Focusing on Shoa
April 25, 2012
Thank you for your timely and excellent article, “Out of Focus,” (April 19) which points out the blurring of the message of the Shoa’s distinctiveness among the genocides that have been perpetuated on many peoples throughout history. While all genocides are an abomination and each have their own particular characteristics, the Holocaust remains in a singular category.
Johanna Ginsberg addresses what Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt terms “soft” Holocaust denial. “Hard” denial is the absolute rejection of the existence of the Holocaust occurring, or trivializing it as an exaggeration of actual events. Soft denial is the redefining of the Holocaust as one of many genocides and disallowing or minimizing its uniqueness. This is a more pervasive and subtle form of Holocaust denial that is practiced knowingly and unknowingly by many people, leaders, and scholars. It is often present in the arguments of those with an anti-Israel position which ignores the Holocaust as one of the precursor rationales for the forming of the Jewish state.
As Lipstadt and Emil Fackenheim have pointed out, the extermination of the Jewish people was unique in that it was an existential genocide carried out as an end in itself. The Final Solution was a result of the ideology of the Nazis and occurred in a modern culturally sophisticated nation. It was a policy of the state and was carried out by average citizens in what Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil.” It is the only time in recorded history that this has happened. Focusing on the uniqueness of the Holocaust does not elevate its status (if such a thing could be done), nor does it detract from other occurrences of mass annihilation. When we lose sight of the differences between any of these events, we risk losing interest in them as a whole. It becomes “just another episode” in the expression of man’s inhumanity to man.
There is another form of Holocaust denial that exists among Jews: The decision to avoid talking about the Shoa or engaging in Holocaust education because it is a topic that is felt to be too uncomfortable and too upsetting for our children and ourselves. This I believe is a mistake.
My father taught me that the Holocaust teaches us Jews several things. As it was a racially motivated atrocity, we can never tolerate racism as we see where it can ultimately lead. Second, no matter how some of us may think of ourselves as “not Jewish,” the world has a say in deciding who it defines as Jewish. We must be proud of our identity as Jews. Lastly, we can never let the world forget, because it will want to. We can’t turn our heads and allow genocides, mass killings, and other atrocities go unspoken for or acted upon. Embracing and studying our history is the best way to strengthen ourselves, to develop tolerance, and to seek justice for all people.
Chair, Holocaust Education Committee
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael