Goldhagen for Beginners
Article by Prof. Norman G. Finkelstein
Prof. Finkelstein's article appeared in the June 20, 2001, issue of the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita. Insofar as an effort is made on these pages to provide English readers with access to the Jedwabne discussion as appears in the Polish media, it seemed warranted to back-translate the article into English, this because, though the Polish translation of the original was excellent, both linguistic dynamics and the shortening of the article altered slightly some of its emphasis. -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]
"Freud for Beginners" is one of a series of little volumes published in America as part of a series that introduces readers to the world of influential thinkers and ideas. "Neighbors" by Jan Tomasz Gross is in a way a caricature of books in this series. Thus, not long ago the Holocaust Industry acclaimed a massive but worthless book by Daniel Goldhagen entitled "Hitler's Willing Executioners". Gross's slight volume is a kind of Goldhagen for Beginners.
Reminding one of "Hitler's Willing Executioners" in some places more, in other less, "Neighbors" bears the unmistakable imprint of the "Holocaust Industry." By Holocaust Industry, I mean those individuals and institutions that exploit, for political and financial gain, the genocide perpetrated upon Jews during World War II.
As with Goldhagen's book, so too "Neighbors" is full of glaring internal contradictions. In one place Gross reports that the communist regime that governed postwar Poland prosecuted Poles "who engaged in the murder of Jewish people," to the extent that it even tortured the perpetrators to extract confessions. In another place he maintains that killing Jews "was not an offense that would warrant stern prosecution by a Stalinist judiciary." Elsewhere, Gross credits himself with the novel discovery that perpetrators of the Holocaust used, in addition to modern technology, "primitive, ancient methods and murder weapons." Yet, three pages later he quotes from a prominent memoir published years ago that perpetrators of the Holocaust used "pitchforks and kitchen knives."
Pogrom or Genocide
To account for the motivation of the Polish perpetrators, Gross alludes in the same paragraph to both Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen. Is he unaware that Browning and Goldhagen reached diametrically opposed conclusions? (Unlike Goldhagen, Browning did not believe that anti-Semitism alone explains the murderous deeds of ordinary Germans.) To document the vicious anti-Semitism of ordinary Poles during the war, Gross cites the recollection of a Polish Jew persecuted as a boy "by a flock of women who could just as well have left him in peace." Yet the actual testimony, quoted at length in the corresponding footnote, emphasizes that the Polish women were not "driven by pure resentment or hatred" but rather panicked when the Jewish boy "had suddenly fallen into their laps."
In his book, Gross calls Jedwabne a "pogrom," "bloody pogrom" and "murderous pogrom." In an article after the book's publication, however, he protests that "what happened in Jedwabne was genocide. It cannot be called a pogrom." To increase the value of his research findings, Gross inflates language. By inviting ridicule, however, his exorbitant rhetoric debases the memory of the victims.
The pages of "Neighbors" are also full of absurd formulations. Gross maintains that the testimony of a survivor of the Holocaust casts Jewish suffering in too positive a light. "These are incomplete records, biased: these are all stories with a happy ending. They have all been produced by a few who were lucky enough to survive." That's funny. Do the testimonies of Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi brim with joy?
The banal statements in Gross's book have as companions banal ones. "Nazism," Gross muses, "is a regime that taps into the evil instincts of human beings." Recalling Poles who collaborated first with the Soviets and then with the Nazis, Gross offers the profound reflection that some people are political opportunists. He goes on, explaining this phenomenon "in the logic of incentives one encounters within the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century." Yet, political opportunism is hardly peculiar to these regimes. Gross needn't have looked further than his own colleagues at New York University like Professor Tony Judt who moved from fashionable leftism to fashionable anti-Communism as the winds shifted in American cultural life. Judt. moreover, is the author of an enthusiastic review displayed on the cover of the American edition of "Neighbors" (truly pathbreaking . . . the work of a master historian)
Similarly as in the case of "Hitler's Willing Executioners", " the English language text of Gross's book is full of pompous, pseudo-scholarly language - "historiographical topos," "hyperbolic trope," "this methodological imperative flows from the very immanent character of all evidence," "everything in the history of a society is in rapport with everything else," etc. With such profound statements in mind, a writer once quipped: "It sounds like thunder but actually it's barely a snore."
Gross's book is standard Holocaust Industry literature. This literature employs two dogmas. The first one states that the Holocaust marks an event (phenomenon) that has no equal in history. The second that the Holocaust marks the climax of an irrational hatred by non-Jews of Jews. Neither dogma withstands scholarly scrutiny. Both, however, are politically very useful: unique Jewish suffering confers unique Jewish moral entitlement; and, if the hatred of non-Jews towards Jews is irrational, Jews bear none of the responsibility for this hostility.
Being part of the Holocaust, Jedwabne is, "at its core, a mystery." - writes Gross. Unlike atrocities elsewhere, we can only proceed "AS IF it were possible to understand" (Gross's emphasis). Indeed, Gross repeatedly emphasizes that it took him fully four years to grasp the "factuality" of what happened.
In Jedwabne, up to 1,600 Jews were slaughtered by their Christian neighbors. In Rwanda, the Hutus slaughtered more than 500,000 of their Tutsis neighbors. That which took place in Rwanda can be encompassed by the mind, what happened in Rwanda is not Holocaust.
The central thesis of "Hitler's Willing Executioners" is that the German people's irrational hatred of Jews - sometimes "latent," sometimes "manifest" - was the basic cause of the Nazi holocaust. All Hitler did - according to Goldhagen - was "unleash the pent-up antisemitic passion." Gross similarly depicts the events in Jedwabne. Although the Jews of Jedwabne were on "good terms with the Poles," '"they always were mindful of a latent hostility...of the population among which they lived" hostility nurtured by "medieval prejudice about ritual murder." Suddenly, in July 1941, this latent hostility turned lethal. With the Nazis' role "limited, pretty much, to their taking pictures," the "Polish half of a town murdered its Jewish half" for "God-knows-what" reasons. As with Goldhagen, Gross's account raise a huge mass of questions. Why, for example, did this homicidal impulse burst forth in July 1941, but not before? Gross himself observes that "nothing of the sort has been recorded" in modern Polish history. In reality, the author of "Neighbors" casts Jedwabne within an ahistorical context, which is a hallmark of the Holocaust Industry. Thereby Jedwabne becomes a unique event, wherein the non-Jews exterminate the Jews for unfathomable reasons, and a rational insight into the nature of the matter turns out to be impossible.
Money and Memory
Though the book "Hitler's Willing Executioners" briefly aroused passions in Germany, it left no enduring mark. Germans were confronting their "Jewish question" long before Goldhagen, and his book contributed nothing new. However, it seems, that Poles haven't come to grips with this problem and Gross did unearth some slight new material. The shock and sensation it evoked in Poland suggests that Poles have been in denial about ugly aspects of their past. In this regard "Neighbors", though incomplete and ideologically tainted, may serve in Poland as a stimulus for useful and necessary debate. This potential, however, might be squandered due to the issue of compensation for the Holocaust. Instead of firmly separating the question of anti-Semitism from compensation, Gross ties them firmly together. With his blessing, "Neighbors" has become a sequential weapon in the Holocaust Industry's effort to extort money from Poland. The tragedy is that the outcome of Poland's soul-searching will likely be a revival of the ugliest anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In the article "Mrs. Marx's Pillow," published in "Tygodnik Powszechny", Gross alleges that Poles connect his book with Holocaust compensation because they "spontaneously associate Jews with money." ( Yet, a chapter of "Neighbors" is devoted to "Who took over the property?" The raising of this topic by Gross's is puzzling since he writes that this matter didn't command attention of the Jews who survived. Here Gross falls into another one of his contradictions. We have seen that "Neighbors" portrays Jedwabne as an incomprehensible event where Poles slaughtered Jews for "God-knows-what" reason. In this chapter, however, he suddenly discovers that "the desire and unexpected opportunity to rob the Jews...was the real motivating force." Why then is Jedwabne such a mystery? The desire for enrichment have caused commitment of crimes on a far greater scale (The colonization and expropriation of the New World and Africa resulted in the deaths of countless millions of people.) How ever one looks at this, we come to the conclusion that justice demands the return the stolen property. In "Mrs. Marx's Pillow," Gross explicitly makes this case.
Gross recalls the story of a certain German woman who fifty years after the war was tormented by her conscience because she still had the pillow of a murdered Jew. Essentially this is, for Gross, the challenge facing the Poles: to reconcile with its past - to atone for Jedwabne - Poland must return "Mrs. Marx's pillow." According to Gross, "It is only the lack of sympathy and mourning for those who were murdered," results in the property claims of Jewish heirs being "so vexing and irritating a problem." On the other hand, "those who finally weep over the fate of their Jewish fellow-citizens...will...part with `Mrs. Marx's pillow' without a trace of regret." "The choice we face," he concludes, "is not difficult." Indeed it wouldn't be - if matters were so simple.
In the first place, the Holocaust Industry doesn't merely want back "Mrs. Marx's pillow": it wants her whole house - and more. Although "the scale of claims is potentially huge," Gross reassures, "no one will ever turn up to claim a great deal of what remains in our hands." But the claims on Poland do not end with the claims of the individual victims or their heirs. In fact, the Holocaust Industry is laying claim to hundreds of thousands of parcels of Polish land valued in the many tens of billions of dollars. Gross can hardly be unaware of this.
Extortion and Suffering
Moreover, meeting these colossal demands will never achieve true reconciliation. The Holocaust Industry represents neither "those who were murdered" nor their heirs, nor survivors of the genocide. It is an effort at extortion hidden under the mantle of Jewish suffering. Consider recent developments. In the name of Holocaust victims, the Holocaust Industry seized control of denationalized properties worth billions of dollars in the former East Germany. The legitimate Jewish heirs are currently suing the Holocaust Industry to return their properties. Hardly any of the monies guaranteed in the settlement with the Swiss banks settlement will find its way to survivors of the genocide or their heirs - the bulk will go into the treasuries of Jewish organizations. In the German settlement, the Holocaust Industry will most likely keep most of the monies designated for former Jewish slave-laborers.
While Gross acclaims Poland's "joyful new reality" in which American lawyers "help" settle Holocaust property claims according to the rule of law, even the conservative, pro-business "Wall Street Journal" (April 11, 2001) denounces these same lawyers as "the new Holocaust beneficiaries" ("The New Holocaust Profiteers"). (To be sure, the Journal only began to attack these lawyers after they began targeting big US corporations like IBM.) Gross contrasts Poland's "joyful new reality" with the "lawlessness" of its Communist past, when "might made right." Yet, in this "joyful new reality," the US government, acting at the behest of the Holocaust Industry, deploys the crudest strong-arm tactics to force Poland's submission. Repeating the Holocaust Industry's favorite propaganda line, Gross writes that "we are dealing here with a question of ethics, and not of accountancy." In fact, we are dealing here - speaking candidly - with a question of the hooliganism of the Holocaust Industry.
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