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by Rhonda Spivak, April 13, 2012

Adam Muller  has written several statements in a response to Lionel Steiman that have certainly made me wonder why the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre would have chosen Muller to speak at Holocaust Awareness Week.

Let me be blunt. Muller, who is speaking on April 18, 2012 at the Berney Theatre, has written a piece he submitted to this publication that clearly indicates that he questions whether or not antisemitism was a central motivating factor in the Holocaust. He wrote that he does not see “eye to eye” with scholars who take the position that the antisemitism was the primary reason for the Holocaust.]

 Muller wrote to the Winnipeg Jewish Review:

“... I take Chatterley, Steiman, and Reich all to accept some strong version of the claim that the primary reason for the Holocaust was antisemitism. Chatterley refers to antisemitism as “the central motivating factor of Hitler’s racist policies,” Steiman considers it a “central dynamic” and “integrative factor,” and Reich refers to the Holocaust as “a specifically antisemitic experience.” Although this view continues to have some intellectual traction, it would be a mistake to claim that it represents anything like the leading edge of Holocaust or genocide scholarship. Difficulties with arguments defending the centrality of antisemitism to the Holocaust are immediately apparent: What evaluative standard or rationale allows us to know that antisemitism is the “most important” feature motivating the genocide of the Jews (as opposed to, say, just a contributing factor)? Evidence suggests that in 1933 the Nazis were every bit as antisemitic as they were in 1941 when they settled on their devastating“Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question,” and yet they initially attempted relatively more pacifist methods of removing Jews from Europe including, bizarrely, the Madagascar Plan to relocate four million Jews to Africa, resurrected by Adolph Eichmann in 1938 and only abandoned in 1940.[ emphasis added] Reliance on antisemitism fails to yield insights into how the Nazis actually came to be exterminationist, or indeed how their genocidal practices evolved into what they finally became. It cannot account for the Nazis’ insistence on secrecy (if genocidal antisemitism was widespread, then why shield the wider German public from it?). Nor can it explain those relatively “ordinary” perpetrators, including members of the Wehrmacht and Schutzpolizei, who lacked any deep sympathy for Nazi ideology and yet nevertheless committed mass murder. Lastly, Reich’s claim that there is only one experience of the Holocaust and that it is specifically antisemitic operates at a level of generality so broad that it serves no useful purpose. There was no single experience of the Holocaust, there were roughly six million of them, and to see antisemitism as the salient feature of all of them is to rob those who were victimized of the specifics of their suffering [Editor's emphasis added].

While I can not change what Muller does or does not think, I think this must be the first time in the history of this community where our own Holocaust Education Centre is putting an academic on our podium at a community event to remember the victims of the Holocaust, where the speaker takes issue with whether the Holocaust was primarily an antisemitic experience. This position is completely at odds with what we as a community for decades have taught, and I for one, am rather stunned at this. I believe that Muller's statements are also at odds with the vast majority of Holocaust scholars.

In my view, Belle Millo as Chair of the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre and Dan Stone, head of the Jewish Heritage Centre owe our Jewish community an explanation as to whether they take issue with the notion that antisemitism was a central factor in the Holocaust. If they believe that antisemitism is a central factor in causing the Holocaust then I call on them to make a public statement disassociating themselves from Adam Muller's views above on this point. They owe it to the community to do so. I believe that since they have chosen to give Adam Mulller a sole podium on Holocaust Awareness Week (no one but Adam Muller is speaking on April 18), they owe it to the community to clarify whether they stand with Adam Muller on this issue or not. Millo and Stone ought to be asking themselves if all those six million could be returned to life to voice their views about what Adam Muller's has written to this publication , would they or would they not say that antisemitism was a central factor in the Holocaust?
And anyway, if antisemitism wasn't a central factor in the Holocaust as Muller would have us believe, then why has the Jewish community bothered to put on Holocaust Awareness Week all these years? We seem to be the only community doing it. Isn’t it strange for us to waste all our time and effort and communal funds on Holocaust Awareness Week if we didn't see antisemitsm as a central factor in the Holocaust. Why even have a Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre as an arm of the Jewish Heritage Centre, if we collectively don't think that antisemitism is a central factor in the Holocaust?
Millo edited a book "Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors." I think it's time for those survivors to raise their voices. Do they take issue with the notion that antisemitism was a central factor in the Holocaust as Adam Muller does? If so, then it's time for them to speak up, and tell Belle Millo and Dan Stone what they think. After all, the message I always learned from Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, was never to be silent on this issue.
I have highlighted what Muller has written about the fact that the "Nazis initially attempted relatively more pacific methods of removing Jews from Europe including, bizarrely, the Madagascar Plan to relocate four million Jews to Africa"... I raised my eyebrows at the way he wrote that. To refer to the Madagascar Plan as relatively more pacific ("peaceful") is certainly an interesting way of putting things. I am not used to seeing the words Nazis and pacific in the same sentence. Exactly what do we think the Nazis were planning to do had they been able to expel us all to Madagascar? Were they planning on feeding us and shipping all our property with us? As an aside, the idea of expelling Jews is not such a bizarre idea if you learn Jewish history well--we have after all, been expelled from an awful lot of countries long before Hitler ever rose to power.

I also find distasteful the words used by Muller in writing that seeing antisemitism as a central or salient factor in the Holocaust somehow "robs" the victims of the specifics of their suffering. I raised my eyebrows when I read the term "robs." I accept that it may have just been a poor choice of words on Muller's part. Nonetheless, reading the plain words, is there not a suggestion that all of us, including the survivors in our community and their children and their children's children who view antisemitism as a central factor in the Holocaust are robbing the victims of the Holocaust of the specifics of their suffering?
Finally, look at what Muller has to say on the issue of who death camps were intended for in his exchange with Lionel Steiman. Read it again. Shame on us Jews for thinking that the death camps were actually really intended for us! I don't know how we ever got that silly notion in the first place! All of these years and we managed to get the message wrong.
All I can say is that thank G-d some Jews got the message right--which is that contrary to what Adam Muller says some 70 years later, Hitler was one hell of an antisemite and was very much specifically targeting Jews. Because if none of us had understood that, none of us would have tried to escape, flee, hide, send their children on the kindertransport, convert to Christianity, get on boats to Palestine, etc.
As Holocaust Awareness Week approaches, let us be thankful that not all Jews bought into the idea (that Adam Muller is now trying to sell us) that Hitler's central motivating factor wasn't antisemitism since had we naively believed that we might have all hung around to be slaughtered. As it is, in hindsight, we would say that not enough of our people got the message quickly enough. They were so "universalist" in their approach and "assimilated" into European society, that if anything they underestimated the real threat to themselves.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.