victims. Israeli banks have also demanded such documentation. One searches in vain, however, for denunciations of the ‘perfidious Israelis.'”
Holocaust profiteers launched their recent campaign for compensation in the name of “needy survivors,” but most of the money that they have thus far extorted is destined for the coffers of Jewish organizations and will be spent to fund more Holocaust education and Holocaust memorials and Holocaust studies, like much of the more than $61 billion in reparations already paid by Germany prior to the current round of extortion. Tellingly, “survivors” themselves, familiar with the institutional greed of their self-appointed spokesmen, prefer to be paid directly by the German government.
Holocaust profiteer Edgar Bronfman, head of the WJC, “movingly testified before the House Banking Committee that the Swiss should not ‘be allowed to make a profit from the ashes of the Holocaust.’ On the other hand, Bronfman recently acknowledged that the WJC treasury has amassed no less than ‘roughly $7 billion’ in compensation monies.”
Holocaust profiteers have regularly inflated the number of Jewish “slave laborers” in order to extort additional money from European corporations. And since each increase in the number of Jewish “slave laborers” alive today logically requires a corresponding decrease in the number of Jews who died in German concentration camps, the Holocaust industry is practicing its own mercenary version of “Holocaust denial.” If Jewish claims for compensation are correct, then the Holy Six Million figure must be false. Finkelstein quotes his mother, herself interned at Majdanek: “If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?” Or as David Irving once put it: “Another Holocaust victim is born every day.”
Holocaust profiteers falsely claimed that former “slave laborers” never received compensation from Germany, although they were “covered under the original agreements with Germany compensating concentration-camp inmates” and have received payments amounting to the equivalent of $1 billion in contemporary currency. “Still, 50 years later the Holocaust industry was demanding money for ‘needy Holocaust victims’ who had been living in poverty because Germans allegedly never compensated them.”
Holocaust profiteer Elie Wiesel demands a minimum lecture fee of $25,000, as well as a chauffeured limousine.
Finkelstein concludes: “The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of ‘needy Holocaust victims’ has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino.”
Although most prominent ideologies have, for good or ill, been subjected from the anti-Western Left to analyses of the political interests they serve, the Jewish Holocaust, which now looms over a host of what should be entirely unrelated subjects, has hitherto been exempt, largely as a result of the Holocaust industry’s successful campaign to theologize Jewish suffering, transforming it from concrete events at a particular time into an ahistorical object of religious reverence, replete with taboos that few outside the Racial Right dare violate. Finkelstein’s marked lack of deference to conventional Holocaust pieties and the rules of Holocaust correctness intentionally desacralizes the Holocaust in order to deprive its exploiters of the aura of sanctity that shields their schemes from scrutiny, and in this objective he shares something in common with the revisionist Robert Faurisson, who has debunked “the religion of the Holocaust” for more than two decades. Yet tactical taboo violation does not demonstrate disbelief in the religion of which the taboos form a part. Finkelstein, as we shall see, shares the faith and therefore objects to those who would abuse it. But many of his Holocaust convictions are indistinguishable from those of the Holocaust industry he attacks, and his “radical” critique of Holocaust orthodoxy ends up restating some of its most important dogmas in an only marginally less pernicious form.
There is an obvious lesson in this. If as a society we delegate to Jews, as in effect we have done, the job of explaining criticism of Jews, we should not be surprised that the answers they arrive at have little to do with themselves and much to do with us. The most popular of their answers — that the source of anti-Semitism is our irrational hate — was predictable before the investigation ever began, given the ethnic composition of the class of experts eligible to conduct it. Similarly, if in mainstream discourse the charge of anti-Semitism remains so devastating that only Jews can safely attack Holocash extortion, we can anticipate that Jewish biases may affect the character of the attack, given the practical impossibility of anyone other than a Jew launching it. There is much of value in The Holocaust Industry, but much also that reflects an internal ethnic squabble among Jews in which, predictably, crucial Holocaust premises remain uncontested.
