"We should be destroyed?"

Last month we learned of the passing of Moshe Fiszman. We had met Moshe in 2011 when we visited Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre to interview a number of survivors. He had a great impact on us. Moshe was profound and expressed himself in a way that connected deeply. I remember that we stopped and told him so.

There are certain statements made by survivors that, we believe, touch on the something at the core of antisemitism and the Holocaust. Moshe’s was this: ”We who gave the world the One true God and the Ten Commandments, we should be destroyed? Why?”

May Moshe Fiszman’s memory be a blessing.

Moshe Fiszman 29 November, 1921 - 13 May 2019


Death Camp on a Mini Skirt

Last week an Australian shopping website, Redbubble, was taken to task for selling merchandise adorned with images from the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.

Redbubble’s website boasts that it produces, “Uncommon designs on awesome stuff - A shirt with an evil cat. A phone case with a galloping donut. A tote bag with a star-surfing astronaut. Whatever your thing, you can get art you love on super well made products”. Unfortunately, it seems that for some, “their thing” is to plaster symbols of mass murder on clothing items, handbags and cushions. Most chilling was a mini-skirt printed with the ovens that incinerated tens of thousands of Europe’s Jews. The perverse dissonance of symbols of death and murder on a garment representing youth and vitality was disturbing. The use of the death motif as a fashion statement is nothing new, nor the employment of shock factor as a marketing strategy. However, a generic skull and crossbones is one thing, a site of systematic murder of Jews is quite another.

While Redbubble moved quickly to remove the offending products when challenged by officials of Auschwitz Museum, that these items should ever have been deemed acceptable raises disturbing questions. The most charitable reading is that the creators of this objectionable merchandise were ignorant of the fact that over a million people were killed at Auschwitz, including 960,000 Jews, 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and 10-15,000 other nationalities. Perhaps the merchandisers did not know about the medical experiments carried out on infants, twins and dwarfs, and forced sterilizations and castrations of adults.

Recent surveys reveal a general lack of knowledge or understanding of the events of the Holocaust. In a critique of current Holocaust education trends, Dr Catherine Chatterley, Adjunct Professor of History, University of Manitoba, raised the question, ‘How do we explain the apparent paradox of a culture that appears to be suffering from “Jewish Holocaust fatigue,” and yet knows very little about the history of this specific event and the pivotal role played by antisemitism in its conception and execution?’ She uses the example of the popular education tool, Anne Frank’s Diary, which provides a sanitised and limited view of the Holocaust, de-Judaizes the story, and in effect allows people to be exposed to the Holocaust and yet learn little of the detail of the history and nothing in particular about the problem of antisemitism. Chatterley argues that, ‘what we have produced in contemporary Western culture is a general conviction, ... that we have learned the “lessons of the Holocaust” when in fact few people outside the academic field know anything in particular about the Nazi Final Solution, its systematic destruction of Jewish Europe, and the nature and history of the antisemitism responsible for this catastrophe, which continues to evolve and is now in fact a global phenomenon.’

Perhaps we prefer to live in denial of the depth of evil animating Jew hatred. The incinerator printed on the mini-skirt was the final stage of a process which began with the marginalisation, discrimination and persecution of Jews under Nazi Germany, and became industrialised once the ‘final solution to the Jewish question’ was devised at the Wannsee Conference in 1942. This process of death started with the rounding up of Jews, confinement in ghettos until deportation on cattle trucks to the camp, selection for forced labour or for death. If appointed for death, they were deceived, believing they were entering showers that were in fact gas chambers. The gas killed about one third quickly. “The remainder staggered and began to scream, and struggle for air. The screaming soon change to the death rattle and in a few minutes all lay still”. (Testimony of Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Hoss).1.

After the victims were killed, Sonderkommando prisoners dragged the corpses out of the gas chambers. They cut off the women’s hair and removed all metal dental work and jewelry. Then they burned the corpses in pits, on pyres, or in the crematorium furnaces. (Until September 1942, some were buried in mass graves; these corpses were burned from September to November 1942.) Bones that did not burn completely were ground to powder with pestles and then dumped, along with the ashes, in the rivers Soła and Vistula and in nearby ponds, or strewn in the fields as fertilizer, or used as landfill on uneven ground and in marshes.

The horrors of the gas chambers, the ovens, the processing of corpses and indeed the whole scheme devised by Hitler and the well educated Nazi elite is beyond comprehension. Not to mention the collaboration of many European countries and the relative silence of the rest of the world. Rather than soft-pedal the evil of the Holocaust, is it not better to at least attempt to face the reality of what occurred? Perhaps it is the failure to convey the true horror and inhumanity of the Holocaust that results in the grotesque exploitation of symbols of Jewish annihilation for commercial gain. While the mini-skirt may be a trite example, the worrying spectre of white supremacists openly parading on European and American streets, the murder of Jews in places of worship, the blatant denial of the Holocaust in much of the Muslim world and the increasing acceptance of antisemitism in political discourse, all suggest that the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt.

1. Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know, The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, New York, Boston, 1993, p.139.

Guest Post: The memory of the Holocaust and the mystery of unfathomable evil
 
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By Alex Ryvchin. Ryvchin is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the author of The Anti-Israel Agenda: Inside the Political War on the Jewish State. This article is based on keynote speeches delivered on Holocaust Remembrance events in Queensland on 5 May 2019

The Holocaust ― the term given to the industrial-scale slaughter of the Jews of Europe ― is often examined in isolation. An event without precedent and without successor. Certainly, the enormity of the killing, the unsparing barbarity and cool sophistication with which it was carried out, and its genesis in the centre of enlightened Western Europe, all contribute to its uniqueness. This in turn means that the Holocaust is largely viewed as an aberration, a deviation in the progression of human history.

But in reality, the events of the Holocaust were entirely predictable and were shown to the Jews in preview over and over again.

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and England in the Middle Ages showed how dispensable this ancient nation was. The massacre of Jews in York in 1190 and Odessa in 1905 showed how easily a mob could be compelled to kill men, women and children in a great release of pent up frustration in times of political upheaval or economic downturn. The Kishinev pogrom during which the local police looked on as Jews were defiled and killed, showed that at best police units would stand aside for the mob, at worst they would be the mob. And the Cossack Rebellion led by Bogdan Chmielnicki in seventeenth-century Ukraine, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were tortured and killed, demonstrated the sadism, vulgarity and blood revelry that abounds in seemingly ordinary men.

How fickle are the rules and laws we establish, the order we think we have, the norms and customs we expect to be followed, when faced with overwhelming evil backed by unstoppable force.

But the horrors of the past were not taken as harbingers of worse to come, but of evidence that, no matter how dire the outlook, this too would surely pass. But this did not pass. Despite the history, despite the warnings, in the years before the Holocaust, the Jews of Europe continued to live in a state of perfect self-delusion, on the precipice of a complete inferno.

Before the Nazis could begin the process of ghettoising, deporting and then murdering millions of Jews spread across hundreds of communities in Europe, they had to overcome enormous practical challenges such as defining who was a Jew ― accounting for products of mixed-marriages, converts, identifying Jews, many of whom were highly assimilated ― and gradually expunging the Jews from visibility such that their coming demise would barely raise a whimper. This all required as much bureaucratic diligence as ruthless inhumanity.

In the end, the Germans overcame every single challenge with an almost impressive focus and enterprise. The Nazis also demonstrated a truly extraordinary understanding of human nature. They correctly posited that the level of hatred for the Jew was such that they could be systematically stripped of all rights, removed from the wider population, robbed blind and eventually murdered with little or no public reaction, particularly when done under the cover of war.

For this, the Germans had their antisemitic predecessors to thank. The Roman Empire, the Church with its marauding Crusaders, nationalist figures like Chmielnicki, intellectual titans like Martin Luther, had all imprinted in the European psyche a characterisation of the Jew as sub-human. He was cunning yet parasitic, ritualistically clean but plainly filthy, lazy yet all-powerful, studious yet utterly perverse. And always inferior and most importantly, unchangeable. Full of paradoxes, unsupported by fact or reason, this depiction of the Jews over centuries, fed the human urge to see and understand evil and to find a cause for life's horrors and misfortunes.

And to allow otherwise decent and moral people to descend into such loathing for their fellow man, it had been necessary to not only completely dehumanise the Jew, to reduce him to the status of a flea, but to also frame any action against him as a helpless resort to self-defence against a nation of parasites and murderers. So Martin Luther had called the Jews "thirsty bloodhounds and murderers of all Christendom" that had "poisoned water and wells, stolen children, and torn and hacked them apart." "Christians have been tortured and persecuted by the Jews all over the world," Luther said.

In 1895, decades before the world had heard the name Adolf Hitler, the speaker of the German parliament called the Jews "cholera germs." And what is left to be done with such a thing but to destroy it? As the Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer said, "one does not argue with parasites."

*

As total war descended on Europe, the fact that the Jews were literally disappearing was of very little concern. Their vast personal and communal possessions were harvested, they were confined physically to ghettoes where they were forced to live as the insular, diseased wretched race that propaganda had said they were all along, and from there they were eventually taken to be killed ― men, women, children.

The process of mass extermination began in June 1941 after the invasion of the Soviet Union. The initial method of killing was through mobile killing squads, known as Einsatzgruppen, that moved on the heels of the advancing German army. Their mission was to comb the cities and towns for Jews. The Einsatzgruppen units would move with devastating speed, trapping the large Jewish population centres before the victims could discover their fate, then returning to conduct further sweeps, sometimes days later, sometimes weeks later, but they would always return to ensnare any Jews who had evaded the initial dragnet.

The massacre of the Jews of Kiev, in which 33,771 Jews were machine-gunned over two days in September 1941 in the Babi Yar ravine, was one of the earliest mass killings of Jews and became indicative of the killing squad method of extermination that was perfected throughout the vast, sprawling lands of the Soviet Union.

Dina Pronicheva was a Ukrainian-Jewish actress and one of the very few survivors of that massacre. She lived by jumping into the ravine a moment before the firing began and sheltering under piles of bodies before making her escape at nightfall. Her testimony revealed a revelry and euphoria among German soldiers and Ukrainian volunteers. Pronicheva observed young Jewish women being violated by groups of German soldiers before being bayoneted to death where they lay. A mother unable to control a hysterical child would have the child snatched away by an impatient German soldier who would proceed to dash the child's skull against a wall before handing it back to the mother. In other instances, Pronicheva recalled, soldiers would simply toss distraught babies over the wall at the assembly point "like pieces of wood."

At Babi Yar, the victims were divided into small groups, they deposited their possessions, stripped naked in the Autumn chill, before proceeding to the edge of the ravine. They were then made to pass through a tight cordon of soldiers with dogs where they were clubbed mercilessly before reaching the other side. Naked, wounded, bewildered, the victims were powerless to resist and were obedient without recorded exception. Teetering on the edge of the ravine, they awaited the fire of machine-guns and toppled into the void beneath them. Some were not lethally wounded and bled to death under a mass of bodies. Others slowly suffocated under the earth that was heaped onto the victims at the end of each day of killing. Residents heard the sound of machine-gun fire from dawn until nightfall and reported that the killing site shifted and groaned for days after the massacre.

At the end of each day, soldiers descended into the ravine to club any survivors to death or to empty the pockets of those who had been killed with their clothes still on. At night, the soldiers lit bonfires, slurped coffee from aluminium cups, and helped themselves to any women designated for shooting the following day.

By war's end, some two million Jews would be killed in massacres in forest and ravines similar to Babi Yar. Every village, every town, every city in the former Soviet Union would have its own killing field.

In Romania, the locals grew impatient by the orderly manner in which the Germans were developing the killing process and took matters into their own hands. In Bucharest, Jews, among them a five-year-old girl were taken to a kosher slaughterhouse, skinned alive and hung from meat hooks. In Bogdanovka, nearly 5,000 sick and infirm Jews were crammed into barns and stables which were the sprinkled with straw, doused in gasoline and set alight. The Jews of Jedwabne in Poland were similarly shut into a barn and incinerated alive by their Polish neighbours. In Budapest, 20,000 Jews were assembled on the bank of the River Danube and shot, toppling into the waters beneath.

The first gassing of Jews took place at the Chelmno camp in Poland. From December 1941, transportations to the camp commenced, where the Jews were loaded into vans specially rigged and sealed so as to direct the exhaust fumes into the cabin. The victims were driven for around ten minutes by which time they died by asphyxiation and the corpses were then taken directly to pre-prepared mass graves in an adjacent forest. By the end of the war, some 320,000 Jews would be murdered at Chelmno.

Other camps in Poland ― Bełżec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau ― commenced operating as factories of death after January 1942, following the formal adoption at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, of the plan to completely exterminate the Jews, in what came to be known as the "final solution to the Jewish problem."

*

With the camps built and the methods of mass killing perfected, the ghettoes of Europe could be liquated. The Jews were crammed into train cars used for transporting cattle in which they would ride across the continent for days on end, completely without food or water, given an occasional pause at which the human waste and corpses of loved ones could be tossed out of the cars before continuing onward to the camps.

In some camps, the fit were used as slave labour until their bodies gave out while the very young, the old and the sick were selected for gassing immediately. The process of selection would take place on the platform immediately upon arrival. Nazi doctors looked over the human cargo, sending them to one queue or another, forever tearing sister from sister, parent from child.

The ones selected to die immediately were led into chambers which were sealed behind them before canisters of poison were released through chutes in the ceiling. When the victims ceased their writhing and their nervous systems succumbed, other inmates were charged with transferring the dead to the crematoria, and clearing the chamber of visible signs of distress such as fingernails clawed into walls, to ensure the next batch of victims would enter the chamber without disorder or resistance.

At Auschwitz, human experiments were conducted on the living, including determining the time to death from injection with various poisons, the effect of removal of organs without anaesthetic, and freezing victims to see how close they could be brought to the point of death and still be revived. If they survived the torture that masqueraded as science, their only salvation was the gas chamber.

Those who were able to survive for any length of time in the camps existed in a realm somewhere between life and death, but surely closer to death. They ate virtually nothing, slept in barns and worked outdoors in the freezing Polish winter wrapped in rags, and were rife with diseases like dysentery and typhoid from malnutrition and the absence of clean water. They could have only lived from one moment to the next in the knowledge that their families had been killed and that the same fate would strike them at any time. Such was the deathly pall about them that rats sometimes attacked the still-living, mistaking them for corpses.

In the perfect crescendo to centuries of gradually debasing and reducing the humanity of the Jewish people, the Jews were exterminated in purpose-built camps, industrial facilities of destruction, using a common pesticide, Zyklon-B, at a rate of up to 15,000 people a day.

When the Germans were finally forced into retreat, they abandoned the camps, deploying inmates to hastily conceal the apparatus of industrial death as best they could, before killing off the remaining inmates or else sending them on long, winter death marches to other camps.

By the time the killing had ended, more than 3 million had died in the camps. The total Jewish dead stood in the vicinity of 6 million. They died from disease in ghettos, from poison gas, mass shootings, live burial, beatings, burning alive. Half of the dead were from Poland, a country in which Jewish life had accounted for some 10 percent of the total population. They had perished in all corners of Europe from the Baltic to France, Scandinavia to the Balkans.

In 1939, Europe was home to 9.5 million Jews. By war's end, nearly 65 percent of those Jews were dead. Dynasties and entire families, great sages and common workers, Nobel laureates and humble students, babies, pensioners, whole villages and communities, had all disappeared. Thriving Jewish intellectual and cultural centres like Krakow and Vilnius that had bustled with Jewish life ― seminary students, merchants, families, all manner of artisans ― were now reduced to rude husks, urban memorials of human depravity. The Jews' possessions now divvied up between the Nazi conquerors and the locals, the former inhabitants were now piles of ash in the forests surrounding the camps.

How many more Freuds and Einsteins, Chagalls and Primo Levis were among them we can never know. A million Jewish children were killed. A million Anne Franks vanished in a pit of suffering.

*

The scholar and campaigner for prosecution of Nazi war criminals, Efraim Zuroff, wrote of how the historian Shimon Dubnow was dragged from his home in the Riga ghetto to be killed. His last words to the Jews around him were, "Yidn farschreibt" ― "Jews, record it all, write it all down." While in a suburb of Kovno, Lithuania, Jews also taken to be shot scrawled a final message to any surviving brethren, "Yidn nekoma" ― "Jews take revenge." But how could such a thing be avenged? What could be redeemed from such complete calamity?

Compounding the Jewish sense of helplessness and betrayal was the collective shrug of indifference that was the overwhelming reaction of the international community, before, during and after the slaughter.

When Franklin Roosevelt convened a conference in Evian, France to discuss the question of Jewish refugees following Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, the conference broke up with no solution to the looming crisis. Capturing the mood of pathetic diplomatic indifference, the Australian representative, T.W. White, explained that Australia would not be taking Jewish refugees, "as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one," as though the Nazi persecution of the Jews was really just a disagreement between communities.

A German observer at the conference reported to the Nazi top brass that "the many speeches and discussions show that with the exception of a few countries that can still admit Jewish emigrants, there is an extensive aversion to a significant flow of emigrants either out of social considerations or out of an unexpressed racial abhorrence against Jewish emigrants." Hitler was said to have drawn the conclusion from the conference that he could do with the Jews exactly as he pleased.

The killings continued even after the fall of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe. In Kielce, Poland, in 1946, a mob, which included hundreds of mills workers, set upon Jewish Holocaust survivors, clubbing 42 to death. There were reports of Jews being killed while attempting to return to their homes across Poland. In August 1945, thunderous applause greeted the passing of a resolution by the Polish Peasants Party thanking Hitler for destroying the Jews and calling for the expulsion of any survivors.

The dehumanisation of the Jews had been so complete that even the disaster that antisemitism had unleashed on the European continent, the bestial carnage to which millions bore witness, could not dislodge it.

The people of Europe had allowed themselves to believe that their misfortune, their poverty, their war losses, their poor crops and their national debt, were squarely the fault of the Jew. The Jewish peasants tending the land, the pious, secluded families seeking wisdom in ancient texts, the middle-class merchants of the cities, the teachers, the drunks, the scholars, the poets, the vagrants, the bankers and the children. In the final wash it just didn't matter how absurd the idea of their collective guilt was. The die had been cast over hundreds of years.

The people believed this lunacy because they wanted to believe it. And if they were wrong and they had just extinguished millions of lives for no reason at all, and war and poverty and misfortune would not go to the grave with the Jew, well at least they have blown off a little steam and enriched themselves in the process.

*

The Holocaust brought no redemption or awakening. Its seemingly infinite stories of infinite evil have been presented to us over and over again in dispassionate historical texts, in Hollywood films, novellas and memoirs. All seek, and all fail fully to explain, why human beings would act this way to their fellow man. What was it about the Jews that aroused such feeling that the army of a sophisticated nation would be deployed to traverse the European continent with the mission of ending every final Jewish life? What discord existed in the hearts of ordinary men and women that they would shed their humanity entirely, and seize with unrelenting fury and purpose the opportunity to dispossess, humiliate and destroy their neighbours, simply because they were Jewish? These are the imponderables at the heart of the Holocaust.

The popular slogan to emerge after it was "Never Again." This has been variously interpreted to mean everything from "never again will the Jews go like lambs to the slaughter," to "never again will humanity allow the evil of antisemitism to take root," to "never again will the world stand by and allow a people to all but vanish."

