Guardian

Holocaust sans antisemitism? Guardian editorial on Auschwitz liberation follows familiar pattern


Auschwitz_by_doctorkrisseeToday marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Roughly one out of every six Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust died between 1940 and 1945 at the Auschwitz camp complex in south-west Poland – a facility known as “the largest mass murder site in human history”.

The official Jan. 27th Guardian editorial on the significance of commemorating the anniversary of the camp’s liberation seems determined to honor the memory of the Jewish victims, yet appears at a loss to explain why they were murdered, and thus fails in the most important task of any serious meditation on the Holocaust: what moral lessons we must learn.

We’ll include the entire text of the editorial in order to fully contextualize the omission.

The facts are, wrote Hannah Arendt in 1946, “that six million Jews, six million human beings, were helplessly, and in most cases unsuspectingly, dragged to their deaths”. Human history, she added, “has known no story more difficult to tell”. In the years since those facts first became known, the story of the Holocaust has been told and retold, yet it still remains obdurately difficult to tell.

Scholarly inquiry, the search for causation, the most meticulous reconstruction, the grave questions of theologians and of thinkers like Arendt herself, the wrenching accounts of survivors, the discovered testimony of victims like Anne Frank – it all goes only so far. The unknowability of the Holocaust was famously, if inadvertently, expressed by the guard at Auschwitz who curtly told Primo Levi:“There is no why here.” We cannot in the end explain the Holocaust: it is beyond explanation.

The converse is not true. We cannot explain the Holocaust, yet, in large measure, it explains us. The Holocaust set the moral, ethical and geopolitical parameters within which the western world lives, influenced international institutions, sits balefully on the shoulders of writers and artists, and is never entirely absent from our minds.

Nor should it be, even though new horrors and new problems have inevitably emerged. If we were ever to lose our consciousness of the Holocaust, we would lose the moral fresh start that victory over the Nazi state gave us, the determination that such a thing should never be allowed to happen again and that we should always be on the watch for early signs of the disease that led to it. That is one reason why many in the last generation of survivors of the camps, or those who escaped to Britain or America in the nick of time, are making a final effort to imprint on the minds of the young some sense of the enormity of what happened.

They are speaking now because soon they will not be able to speak. They are speaking, also, to a Europe where minorities once again feel themselves at risk: Jewish communities gripped by a new insecurity, Muslim communities that sense the slow swell of hostility in the wake of jihadist outrages like the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. True, a sprinkling of far-right parties, from Golden Dawn in Greece to Svoboda in Ukraine, is far from constituting a fascist revival. We are not on the road to another Auschwitz. But that is, in part, because we remember what happened there.

Those who are gathering there for the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Russian troops, particularly the handful of elderly survivors, are determined that we should continue to remember. Some other aspects of the occasion give cause for concern. This is one time when the current difficulties with Russia should have been overlooked, yet Vladimir Putin has not been formally invited and is not coming.

Of course, Russia has been playing politics with its charges that neo-fascists are on the march in Ukraine. All the more reason to recall the ideal of wartime unity. And there will be countries represented at Auschwitz on Tuesday, especially from central and eastern Europe, that have not faced up to the participation of their own citizens in the death camps in the thoroughgoing and agonised way in which Germany itself finally faced up to its Nazi past.

The Holocaust was a murder in the European family, a shame from which Europe will never entirely recover. It is seen differently outside the old continent. America, rightly or wrongly, has less sense of responsibility for that shame, but a great determination to preserve Israel, a determination that has profoundly changed the Middle East. Israel itself, coming late to its own reckoning with what happened in Europe, has sometimes been led by those ready to exploit its vulnerability, but that does not mean the vulnerability is not viscerally felt: a people who came close to extinction cannot be blamed for not wanting to put their fate ever again in other hands. The Arabs, meanwhile, cannot be blamed for feeling that Europe’s blood debt to the Jews was paid with what they see as their territory. Beyond Europe, what was once a terrible but distant event in the colonial metropolis has seemed more relevant after Cambodia and Rwanda. Auschwitz now belongs to us all.

A few quick observations:

First, note the gratuitous swipe at Israel.

Though they acknowledge that “a people who came close to extinction cannot be blamed for not wanting to put their fate ever again in other hands”, editors nonetheless can’t resist accusing unnamed Israeli leaders of “exploiting” the Holocaust. They also legitimize the narrative which sees in Israel’s very creation an undeserved “punishment” of Palestinians for Europe’s sins – omitting the Palestinian leadership’s own extensive collusion with the Nazis.

In the fifth paragraph, editors, in vaguely referring to “recent Jewish insecurities”, note the attack on Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, but – quite curiously – not the subsequent murder of four Jews at the Hyper Cacher Kosher Supermarket.  This small omission in one particular paragraph represents a larger one within the full 720 word editorial: the absence, in any context, of the word “antisemitism”.

Though editors are narrowly right that the nature of human evil displayed by the perpetrators of the Holocaust may be unknowable, we certainly do know that antisemitism is what inspired the organized effort by Nazis and their willing executioners to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

Though elsewhere on the pages of the Guardian, their editors and contributors have indeed taken note of the exodus of Jews from France and elsewhere in the wake of a very well-documented uptick in antisemitic incidents, their latest editorial seemed determined not to view Holocaust commemoration through the lens of a specific racist legacy, but within the framework of the fight against an amorphous ‘intolerance’.

An editorial about the Holocaust which omits mentioning antisemitism seems to us akin to a US newspaper publishing an editorial about American slavery without contextualizing the black struggle against white racism.

Whilst it is the belief of this writer that the Guardian has made some significant strides in dealing with issues of concern to the Jewish community, their latest Holocaust editorial suggests a continuing institutional failure to confront the scourge of antisemitism in a way that’s intellectually serious, honest and brave.

42 replies »

  1. So much utter bigotted crap from this toxic Jew-hating litter tray-liner. The Balfour declaration predates the Holocaust by 25 years. Tel-Aviv predates that by another 8. Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias by another … oh, wait …

  2. “The Arabs, meanwhile, cannot be blamed for feeling that Europe’s blood debt to the Jews was paid with what they see as their territory..”

    This outrageous old Arab canard trotted out on Holocaust Day!

    • Don’t mention Israel so as not to offend you-know-who … and it might just go away.
      These people have severe psychological problems.

  3. ” America, rightly or wrongly, has less sense of responsibility for that shame, but a great determination to preserve Israel, a determination that has profoundly changed the Middle East.”
    What do we make of this? Wow!
    I always wondered what profoundly, all by its lonesome, changed the middle east. Now I have the answer!
    Hey, what are the Europeans “determined” to do?

  4. A well written de-construct of the Guardian’s institutionalised anti-Israel bias. I can’t help wondering however whether the person who wrote this outrageous editorial will even realise how reprehensible the spurious claim that the modern State of Israel was founded solely as a result of European guilt for the holocaust – a view evidently shared by Barak Obama.
    The recognition as far back as 1922 of the Jews ancient rights in the Holy Land are conveniently dismissed as are the Arabs attempts throughout the 1930s and 1940s to decimate the Jewish presence in Mandate Palestine and the fledgling State when it was ultimately founded.
    The liberal left see no problem with these fallacious arguments which deny any valid claim by the Jewish people to its ancient homeland pre-dating the holocaust. Also absent any mention of Islamic anti-Semitism which apparently the Guardian does not believe exists seeking to lay the sole blame on the far right – how pitiful.

    • Norman,
      “how reprehensible the spurious claim that the modern State of Israel was founded solely as a result of European guilt for the holocaust”

      You are right but it is worth noting that without the massive scale of the Holocaust the 1947 vote may not have taken place, or may not have played out in such a way.

      One thing is evident, the writer choose to ignore how the British got their arses kicked when the Jews in Israel started losing their patience of being played at.
      This most certainly brought about an urgency, on the British part, to pull back or risk being viewed in the same light as the Nazis did.

    • The Guardian’s piece does not make the claim “that the modern State of Israel was founded solely as a result of European guilt for the holocaust”. It does suggest that the Holocaust provided a major driver in support of creating the modern state via the UN.

    • I agree that most of their coverage has been good. My post specifically addresseed their one official (Guardian View) editorial.

      • But even this contribution avoids the words Jew or Antisemitism.
        Only once there is a reference to this dominant context, albeit indirectly.
        Wisnia, 89, from Philadelphia is one of the main voices at Tuesday’s ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, at which he will be chanting the funeral prayer El male Rachamim to an audience of just under 300 Holocaust survivors and almost 3,000 dignitaries, in what he says is “the greatest honour of my life”.

          • I never have nor do I deny the existence of antisemitism. It exists and it’s real.

            This was in today’s paper edition of the Guardian for the Auschwitz 70th anniversary . It mentions ‘antisemitism’ several times.

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/26/tales-from-auschwitz-survivor-stories

            However I do think that throwing accusations of antisemitism around on the most flimsy and trivial reasons is an affront the memory to those murdered 70 years ago.

            • Yeah, you antisemite misuse the murdered Jews to tell us we have no reason to complain.
              Now, antisemite, antisemitism existed before and exists after the Nazis, as you prove convincingly. Not every antisemite is automatically a nazi, but every nazi was and is an antisemite.

            • “throwing accusations of antisemitism around on the most flimsy and trivial reasons is an affront the memory to those murdered 70 years ago” –
              you are an affront to decent imbeciles, burglars and whores.

  5. Surely anti-Semitism is a given, i.e. the editorial would expect readers to know that background.
    The final paragraph about the ME I likewise found completely out of place – but in saying “We cannot explain the Holocaust” the editorial is hardly denying hatred of Jews as the major factor. What they surely mean is the sheer scale and extremity.

    • Yes I agree that hatred of Jews is implicit in the article as the main cause of the Holocaust. Whatever one thinks of Guardian readers they are likely to know the history of the rise of Nazism (at least in outline form) and the policies towards Jews within. The author is really asking how can such murder on an industrial scale, with such organisation and efficiency happen in the 20th C. And within a continent supposedly advanced and cultured. That is still unanswered.

      • Nonsense from the two usual suspects, who are flailing about trying to justify the Guardian’s crude attempt to discuss the Holocaust without discussing antisemitism. There is no ‘given’ and there is no ‘implicit’: it has to be spelled out quite clearly, and any self-respecting publication would do so without ifs and buts.
        Mind you, there is ONE ‘given’: the Guardian’s toxic Jew-hatred.

        • the Guardian’s crude attempt to discuss the Holocaust without discussing antisemitism.

          You are demanding of the Guardian what you do not about the rest of the media, i.e. that every article about the Holocaust should discuss anti-Semitism. And that is simply ridiculous. But as we’ve seen before, there’s simply no reasoning with the hate-filled likes of you.

          • You calling me ‘hate-filled’ is the best joke I have heard in weeks.
            How do you know what I demand of the rest of media, clown?
            FYI, it’s exactly the same in all cases: specifying that the Holocaust was the worst act of antisemitism in history. Saying that this is ‘ridiculous’ is a clear indication of your own hatred.
            (Then there was the other clown – or was it you? Somewhere in this thread, any road – who said that the Holocaust was motivated ‘mainly’ by antisemitism. Yes, mainly by antisemitism but also a little bit by a love of dogs and Freikorperkultur.)

      • Dinkle: “Yes I agree that hatred of Jews is implicit…”

        Would it spoil the article to make it explicit? You (personally) and collectively – (the left-liberal anti-Zionist establishment in Britain), are not trusted by Jews to do justice to their narrative of persecution and murder by your forefathers. Jews have found to their dismay that implicit acknowledgement is a vehicle for obfuscation and excuses – as you (personally and collectively) still haven’t explicitly understood or condemned the rampant, eliminationist anti-Semitism which, for example, is an official tenet of Iranian foreign policy – instead preferring to wave your “We are all Hezbollah” flags to show how much you (implicitly) still have in common with the anti-Semitic ghosts of your past.

        • “Would it spoil the article to make it explicit?” No it would have not.

          “You (personally) and collectively – (the left-liberal anti-Zionist establishment in Britain), are not trusted by Jews to do justice to their narrative of persecution and murder by your forefathers” – I understand and accept that, but the record of US and Britain over the past 50 years is building that trust – whether some in here want to see that or not. Other western countries, not so sure.

          “Jews have found to their dismay that implicit acknowledgement is a vehicle for obfuscation and excuses” – Yes I can see how some feel that.

          “as you (personally and collectively) still haven’t explicitly understood or condemned the rampant, eliminationist anti-Semitism which, for example, is an official tenet of Iranian foreign policy” – I condemn all antisemitism and any country which has a specific policy of antisemitism. I also condemn labeling any slight no matter how small in the same bracket as the evil that befell Europe 70 (and more) years ago.

          “instead preferring to wave your “We are all Hezbollah” flags to show how much you (implicitly) still have in common with the anti-Semitic ghosts of your past”.- I never have and never would wave such flags belonging to such groups.

          I find it amazing that in an issue with so much sympathetic coverage and which reports on the evil of the Holocaust so comprehensibly (in yesterday’s paper) (Adam agrees that most of their coverage has been very good) is attacked for not mentioning a word that it is so plainly dealing with over several thousand words and scores of photographs.

          • And just to make it clear I am a Zionist. I believe in and want a nation state of Israel.

            I know some in here think that any criticism of Israels policies and actions puts one in the Anti Zionist camp: it does not.

          • Dinkle, nice of you to reply to all the points made in my post, and I can’t argue with most of what you have said, but I wasn’t really condemning the Guardian for what it did or didn’t say on HMD.

            It is a wider condemnation of an attitude that is prevalent in certain sections of the liberal-left intelligentsia – which of course includes the Guardian itself – which purposefully downplays, ignores or excuses contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism on every other day of the year.

            Therefore, the Guardian cannot be trusted, and indeed, is not expected by those that know it’s past form and bad faith, to make accurate or insightful judgements on what Europe can learn from the causes and consequences of the Holocaust.

      • Dinkle:
        “The author is really asking how can such murder on an industrial scale, with such organisation and efficiency happen in the 20th C. And within a continent supposedly advanced and cultured. That is still unanswered.”

        Oh no, Dinkle, That is Answered alright!
        The answer is simple.
        Long before WW1 AntiSemitism existed in many forms and a simple glance at the failure of France in the Freyfus affair portrays this all too well.
        Things are quite for the Jews when the masses cannot be driven by financial hardships.
        In the 30’s and after WW1 Germany suffered tragicly and blaming the Jews for the poverty seemed but inevitable.
        Eastern Europe remained cleanched in the old AntiSemitism which is why even the Nazis were at times surprised by the sickening hatred that the Ukranians expressed towards the Jews, or the Hungarians.
        Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy were still very much religiously motivated in their hatred of Jews like much of the Muslim world today and as such saw no issues with inflicting pain onto them.

        So you see Dinkle, the problem was always there and still is.
        The rise in AntiSemitism now, however much you hate to admit it, is also due to financial hardship in the past 7 years which the masses obviously blame the usual suspect of.

    • That are the typical manoeuvres of decontextualizing and anthropologizing the Holocaust, embedding the industrial extinction of Jews into a broad appeal to humanity and eliminate the question of Antisemitism by adressing humankind at whole – very important to the enemies of Israel, by exonerating the new antisemitism.

  6. “They also legitimize the narrative which sees in Israel’s very creation an undeserved “punishment” of Palestinians for Europe’s sins – omitting the Palestinian leadership’s own extensive collusion with the Nazis.”

    Others have taken up the mantle of demonstrating that the Holocaust was not the only impetus for the creation of the State of Israel. However, the emphasis of Palestinian complicity in the Holocaust, with no mention of other crimes by the Arabs against the Jewish people undercuts that effort. It’s true that none of those crimes (1840 Damascus blood libel, 1839 Safed massacre) were committed by Palestinians, simply because there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab at that time.

    • Eichmann on his trial said to the Judges that the Jews have nothing to complain about because they were given their Independent state in Palestine as a result of the Holocaust.
      The Guardian have Just quoted Eichmann.

  7. They are speaking, also, to a Europe where minorities once again feel themselves at risk: Jewish communities gripped by a new insecurity, Muslim communities that sense the slow swell of hostility in the wake of jihadist outrages like the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. True, a sprinkling of far-right parties, from Golden Dawn in Greece to Svoboda in Ukraine, is far from constituting a fascist revival. We are not on the road to another Auschwitz. But that is, in part, because we remember what happened there.
    Israel itself, coming late to its own reckoning with what happened in Europe, has sometimes been led by those ready to exploit its vulnerability, but that does not mean the vulnerability is not viscerally felt: a people who came close to extinction cannot be blamed for not wanting to put their fate ever again in other hands.
    Auschwitz now belongs to us all.
    This despicable newspaper, correctly called Al Guardian, depicting Muslims as equal victims as Jews in an ed referring to the commemoration of the Holocaust in Auschwitz, blaming Israel leaders on capitalizing on the victims and disowns the Jews by boldly claiming an ownership of an anonymous “we”.
    As next step they will propose to set up a social rehabiltation center for nazis and Islamists right there, I assume.
    A sheet of piece, deserving that piece of s.. named Dinkle for whatever he does for Al Guardian.

  8. “Israel itself, coming late to its own reckoning with what happened in Europe…”

    What the h_ck does this even mean?

    “The Arabs, meanwhile, cannot be blamed for feeling that Europe’s blood debt to the Jews was paid with what they see as their territory.”

    Ah, so it is about feelings then. Forget the fact that it isn’t TRUE… we are told.