The H word

The H word
: Jewsweek has a thoughtful essay by Bradford R. Pilcher on the politicization of the Holocaust. The peg is George Bush’s visit to Auschwitz and his reminder of the evil that had to be defeated there (seen as a statement of the moral imperitive to defeat Saddam and also seen as a slap at Germany and France).

But before you click on the “comment” link, Bush fans, know that the essay quickly goes on to point out how Bush’s opponents from the left have also politicized the Holocaust. As have the Palestinians. As have Israelis and American Jews. Everybody does it.

That leads to an ongoing discussion about Jewish identity and the Holocaust, about incorporating victimhood into the identity.

And then, the author asks whether Jews have a unique right to politicize the Holocaust. As only blacks are supposed to use the N word, should only Jews use the H word?

By this argument, because the Holocaust primarily victimized Jews, then Jews have the right to control how it is remembered and politicized….

This final argument for a Jewish right to politicize the Holocaust to the exclusion of everybody else brings the whole discussion back to its origins, that of defining the Holocaust in the first place. Was it a horrific event that occurred mainly, but not exclusively, to Jews? Was it so exceptional as to have no comparison, or was it merely a significant genocide amidst myriad other genocides of varying magnitudes? Do the Jews have the right to appropriate it, or is our understanding something for all of humanity to control?

All of these questions are rolled up into a single letter: H. By capitalizing the H in ‘Holocaust,’ the Jewish community has essentially answered the questions with a single stroke of the pen. A capitalized event, the Holocaust becomes unique and incomparable, and by linking it to the figure of six million, it becomes a primarily Jewish event.

It is essays such as this that make Jewsweek one of the best magazines on the Internet.

  • Jeremy

    I really don’t see that Bush did anything but point out the historical similarities, comparing National Socialists who really hated Jews and actually murdered them (Nazi German and Vichy France) to strongly nationalistic Socialists who really hate Jews and support those who do kill them in the Middle East (France in particular, but also Germany and much of the EU. The EU directly funds terrorists, yet their croney Patten refuses to talk about it).
    Constrast that to the mini-series comparing Bush to Hitler. For one, Bush really isn’t a socialist, like Hitler was. He’s really not much different from Bill Clinton, both are more or less moderates. (Heck, both attacked both Iraq and Afghanistan…)
    Any factual comparison of Bush to Hitler is just plain silly. (As the continued existence of Michael Moorie, the Dixie Chicks, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, well, most of Hollywood, demonstrates)
    Any factual comparison of the 3rd Reich to the EU is a bit contrived, but not ludicrous.

  • Jeremy

    Oh yeah, as to comparisons of Iraq to Nazi Germany, besides the obvious fact that the Baathist party was essentially a clone of the National Socialist party of the Nazis, Saddam also did things like this.
    “”Citizens were discovered on May 30, 2003, in a communal grave close to Debs, in Kirkuk. However, this mass grave was different from other mass graves discovered since the fall of Saddam Hussein

  • cj

    Wow, I’m wondering if I understand this post or not.
    History belongs to everyone. Every one politicizes everything.
    How does capitalizing the Holocaust make it become unique and incomparable? (WWI/II, Bataan Death March, Civil War). How does linking it to the figure of six million make it primarily a Jewish event?
    If we all can’t learn the lessons to mankind of the Holocaust, the communist Pogroms, etc., what the hell is history good for?
    Or is that the argument the blockquote is making? I’m confused.

  • Shalegrey

    I was kinda fuzzy on where it was going too, cj… But in my opinion, it belongs to everyone. A whole hell of a lot of non-jews died in the process of ending it. Not to belittle the jewish loss, but that spreads it around a little. Moreso, anything that horrible needs to belong to us all, else the lessons learned don’t quite make the rounds, which often seems the problem…

  • Seems pretty straight forward. Claiming special victim considerations is continuing to play the victim. I have as much right to discuss the Holocaust as anyone else. Lest some of those “victims” forget, a lot of non-jewish people still helped to take down Hitler.
    I don’t want to discount the affect of the Holocaust on the Europian and World Jewish culture, but it’s not a justification to claim special rights.

  • balbulican

    I think to characterize the Holocaust as a specifically Jewish tragedy is to miss some of its deepest lessons: that one of history’s greatest horrors occurred within the memory of many still living, and that it was a horror inflicted by a modern, industrial, highly cultured state.
    To believe that Germany carries an evil spiritual gene, or that Germans born since the war carry a special burden of guilt, is as foolish and as racist as the mindset that led to the Holocaust itself. Anyone smug enough to believe that their country, or they as individuals, could never , by virtue of their own moral excellence, find themselves on either the guards’ or prisoners’ side of a barbed wire fence has missed the real lesson.
    It was crime against the Jews: but it was a bigger crime against humanity.

  • quark2

    The history of killing masses of people belong to every living human being. Whether they were involved, lived after the fact, survived through the horror, or just read about it in an book, it is the inheritance of the planet. Because on a whole, it can and does happen over and over again. It’s happening right now. No one is addressing it, no one is protesting it, no one is fighting it. The holocaust of WWII is over, but the remnant of it’s gory awfullness is being used as a role model in other countries.

  • IMO the problem is “handle-ing” such things. It’s much easier to politicise the systematic murder of (any) people when the shorthand-for-the-acts becomes a complete substitute for the acts themselves. Much easier to subsequently dilute the original strength of that shorthand as well.
    Far better to throw out “Holocaust” “Jew” “Arab” etc. and focus on murderous ideologies.