Author: Norman Finkelstein

Publisher: Verso

ISBN: 1-85984-773-0

Year:  2000


“My original interest in the Nazi holocaust was personal.  Both my father and mother were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps.  Apart from my parents, every family member on both sides were exterminated”.  Norman Finkelstein therefore writes on an emotive subject as an insider.  He does so not as a holocaust-denier (and patently not as an anti-semite), but in order both to set the record right: “There is a personal motive as well.  I do care about the memory of my family’s persecution.  The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of ‘needy Holocaust victims’ has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino…to many public and private resources have been invested in memorialising the Nazi genocide.  Most of the output is worthless, a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandisement.  The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity’s sufferings.  This was the main lesson my mother imparted”.  It is a brave moral message from a Jew willing to break the silence.  In this Finkelstein joins the tiny but honourable band of Jewish intellectuals – others include Chomsky and Hannah Arendt –  who have challenged the powerful vested interests within their community.

The author’s contention is that mainstream American Jewish organisations downplayed the Nazi holocaust in the years after World War II, even though that was the time when it would have been freshest in the minds.  American Jews kept Israel at arm’s length in order to facilitate their “traditional goals of assimilation and access to power”.  Finkelstein notes,  “with minor reservations (soon discarded), major American Jewish organisations quickly fell into line with US support for a rearmed and barely de-Nazified Germany .  The American Jewish Committee (AJC) fearful that ‘any organised opposition of American Jews against the new foreign policy and strategic approach could isolate them in the eyes of the non-Jewish majority and endanger their post-war achievement on the domestic scene was the first to preach the virtues of realignment …Membership in the Zionist Organisation of America dropped from the hundreds of thousands in 1948 to the tens of thousands in the 1960s.  Only 1 in 20 American Jews cared to visit Israel before June 1967”.

Then came the June [1967] war.  Impressed by Israel’s overwhelming display of force, the United States moved to incorporate it as a strategic asset:“for American Jewish elites, Israel’s subordination to US power was a windfall…whereas before 1967 Israel conjured the bogy of dual loyalty, it now connoted super-loyalty…to protect their strategic asset, American Jewish elites ‘remembered’ the Holocaust.”   Finkelstein rejects the standard explanation that American Jews believed Israel to be in mortal danger at the time of the June war and were gripped by fears of a ‘second Holocaust’.  He states that both Israeli and American well-knew that Israel would easily prevail in a war with neighbouring Arab states. “The Holocaust industry sprung up only after Israel’s overwhelming display of military dominance and flourished amid extreme Israeli triumphalism”.  This is because “it proved to be the perfect weapon for deflecting criticism from Israel”.  Finkelstein catalogues the turn-round of American Jewish intellectuals who previously indifferent to the Holocaust and Israel, suddenly became born-again Zionists. He cites the example of Lucy Dawidowics, who in 1953 declared that Israel could not demand reparations from Germany while evading responsibility for displaced Palestinians, yet after the June war she became a fervent supporter, describing Israel as ‘the corporate paradigm for the ideal image of the Jew in the modern world’. 

The revival of Holocaust memories and its institutionalisation served not only to boost Israel’s stock, but it offered an opportunity for self-aggrandisement.  The claim for compensation from the Swiss is dealt with in some detail.  Its purpose was to cover three classes – claimants to dormant Swiss accounts, refugees denied Swiss asylum, and victims of slave labour  which the Swiss benefited from.  Pressed for a quick settlement because ‘needy Holocaust survivors are dying every day’, the Swiss agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement.  Finkelstein wryly observes, “once the Swiss signed away the money, however, the urgency miraculously passed away.  More than a year after the settlement was reached there was still no distribution plan”.  The claims procedure has been “an outright extortion racket”. The World Jewish Congress – a moribund body until its campaign against former UN Secretary General and Austrian President Kurt Waldheim as a war criminal – wants nearly half the Swiss monies earmarked for Jewish organisations and ‘Holocaust education’.  The Simon Wiesenthal Centre maintains that if ‘worthy’ Jewish organisations receive monies, ‘a portion should go to Jewish educational centres’.  “As they ‘angle’ for a bigger share of the loot”, Finkelstein notes, “Reform and Orthodox organisations each claim that the 6 million dead would have preferred their branch of Judaism as financial beneficiary….by the time the money is finally divvied out all the ‘needy Holocaust survivors’; will probably be dead.  In fact, as of December 1999, less than half of the $200 million ‘Special fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust’ established in February 1997 had been distributed to actual victims.  After lawyers’ fees have been paid, the Swiss monies will then flow into the coffers of ‘worthy’ Jewish organisations”.

After the ‘Holocaust industry’ settled with Switzerland in August 1998, it deployed the same winning strategy against Germany.  “The same three legal teams (Hausfeld-Weiss, Fagan-Swift and the World council of Orthodox Jewish Communities) initiated lawsuits against German private industry, demanding $20 billion in compensation. “To whip up public hysteria against Germany, the Holocaust industry took out multiple full-page newspaper advertisements…all the Holocaust hot buttons were pressed.  An ad denouncing the German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer drafted in Josef Mengele, although the evidence that Bayer ‘directed’ his murderous experiments was nil.  Recognising  the Holocaust juggernaut was irresistible, the Germans caved in to a substantial monetary settlement by year’s end”. 

“The Holocaust industry boasts of earmarking compensation monies for charitable Jewish causes…One favourite cause is ‘Holocaust education’”.  Finkelstein describes one extravaganza, with a cast of thousands, in which Jewish youth from around the world converge on the death camps in Poland before being flown to Israel.  He asks with irony: who can doubt the wisdom of the Holocaust industry’s decision to earmark compensation monies for Holocaust education rather than ‘fritter away the funds’ on the survivors of Nazi death camps?

His mother, a survivor of the Majdanek concentration camp and slave labour camps in Czestochowa and Skarszysko-Kamiena, received only $3,500 in compensation from the German government.  Many others, who were in fact not victims, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The telling subtitle of Finkelstein’s book is ‘Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering’.