The category of “obliterating Holocaust memory” groups a number of disparate abuses and distortions of Holocaust history. Collective memory is attacked directly and indirectly. One type of the former is the besmirching and destruction of memorials. Another is disturbing Holocaust ceremonies. A further one is trying to turn such public ceremonies into events that also — and sometimes even only — memorialize other historical events.
Another mode of obliterating Holocaust memory is “Holocaust silencing.” This consists of stating that Jews mention the Holocaust too often. When discussing this with Germans, they often agree that many of their friends say “the Holocaust is a chapter that should be closed.” One more approach to try and obliterate Holocaust memory is to claim that Jews abuse it for various purposes including political ones.
Indirect attacks on Holocaust remembrance involve the fading away of Jewish memorial sites. This particularly occurs in the former communist countries. It may include the pulling down of former Jewish public buildings for new construction without leaving a memorial plaque on the location. Another example is the removal of Jewish cemeteries for public or commercial purposes. Contrary to most direct attacks, the indirect ones do not necessarily derive from anti-Semitic motives. They may stem from a lack of sensitivity to the importance of commemoration and preservation, or from the desire to cash in on business opportunities.
Destroying and Besmirching Memorials
There is a long list of Holocaust memorials that have been intentionally besmirched or destroyed. Only a few can be mentioned here.
In April 2000, the Holocaust Memorial in Salonika to the fifty thousand Jewish inhabitants deported and murdered during the Nazi era was desecrated.1 In May 2000, anti-Semitic slogans such as “Juden Raus” and SS symbols appeared on the Holocaust memorial in Athens.2 The Holocaust monument in Kastoria was also daubed with swastikas.3
On 15 April 2002 — one day after a Holocaust commemoration service at the monument — the Holocaust memorial in Salonika was again desecrated with red paint to suggest bloodshed.4 In July 2002, parts of the Holocaust memorial in Rhodes were irreversibly destroyed. It had only been officially unveiled a few weeks earlier on 23 June. The Jewish community had reported that the harassment of the workers during the monument’s construction necessitated twenty-four- hour police protection.5 In both 2002 and 2004, the Holocaust memorial in the northern Greek city of Drama was daubed with anti-Semitic slogans.6
Sometimes individuals take initiatives to establish memorials. In 1990, French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld put up his own memorial plaque in the Hôtel du Parc in Vichy, home of Pétain’s wartime government. He did not request permission because he knew it would not have been granted. The residents of the apartments into which the hotel had been converted were outraged, and the plaque was defaced. In July 2001, Klarsfeld “organized a solid stone memorial facing the former hotel. This time he informed the municipality, who dared not refuse. Klarsfeld’s memorial bears witness to the 75,000 Jews deported from France. This cenotaph, too, is regularly attacked. The desecrators are never pursued.”7
Disrupting Memorial Meetings
In various places, World War II or Holocaust memorial ceremonies have been disturbed. On 4 May 2003 — the Netherlands’ National Memorial Day for the victims of World War II — several ceremonies in Amsterdam were disrupted. In one area of the city, during the two minutes of silence for remembering the dead, youngsters shouted about twenty times “Jews have to be killed!” The perpetrators were young Dutchmen of Moroccan descent. In another part of town, Moroccan youngsters played soccer with the wreaths that had been laid on the memorial.8
On 9 November 2003, a memorial meeting for Kristallnacht in Vienna was disrupted by the Sedunia group, who shouted through loudspeakers. They had to be pushed away by the participants of the meeting. Sedunia is an organization of Muslim immigrants or their progeny as well as Austrian converts to Islam.9
In May 2009, a group of five teenagers gave Nazi salutes and shouted “Heil Hitler” at the Ebensee concentration camp — which had been a satellite of the Mauthausen camp. This incident took place before a commemoration of the sixty-first anniversary of the liberation of the Austrian concentration camps. Regional police chief Alois Lissl said the actions were a “clear violation of the law” banning neo-Nazi activities.10
Voiding Holocaust Ceremonies of Content
Yet another attempt to obliterate Holocaust memory by distorting its meaning came from the Muslim Council of Britain. In January 2005, the organization’s secretary-general Iqbal Sacranie wrote to the British minister Charles Clarke that his organization would not attend the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz unless it included the “holocaust” of the Palestinian intifada.11
In September of that year, a committee of Muslim advisers to Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested that Holocaust Memorial Day be abolished and replaced by a Genocide Day that would also commemorate the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya, and Bosnia.12
For six years the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the largest Muslim organization in the country, continued to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day. One of those who condemned the MCB for this was British minister Ruth Kelly, when she held the position of communities’ secretary. Finally, at the end of 2007, the MCB abandoned this position. Even then the organization said they would have preferred to have the day replaced by a genocide memorial day.13
Under Muslim influence, the Bolton local council did not hold Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007 and replaced it with a Genocide Memorial Day. The following year they marked both.14 The Holocaust-inversion attempt to commemorate the “Palestinian genocide” on the official Spanish Holocaust Memorial Day was mentioned earlier.
