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Bryan Schwartz

 
DR BRYAN SCHWARTZ'S RESPONSE TO DR ADAM MULLER: CENTRALITY OF ANTISEMITISM IN PRODUCING THE HOLOCAUST IS KNOWN AND SETTLED

Dr. Bryan Schwartz, April 24, 2012

*The historical truth of the centrality of antisemitism to producing the Holocaust has been known and settled since the war.

*Each of three outstanding historians of the Holocaust [ Davidowicz, Kershaw, and Browning]can only be read as identifying antisemitism as the central cause of the holocaust.

*How is it "helpful" in understanding history to downplay the central, organizing and integrating cause of an event?

*Just how sensitive is it to use the word "privilege" at all in connection with a victim's Jewish identity during the Holocaust?

*For the sake of moral and intellectual clarity, and to avoid aiding and abetting all the ways modern antisemites seek to deny, diminish or trivialize the final solution, the term Holocaust should be applied to the distinctive catastrophe inflicted upon the Jewish people by those who drew on millenia of antisemitic dogma, emotion and practice to define and act upon their program of annihilation.

*A museum of human rights is being built in Winnipeg. When its exhibits address the Holocaust, will it fully and fairly convey the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust? Or will students learn little or nothing of how Nazi anti-Semitism draw on a long and tragic history of hatred and mistreatment of Jews, how hatred of the Jew was the fundamental and driving cause of the Holocaust, and how antisemitism remains a problem today in most parts of the world, even to a limited but still significant extent in Canada today?

Adam Muller has made assertions in these pages that are untenable. There can be little doubt that there are survivors within this community who will find them offensive and hurtful.

Muller takes issue with saying that antisemitism was the central cause of the Holocaust.  Antisemitism was merely one of the significant causes. Referring to a central cause is "difficult" and "unhelpful". We need, he says, a more "nuanced" and "fine grained" approach.

Muller proceeds to not only downplay the importance of Jewish identity not only to the cause of the crime but to the experience of the victims.

The historical truth of the centrality of antisemitism to producing the Holocaust has been known and settled since the war. Anyone remotely familiar with the final solution knows the thrust of Mein Kampf, the progression of antisemitic measures from Nuremberg through Kristallnacht, and the massive documentation of the targeting of Jews and their murder by the perpetrators, by war crimes tribunals and by reputable historians. Why does a known and fundamental truth, recognized by any reasonably well informed member of the general public and accepted by professional historians need to be obfuscated? To whom is this "helpful"? To modern anti-Semites and Israel haters who wish, as much as possible, to downplay the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust?

When the editor of this newspaper rightly challenged his comments, and reminds readers of the existence of Hitler and of his rabid antisemitism, Muller sneers at her "crude intentionalism."

Muller's jargon referring to "intentionalism" seems to allude to a discussion among historians, some time ago, about the extent to which Hitler planned the final solution long in advance, and expressly ordered its implementation. Some suggest that officials below Hitler, looking to achieve Hitler's policy of rendering Reich-controlled territories judenrein, to some extent initiated or proposed some of the escalation from episodic massacre to wholesale extermination.

The "crude intentionalism" epithet thrown by Muller, in all his "humility" would extend to highly respected authorities on the Holocaust such as Lucy Davidowicz. She argues in her magisterial study Hitler's War Against the Jews that Hitler already had a master plan to exterminate Jews in 1919.

A leading historian of Nazi Germany and the second world war, Ian Kershaw in his chapter "Hitler Decides to Kill the Jews", from Fateful Choices (2007) writes of Hitler's pre-eminent role that:

"while no written order has been found...Hitler's fingerprints are all over the 'final solution'. Jews would doubtless have suffered discrimination under any nationalist leader in Germany at the time. The transformation into all-outside genocide nevertheless needed Hitler. When in March, 1942, Goebbels described Hitler as the unswerving champion and spokesman of a 'radical solution' to the 'Jewish question' he was stating the obvious. Without Hitler the 'final solution' would have been unthinkable.

Kershaw concludes that the Holocaust arose from the "earlier aim, absolutely intrinsic to Nazism" to 'remove' [the Jews]". Only deportation from Germany could have prevented the genocide there. Once Hitler invaded other countries, deportation of the large Jewish population under Nazi control was impossible, and genocide was inevitable. Only the prevention of the Second World War, the removal of Hitler from within, or a swift military defeat - which was impossible - could have prevented the Holocaust, concludes Kershaw.