Discovering the Holocaust
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the suffering of European Jewry during the Second World War lacked a name. It was just suffering, terminologically indistinguishable from, say, the suffering of Ukrainian peasants during Stalinist collectivization, or even the suffering of German civilians at the hands of the Red Army. The suffering of an American soldier crippled on D-Day, the suffering of a Jew starved at Bergen-Belsen, and the suffering of a German woman crucified on a barn door all belonged to the same broad generic category of wartime deaths and wartime suffering. In the Western democracies historians and the public at large paid, naturally enough, more attention to first two than to the latter, more attention to our suffering than to theirs, but no one believed that ours deserved a special name.
Beginning in the 1960s, during the course of the Civil Rights Revolution, that changed. One group, until then numbered on our side, the Jews, began to distinguish their suffering from everyone else’s. Jews in Israel had, in fact, already defined their wartime suffering as distinctively un-Gentile by assigning it a special Hebrew name, and with remarkable forethought the Jewish National Fund in pre-Zionist Palestine had already started plans, in 1942, for a memorial to this “Shoah” (“Catastrophe”), later to become the Yad Vashem Museum, before most of the events the memorial would memorialize had actually occurred. But in the Diaspora Jewish suffering, correctly or not, was still only suffering, and Jewish deaths, from among the more than fifty million who died during the war, were still only deaths.
“Holocaust,” the English version of “Shoah,” was first deployed to describe distinctively Jewish suffering during the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, a trial consciously conducted as an educational enterprise, and it was not until the late 1960s that “Holocaust” began its ascent into public consciousness in the English-speaking world, propelled by a steadily growing number of essays and books bearing the term, most authored by Jews. In 1968 the Library of Congress replaced “World War, 1939-1945 — Jews” with “Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)”; in 1978 the influential television mini-series Holocaust appeared, watched by almost a hundred million Americans, its advertising financed by Jewish organizations; and in the same year President Carter established a commission, chaired by professional “survivor” Elie Wiesel, to create a national museum in Washington memorializing Jewish suffering in Europe. Holocaust remembering accelerated rapidly in the decade that followed, and by 1991 Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, then project director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, could boast, accurately, that World War II was merely a “background story” to the Holocaust. The contrary view, that the Holocaust was a footnote (“point de détail”) to the war, is now illegal in France and much of Europe, as the French nationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen discovered. The old view of World War II has not only been supplanted; in some countries it has literally been criminalized.
The Jewish Holocaust was a run-of-the-mill horror in a century that saw many horrors, no worse than the Armenian holocaust, or the Cambodian holocaust, or the Russian holocaust, or the Rwandan holocaust, or the Ukrainian holocaust, and arguably no worse, at the level of individual suffering, than the Palestinian naqba; if any of us had a choice between spending three months in Auschwitz, the duration of Elie Wiesel’s internment, or fifty years in a Palestinian refugee camp, only a fool would choose the latter. Whose suffering gets publicly commemorated is a political decision based not on the magnitude of the suffering but on the political lessons that the commemorators hope to privilege. Different suffering teaches different lessons. The Jewish Holocaust can plausibly teach the dangers of race-cultural self-assertion on the part of majorities and the attendant moral obligation to respect minority differences. The Ukrainian holocaust could plausibly teach much different lessons: the murderous results of internationalist attempts to eradicate national loyalties, as well as the hatred that a certain unassimilated minority often feels for its host populations. Everyone has heard of Adolf Eichmann and almost no one has heard of Lazar Kaganovich because as a society we judge the first set of lessons preferable to the second.
There should be no real mystery why this occurred. Holocaust education in the public schools, Holocaust Studies programs at most major universities, a Week of Holocaust Remembrance in mid-April, annual Holocaust commemorations in fifty states, a Holocaust Museum on the Washington Mall, Holocaust documentary after Holocaust documentary, Holocaust film after Holocaust film — all testify either to the absolutely unprecedented character of Jewish suffering during World War II, a suffering that dwarfs all pseudo-holocausts into pitiable insignificance, or else to the power of Jews to foist their racial agenda on White Gentiles. Since the first alternative should be unthinkable — the death-tolls of Soviet and Chinese Marxism were twenty million and sixty-five million respectively, according to the Black Book — no one can seriously discuss contemporary “Holocaust mania” without also discussing Jewish power.
Finkelstein has, however, no intention of discussing Jewish power, and he resolves the problem, in his own mind, by recourse to a fantasy common across the mainstream political spectrum, from Rush Limbaugh on the Right to Noam Chomsky on the Left — the fantasy of Israel as a valuable strategic resource, “a proxy for US power in the Middle East” necessary to ensure cheap oil and docile Muslims. Because the Holocaust deflects legitimate criticism of the Jewish State, Finkelstein argues, incessant remembering of the Holocaust also serves American foreign-policy objectives.
It is difficult even to conceive how this Israeli proxy is supposed to function, and there is no evidence that it does function, witness the price of oil, a devastating oil embargo in the 1970s, and the conspicuously undocile Muslim terrorists who now regularly attack Americans. But the proxy’s phantom existence enables Finkelstein and some others on the Left to identify their anti-Zionism as a species of anti-Americanism. Leftist criticism of Israel becomes de facto criticism of American geopolitical objectives. The latter are, Finkelstein imagines, really responsible for the billions shipped annually to Israel, and Zionist lobby groups in Washington, motivated not by distinctively Jewish group loyalty but by the raceless pursuit their own political agendas, are only the willing facilitators, “marching in lock-step with American power.” The unexamined assumption — that support for Israel benefits the United States — remains unexamined. No one need discuss Jewish power, Finkelstein has convinced himself, because Jewish power is only a useful tool in the hands of much more powerful non-Jewish “ruling elites.” America’s apparently Israel-first Middle East policy, far from indicating the ability of Jewish lobby groups to distort the democratic political process for their own ethnocentric purposes, as an unexpert could easily delude himself into believing, actually reflects the opposite, the absence of any significant, racially self-interested Jewish power. Zionist Jews still must remain beholden to their Gentile wire-pullers.
Finkelstein accordingly locates the beginning of frantic Holocaust remembering precisely in June of 1967, when American Jewry and the non-Jewish ruling elites who control U.S. foreign policy first recognized the geostrategic value of Israel, in the wake of the Jewish State’s unexpected victory over its Arab neighbors. Jewish elites became “the natural interlocutors for America’s newest strategic asset,” a role that offered them access to real political power, until then denied to Jews. They would abandon Israel and the Holocaust propaganda that helps sustain it the moment that Israel ceased to be, in the eyes of their Gentile benefactors, a valuable surrogate for Imperial America, since their Zionism and their awakened Holocaust memory are not the result of racial emotions, but only of unsentimental political calculation.
The argument cannot be taken seriously, but absent clairvoyant insights into the minds of the amorphous Jewish elites Finkelstein alludes to, it would be hard to disprove. We can only say that it does not adequately explain actual Jewish behavior. Why, for example, would Jewish elites, in this instance namable elites, repeatedly agitate for the release of Jonathan Pollard? They derive no political benefit from it, and they run the considerable political risk of irritating non-Jews, most of whom still regard treason as a serious offense. The simplest answer is the most convincing: Pollard is a Jew who spied on non-Jews for the benefit of the Jewish State, and Jewish elites feel racial loyalty toward him both as a fellow Jew and as an Israeli spy. They are therefore willing to take political risks, with no hope of political benefits, to secure his release.
Or consider the example of Neal Sher, former “nazi-hunter” for the Office of Special Investigations, later head of AIPAC, the chief Zionist lobby group in Washington. When Sher declares that “every Jew alive today is a Holocaust survivor,” the commonsense assumption that he is asserting, comically but nevertheless with complete sincerity, his emotional solidarity with the Holocaust’s Jewish victims plausibly accounts for both his former profession and the ruthlessness with which he and his fellow Jewish “nazi-hunters” have pursued it: deporting octogenarians to face Communist kangaroo courts during the Cold War, arranging tragi-comic trials in which senile alleged “war criminals” testify incoherently from their hospital beds, illegally suppressing exculpatory evidence in the Demjanjuk case, threatening impoverished East European countries with economic penalties, and so forth. Again the political risks are real, as Jews visibly exploit Gentile institutions to exact racial vengeance on their enemies from a half-century ago. Give the devil his due: The hatreds of Sher and his ilk are genuine, not tactical.
Most Diaspora Jews, as their actual behavior plainly demonstrates, do have a strong emotional attachment to their Jewish State, and most also have a strong emotional attachment to their politicized interpretation of the Holocaust. Finkelstein’s implausible thesis was necessary, from his perspective, only because the fact, if openly acknowledged, of strong Jewish racial loyalties will inevitably lead anyone who thinks seriously about the political abuse of the Holocaust to anti-Semitic conclusions. Incessant Holocaust promotion by Jews has some obvious ulterior motives, none of which has anything to do with American foreign-policy objectives: to delegitimize nationalism within majority-White nations; to legitimize Jewish nationalism in the Jewish State; to immunize Jews from criticism; to extract money from Germany, the United States, Switzerland, etc. Holocaust remembering is, in short, part of a racially self-interested agenda — it helps Jews and hurts us.
The Lessons of the Holocaust
The Jewish Holocaust, we are told endlessly, teaches universal “lessons,” and there are now taxpayer-funded Holocaust museums throughout the West, along with an extensive miseducational apparatus, designed to impart these supposedly crucial “lessons,” applicable (so we are instructed) to everyone everywhere. But the principal “lesson” that the Holocaust teaches is, undoubtedly, the lethal consequences of any racial or national consciousness among Whites. Because White racialism and intolerance and nationalism led to the Holocaust, White racialism and intolerance and nationalism must be eradicated, to avoid future holocausts. In terms of practical politics a politician who opposes Third World immigration on racial or even on cultural grounds has failed to learn the “lessons of the Holocaust”; the largely successful Jewish campaigns to tag Patrick Buchanan and Jörg Haider with the “Nazi” label/libel are recent cases in point.
The Holocaust Museum in Washington announced its anti-White objectives early on, even before its construction: “This museum belongs at the center of American life because America, as a democratic civilization, is the enemy of racism and its ultimate expression, genocide.” Genocide is, according to Jewish Holocaust lore, the natural outcome of any racial self-assertion by people of European descent, and American democracy is, by Jewish fiat, devoted to the extirpation of every vestige of our racial consciousness. That, not surprisingly, is what organized Jewry has wanted all along, as Kevin MacDonald has thoroughly documented.
Israel celebrates diversity — Jamal al-Dirrah and his twelve-year-old son, Mohammed, in a hail of Jewish bullets, film footage destined never to appear in Rabbi Hier’s Tolerance Museum.
In theory, the “lessons of the Holocaust” should teach Jews that Israel cannot ethically remain an explicitly Jewish state, committed to the preservation and advancement of a single Volk, rooted in land, tradition and blood, but must instead become a multiracial “state of its citizens,” bound together only by abstract political principles and an eagerness to celebrate diversity, like the nation-less anti-nations most Diaspora Jews now demand that their host populations become. In practice, needless to say, few Jews and no major Jewish organizations allow logical consistency and the lessons of the Holocaust to interfere with their racial self-interest. On the contrary: “The heart of every authentic response to the Holocaust,” writes philosopher Emil Fackenheim, “. . . is a commitment to the autonomy and security of the State of Israel.” Whereas in Israel Jews have formed a Jewish State for themselves and permit no one but Jews to immigrate into it, not even the Palestinian Arabs they ejected in 1948, in the Diaspora they campaign for multiculturalism and Third World immigration. Jews hate all nationalisms save their own; they are nationalists within Israel, but anti-nationalists everywhere else.
Broad Jewish support for Zionism in Israel, coupled with strident opposition to any form of racialism or nationalism in the Diaspora, is the defining hypocrisy of contemporary Jewry. Finkelstein, like the late Israel Shahak, is not guilty of it. He is a principled man: He opposes racialism in the United States, so he also opposes it in Israel. Yet he is apparently unaware of, or unwilling to acknowledge, his own anti-racialist debt to the “shelves upon shelves of [Holocaust] shlock” under whose weight American libraries are currently groaning. What has been, beyond any doubt, the most politically significant lesson of the Holocaust, the evil of White “racism,” is almost completely absent from his text, appearing only in two sentences in the final chapter:
Seen through the lens of Auschwitz, what previously was taken for granted — for example, bigotry — no longer can be. In fact, it was the Nazi holocaust that discredited the scientific racism that was so pervasive a feature of American intellectual life before World War II.
Auschwitz did not, of course, scientifically discredit scientific racism, but it is certainly true that the academic study of racial differences has been discredited by its association with German National Socialism, although the facts themselves remain indifferent to the lessons of the Holocaust. It is also true that “bigotry is no longer taken for granted,” but this bland summary of the sea-change in post-war attitudes to race requires a translation. Finkelstein, like most multiracialists, believes that the majority-White nations of the West are still riddled, from top to bottom, with bigotry and systemic “racism.” The fight against White “racism” has scarcely begun; the lessons of the Holocaust have only taught us that bigotry should no longer be taken for granted.
An unwillingness to acknowledge their own impressive victories is a common characteristic of anti-White ideologues. The near absence of American borders does not inhibit Chicano activists from angrily denouncing the alleged “racism” of the small remnant that remains; the presence of a massive system of mandated racial discrimination directed against Whites does not inhibit “civil rights” activists from angrily denouncing (statistically nonexistent) “institutional racism” allegedly directed against Blacks. Anti-racialist campaigns need a perpetual state of emergency to eliminate the cultural toxin of “racism,” but the scarcity of the toxin only escalates demands for more emergency measures. Demands for further Euro-American capitulation are invariably presented as though no significant capitulation has yet occurred. Whites have foolishly divested themselves of their former racial consciousness, but they receive no credit for their new racelessness, only more vilification.
Thus in the midst of a culture soaked in White guilt, Finkelstein recommends more of the same, while presenting his proposals as part of a radical assault on a conservative Holocaust Establishment too timid to berate the goyim with the severity they deserve. “We could,” he says, “learn much about ourselves from the Nazi experience,” and he helpfully suggests additional atrocities that we might, if so inclined, also commemorate: European “genocide” in the Americas; American atrocities during the Vietnam war; American enslavement of Blacks; murderous Belgian exploitation of the Congo. All of these suggestions for atrocity commemoration have a feature in common that should not be too difficult to discern, and with the likely exception of the last, each could be dutifully recited by any well-indoctrinated schoolboy, thanks to multicultural miseducation.
Finkelstein has further suggestions. We could also contemplate, while learning much about ourselves from the Nazi experience, how “Manifest Destiny anticipated nearly all the ideological and programmatic elements of Hitler’s Lebensraum policy”; how German eugenics programs, commonly regarded as precursors of the Jewish Holocaust, merely followed American precedents; how the Nuremberg Laws were a milder variant of the Southern prohibition of miscegenation; how “the vaunted western tradition is deeply implicated in Nazism as well,” Plato and Rousseau being the proto-Nazis Finkelstein has in mind. Clearly, learning from the Nazi experience means learning to see the Nazi in ourselves and in our history.
