Security Issues Project
The Exploitation of the Nazi holocaust
A book review by Tanweer Akram
Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, (Verso, 2000)
Norman Finkelstein’s book, which is dedicated to his family, is guided by his parents’ legacy. Both of his parents were survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps. Thus, the author has a personal interest in preserving the historical record of the Nazi holocaust. He is motivated to pen these essays because of his revulsion of the ideological abuse of the Nazi holocaust. Finkelstein shows how the Holocaust industry transformed the Nazi holocaust into an ideological construct. While Finkelstein is by no means the first to point out the commercialization and the political exploitation of the Nazi holocaust, he has written the most critical and revealing analysis of the Holocaust Industry. It is a major contribution to understanding its political and economic foundation. It traces the evolution and the organization of this industry. The book consists of three hard-hitting essays. The author thoroughly documents the Holocaust Industry’s distortions, deceptions, and its use of the memory of the Nazi holocaust for advancing its favorite political objectives.
The first essay shows how the ideology of the Holocaust has become an important part of US Jewish life and contemporary US intellectual culture. Finkelstein argues that the dominant exposition of the Holocaust is based on political and class interests that seek to portray Jews as the sole victims. It also serves to rationalize Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. Whereas Peter Novick maintains that the use of the memory of the Holocaust is arbitrary and not guided by interests, Finkelstein explicitly demonstrates that material interests as well ideological motivations are very important factors behind the Holocaust Industry’s distortions. He convincingly argues that there was a general indifference to the Nazi holocaust in the United States, even among American Jews, until Israel’s June 1967 war in which it occupied Sinai, West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights. Prior to this conquest the number of scholarly studies was rather limited. The Holocaust Industry’s use of imagery of the Nazi holocaust to rationalize Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinian from their homeland, its occupation of Palestinian territories and its war crimes is abhorrent. He laments that American Jewish elites’ "discovering the Nazi holocaust was worse than its having been forgotten." Angered at the Holocaust Industry’s shamelessness, Finkelstein’s mother used to ironically quote Henry Ford, who was notorious for his anti-Semite prejudice, as saying: "History is bunk." He recalls that unlike those who refused to compare, his mother always compared the Nazi holocaust with other mass sufferings and never claimed its "uniqueness."
Finkelstein rejects the popular hypothesis that the rise of Holocaust studies is due to the rise of politically correct post-modernist identity politics. Instead he ties the success of the Holocaust Industry to power politics. As the North American Jewish community was trying to assimilate into the mainstream, Jewish leaders readily embraced the viewpoint of US elites. Until the June 1967 war official American Jewish organizations downplayed the Nazi holocaust because West Germany had became a key ally of the United States during the cold war. Finkelstein observes accurately that the official US Jewish establishment has been marching in lockstep with US imperial power. After June 1967 war, as Israel became firmly entrenched as a US ally in the Middle East, the Holocaust Industry began to flourish. Henceforth the use of the memory of the Holocaust advanced vested interests of the official US Jewish organizations. In turn Israel’s services as a bastion of US interest in the Middle East contributed to Jewish assimilation into American mainstream. Instead of drawing any moral lessons from the Nazi holocaust or engaging in serious scholarly historical research, the Holocaust Industry is interested in deflecting criticisms of Israel. For mainstream Jewish organizations in the US, the appeal to anti-Semitism suits well for their funding raising activities. It helps to stifle criticisms of the state of Israel because the fear of being labeled as an “anti-Semite” intimidates critics. This cynical exploitation of the Nazi holocaust must be deplored. The pro-occupation and pro-Zionist organizations highlight fringe and obscure anti-Semitism. The Israel lobby thrives on identifying Jews with Israel and Israel with Jews.
Finkelstein argues that for the Holocaust Industry two theses are critical. Firstly, the Holocaust is a unique event. Secondly, it is a climax of an irrational gentile hatred of Jews. The author shows that the facts are contrary to the claims of the Holocaust Industry. The Nazi holocaust is not a uniquely Jewish event. It is well known that Roma (gypsies), communists, Russians, Poles, gays, disabled, and others were also victims of the Nazi and were slaughtered mercilessly. It is disgraceful to try to “monopolize” the Nazi holocaust. The claim of uniqueness is indeed a form of denial because it is based on the dismissal or the trivialization of the suffering of others. It is profoundly anti-humane to belittle other people’s sufferings since the development of empathy is an essential human quality and the mark of humanism. Steven Katz’s assertion of the uniqueness, which Finkelstein cites, with its pretense of rigor and its crude displays of mathematical symbols and Greek letters would be hilarious had it not been for the tragedy of the topic. The Holocaust Industry also claims that it cannot be comprehended. If it is indeed incomprehensible then surely the Holocaust Industry’s task has been not to explain the inexplicable but rather either self-promotion or aggrandizement.
