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

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem