do not. He is jumping onto a band wagon that is careening down a dangerous
slope. I doubt his motives. Not for his criticism of Israel, much of which I
share, even though I do believe far more evil has been thrust onto Israel than
it itself has been guilty of. But for his support of a qualified boycott of
Israel, when I have not seen him quoted in support of a boycott of other far
worse and dangerous regimes. There are others I respect because I believe their
motives are purer. One was Peter Novick, who died recently, a significant
American academic known primarily for his analysis of the objectivity of
professional historians. But in the Jewish world he is known for his fierce
critique of the way the Holocaust has been used and misused for political
purposes in his The Holocaust in American Life and then in The Holocaust and Collective Memory.
non-Jew wanted to speak about the horrors of what happened. Even Anne Frank’s diary was initially rejected by publishing houses. Some argue that it was the
Eichmann Trial in the early sixties that caused the floodgates of memory to
gush forth. Some believe it was the warming of the Cold War, which had been the
excuse for integrating former Nazis into the fabric of German and American
societies, ignoring their past and using them to combat the USSR. For others it
was the palpable fear of Israeli extinction we who lived through it all
experienced just before the Six Day Way and the sense of its miraculous victory
that led to the focus on the fact that a second Holocaust almost happened. Maybe
it was all of these that suddenly led to the establishment of Holocaust museums
and Holocaust Days and the solemn promises that this would never happen again.
that the Holocaust was being used to prop up declining communities, as a surrogate
for religious values, and an excuse for misbehavior elsewhere. He distanced
himself from Norman Finkelstein’s neurotic antagonism towards Zionism and his
thesis that Israel’s only reason for emphasizing the Holocaust was as a cover
for its imperialist domination of the Palestinians.
like Shoah business” and that it was being milked for all it was worth. What
became a generally accepted slogan–never again–was a sham, because the fact
was that other genocides have taken place since then, as the world stood by.
Part of me recoiled from those who made a living out of the Holocaust, all
those prizewinning books and the requirement to bring the Holocaust into almost
every piece of literary writing, however banal. Yet another part of me recognized
that the lessons have not been learnt and that the very people who ought to be
visiting the museums, seeing the films, and reading the books were not. It was
the converted preaching once again to the converted.
bereft of a political cause to rally round, except against anything associated
with the USA, who have tried to equate Israel’s reluctant and accidental occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza with Nazi extermination, which is now virtually the
default position of Western academe.
voice that really moved me. In her course at the New School, Amery’s work was presented
alongside Frantz Fanon, the great left-wing black writer who highlighted the
immorality of slavery and the oppression of blacks around the world. There is
no doubt that this prejudice continues, but nowadays no one would dare champion
it in public. The Trayvon Martin scandal, where it seems at this moment that a
completely innocent black youngster was shot dead by a racist of a different
color, shows how much prejudice against blacks still exists. The equivalence is
the problem once again. In order to get the idea of a Holocaust Day accepted by
Muslims in the West (much of the East still claims it was a myth) and by others
who had a brief against Jews, the idea was extended, as in the UK, to cover
other genocides and racisms. I recall a heated debate with a black academic in
London who argued that the horrors inflicted on black slaves were the same as
the Holocaust. I argued that I was not aware of any gas chambers built for any
other people or race. To suggest the situations are identical would have
depressed Amery enormously.
His mother was not Jewish and he was brought up as a Catholic. Amery studied philosophy
and literature in Vienna. He found himself categorized as a Jew by Hitler,
married a Jewish woman and joined the resistance against the Nazi occupation of Belgium. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo and survived internments in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was liberated at Bergen-Belsen in 1945. His main work was At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities. His theme
was that humanity itself becomes complicit in the crime by ignoring it, by
feeling guiltless and by pretending it did not happen. He felt his task was not
to explain the inexplicable, but simply to keep the memory alive as an
abstraction. “For nothing is resolved, nothing is settled, no, remembering has
become mere memory. I do not understand today, and I hope that I never will.
Clarification would amount to disposal, settlement of the case, which can then
be placed in the files of history.” He
adopted his name Amery both because it was an anagram for his name Mayer and a
play on the French for “bitter.” He identified as a Jew, but not in any
religious sense. He lived a bitter life with the burden of the evil and hatred he
had seen. He committed suicide 1978.
reissued At the Mind’s Limits in 1977, he added an introduction in which he
“Germany’s young leftist democrats have now reached the point where they not only regard their own state
as an already halfway fascist social structure but in a wholesale way they also view and correspondingly treat all those countries they designate as ‘formal’ democracies–and amongst them, above all, the tiny endangered State of Israel–as Fascist, imperialist, colonial. For this reason the time has come when every contemporary of the Nazi horror must take action. The political as well as
Jewish Nazi victim which I was and am, cannot be silent when under the banner of the anti-Zionism, the old wretched anti-Semitism ventures forth.”
and fall, come and go. Over the past two thousand years only one hatred has
remained constant throughout. Equivalence is the issue. No one dares fly the flag
openly of racism or male chauvinism in the West. But anti-Semitism will not die.
Holocaust was like no other hatred, an intentional attempt at the destruction
of every single Jew regardless of age, sex or creed. To compare, to try to fit
it into a category is a dangerous heresy. There has been nothing like it in
human history. This does not excuse crimes committed by Jews or Israelis. The
obligation to protest, to demonstrate, to try to change must be constant. But
the one thing that is unacceptable is to diminish the horror of what humans did
by comparing lesser crimes to it. That was why Amery said that he could not
bear to live in the same world that the perpetrators or supporters of Nazism,
or indeed anti-Semites, continued to inhabit.
support to those who argue that Israel is a Fascist State, regardless of
whether we believe, as I do, that individuals of that state have made gross and
sometimes murderous errors of judgment and action, we are helping those who
seek our destruction and elimination and we are betraying the memory of men
like Amery, who could not bear to live while such intellectual deceit was still
being perpetuated. Nothing surprises me about Jews, for better or for worse. It
saddens me that even holocaust survivors themselves have become tools of those
who really do seek Israel’s destruction. But this must make the rest of us
fight all the harder, both for Israel’s survival and its moral health.