Finkelstein’s exposure of Elie Wiesel is an important public service. Today Wiesel is the leading spokesman of the Holocaust Industry. Israeli politician Abba Eban once quipped, "There's no business like Shoah business." If there was ever a master of the Shoah business, then Elie Wiesel is its grand master, its prima donna. He charges a “standard fee of [US]$25,000 (plus chauffeured limousine)” purporting to reveal the “secret” of Auschwitz. It is common in the Holocaust Industry to belittle the inhumane suffering caused by the nuclear holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, Wiesel does not relent in chiding even Shimon Peres who once spoke of “the two holocaust.” (It is a truly bizarre and comic rebuff. After all Peres is certainly in a unique position to comment about massacres. He was a sponsor of the slaughter of innocent people in Qana (Lebanon) in which more than hundred civilians died due to Israeli shelling. Recently Peres initially described the Israel actions in Jenin refugee camp as a “massacre.” He subsequently denied such characterization after realizing that such candidness is not good PR for Israel.) Wiesel claims to have read at the age of 18 a Yiddish translation of Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason. As Finkelstein points out that is highly unlikely since no Yiddish translation of this work existed at that time. Apparently there was a Yiddish translation of only one chapter of The Critique of Practical Reason, another of Kant’s masterpieces. Even if one assumes that Wiesel did read Kant in Yiddish, there is no reason to think that he ever understood anything. One thing is certain: He never practiced categorical moral imperatives as articulated in Kant’s works. Wiesel has consistently refused to discuss, let alone condemn, Israel’s relentless cruelty towards Palestinians.
The ideological advocates of the Holocaust Industry are dismissive of normal scholarly practices of inquiry, introspection, and comparison. There is no intellectual or moral reason for not comparing the sufferings of one group to another. If anything the suggestion that the pains of others pale in comparison is an immoral one. Some advocates of the Holocaust Industry claims that the Nazi holocaust is special because the Jews suffered. They also assert that the murderous impulse of the Gentile (non-Jews) is eternal and innate. Hence, they share the implicit or explicit assumption of the anti-Semites that killing Jews is a normal phenomenon. Finkelstein discusses how the Holocaust Industry has promoted notable frauds and works of forgery, such as Jerzy Kosinki and Binjamin Wilkomirsi. The Holocaust Industry basically ignores the role of Count Folke Bernadotte in rescuing Jews from Nazis. It is not kosher to bring up the name of Count Bernadotte because LEHI (Stern gang), a terrorist organization, apparently assassinated him. Yitzak Shamir, who later served as Israel’s Prime Minister, was one of the leaders of LEHI.
Finkelstein’s third essay titled, “The Double Shakedown,” is his most important contribution in this book. The number of survivors of the Nazi holocaust at the end of the war ranged from 60,000 to 100,000. Taking the upper bound of the original estimate of approximately 100,000 survivors of the Nazi holocaust at the time of the liberation of the camps and further assuming that one-fourth of the initial number of survivors is alive today, this would mean that are about 25,000 survivors in 2000 (the time of publication of the book). Finkelstein’s mother used to ask, "If everyone who claims to be a survivor actually is one, who did Hitler kill?" The Holocaust Industry exaggerates the number of survivors alive today. For instance, the Holocaust Industry has claimed that 135,000 former Jewish slave workers are alive today. This would imply that about 600,000 were alive after the war. That would mean about half a million less dead than the total number of 5.2 million victims of the Nazi holocaust. Thus, unwittingly the Holocaust Industry lends supports to the claims of the deniers of the Nazi holocaust.
Finkelstein’s analysis of how the reparation issue has been played out provides value insights into the machinations of the Holocaust Industry. Germany paid US$60 billion of reparations. While this does not in any way mitigate Nazi crimes, if compared to the United States’ failure to pay for the damages inflicted on the Vietnamese, this stands out as an honorable example. Germany reached three different agreements: with individual claimants, with the state of Israel, and with the Conference of Jewish Claims. The Claims conference was supposed to assist those who fell through the cracks and those who received only minimal compensation. However, one learns the sad story of Finkelstein’s mother, a survivor of Majdanek camp and slave labor camps. She received just US$3,500 in compensation. The agreement that the German authorities reached with the Claims Conference stipulated that the monies would be assigned solely to those Jewish survivors who had been inadequately compensated by German courts. However, the Claims conference violated this agreement and used these funds for what they called the rehabilitation of communities. It provided money for some individuals: rabbis and “outstanding Jewish leaders.” The leaders of the Holocaust Industry organizations were more interested in helping themselves than the victims of the Nazi holocaust. The monies received were also used for Zionist purposes. Finkelstein also shows that the Holocaust Industry has provided a lot of lucrative opportunities for big shots. Former US Senator Alfonsi D’Amato pocketed US$350 per hour. In six months he bagged US$103,000. Former US Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger netted an annual salary of US$300,000 for his services to the Holocaust Industry. (Eagleburger was the man who after 9-11 told CNN: "There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing.) Some of the activities of the ambulance-chasing Holocaust Industry lawyers are truly amazing. Edward Fagan charged US$600 per hour. One lawyer obtained $2,400 for reading Tom Bower’s Nazi Gold! Hence, Finkelstein compares the Holocaust Industry to an extortion racket. It consists of a “double shakedown” that tries to get the maximum amount of money that it can extract out of European countries and to reduce payments Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust. The Holocaust industry’s threat of economic boycotts against the Swiss companies was effective. Swiss banks were particularly vulnerable to the threats of US boycott. As a result, in a class action settlement the Swiss agreed to pay US$1.25 billion to avoid the threat of economic sanctions and long and costly legal battle with the Holocaust Industry. The Holocaust Industry’s alleged urgency of reparations and concerns for the victims vanished as soon as the Swiss banks signed agreements and doled out the cash. It was decided that “worthy” organizations would get the money. Following the Holocaust Industry’s skimming off Switzerland, German companies quickly reached a settlement, perhaps fearing that otherwise they would be facing boycotts. Finkelstein opines that the Claims conference again violated the agreement signed with Germany.