But in the mere 75 years that have passed since the end of the Holocaust, in a period when many of the victims remain alive to bear witness, we have seen the increasing popularity of Holocaust denial ― denial of the very event itself, a denial that our people ever lived and died. We have seen new genocide in Darfur and Cambodia, Srebrenica and Rwanda. We have seen antisemitism arise with fresh vigour, and in our very days, Jews are targeted for being Jews in our homes, in our synagogues, in our schools, even in our graves.

But it may be that just as the Holocaust is not a single story but a collection of millions of individual moments of trauma, horror and pain, there is not a single lesson to be drawn from it. Rather we should each strive to take something from it as individuals. For me, that something is a deep love for the Jewish people, a determination to preserve and defend the memories of our sacred dead, and a commitment never to relinquish what was gifted to me and what was so cruelly taken from our martyrs ― the ability to live freely and live proudly as a Jew.

Guest Post: The Current State of Things

On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019,  Ateret Violet Shmuel, human rights advocate, indigenous rights activist, artist, director of Indigenous Bridges, takes stock of the current state of things for her people.

Today begins Yom Ha’Shoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Today, a third of Americans and nearly half of British people do not believe that 6 million Jews, more than one-third of the entire population of Jews in the whole world, were systematically murdered by the Nazis. Those who believe that the Holocaust happened at all, far under-estimate the death toll.

Today, the global Jewish population is still only about 12-14 million, whereas before the Holocaust we were about 18 million. We have still not recovered.

Today, about 2.6 million British people don’t think the Holocaust happened at all. They believe Jews made it up.

Today, the British (Left) Labour party has hardened its open antisemitic stance, and are solidifying their relationships with genocidal antisemitic terror organizations, while kicking Jews out of the party.

Today, Poland has passed laws to restrict what can be said about Polish involvement in the Holocaust.

Today, we have seen Polish nationals take to the streets in both Europe and the US to demand that those evil Jews stop trying to make them look bad.

Today, we are watching as European Jews leave France, Belgium, England, the Netherlands, etc because of the sharp increase of normalized antisemitic hate speech and violent hate crimes.

Today, we are watching a global trend of far right antisemitic political parties beginning to gain power.

Today, almost one quarter of generation Z and millennial North Americans are not sure that they have ever heard of the Holocaust, or know what it was.

Today, we are watching the vandalisation of Jewish cemeteries with swastikas.

Today, I am watching in horror as people within *my* human rights, social justice, and grassroots peace groups justify the murder of Jews, by Nazis, white supremacists, and Islamic extremists. I have seen people who claim to be anti-fascists, spout fascism.

Today, even the most widely read centrist papers in the US “accidentally” run cartoons that use the old antisemitic tropes about those disgusting, inhuman, conniving Jews running the world and leading world leaders astray.

Today, we are dealing with the aftermath of the second deadly synagogue shooting in the US this year.

Today, antisemitic attacks against Jews have sharply increased in the last year.

Today, we are watching as most major news agencies publish intentionally misleading or objectively false stories about Israel in order to drum up hatred for the Jewish country under false pretenses.

Today, we are seeing Nazis and white supremacists openly marching in the streets, emboldened by current politicians.

Today, we are seeing fliers claiming Jews are pedophiles and murderers posted in suburban American public spaces.

Today, we watch as the Internet overflows with hateful memes about Zionists and Jews (left, right, and center).

Today, we watch as those who spout pure racist hatred under the guise of “legitimate criticism of Israel”, claim they are being unfairly attacked by Zionists and are undeserving of being labeled “antisemitic”. They claim, as they always have, that they are not the aggressors, but really the “victims” of those horrible Jews.

Today, we are watching as leaders on both the far right (Davis Duke, Richard Spenser, Patrick Little, Andrew Anglin, etc) and those on the far left (Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour, Ilhan Omar, Jeremy Corbyn) meet in congratulatory agreement about the sinister role that Jews play in the world.

