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The Israelis and the Holocauset Seventh milion: A History of Israel With Broad Implications

jan peczkis|Thursday, July 28, 2016

This one volume focuses on Israel from before its beginnings as a nation until the early 1990's. Owing to the breadth of this book, this review is necessarily limited to a small fraction of its content. Its content sheds light on many issues, including ones not explicitly elaborated in the book.

A History of Israel With Broad Implications This one volume focuses on Israel from before its beginnings as a nation until the early 1990's. Owing to the breadth of this book, this review is necessarily limited to a small fraction of its content. Its content sheds light on many issues, including ones not explicitly elaborated in the book.

On the origins of the Holocaust, Segev comments: "Scholars of the Holocaust know of no extermination order signed by Hitler...David Ben-Gurion said that no one needed official announcements to know that Hitler intended to exterminate the Jews--it was all in Mein Kampf. All that people had to do was read the book." (p. 79). This, of course, undermines the common argument that Germans did not understand what they were doing when they freely voted for Hitler.

Segev's book sheds light on the world's reaction to early news of the Holocaust. David Engel has criticized the Polish government-in-exile for allegedly being slow and low-keyed in publicizing the extermination of Polish Jews, and then doing so only within the context of other wartime events (all because of ulterior motives). It is therefore interesting to note that comparable accusations could be made against Jewish sources in Palestine at the time. As Segev writes: "The newspapers generally published such Jewish stories beside the major reports from the war fronts, as if they were only a local angle on the real drama. From a professional point of view, the newspapers missed one of the biggest stories of the century." (p. 73). And, "...the Revisionists charged that the Mapai leadership had known about the extermination of Jews for months and had deliberately kept the public in the dark. Their silence had been intended to conceal their own failure, the Revisionists claimed..." (pp. 78-79).

Segev wades into controversial issues. He tackles Jewish passivity as follows: "Yitzhak Gruenbaum said, while the Holocaust was still at its height, that the fact that the Jews of Poland 'had not found in their souls the courage' to defend themselves filled him with a feeling of 'stinging mortification.'" (p. 109). Segev also discusses the Judenrat, and focuses harshly on Jewish collaborators: "The kapos had authority to impose punishments; many were notorious for their cruelty. 'Every one of them murdered, ' Dov Shilansky related. 'The Jews who worked for the Germans, and almost every Jew with even the ribbon of a deputy kapo on his arm, murdered---all but an exceptional few.'" (p. 259).

Segev elaborates on efforts to free the Jews from Nazi-ruled Europe, including the unfulfilled Europa Plan (p. 91) and Trucks-for-Blood proposal (p. 93); as well as the successful Kastner-Eichmann deal, in which 1, 685 Jews were freed (p. 265) to go to neutral Switzerland. Based on Document D. I 5753, housed in the Bundesarchiv Koblenz (p. 534), Segev comments: "And the idea of trading Jews for ransom was not, apparently, foreign even to Adolf Hitler himself. A memo Heinrich Himmler wrote on December 10, 1942, states that Hitler agreed to the exchange deals, on condition that they bring Germany large amounts of foreign currency." (p. 96). The potential and actual freeing of Jews by Nazis contradicts the claim of Holocaust uniqueness, which posits that, unlike the situation of non-Jews, the killing of EVERY SINGLE Jew was the Nazi goal, and furthermore that this was the very highest of Nazi objectives. Along the same lines, columnist Boaz Evron is mentioned as rejecting the claim that the extermination of Jews had been a unique Nazi crime (p. 402). He cites the non-Jewish victims of the Nazis and the fact that the Germans intended eventually to exterminate other peoples besides the Jews.

Segev's description of the red tape that Holocaust survivors encountered in securing German reparations (pp. 246-248) rings true. My father, a former inmate of the concentrations camps at Dachau and Gross Rosen, had the same experience.

Some recent authors (e. g., Jan Thomas Gross) would have us believe that the Zydokomuna (Jewish Communism) was something between imaginary and insignificant. Such was emphatically not the attitude of early Israeli leaders: "Thus the Joint Distribution Committee continually came under attack in the Zionist executive for helping Jews build new lives in Europe. 'I feel the danger of the Communist vermin uniting with the Joint,' Ben Gurion said. He called the Jewish Communists of eastern Europe 'the dregs of Judaism.'" (p. 129).

In this book, common Polonophobic views stand in contrast with some reasonable ones, including those related to the subject of the victims of Auschwitz. Segev writes: "Teveth attacked the Poles for concealing from visitors to Auschwitz the fact that most of those murdered there had been Jews...Shalmi Barmor tried to explain to the students that the Poles were not guilty of the murder of the Jews. Indeed, the Poles felt they had been defeated in the war---they had traded the Nazi conquest for a Soviet occupation. Anti-Semitism in Poland should not be ignored, Barmor told his students, but he emphasized that the Poles considered the mass murder of the Jews part of their Polish national tragedy. The students argued with him. 'Someone, after all, has to be guilty of the Holocaust,' one of them said. 'We have to hate someone, and we've already made up with the Germans.'" (pp. 491-492). Although not developed further by Segev, the common displacement of Jewish anger over the Holocaust from the Germans to the Poles, besides being an act of historical revisionism that parallels that of Holocaust denial, is a discouraging portent for the future.

It turns out that the Carmelite convent controversy had been fuelled, in part, by old-fashioned politics: "Riegner said that Auschwitz was not only a national memorial belonging to the Jewish people that should not be taken by anyone else; it was also an important political asset. Among other things, it served the diplomatic efforts of both the World Jewish Congress and Israel." (p. 474).
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