Rabbi Gellman is new at Newsweek, offering commentary at the
intersection of religion and culture. We should pause to remember the
Holocaust and join with him in remembering the lessons learned from
another time. Read on …
There is only one lesson from the Holocaust I can bring myself to teach. There are a few other lessons I have learned. By Rabbi Marc Gellman
Newsweek Updated: 12:15 p.m. ET Feb. 3, 2005
Feb. 2 – In the wake of the commemorations last week of the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago, I am still trying to shake off the abiding sense of dread that consumes me whenever I think about the Holocaust. These are the lessons I have learned from the kingdom of night.
Anything any survivor of the Holocaust says about anything is just fine with me. I know about evil mainly from the evening news and from New York cabbies. Survivors know about evil from seeing babies thrown up into the air and caught on the bayonets of laughing SS guards. Those are not two ways of knowing evil. It is one way—theirs! What they have lived through has broken or forged every single one of them. I will not degrade their wounds by either judging them or arrogantly trying to teach them what it all means. They were blessed to survive but cursed to have seen radical evil up close. Their sacred witness must remain pure. They can say whatever it is they have learned, and I will respectfully remain silent and let them pass.
The resistance of the jihadists and jihadist sympathizers to hearing about the Holocaust makes perfect sense to me. People were offended when the Arab governments refused to attend the Holocaust service at the United Nations, but I understand them. If the Holocaust is true, they are false. Their Jew-hating is false. Their support of violence against innocents is false. Their murderous ideology is false. When Hitler made his alliance with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in 1941, he created the first but not the last Arab Nazi. At the Nuremberg Trials, Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny testified: “The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan … He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chamber of Auschwitz.”
After the war, which the mufti spent in Berlin as Hitler’s special guest, he was exiled into Egypt where he died after fighting against the founding of Israel. He was active in the anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hasam al-Banna, another Hitler admirer, in Egypt in 1920. That Arab-Nazi movement was expelled to Saudi Arabia in the ’50s, where it established Arab schools that taught Nazi ideologies perverting the teachings of real Islam. One of the students of these schools was Osama bin Ladin. John Loftus, author of “The Secret War Against the Jews,” says “Al Qaeda is the direct lineal descendant of the Arab Nazis of the Muslim Brotherhood.” The notion that Arab governments filled with mufti men and with mufti wannabes would not want to sit through a Holocaust service is hardly shocking. It’s not just that the Holocaust increases sympathy for Israel and Jews. The Holocaust is an indictment of the heritage of hate, from Hitler through the mufti and the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda and directly to anit-Semitic states today. The diplomats were not absent from that service. They were hiding.
The memory of the Holocaust has not stopped one single act of genocide from occurring since 1945. Since the Holocaust, at least 30 million souls were systematically murdered in the Soviet gulags and by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Almost 2 million were murdered by Pol Pot in the killing fields between 1975 and 1979, and about the same by Kim Il Sung in North Korea from 1948 to 1994. The Ethiopian genocide of President Mengitsu in Ethiopia from 1975 to 1978 murdered roughly 1½ million people. Yakubu Gowon killed and starved to death 1 million Biafrans from 1967 to 1970. In 1994, the Hutu tribe under the leadership of Jean Kambanda and others murdered more than 800,000 Rwandans from the Tutsi tribe, thus vastly eclipsing the 1969 to 1979 African Holocaust of Idi Amin in Uganda, which murdered 300,000 human beings. Even before last year’s tsunami slaughtered tens of thousands in Indonesia, the forces of Suharto murdered 600,000 in East Timor between 1976 and 1998. Yahya Khan from Pakistan has the blood of more than half a million people on his hands, killed in Bangladesh in 1971. Jonas Savimbi murdered more than 400,000 in Angola from 1975 to 2002. Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Bosnia claimed almost 200,000 before any military action was even contemplated against him. Hassan Tuabi murdered more than 100,000 in Sudan from 1989 to 1999 and in the Darfur region those murders continue at this very moment. And we cannot even guess how many more are added to this list by genocidal maniacs like Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Charles Taylor in Liberia, Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, Michel Micombero in Burundi, "Papa Doc" Duvalier in Haiti, Hissene Habre in Chad, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Phillipines, Hafez Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
And in not one of these genocides were ever stopped or abated or curtailed by the memories of the Holocaust or by somebody shouting “Never Again.” I don’t know why the Holocaust has had no deterrent effect on other genocides. Perhaps it is the fact that so few genocidal murderers are brought to justice, perhaps it is the fact that Hitler was “only” killing Jews.
David was right. When David was 13, he lived in the forests of Poland. When his grandson was 13, he came to my synagogue for bar mitzvah. David’s grandson, Jordan, was taller and blonder and spoke better English than his zeida. Jordan knew more about Snoop Doggie Dogg, and David knew more about eating tree bark and fighting Nazis. It was not an even trade. David was there to give a speech to his grandson, and suddenly the truth of the whole thing came out—of how the odds of David ever living through the war and seeing his grandson become a bar mitzvah were just about zero, and yet there he was. That fact, never stated in so many words by anyone, just reduced us all to tears. Finally, David dried his eyes and took his grandson’s hands in his and said exactly these words, “So here’s the thing. In this life you are going to meet people who need help. If you can help ‘em, help ‘em.” And then David hugged him and kissed him and sat down. To this day it is the best speech I ever heard. To this day it is the only lesson from the Holocaust I can teach without throwing up.
Gellman, Ph.D., is the rabbi of the Beth Torah Synagogue in Melville, N.Y. With his good friend, Msgr. Hartman, he is half of The God Squad and is the author of several children’s books on religion.
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.