Here Finkelstein’s self-described radical critique of Holocaust orthodoxies has a parasitical relation to what it purports to debunk, tacitly relying on alleged Holocaust uniqueness in order construct a tenuous guilt-by-association which would be laughable in any other context. Hitler opposed “birth control on the ground that it preempts natural selection”; Rousseau said something similar. Most American states once had eugenics laws sanctioning the sterilization of mental defectives; the Nazis had similar laws. Leo Strauss called this form of non-reasoning the reductio ad Hitlerum. We are expected to see, and unfortunately most Whites will indeed see, not discrete ethical issues but a sinister pattern that establishes culpability.
Yet the sinister pattern of culpability only exists if the Holocaust remains, on account of its unparalleled evil, the terminus toward which all of Western history was directed; the pattern ceases to exist if the Holocaust is dislodged from its position high atop a hierarchy of suffering. Substitute the Judeo-Bolshevik slaughter of Ukrainians for the Jewish Holocaust and you will also select a different set of sign-posts leading to a different unparalleled evil.
Since Finkelstein does not practice what he preaches, avoiding the implications of his own call to democratize suffering, his preferred Holocaust lessons turn out, as we have seen, to be not much different from the anti-racialist lessons that Holocaust promoters already teach. Elie Wiesel would have no objection to most of Finkelstein’s pedagogy of White guilt, though he would of course insist that Jews need not be among its pupils. White guilt is a given for both; they differ only on how we should best commemorate it and on whether Jews should be included among the group to whom the requisite lessons must be addressed. We are, Finkelstein and Wiesel agree, morally obliged to “confront” and “remember” Nazi crimes, even though the confronting and remembering will be “difficult” and “painful,” because we were somehow complicit in them, and in this both articulate what is now surely the core dogma of Holocaust propaganda.
“[To] study . . . the Holocaust,” says Marcia Sachs Littell, director of the National Academy for Holocaust and Genocide Teacher Training, “is also to study the pathology of Western civilization and its flawed structures.” Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, Holocaust theologian, goes further: “The guilt of Germany is the guilt of the West. The fall of Germany is the fall of the West. Not only six million Jews perished in the Holocaust. In it Western civilization lost its claim to dignity and respect.”
Such expressions of anti-Western animus, routine in Jewish Holocaust writing, would be very difficult to reconcile with Finkelstein’s account of the genesis of Holocaust remembering, namely that organized Jewry “forgot” the Holocaust throughout the 1950s and then, in order to become valued participants in American statecraft, tactically “remembered” it in 1967, so that “Jews now stood on the front lines defending America — indeed, ‘Western civilization’ — against the retrograde Arab hordes.”
Anti-Western animus is, on the other hand, very easy to explain within the socio-political context of the decade when, by all accounts, the Holocaust received its English name and began its ascent into popular consciousness. American Jewry’s decision to remember the Holocaust was dependent on White America’s willingness to listen. A speaker normally presupposes an auditor, and vocal Holocaust remembering likewise presupposes receptive Holocaust listening. Jews had no intention in the 1960s and they have no intention now of remembering their Holocaust in the absence of a non-Jewish audience.
American Jews conveniently recovered their forgotten Holocaust memory at the very historical moment when racial victimization in the past began to confer political power in the present. The religion of the Holocaust was the Jewish version of anti-White identity politics. To number yourself among the wretched of the earth was a source of political power during the Civil Rights Revolution, and it continued to be a source of political power in the decades that followed.
Jews had played an instrumental role in fomenting the Revolution, and by remembering the Holocaust they enlisted themselves, citing an impeccable pedigree of suffering at the hands of Whites, among the minority groups eligible to receive its moral capital, while relieving themselves of membership, largely nominal in any case, in the White oppressor race, against whom the Revolution was and still is directed. Through the Holocaust the most successful ethnic group in American history not only joined the various aggrieved minorities staking out a claim against the Euro-American majority, but also pushed itself to the front of the line.
Since Jews are more intelligent and much more politically powerful than other aggrieved minorities, they have elevated their wartime victimization above all other victimizations, while surrounding it with a deceptive, often eloquent language of humane universalism. The Jewish victims of the Holocaust, philosopher Paul Ricoeur writes, are “delegates to our memory of all the victims of history,” a formulation which in practice means that all of history’s other victims can be safely ignored or consigned to a small, dark corner in your local Holocaust museum, being somehow included in the representative suffering of the Jews.
Thus this exceptional piece of Holocaust lore from Yad Vashem’s Avner Shalev: “We add our voice to those who believe that the Holocaust, because of its Jewish specificity, should serve as a model in the global fight against the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic hatred and genocide.” The sentence is logically incoherent but its meaning is clear: Jewish specificity ensures universality. And the political subtext is also clear: In the holy war against “racism,” one race of victims is far more equal than the rest.
In the famous film footage of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, a British soldier, a kind of Everyman Tommy, states the Allied consensus at the time: “When you actually see a place like this . . . you know what we are fighting for.” Surveying the same evidence, General Ira Eaker, of the United States Eighth Air Force, drew a similar conclusion: “Let any doubter, in all the generations to come, contemplate what it would be like to live in a world dominated by Hitler, the Japanese warlords, or any other cruel dictator or despot.”
Neither the British soldier nor General Eaker saw in the corpses of Belsen the pathology of our vaunted Western Civilization, or the consequences of American eugenics laws and Lebensraum policies, or (in Wiesel’s words) the “shameful legacy” of pre-war immigration quotas, or the moral imperative to celebrate racial diversity. Neither would have accepted any of the preceding even if a helpful “Holocaust educator” had patiently explained them all; neither would have understood what the “Holocaust educator” was talking about. We, the civilized democracies, had just defeated them, the cruel dictatorships. Belsen and the other camps showed conclusively what we had just saved the world from. The average Mississippi Klansman would have concurred.
There were serious errors in this triumphalist vision of the war. A cruel despot, in fact history’s cruelest despot, Joseph Stalin, had been the main beneficiary, and the Red Army, even as the British soldier was speaking, were in the process of liberating Eastern Europe in the name of Soviet Marxism, raping and murdering as they liberated. A war that had nominally begun to prevent a historically German city, Danzig, from rejoining the German Reich, as most of its citizens wanted, had ended with not only Danzig but all of Eastern Europe in the hands of the Communists.
And Belsen itself, which supplies our visual impressions of what the Holocaust “looked like,” happens to be among the German concentration camps that most clearly fit the revisionist thesis: that the bulk of deaths in the camps, and the emaciated bodies that form the Holocaust’s compelling iconography, were the result not of a program of deliberate extermination but of dislocations, caused by Allied bombing, in the final months of the war.
But the triumphalist consensus was culturally benign, at least for those nations that had fought on the winning side. It said something good about ourselves, and it dignified the many lives that the war had needlessly cost. The consensus should have served Jewish interests as well. Anti-Semitism was a distinctive vice of the cruel German dictatorship that the democratic Allies had just defeated, and it was therefore delegitimized, just as fascism and national socialism were delegitimized. Significantly, the first two Hollywood films attacking anti-Semitism, Crossfire and The Gentleman’s Agreement, both appeared in 1947, the latter receiving an Academy Award for Best Picture. The war’s aftermath offered a didactic opportunity to define anti-Semitism as incompatible with the West’s highest ideals, which Allied soldiers had supposedly shed their blood defending. With Hitler’s defeat the enemies of the Jews were placed outside our Civilization, which should have encouraged Jews to curtail their frequent efforts to subvert it.