Christopher Browning, another outstanding historian in the area, in the Origins of the Holocaust (2004) , refers to the "working towards the Fuhrer" principle in the following terms:

"the emotional and ideological priority of Hitler's anti-Semitism and the wider understanding of history as racial struggle in which it was embedded was shared by much of the Nazi leadership and party. They defined and gave meaning to the politics of the Third Reich. They also provided the regime with a spur and a direction for ceaseless dynamism and movement. With the polycratic regime, Hittler did not have to devise a blueprint, timetable or grand design of solving the "Jewish question." He merely had to proclaim its continuing existence and reward those who vied in bringing forth various solutions....in the end, "final solutions" would become the only one worthy of submission to Hitler...and in the case of the war that Hitler both intended and prophesied in January, 1939, an acceptable final solution would result in the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe..."

Browning relates that Hitler was obsessed with hatred of the Jews, and his cronies made sure his animus was turned into violent action.

"Once Hitler invaded Eastern Europe, and large numbers of Jews come under his control, it was inevitable he would ensure their disappearance somewhere, somehow. With the context of the continuing violent struggle with the Soviet Union, 'somewhere, somehow' became 'genocide now.' "

Each of the three outstanding historians of the Holocaust just referred to can only be read as identifying antisemitism as the central cause of the holocaust. Whatever differences of interpretation they may have is within that well-defined and solid framework.

How then is it "helpful" in understanding history to downplay the central, organizing and integrating cause of an event? Is not a solid understanding of the fundamental and pervasive framework the responsible way to explore the specifics?

If you want to explore how many of the ground level executioners were personally antisemitic, and how and why they responded to orders, does it not "help" to know that the context is a genocidal program aimed at Jews as Jews by viciously antisemitic leaders?

Is it not a fact that the fraction of the Jewish population who survived the Holocaust in various countries depended in large part on the extent to which the local population shared in the Nazi hatred of Jews?

How can you intelligently explore the sequence that proceeded from persecution to episodic massacre to systematic mass killing if you do not understand that all occurred within a framework of vicious hatred of Jews?

How do you begin to understand the secrecy and lies used by the Nazis if you do not understand that they hindered Jews from knowing before it was too late that each and every one of them was targeted as a Jew for annihilation?

Does Muller's sense of "humility" include trumpeting his own purported ability, as an "intellectual" and an "academic" and "genocide specialist" to grasp the complexity that evidently escapes the common folk? And at the same time, to disregard the conclusions of professional historians who have published highly respected studies in the area?

Muller takes pains to write that six million Jewish victims each experienced the Holocaust in their own individual way. How should we read Muller's statement absent any affirmative acknowledgment from him of the distinctively Jewish as well as individual experience of the victims? It was specifically because of their identity as Jews that the victims of the Holocaust were labelled as Jews, confined to Jewish ghettos, forced to wear insignia such as Jewish stars and the word "jude", transported to death camps where they lived (if not immediately executed) for a time in Jewish bunkhouses before succumbing to beatings, starvation, shooting, hanging or gassing.

Muller refers to the speaking to Charlene Schiff, presents a brief litany of her emotions and experiences, and says it shows how wrong it is to "excessively privilege" antisemitism in describing the experience of the victims of the Holocaust. Muller makes no mention whatever of the dimension of the experience of being targeted as a Jew, being fearful as a Jew, being forcibly confined with other Jews, knowing that if your identity is discovered you will be murdered as a Jew.

Visit Charlene Schiff's print and oral accounts of her experiences for yourself . They are available online.

"By early 1941, the world had become completely topsy turvey for the Jews". A Jewish ghetto was set up in her town, and she was imprisoned in it.

She hears a liquidation action is to commence. She escapes and hides in the brush.

"By morning others were hiding in the brush and I heard a Ukrainian guard scream, ' see you there Jews; come out!' Most obeyed, but we hid in the water for several more days as the gunfire continued."

Shiff's mother disappears. By the end of the war, she is the only survivor in her family.

While hiding, she years Yiddish. She is desperate for human contact, so draws close. "Lost in our thoughts and conversation, we became completely oblivious to the outside surroundings."

"Suddenly, a group of children appeared, as if out of nowhere----'Jews' they yelled - with glee - and ran away. Obviously, they went back to call their parents. There was a small monetary reward for reporting a Jewish fugitives have also escaped from Jewish ghettoes."

Charlene Schiff learns from her fellow Jewish fugitives that "all their stories were similar to mine. Somehow they were able to escape during the liquidation of their ghettos. All came from towns and villages not too far from my hometown. None of them knew my family; they had not seen my mother for whom I was searching [emphasis added]."

I urge you to the read the rest of her story, listen to it, in her own words. Here is just one more quote:

"When dawn arrived, I climbed a bushy, very full tree and made sure the branches were covering me from view. Soon I heard voices. It was Kasia and a male companion. They were in search of the 'little Jewess'-me. They were arguing. The man accused Kasia of not being friendly enough to gain my trust. Kasia described her conversation with me and couldn't understand what had gone wrong.