Today, we are watching western Jews branded as ‘whites’ in order to delegitimize their lived experience of oppression, sweep them into the category of oppressors, and reject their claims of victimhood.

Today, I think it’s time we acknowledge that we may have collectively forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust, and we should all be working much harder to make sure we are not complicit in spreading or normalizing hate. Today we really have to ‘up our game’ to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because, friends, we really do have a problem.

 
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Rewriting and distorting a difficult history

An Interview With The Last Nazi Hunter: Part II

The hateful attack on Jewish worshippers in a Chabad-Lubavitch center in Poway, near San Diego, has forcefully underlined the fact that bad ideas have tragic consequences.

The nineteen year old shooter, who in many respects appears to be an ordinary citizen with the same aspirations as other young people, had adopted a twisted view of Jewish people. The gunman’s letter, reminiscent of the antisemitic fabricated text, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, drew on many of the traditional antisemitic stereotypes about power, money and control, blaming Jews for Society’s ills.

Efraim Zuroff shows what these entrenched stereotypes can lead to, by highlighting the role of local communities in the violence perpetrated on European Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis were able to carry out their murderous goals on a grand scale, because they found willing helpers - ordinary citizens with deeply entrenched antisemitic views.

The sad reality is that in every European country, even Denmark, the Nazis were able to recruit volunteers to help carry out mass murder. However, the difference between the Western and Eastern Europeans was that collaborators in the East became part of the mechanism of mass murder. 

Zuroff points out that until the fall of the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe had little opportunity to appropriately confront and process their role as collaborators in the Holocaust. An attempt to deal with an unconscionable history, combined with rising nationalist sentiment, has seen the narrative of the past rewritten in many of these countries and resulted in wholesale historical revisionism and Holocaust distortion.

Part II of our interview with Dr Zuroff at King David Hotel, Jerusalem.

Forgetting and remembering - the trauma of the Holocaust

Eli Saar was the first of the more than sixty Holocaust survivors we have interviewed over the last decade. The pleasantness of our surroundings, a sunny porch at our friend’s home at Gan Shmuel Kibbutz, created a harsh juxtaposition with the shocking story we heard that day in 2008.

We were warned, “Eli is a hard man”. He was reluctant to talk about the Holocaust and our friends weren’t sure that he would turn up. 

As I listened to him tell his story, I didn’t see hardness. I saw pain, etched on lines of his face as he recounted memories almost impossible to imagine. A child taken by the legs and smashed against a wall. Corpses propped up in the street. As a child, he didn’t understand and played a game, jumping over the dead.

Eli was six years old when he and his family, along with all Jewish residents of Warsaw, were forced to live in an area sealed off from the rest of the city, enclosed by a wall that was over 10 feet tall, topped with barbed wire, and closely guarded to prevent movement between the ghetto and the rest of Warsaw. At one point over 40,000 Jews were imprisoned in an area just over 2 square kilometres.

It is remarkable that any recover from such horrendous events. Many do, move forward and thrive. But we don’t hear so much about the ones who fail to thrive. In the period following the war, survivors were given little in the way of emotional or psychological assistance in dealing with their trauma. Many felt guilty that they had survived. In Israel, there was seldom time to look back. A new state was formed in 1948, and energies were galvanised to fight for the new state, and then to build. 

However, the trauma of the Holocaust didn’t disappear. 

Many survivors have preferred to keep the memories locked in the past, and refuse to speak of their experiences. Others have found that sharing their stories has helped the healing process. One survivor, Sarah, told us that during the Holocaust she would dream every night of feasting on all kinds of delicacies and rich foods. After the Holocaust, she had nightmares every night of being chased and in danger. In the 1980s, she began sculpting and the forms she created of grotesque and yet stunning figures told a story that words could not. She was able to heal to some extent. Several survivors have said that they didn’t start talking about the Holocaust until their grandchildren began asking questions about their past and the many missing relatives. Another found that writing memoirs brought release from the past. 

