The History of the Holocaust Requires Open Conversation

A bill recently passed by Poland’s legislature forbids the use of the term “Polish death camps” to refer to the extermination camps established by the Nazis within the country’s borders, and more vaguely forbids any assignation of guilt for the Holocaust to “the Polish nation or the Polish state.” Putting the law in the context of recent East European history, Ben Cohen points to the corrupt impulse behind it:

[I]n the nations that were until 1989 under the boot of the Soviet Union, like Poland, . . . “Holocaust education” for decades consisted of lies, distortions, and shameful cover-ups. It began with the Soviets [themselves], for whom there was no ideological or political room for something called the “Holocaust” in their account of the “Great Patriotic War,” [as they called World War II]. . . .

But just as the Communists sought to undermine this core truth at every turn, so do today’s ultranationalists. It’s not just Poland, after all. Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia are just a handful of the other European countries where similarly ugly disputes have arisen, always involving ultranationalist political leaders promoting the deceitful rewriting of history. In all these cases, the end has been the same: to portray the occupied non-Jewish populations as facing exactly the same trials and perils as their Jewish neighbors, and thereby to launder their own soiled records of past Nazi associations. . . .

If the Polish government’s goal were simply to encourage greater awareness and education about Polish suffering under the Nazis, that would be laudable. But by tying that aspect of Nazi rule so explicitly to the mass enslavement and extermination of the Jews, and by willfully misrepresenting documented evidence of Polish anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis as a slander upon the Polish nation as a whole, they are engineering their own deserved failure, to the detriment of Poland’s people.

Instead of enlightening the world about how the Soviets and the Nazis collaborated to crush the Polish national movement—and why that matters especially today—Poland’s leaders are disgracing themselves by uncomplicatedly assigning three million Holocaust victims murdered because they were Jews to the general record of Polish wartime suffering. You’d have thought that the Soviet Union was the last country they would want to emulate.

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More about: Eastern Europe, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Poland, Soviet Union

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror