Thursday, May 05, 2005

Holocaust Remembrance Day

The mid-20th-century's assault against the Jews is one of the defining moments of Western history. Hitler may not have had the largest list of victims (Stalin multiplied his several times), but the Nazis' atrocities have captured the imagination in ways that the destruction of the kulaks, the Armenian genocide, Rwanda or Darfur have not. The literature of the era has ranged from ridiculous (Hogan' Heroes) to the profound (Shoah and Life Is Beautiful).

But for all that, we really don't understand it. The Nazis are so demonized that people think that they were not the educated, sophisticated people of their day, but rubes and crustaceans, like fundamentalist Christians of the present.

Barbara Lerner comments on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe:
Certain that they have long since been cleansed of any guilt for the sins of their fathers, Eurosecs see themselves as the very incarnation of postmodern virtue. Naturally, they reject the grotesque racist stereotypes their fathers embraced. They know today's Jews are their moral inferiors for an entirely different, entirely factual, reason: that Israel is a poisonous foreign element in the Middle East — a racist, colonial state whose 5 million Jews are oppressing the Palestinians, occupying their land, and preventing peace and progress in the 22 failed Arab states that surround them.

A couple of years ago, Barry Strauss noted the rise of anti-Semitism on American campuses:
It's been a season of anti-Semitism on campus. To cite just a few highlights: After temporarily canceling its invitation, Harvard reinvited Oxford poet Tom Paulin to deliver a lecture. Paulin is the humanitarian who said that Brooklyn-born Jewish settlers on the West Bank should be shot dead. Meanwhile, a Georgetown University professor has reportedly said that the "international Zionist movement" is pushing the U.S. into war with Iraq because Jews want to take over the Arab world. And a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says that since no Israelis died on September 11, 2001, Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, must have known about the attacks in advance and forewarned Israelis — but not Americans. Never mind that Israeli citizens in fact were killed on the planes and in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

The roots of the Holocaust go back to the Weimar Republic, which is in many ways not much different from ours:
The war and the subsequent inflation had discredited the Victorian values of the older generation, and youth were ready to participate in what Americans were calling the jazz age. No point in saving for marriage in an age of rapid inflation; better to spend and enjoy. Women cut their hair, used makeup, smoked, discarded corsets, and adopted the new rayon stockings. Men shed their handlebar mustaches and tried to look rakish, boyish, adventurous, or intellectual, with horned-rimmed glasses and hair brushed back instead of parted. Wild parties and bohemian manners were no longer confined to the fringes. Berlin became famous in the 1920s for nightclubs and sexual license–the world of Christopher Isherwood's novels (later transformed into the film/musical Cabaret ). Jazz age vitality went along with a consciousness of decadence in Berlin. The writer Erich Kastner summed up the scene: "In the east there is crime; in the center the con men hold sway; in the north resides misery, in the west lechery; and everywhere–the decline."

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, an American Orthodox Jew, excoriates Jewish elites (by and large Jewish by birth and self-identification rather than practice) as being a source of "heinous charicatures" of Jews. He says that Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of the title couple in Meet the Fockers (which I haven't seen and probably won't) is itself anti-Semitic: "In spite of having several Jewish producers and several Jewish stars, this film’s vile notions of Jews are not too different from those used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels."

He says that the revulsion against Judaism that grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany had a partial foundation in some Jews' assaults against the culture. Consider that in light of the rise of Islam in Europe -- with their strait-laced mores and their predisposition to hate Jews.

To the people of the time, the Nazis looked advanced, sophisticated and enlightened. They did not look like Commander Klink. To the people looking forward, the little brush mustache was not yet a joke. The curved helmets were not yet a sign of Evil. The swastika was a neutral symbol. Leni Reifenstahl was a genius. The next Holocaust(s) will seem equally advanced, sophisticated and enlightened, and people who give themselves a pass on their own capacity for evil will never even notice that they have become perpetrators.

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