Still others believe it is an obligation to speak of what happened. To remember in order to learn. 

Eli explained that he made a great effort to forget and suppress his experience of six years of terrible fear. “A person who hasn’t experienced it, cannot understand.  They can sympathize,  but they cannot understand. Terrible fear, day & night.  You feel like an animal threatened by a predator. It took tens of years…I can’t say something is left in me from this”.

Sadly, a recent survey has shown that one-third of all Americans believe the scope of the murder of Jews in the Holocaust has been exaggerated, 45 percent of Americans could not name any of the 40 ghettos or concentration camps erected by the Nazis… and 58 percent said a Holocaust or similar catastrophe could occur again.’ Even more disturbing is that in Europe where the tragedy took place, a recent poll found that a third of Europeans knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. The poll also found "a worrying increase in the number of people who believe traditional anti-Semitic tropes or hold anti-Semitic views…”

Eli’s story is tragic and deeply moving - and in light of these disturbing trends, it is increasingly important.

An Interview With The Last Nazi Hunter: Part I

Last year we had the opportunity to interview Dr Efraim Zuroff at the historic King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Known as The Last Nazi Hunter, Efraim has spent much of his life tracking down Nazi war criminals and bringing them to trial. I remembered seeing Efraim on a documentary about Nazis who had found their way to New Zealand and his attempts to bring them to justice.

Efraim made the point that New Zealand was the only Anglo-Saxon country, (out of Great Britain, United States, Canada and Australia - South Africa was not open to immigration at that time), that chose not to take legal action after a governmental enquiry into the presence of Nazis in New Zealand.

A 2008 story in the Otago Daily Times addressed the New Zealand government’s decision not to take further action:

New Zealand set up a two-person unit in 1991 to investigate allegations that perpetrators of war crimes settled in this country.

The unit spent $190,000 investigating the claims in New Zealand and overseas, narrowing the suspected list from 46 to 17 known to be alive and living in the country.

The Wiesenthal centre had supplied 42 of the 46 names.

Fifteen were cleared and two were further investigated, with the unit finding it was "possible" one of the suspects was involved in war crimes.

The finding of the unit was presented by the then attorney-general, Mr Paul East.

"We feel we've discharged our obligations to the international community in the steps we've taken and that we will now only respond if we are given something far more substantial than individual names," Mr East said in 1992.

Dr Zuroff said the centre tried to convince successive New Zealand governments to take legal action against suspected Nazis, but to no avail.

"New Zealand was the only Anglo-Saxon democracy which faced this problem and chose to ignore it," he said.

"There was absolutely no political will to take legal action against the Nazi war criminals who emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1940s and early 1950s, posing as refugees fleeing communism."

"By the time that I found these people, many were no longer alive.

But one who was alive and living in Auckland was Jonas Pukas, a Lithuanian who served in the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, which murdered tens of thousands of Jews in Lithuania and Belarus," Dr Zuroff said.

Given recent events in New Zealand, not only the massacre of Muslims by a terrorist, but the concerns of university students regarding far-right elements on campus and the casual attitudes of shopkeepers towards Nazi paraphenalia, it is timely to consider New Zealand’s relationship with the far-right.

A number of historical events give cause for concern. The New Zealand government’s reluctance to bring Nazi war criminals to justice was not the first questionable decision over the handling of the Holocaust. Our government was also reluctant to allow many Jewish refugees from the Holocaust to immigrate. In more recent times we’ve seen the University of Canterbury granting academic credentials to a Holocaust denier and TVNZ’s uncritical glorification of a Nazi Waffen-SS soldier.

The government’s poor response regarding Nazi war criminals raises uncomfortable questions.

Why were these Nazi crimes minimised?

How would we feel about Tarrant’s crimes being minimised in his old age?

Why is there a casual attitude toward Nazi symbols and paraphenalia when they are associated with genocide?

Is antisemitism taken seriously in New Zealand and is it opposed with as much passion as other forms of racism and hatred?