I just celebrated my eighty ninth birthday. Upon reflection I realized that I have lived through much of the most momentous century in history. I also realized that Abraham Lincoln was right when he stated that the world will little note nor long remember. Almost no one remembers Verdun or the Somme or the Argonne forest. Nor do they recall the slaughter of the youth of Europe in the trenches of Flanders. The epic battles of the second world war (in some of which I participated) have all but faded into the mists of memory. Yet, one historical event of the century stands out with growing interest. Some describe it as the core event of the last century in Europe. At present it greatly overshadows the history of World War Two. At times it seems to have become more relevant than the blood shed in the battles that fueled its origin. They are events inextricably intertwined with the Jewish people and the country of Israel. That event is the Holocaust. And YES, I might have more interest in this distinction since I fought in WW2.
In its immediate aftermath of the war the holocaust was not widely publicized. I do not remember hearing the word until twenty years after the war. What a difference from today. The Library of Congress lists approximately 16,000 books on the subject. America has thirty museums and seventy centers dealing with the subject. Multiple holocaust museums in Europe draw several millions of visitors annually. The UN has passed two resolutions in the past decade directed toward the global memory of the holocaust. There exists an international Association of Holocaust Organizations that has over three hundred institutional members.
An interesting development is that the holocaust is being used as a vehicle for discussion of other atrocities. China is presenting a conference on the topic in Harbin. Parallels will be drawn between the holocaust and Japanese use of germ warfare and doing medical experimentation on humans. Africans draw similarities between the massacre of Jews and their history of enslavement and apartheid. Argentinian pupils regard the holocaust as similar to the atrocities perpetrated by their own murderous dictatorial regime.
As we examine the great and continuing interest in the events that transpired almost seventy years ago, we must ask ourselves the question, why? Why the ongoing interest in the attempted destruction of the Jews? In a blood soaked century why the focus on one group? More than fifty million perished at the hands of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Sixteen million youths died in the carnage of the first world war. An even greater amount of blood was spilled in the subsequent war including the multitudes instantly incinerated into atomic ash. Since then, multiple genocides have been perpetrated upon victims in various parts of the world. Yet, many of these unsung events have been forgotten. They lack advocates to perpetuate their memories. In contrast, no events have gotten more attention than has the holocaust, a tragedy that focuses primarily on one ethnic group.
It is not surprising that the primary developers and promotors of holocaust institutions are members of the Jewish community. It is vital to that community that world never forget the systematic and mechanized slaughter of their people. Almost all of the holocaust institutions focus on the need for tolerance. Because of a very long history of brutal persecution and antisemitism it is vital to emphasize and re-emphasize the evils of bigotry.
As a psychiatrist the question of motivation inevitably emerges. It becomes an automatic routine to ask “why.” Is the burgeoning number of institutions dedicated to the holocaust reflect a mistrust of the Jewish community toward non Jewish groups? The British news magazine, Economist, claims that Israeli politicians routinely campaign upon platforms that see other countries as potential annihilators. An Israeli scholar, Avihu Ronen, claims that all of the dangers to Israel are seen through the prism of Auschwitz. Are these fears based in reality or tinged with a degree of paranoia? Certainly there are threats to the existence of Israel. However, are there continuing threats to the existence of the Jewish People? Can the welfare of the Jews and the welfare of the country of Israel be separated? Is it possible to criticize Israel without being called a bigot?
The very asking of these questions might be labeled as anti-semitic. However, it has always been the goal of these blogs to stimulate dialog about subjects that might be controversial. Many of the questions previously posed I have heard from my readers and others. I believe that the recent high level interest in holocaust memorials makes it a topic worthy of discussion. I also realize that the holocaust is a sensitive and highly emotionally charged subject to the Jewish people. Non-Jews undoubtedly do not experience a similar intensity about those historical events. Many see the holocaust as one of many atrocities that happened years ago. This disparity of views makes discussion of the subject difficult between otherwise well meaning people. I plan to expand my thoughts regarding the holocaust in my next blog.