An “Unmissable” Exhibit on Auschwitz Falls into the Familiar Trap of Universalizing the Holocaust

To Edward Rothstein, Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away, which recently opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, is “unmissable,” thanks primarily to the hundreds of photographs and artifacts on display. But it also falls prey to the all-too-familiar tendency to turn the Holocaust into a “warning beacon”:

Here is an event scarred by singularity—the attempt to eradicate a people that numbered in the millions, living in more than a dozen countries in the world’s most politically sophisticated continent, who were executed with meticulous, obsessive brutality in the midst of a world war. After three- quarters of a century, it still stymies efforts at understanding.

Somehow, though, that singularity inspires insistence on the opposite, as if the Holocaust were simply the result of fascism or racism or intolerance. The Holocaust’s presumed repeatability—if not imminence—strips it of particularity and diminishes it by turning it into an ever-ready analogy. . . .

In the [exhibit’s] introductory section, Jews seem like afterthoughts, secondary to more fundamental political hatreds. . . . But from the very beginning, as Hitler made clear in 1925’s Mein Kampf (we see Heinrich Himmler’s annotated copy), Jews were at the center of Nazi obsessions. The exhibition acknowledges that Jews were a “special target,” but it seems intent on minimizing that issue. The result is that Germany’s expulsion of the Jews and then the Final Solution seem to erupt without context. . . .

[T]he exhibition does not prepare us to make sense of this or to recognize that despite the widespread suffering, without the goal of killing Jews, Auschwitz would have remained a conventional Nazi horror pit. Auschwitz is testimony to an obsession, around which other hatreds inconsistently circulated.

Make no mistake: this show wields considerable power, but, like most Holocaust exhibitions (aside from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem), it is oddly discomfited by that Judaic center and overly content with contemporary platitudes. In the catalog, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz museum, warns that an Auschwitz could happen again because of “the escalation of populism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other racist ideologies.” This need to catalog villainies has counterparts in other recent responses toward hatred of Jews, making sure that any condemnation of anti-Semitism is cushioned by a roster of other hatreds.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Auschwitz, Holocaust, Holocaust Museums, Jewish museums

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy