Dan Michman: Historians, educators forgetting about Jews in framing Holocaust, Bar-Ilan professor says




Source: The Jewish Tribune, 8-16-11

There is “a battle for memory” taking place in the way historians and educators understand and frame the Holocaust, and a trend in which the “centrality of the Jews” is being neglected, Professor Dan Michman, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, and head, International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem told the Jewish Tribune during a recent visit here. “The emphasis has moved in another direction: the laudable issue of preventing genocide,” Michman said.  “When you look to the future, the past – the memory – becomes less important. All that matters is what you can learn from the past to prevent genocide and, to prevent genocide from happening (in any place) on earth, the Jewish aspects of the Holocaust are perhaps not helpful…. Within these trends of (emphasizing) human rights, comparing all genocides and preventing future genocide, the special dimension of the Shoah doesn’t come forward enough, because of the (resulting) need to put the Holocaust into a certain broader framework.”

Scholarly and public discourse on the Holocaust is being over-generalized in the service of examining, for example, commonalities shared by perpetrators of genocide and mass murder or the experiences of lone individuals outside the context of  their local community or larger society.

“An understanding of what was lost in Jewish society and Jewish culture is hardly mentioned. It goes above murder and the motivations of the perpetrators and the suffering of individuals – which are both important aspects – but the special aspect of Jewish society and culture is of no importance for this method of interpretation.

“We’re not speaking about the gravity of murder as such.  It was not just Jewish individuals (targetted by the Nazis): it was the ruining, the erasure, the exorcism of any trace of Jewish existence.”

Michman quoted from the 1946 testimony of Dieter Wisliceny, a Nazi official in Adolf Eichmann’s Department of Jewish Affairs, who was hanged for his crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948:  “Antisemitism was one of the foundations of the platforms of Nazism. It stemmed in practice from two outlooks: (1) the pseudo-scientific biological statements of Prof. Günther and (2) the mystical-religious view that the world is directed by forces of good and evil. According to this view, the principle of evil was embodied in the Jews.”

Yet today, Michman said, “they all use the term ‘holocaust’ because it has become a brand name.”

Dr. Robert Rozett, libraries director, Yad Vashem, also expressed concern about this trend. He told Canadian journalists, who were on a visit to Israel sponsored by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, that the Holocaust is being trivialized, banalized and diminished as a result of the current politicized “tussle.”

“The Holocaust has become our main anchor, the main way we understand evil,” Rozett said.  “It’s the reference point for understanding man’s inhumanity to man.” Perhaps as a result, “people are using the Holocaust to frame their own tragedies” and are using the name “holocaust” to describe events such as the potato famines in 19th century Ireland, the persecution of Christians in 16th century Japan, the deaths of millions in the Soveit Union under Stalin’s regime, as well as to abortion statistics.

“What makes the Holocaust singular versus other genocides is the idea that Jews are evil simply because they exist and that by murdering them you are doing something good for mankind.”