UPDATE: As if to prove the point of this post, the r/Germany subreddit deleted the link to this post when I posted it to the sub. Who’d have thought it possible! It had 800 upvotes in eight other subs.
You’ll have to excuse me, but this is going to be a dark one. The language or thoughts may offend. I can only apologize and say: it’s what I’m feeling and I have no choice. Bear with me.
Until today, the German state prohibited any rallies for Gaza. Simply verboten: part of a widespread crackdown on Palestinian activism there. Today, authorities permitted the rally, but warned it would be under “strict police supervision”:
According to the police, any statements that are anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli and glorify violence or terror are prohibited.
These are terms that are almost impossible to define clearly. They are in the eye of the beholder. I would never leave to a cop to be the judge of this. Keep in mind, this is a country proudly calling itself a western democracy. With all of (or most) of the rights that entails.
But there is one glaring exception: Palestine. Palestinians are Israel’s “bitch” and Germans don’t want to mess with that.
For historical context, the Nazis came to power in 1933. The country’s prior democratic government was the Weimar Republic, whose downfall in that year led to Hitler’s electoral triumph.
After Weimar, Germans decided against the messiness and uncertainty of democracy. Instead, they sought a single all-powerful leader who had a clear vision and charisma to realize it. Hitler seemed at the time a perfect antidote to the nightmare of instability and economic panic that was Weimar.
Hitler was nothing if not ambitious. He wasn’t content with bringing the German economy out of the Depression (by restarting its steel and weapons factories) and resting on his laurels. His was a revolutionary ideology of bold action. National socialism was, Hitler claimed, a system that would spread far beyond Germany.
Nazism thrived on enemies. Jews were enemies of course. Bankers too (see “Jews”). The nations with defeated Germany in WWI. And Bolshevism.
Hitler believed that the restoration of German glory meant vanquishing all these enemies. Nor was he content to confront them one-by-one. That would not show the world Germany’s power. Instead, it would take them all on at once.
Nazi Genocide ‘Perfected’ via technological innovation
Germany has been known as a technological innovator for the past one hundred years. Its Ruhr steel factories were the envy of other industrial and non-industrial nations. Its chemical companies produced ingredients for scores of critical industrial production processes. It car brands were known for quality and style.
When Hitler determined he must attack and defeat his enemies, he unleashed all of that innovation for the sole purpose of creating an indomitable military machine.
But the Nazis had something special in store for the Jews. By 1942, Hitler decided that expelling Jews from European countries was insufficient. It was far too messy and inefficient. If Jews are an enemy of the human race (according to Nazi race theory), why stop at expelling them? Logically, you must eliminate them entirely. That would be the only, and “final” solution to the “Jewish Problem.” To achieve this meant mobilizing vast human resources and technology in order to create an industrial death machine.
Killing Jews one-by-one, or via pogroms or even the mass killings at Babi Yar, were too time-consuming and labor intensive. This PBS documentary, The Killing Evolution , describes how the ‘industrial process’ of genocide developed:
The Nazis did not start World War II with a plan to eliminate the Jews. This solution evolved—especially from 1939 to 1941—as they tried different techniques to accomplish their goals. Particularly in Germany and Poland camp commandants experimented with various killing methodologies and consulted with one another on their successes and failures. The ability of a single camp to kill 2,000-3,000 people per hour took years to achieve. At first, though, murder was done at close range-man-to-man, woman, or child.
But Nazi commanders soon realized that murder by firing squad, done as repetitively and gruesomely as it was practiced, took a psychological toll on the poor Nazi executioners:
Himmler realized he had to find new methods that would spare his troops the psychological strain of killing human beings at close range.
That’s when some clever German came along and realized that ZyklonB, a common everyday cyanide-based disinfectant invented by a brilliant Jewish chemist to kill vermin, would be ideal. It was cheap, plentiful, and efficient at eliminating pests, whether they be lice or Jews.
If this were an industrial process, rather than genocide, it would be a triumph of technological innovation. As it was, it meant the cruel asphyxiation of nearly 3-million of all those who perished in the Holocaust.
The 21st century’s first genocide
Israel has earned the “distinction” of perpetrating the first genocide of the 21st century. Like Germany, it too is a known for technological innovation in the realms of Big Data, cybersecurity, surveillance technology, and weapons development. It has armed its soldiers with weaponry more lethal and sophisticated that almost any other on the globe.
Like Hitler, Israel has many enemies. Much of the innovation and weapons development mentioned above arises from the country’s security obsession and perpetual war mentality.
Which brings us to Palestine. Israel field tests these weapons for its global weapons customers. Palestinians who resist Israeli Occupation offer the IDF a perfect opportunity to prove their effectiveness in a combat environment.
The Gaza War has highlighted yet another Israeli military innovation: genocide by air. Whereas the Nazis killed by gas, Israel kills by bomb. It doesn’t need thousands of camp guards, sonderkommandos to dispose of bodies, gas chambers, crematoria, etc. It needs a pilot, a plane and a bomb (along with the technology integrated in them). In less than a month, Israel has destroyed most most of the homes, schools, infrastructure in vast swaths of Gaza. Over half of the population has become refugees after losing those homes. They have no food, no water, no electricity. They beg for bread in the streets.
Soon we will see images reminiscent of the Holocaust: pedestrians on the streets passing by corpses sprawled on the pavement. These were Jews in the ghetto who starved to death or died of disease on the street like discarded trash. The only reason we have not seen them yet in Gaza is that the war hasn’t gone on long enough. But don’t worry: Israel assures the world it could last for “months.”
With an powerful air force and an almost unlimited supply of US-made munitions, you can commit an automated genocide. Clean, efficient and deadly. Your pilots come home every night for dinner. With barely a speck of dust on their flight boots.
Which brings me back where I began: Germany. Today’s Germany. It takes a peculiar approach to genocide. While it may seem logical for the nation to have a profound sensitivity to the enormous suffering it caused, that doesn’t seem translate to sensitivity toward other nations and peoples suffering their own genocides. Like most other western nations, it was slow to act against looming genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Gaza is the most problematic genocide of all for Germany. Israel’s war has proven to be terribly “inconvenient.” German police beating and arresting German-Palestinians whose families are dying daily under Israeli onslaught is an unpleasant sight. The country is paralyzed by its guilt over the Holocaust. But it a self-induced paralysis. It’s not that it cannot criticize Israel. It can. But it refuses. Even if it means condoning genocide.
This attitude is a perverse repetition of the common refrain of many post Holocaust Germans who denied any responsibility for the tragedy because they “didn’t know” what the Nazis were doing. That response has been rightly ridicules for its moral obtuseness. But Germany is doing something not dissimilar. It sees with its own eyes the devastation of Gaza on TV and online. Yet somehow it unsees what it has seen. It’s genocide denial. Little different than Holocaust denial.
Germany remains imprisoned by its past. Instead of studying it, learning its lessons, and using them to confront similar injustices, Germany says an implacable, No. Israel has clapped it in moral irons. Not that it had to force Germany to immobilize itself. It did so willingly.
It has adopted the most draconian anti-speech laws of any country in Europe regarding political debate on Israel. You cannot insult Israel. You cannot call it a racist state. You cannot call the Gaza war genocide. You cannot use slogans common virtually everywhere in world but Germany; such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The presumably is forbidden because Palestinian freedom means the destruction of Israel–or some such nonsense. Signs and banners face the same fate. If they display an “offending” message, the police arrest you, charge you with a criminal offense and you face months or years of legal battles as a result.
Germany is one of the few countries which adopted the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism, and enforces it vigorously. Germany-Palestinian state broadcasters were fired merely for being Palestinian (they won their jobs back after court challenge).
A country which perpetrated genocide, decides it owes an eternal obligation to a nation which didn’t even exist at that time in history. That obligation not only prevents it from recognizing the latter-day genocide, but actually criminalizes the genocide victims and their supporters.
This is a toxic and atrocious betrayal of what the legacy of the Holocaust and all genocides should be. They must be discussed, analyzed, debated. Then once there is consensus, there must be action by individuals, NGOs, nations, world bodies. Any effort like German’s to block such critical processes make genocide possible. The terrible irony is that Germany, believing it is insulating itself from genocide, is helping facilitate one.
Genealogy and genocide
After my son began doing extensive genealogical research into the histories and of my wife’s and my European Jewish roots, I discovered how many relatives had been murdered in the Holocaust. These were not distant relatives. They were in many cases brothers and sisters of my great-grandparents who arrived here well before the Holocaust.
These family members lived throughout central Europe from Vienna to southern Poland. They dwelt mostly in villages and small towns, where they eked out a living as what might be called the working poor. They had little in the way of a formal education. They operated what today we would call small (very small) businesses. There were no entrepreneurs among them.
But some understood enough that if they wanted a better future they must emigrated. Those are the ones who were my grandparents and great-grandparents. They were the lucky ones. They in turn, tried to save as many as they could. They succeeded in a few cases. But far too few.
A few examples: a cousin living in my father’s hometown, Haverstraw NY, bought a share in an Irish sweepstakes ticket. He won, and used his share to bring several relatives out of Europe. They are the lucky ones.
Shortly after the Austrian Anschluss, two couples tried desperately to escape and resettle in America. They each named my great-grandfather, Sam Goldand, as their American sponsor. One survived. The other didn’t.
Entire lines of my genealogical tree were wiped out. The family line going back centuries in these places (we have traced ancestors back to the 1740s in some cases), simply disappears in the ashes of Auschwitz and other places of horror. Most of these relatives died within a two-year span of 1941-43.
My genocide, their genocide
When I read the tweets of Gaza victims who recount that 10, 20, or 30 of their immediate family were murdered by a single bomb that destroyed their home or place of refuge. I recall the same fate of my own ancestors.
I am enraged that a State responsible for doing to my kin what Israel is doing to the kin of Gaza, can stand to look at itself. I say to the Germans: what you did, others are doing. DO NOT PERMIT IT! “Never again” is not a slogan reserved for Jews alone. It belongs to any nation or people subjected to genocide. You Germans are not the only perpetrator, and we are not the only victims.
I reject Israel’s self-designation as the recipient of financial and political largess deriving from the Holocaust. No one appointed Israel as the guardian of the memory of European Jewry. Such presumption usurps the mantle and memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem does not belong in Israel. The genocide belongs where it happens. The perpetrators and succeeding generations need to see what happened on their streets and in their towns in these very sites. Putting this museum in Israel validates a false claim of relevance.
Israel made few sustained efforts to rescue Jews. Though it had some marginal successes, these played no significant role in saving them. In fact, both Zionist factions negotiated wit the Nazis before the Final Solution became formalized policy. After the Holocaust, Israel sought to bar disabled and mentally-ill survivors on the grounds that they would be a burden to the State. Those survivors who immigrated, often lived lives of penury with the State offering them little assistance.
Germany made a grave mistake in paying billions in reparations to Israel. Those funds should have been provided to European Jewry to rebuild itself. Instead, they were sent to a place that didn’t deserve them and used to turn Israel into the garrison state it has become. This began a process of guilt and co-optation of Germany by Israel. They became actual political allies as well. But willingly placed a set of golden handcuffs on itself which it has never released.