Silencing Holocaust Memory
Another tool of those who wish to silence Holocaust memory is claiming that Jews mention the Holocaust too much. Before Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January 2004, a survey was released that was conducted by the Ipso Research Institute for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in Italy, France, Belgium, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, and Britain. Of those polled, 35 percent believed that Jews should stop “playing the victim” regarding the Holocaust and its persecutions of sixty years ago. The poll found that, in all countries, anti-Semitic sentiment paralleled anti-Israeli sentiment.15
The German GMF poll found that 62 percent of Germans are fed up with hearing about the German crimes against the Jews.16 This is not only a German attitude. A 2005 ADL survey shows that it is widespread. Large portions of the European public believe that Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust. Overall, 42 percent of those surveyed believe this is “probably true.” Indeed, a plurality of respondents in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland believe this notion to be true.17
A 2007 ADL survey in five European countries confirmed that large parts of the population consider it “probably true” that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” The figures were 40 percent in France (compared to 34 percent in 2005), 45 percent in Germany (48 percent in 2005),
46 percent in Italy (49 percent in 2005), 46 percent in Spain (no change), and 58 percent in Poland (52 percent in 2005).18
Sergio Romano, one of Italy’s foremost mainstream historians, insinuated in his book A Letter to a Jewish Friend that the Jews cause renewed anti-Semitism by emphasizing Holocaust remembrance. This is an innovative mutation of the old canard that anti-Semitism is the result of Jewish behavior.19
Ukrainian Party Complains
Another type of Holocaust silencing occurred in the Ukrainian town of Lviv at the end of 2008. There members of the Freedom Party in the city council asked the prosecutor’s office to start an inquiry against the Jewish Lviv Hesed Ariye organization. They complained that it had screened a movie titled Two Tangos on the Holocaust in the Ukraine. It showed that the majority of Jews in Lviv were murdered by Germans with the assistance of local collaborators. The council members said this was ethnic incitement and also claimed that many Jewish Soviet officials were responsible for the famine under the Soviet regime in 1932–1933.20
The Freedom Party calls for “Ukraine for the Ukrainians.” The party’s publications say that a disproportionately large percentage of the wealth of the country is in the hands of non-Ukrainians. Its leader Oleh Tyahnybok has called for “merciless” action against such Jews and Russians.
In the present European reality, the claim that Jews overly mention the Holocaust can easily be countered by saying: “This is necessary not because of the past but because of the future. Although it is not probable that Europeans will murder large number of Jews again, a significant number might help in various ways those who want to do so, namely radicals and their sympathizers in the Arab and Muslim world.”
In various countries some Muslim parents and children oppose the teaching of the Holocaust in schools. In 2005, Fenny Brinkman, who taught for some time at an Amsterdam Muslim school, published a book on her experiences there titled Haram (Impure). She tells how a colleague taught about the Holocaust in one of the classes. The next day several fathers complained about it. The head of the school then decided that in the future, attention would only be given to the persecution of Gypsies because Jews were evil people.21
Tossavainen writes about Sweden: “One Holocaust survivor, who gives lectures at schools all over the country about his experiences during the Shoah, tells of Arab and Muslim pupils who stay away from his talks, sometimes at their parents’ request. Pupils, he says, who do attend rarely express hostility, but those who do are exclusively ‘of Middle Eastern origin.’”
Tossavainen tells of a case that also has to be categorized as Holocaust promotion. After his lectures a Swedish survivor usually asks for the listeners’ evaluations, and once a school pupil from an Iraqi family wrote:
That, which happened in the Second World War I think it was a good thing of Hitler to treat the Jews that way because I hate Jews. After the war they tried to get a country because they didn’t have a country and so they took a part of Palestine and they created little Israel because Hitler threw them out of every country and that thing today [the lecture by the survivor] was only crap. The film was bad and I think what Hitler did to the Jews served them right and I don’t care what you [the survivor] talked about and I wish that the Palestinian people kill all the Jews. Jews are the most disgusting people in the world and the biggest cowards and because of what happened today I wasn’t going to come to school because an ugly Jew comes to school.22
Accusing Jews of Holocaust-Memory Abuse
Another way to try to silence Jews is to claim that they abuse the Holocaust for a multitude of other purposes. A major proponent of this is Norman Finkelstein, formerly an assistant professor at DePaul University in Chicago. One of his books is titled The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.23
Israeli historian Ronald Zweig, who reviewed the book, wrote:
Finkelstein argues that the contemporary use of the Holocaust has created an entire “industry” which, in the best manner of exploitative capitalism, is not only politically useful but also financially rewarding. Himself Jewish and the son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein could allow himself to articulate what many people believe but do not dare say in public. This is especially true in Britain, where socialist circles are anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian de rigueur but struggle to avoid being tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism.
The core of Finkelstein’s argument is that a cabal of Jewish leaders conspired to extort money from European governments, under the pretext of claiming material compensation for the losses of the Holocaust and for the benefit of the survivors. Once their claims were successful, these organizations then kept the money to themselves and paid the survivors only a pittance. Summarized in this form, the accusation is so unbelievably and totally without foundation that I looked once again at the third chapter of The Holocaust Industry to ensure that I had not parodied Finkelstein’s argument. But the summary fairly represents what he wrote.24
Not only the existence of Jewish memorials, but also that of formerly Jewish sites, plays an important role in making people recall the mass murder of the Jews during the Holocaust. This is particularly the case in the former communist countries where the great majority of Jews were murdered. Of the remainder many emigrated under the communist rule. Two factors thus come together. Few or no Jews are left in places where there were formerly communities, and the communist rulers only rarely allowed the establishment of specific memorials for the Jews.
Ceresnjes has pointed out that the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia provides a particularly good case study of many aspects of the process of memory destruction. The successor states are rewriting their histories, during which their collective memories change. The memory of the Holocaust is thus also fragmented according to the national context.
At the same time, Jewish sites, monuments, and memorials degrade physically.
Ceresnjes observes that monuments and memorials stand even when societies and their collective memories change. Hence, physical Jewish infrastructure should also be kept from degradation and memorial sites in Jewish locations should be properly maintained. Ceresjnes remarks that the existence of a Jewish memorial does not allow local people to forget the crimes of the past. These arguments are developed in more detail in an interview with Ceresjnes later in this book.25
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, asks:
What, for instance, should the small Jewish community’s attitude be toward the 1,300 unattended Jewish cemeteries? We cannot save all of them. My first priority is that we will not permit their further desecration. If there are neglected, forsaken, and overgrown cemeteries, this is painful. Yet taking care of them cannot be a priority in our present situation.
…The challenge for us is that as Poland develops, unused land becomes more valuable. Then, if no one has paid attention to a Jewish cemetery for fifty years, there is an inclination to build over it. This now becomes a matter of public education for us. Over the last five years I have found increased sensitivity to our tradition among the authorities. I only encountered one substantial exception in Lezansk, a town with a strong Jewish history due to the great Hasidic master, Rabbi Elimelech, who is buried there. Today, every year thousands of Hasidim and other Jews visit Lezansk. Despite that or perhaps because of it, the town has too often been insensitive to Jewish needs. Yet the process of negotiation is extremely time-consuming. I doubt whether we can save all 1,300 unattended cemeteries, because we cannot get such massive funding.26
- Stephen Roth Institute on Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, Anti-Semitism Worldwide 1999/2000, 2002, 125.
- Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Anti-Semitism in Greece: Embedded in Society,” an interview with Moses Altsech, Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 23, 1 August 2004.
- Stephen Roth Institute, Anti-Semitism Worldwide 1999/2000, 125.
- “25 Months of Anti-Semitic Invective in Greece: March 2002–April 2004,” a report compiled in cooperation with the Greek Helsinki Monitor, Simon Wiesenthal Center, April 2004.
- SWC to New Greek Prime Minister: “Greek Anti-Semitism Justifies Continuation of Center’s Travel Advisory,” Simon Wiesenthal Center, 15 March 2004 (see also Ta Nea Mas, the newsletter of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, May 2002).
- Julia Pascal, “Vichy’s Shame,” The Guardian, 11 May 2002.
- “Allochtonen verstoren herdenking vierde mei,” Parool, 8 May 2003 [Dutch].
- http://no-racism.net/article/1008/, viewed 6 January 2009.
- “Arrests in Austria Camp Attacks,” BBC News, 12 May 2009.
- David Leppard, “Muslims Boycott Holocaust Remembrance,” Sunday Times, 23 January 2005.
- Abul Taher, “Ditch Holocaust Day, Advisers Urge Blair,” Sunday Times, 11 September 2005.
- Vikram Dodd, “Muslim Council Ends Holocaust Memorial Day Boycott,” The Guardian, 3 December 2007.
- Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Muslim-Jewish Interactions in Great Britain,” an interview with Michael Whine, Changing Jewish Communities, 32, 15 May 2008.
- “European Poll: 46 Percent Say Jews Are ‘Different,’” Haaretz, 26 January 2004.
- Aribert Heyder, Julia Iser, and Peter Schmidt, “Israelkritik oder Antisemitismus? Meinungsbildung zwischen Öffentlichkeit, Medien und Tabus,” in Wilhelm Heitmeyer, , Deutsche Zustände 3 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005), 144ff. [German]. GMF stands for Gruppenbezogene Menschenfeindlichkeit (Group-Targeted Misanthropy).
- ADL, “ADL Survey in 12 European Countries Finds Anti-Semitic Attitudes Still Strongly Held,” adl.org/presRele/ASInt_13/4726_13.htm, 7 June 2005.
- ADL, “ADL Survey in Five European Countries Finds Anti-Semitic Attitudes Rising,” Press Release, 14 May 2007.
- Sergio Romano, Lettera a un Amico Ebreo (Milan: Longanesi, 1997), [Italian]
- “Ukrainian Charity Accused of ‘Ethnic Incitement,’” JTA, 21 December 2008.
- Fenny Brinkman, Haram (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, 2005), 45, 46 [Dutch].
- The letter is quoted in Mikael Tossavainen, “Det förnekade hatet: Antisemitism bland araber och muslimer i Sverige,” Svenska Kommittén Mot Antisemitism, Stockholm, 2003 [Swedish]. The peculiarities in the grammar and orthography reflect the Swedish See Mikael Tossavainen, “Arab and Muslim Anti-Semitism in Sweden,” in Manfred Gerstenfeld, Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008), 100.
- Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (London: Verso, 2000).
- Ronald Zweig, review of The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finkelstein, Journal of Israeli History, V 20, Nos. 2–3 (Summer–Fall 2001): 208–216.
- See the interview with Ivan Ceresnjes in this volume.
- Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Jews in Poland: Recent Developments,” an interview with Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Changing Jewish Communities, 43, 17 April 2009.