In his conclusion, Finkelstein again returns to Peter Novick’s thesis. However, since he does not shy away from letting arguments reach their logical course, he draws far more poignant and deeper conclusions. In particular he bring up the ugly facts that are generally ignored, unacknowledged and whitewashed. The American conquest of the West, its massacre of Native Americans, provided a model for Hitler. The Holocaust is frequently used to characterize the crimes of the official enemies of the United States’ ruling elite and rationalize is its incursion. Meanwhile US ruling elite’s complicity in widespread massacres in Central America, East Timor, or Turkey’s Kurdish areas are left out of history, mainstream press and social sciences. He mentions that out that around 10 million Africans perished in Congo between 1891 and 1911 yet little has been written about such atrocities.
Finkelstein’s book will play no small part in exposing the exploitation of the memory of the Nazi holocaust. He believes in rational inquiry of the Nazi holocaust and in factual rendition of history. This work undoubtedly is written from the author’s concern for the American Jewish community and his anger at how the American Jewish establishment has taken advantage of the Nazi holocaust. Finkelstein’s ability to shred myths and lies is legendary, as exemplified by his demolishing of the Joan Peter’s hoax From Time Immemorial and Goldhagen’s inane thesis as expounded in Hitler’s Willing Executioner. The intellectual establishment hailed both these titles when they originally appeared and gave raving reviews. Finkelstein was the first to shatter Peter’s propaganda that Palestinians are not native to Palestine in a review that originally appeared in In These Times, an independent publication from Chicago. An extended version of that essay is available in his collection, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Finkelstein and Ruth Bettina Birn’s book, A Nation On Trial, disposed of Goldhagen’s mischievous thesis that ordinary Germans were driven by fanatical, innate, and irrational anti-Semitism to the genocidal murder of Jews. It is to his credit that Finkelstein has turned his critical attention to the Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein writes with wit, charm, and occasional irony. Some critics have accused him of "ranting" but his book is free of vitriol. Rather he writes with justified indignation at the Holocaust Industry’s crude exploitation of the Nazi holocaust. Some critics have also suggested that Finkelstein’s essays might be used by anti-Semites. However, it is the Holocaust Industry’s callous disregard for the truth, its shakedowns and machinations that provide ample ammunitions to Nazi holocaust deniers and a variety of anti-Semites. The rottenness of the Holocaust Industry ferments Nazi holocaust denial and often galvanizes anti-Semitism. If it were not for the Holocaust Industry the deniers of the Nazi holocaust would not enjoy public limelight. The Holocaust Industry will not just alienate the Holocaust Industry but also professional anti-Semites, racists, conspiracy theorists, and crackpots because Finkelstein attempts to restore the scholarly study of the Nazi holocaust and free it from the shackles of frauds and hypocrites. It would have been useful to have a list of dramatis personae of the Holocaust Industry. A simple chart listing the prime movers and the main organizations of the Industry and showing their organizational relationships may also be helpful. In particular it would be useful to know the inter-locking connections of key individuals and organizations in the business. The hardback edition of book lacks an index.
It is hoped that the effect of the book will be to encourage candid criticisms of the nefarious Holocaust Industry. Arguably the Holocaust Industry’s primary victims are those in whose name it operates. Finkelstein may be criticized for writing this book a bit too late, well after the Holocaust industry’s successful "double shakedown." It is pity that his parents did not see this important book in print. His parents would be have been proud of their son’s scholarship, moral integrity, and courage, always rare qualities especially among intellectuals. Certainly this book is a fitting tribute to his parent’s legacy. Finkelstein should be credited for writing a meticulously well-researched book that can help shutdown the Holocaust Industry when the public becomes aware of its dishonesty and its vulgar exploitation of Jewish suffering.
Note: Tanweer Akram is an economist at Columbia University. The reviewer thanks all those who commented on earlier drafts. The standard disclaimer applies.
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