The man who I took to be her brother, Slavko, revealed in a continuing conversation with Kasia what they had planned. The two of them had been hunting down Jews. They robbed them of all their possessions and then took them to the authorities, who gave them a monetary reward before murdering the Jews."

Ask yourself if her experience, which necessarily had important individual dimensions, was not also inflicted on her as a Jew, experienced by her a Jew, and shared with other Jews.

I wonder what Charlene Schiff would say about warning the public not to excessively "privilege" the Jewish dimension of what she endured, and why?

The editor of this newspaper has already drawn attention to the jarring sound of Muller's referring to forced deportation to Madgascar as "more pacific" than immediate mass execution. How about "brutal but perhaps less comprehensively lethal"? How many Jews would have died during forced transport, or starved or succumbed to disease after arrival? Muller also refers to "encouraging emigration". Were the Nazis in some context going to offer free tickets and vouchers for forty acres of farmland? Muller's use of "privileging" is likely drawn from the repertoire of clichés of post modernese. Just how sensitive is it to use the word "privilege" at all in connection with a victim's Jewish identity during the Holocaust?

Hitler's regime persecuted and murdered as well members of other minorities besides Jews, such as the Roma, persons with disabilities and homosexuals, as well as political dissidents. Their stories, including the collective as well as individual nature of their experience, should be recovered and recorded, and forever remembered, honoured and mourned. For the sake of moral and intellectual clarity, and to avoid aiding and abetting all the ways modern antisemites seek to deny, diminish or trivialize the final solution, the term Holocaust should be applied to the distinctive catastrophe inflicted upon the Jewish people by those who drew on millienia of antisemitic dogma, emotion and practice to define and act upon their program of annihilation.

There have been other genocides besides the Jewish ones - many times against Jews, but also against other peoples. By all means, let these be studied, remembered, and the lessons learned and compared among themselves and with the Holocaust. None of this warrants pushing the Holocaust to the background, or distorting its essential character as the greatest of all Jewish tragedies, inflicted by a rabidly Jew-hating regime.

Antisemitism remains a lethal threat to Jewish survival today. In the West, it is sometimes manifest as obsessive, extremist and hate-filled denunciations of Israel In the Islamic world, there are places where no disguise is necessary. The regime in Teheran supports the overtly anti-Jewish terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, enriches uranium, lies about it, and speaks of wiping Israel off the map. It questions the existence of the Holocaust - while it equips itself to inflict a final one? In such times, in the face of such peril, there is even less excuse for revisionism that denies or distorts any of fundamental elements of the final solution.

A museum of human rights is being built in Winnipeg. When its exhibits address the Holocaust, will it fully and fairly convey the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust? Or will students learn little or nothing of how Nazi antisemitism draws on a long and tragic history of hatred and mistreatment of Jews, how hatred of the Jew was the fundamental and driving cause of the Holocaust, and how antisemitism remains a problem today in most parts of the world, even to a limited but still significant extent in Canada today?

In place of the "nuance", "fine grained" exploration, "helpfulness" and "humility" exhibited in Muller's trio of contributions, readers would have been far better served by a forthright acknowledgment of several settled and fundamental realities of the Holocaust. Downplaying of the importance of hatred of Jews as the central cause and Jewishness in the experience of the victims is disrespectful to the memory of the murdered, the feelings of survivors and the cause of seeking and preserving historical truth.

Bryan Schwartz is a Professor of Law at the University of Manitoba, and assisted his late father-in-law Philip Weiss in preparing for publication his collection of historical and personal essays concerning his surviving five concentration camps during the Holocaust, Humanity in Doubt.

Editor's note: To read Dr. Adam Muller's "trio of contributions" to this website, please see these links:

DR. ADAM MULLER RESPONDS TO CHATTERLEY: NAZI GENOCIDE HAS MULTIPLE CAUSES, ANTISEMITISM IS NOT SINGLE CAUSE

LIONEL STEIMAN: MULLER ADVANCES A CONCEPTION OF THE HOLOCAUST DIFFERENT FROM THAT RECOGNIZED BY MOST OTHER SCHOLARS

ADAM MULLER: HOLOCAUST WAS NOT PRIMARILY AN ANTISEMITIC EXPERIENCE: MULLER RESPONDS TO STEIMAN AND STEIMAN REBUTS


EDITORIAL: OPEN LETTER TO THE FREEMAN FAMILY HOLOCAUST EDUCATION CENTRE OF THE JHC IN LIGHT OF ADAM MULLER'S VIEWS

ADAM MULLER RESPONDS TO EDITORIAL

 
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