The Jewish group decision to shape their Holocaust memory into an indictment of Western “anti-Semitism” and “racism” — our “pathology” — was a calculated repudiation of post-war triumphalism. The Jewish Holocaust, as it emerged from the burgeoning identity politics of the 1960s, blurred and even effaced what had formerly been a clear distinction between them and us, cruel dictatorships and civilized democracies, and it set Jewry apart from both. There were now, in Wiesel’s analysis, “murderers” and “those who remained silent” on one side, and innocent Jews on the other, a much different binary opposition that allows no place for the exploits of the formerly heroic Allies. The corollary of this intense ethnocentrism is the doctrine of the world’s criminal “abandonment” of the Jews, a doctrine that distinguishes Jews from everyone else, to the detriment of the latter. “The world,” we recall, “has always wanted to wipe out the Jews,” which is another way of saying that Jews owe loyalty to nobody but themselves.
Jerzy Kosinski’s Painted Bird, published in 1965, two years before the Six Day War, can stand in small for the larger issues. Protected by Polish peasants during the brutal German occupation, Kosinski nevertheless chose, when he came to pen his fictionalized Holocaust memoirs, to nazify his Catholic protectors, transforming them into hate-filled anti-Semites, like all the novel’s other Poles, who subject the six-year-old protagonist to a series of fanciful sadistic barbarities, none of which ever occurred. Kosinski’s own real-world experience in occupied Poland, a life of comparative comfort among the Poles he would later vilify, should have led him to endorse the Allied interpretation of the war: on one side cruel Germans, on the other us, the cruel Germans’ victims, both Poles and Jews. Nothing in that structure detracted from the alleged uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust; nothing in it would have limited Kosinski’s artistic license. He was free to invent as many bogus atrocities as he wanted, so long as he attributed them to Germans, not Poles. Yet Kosinski chose instead, in what can only be interpreted as a deliberate act of racial aggression, to nazify the war’s first anti-Nazis, at the price of radically distorting his own experience.
The alleged “pathology of Western Civilization,” with the Holocaust as its foremost symptom, has been constructed incrementally by a series of similar choices in which Jews, Norman Finkelstein among them, have broadened what was previously the specific evil of the Nazis into the general evil of the West, so that, as German historian Ernst Nolte puts it, “homo hitlerensis ultimately appears as merely a special case of homo occidentalis.” Just as Jews are representative victims, so all Euro-folk, assuming the role once assigned to Germans alone, are representative perpetrators. We, including the descendants of World War II’s victors, are now potential Nazis who are capable, if not for anti-racialist training and regular visits to Holocaust museums, of repeating uniquely evil Nazi crimes. Unique Nazi evil has been expanded to include all of us, without suffering any diminution in the process.
Teaching the lessons of White guilt has been a long-standing mission of Jewish propagandists. The potential Nazi lurking behind the conventional American hero was the barely concealed subject of Crossfire, which introduced to the screen a radically new character who would be immediately recognized by a modern audience, the pathological White hate criminal, in this case a superficially normal veteran, a police officer before the war, who gratuitously murders a Jew; Dore Schary, producer of Crossfire, later became the national chairman of the ADL, thus making a seamless personal transition from cultural to explicitly political Jewish activism. Crossfire was an early attempt to “learn much about ourselves from the Nazi experience,” and contrary to Finkelstein, there is no shortage of such educational opportunities today. Recent Holocaust promoters, emboldened by our current affection for racial self-flagellation, have simply ascribed to Western man in general the pathology which their less ambitious forebears confined to lone madmen.
Insofar as we accept, as far too many of us do, the false moral burden to feel racial guilt over (“learn much about ourselves from”) German wartime atrocities, real and fictional, we have internalized Jewish ethnocentrism, learning to see ourselves through Jewish eyes. We should therefore learn our own “lesson of the Holocaust” — that the descendants of both the winners and the losers of the Second World War now have a common interest in repudiating the old mythology of unique Nazi evil, along with the anti-Western Holocaust industry which has fastened itself on it.
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