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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Jewish Problem Defined

Auschwitz staff enjoy the Sabbath: Murder takes a day off.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, describes the situation facing European Jewry today as filled with daily danger, "Jews are afraid to walk the streets… with Jewish signs (i.e. yarmulke). Synagogues, Jewish schools and kindergartens require barbed-wire fences and security and Jewish men, women and children are beaten up in broad daylight." An ocean away a “report by the human rights watchdog of the Organization of American States warns of a possible ‘threat to the life and physical integrity of the Jewish community in Venezuela’” by that county’s government. Two months ago a Tel Aviv University report on the state of Jewish security in the world concluded that 2009 was the worst since the Holocaust for antisemitic incidents.

We use the term “Jewish problem” as if it’s meaning and implications were obvious. Why a backlash against Diaspora Jews the result of the actions of Israel? Citizens of Irish extraction living in other countries were not targeted due to the actions of the Irish Republican Army. Why the Jews? How explain the knee-jerk anti-Jewish reaction in the Christian west?

The west’s Jewish Problem is theological in origin. It may most simply be described as an affront the result of our continuing existence within the unfolding history of the Christian world.

From its very beginnings Christianity defined itself successor to Judaism: With the arrival of Jesus Judaism was, according to Christian theology, superseded, should have vanished. How reconcile that the Jews, the designated object of Jesus’ messianic mission, failed to even recognize him and his mission? What does that mean for Christianity as theological inheritor of Jewish history and tradition?

In the fourth century Augustine rationalized that Jewish survival “in misery and homeless” was their “punishment” for rejecting Jesus. He explained that their survival, according to God’s plan, was to serve as “witness” to the Truth of Christianity. “… the Jews who slew Him . . . are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.”

Augustine’s description of Jewish survival as punishment and witness provide a theological explanation for the survival of Judaism, and the continued, if limited, survival of Jews. But the explanation also points to doubt in those prophesies at the very heart of Christian belief. How else explain the need for Jewish validation, “that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ”?

According to the gospels “the Jews” are guilty of deicide in the death of Jesus. Matthew goes further in having those supposedly guilty accept responsibility not just for themselves, but for all future generations: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’” (Matthew 27.25).

The combination of Augustine’s existential doubt and Matthew’s incendiary description of the trial and death of Jesus are the ground upon which the Jewish people were victim to centuries of blame, persecution and death. The result of this volatile combination, doubt and deicide, is that the potential for violence towards Jews is always present, even if not openly expressed.

With the 17th century Enlightenment the theological Jewish Problem morphed into a secular Jewish question, and anti-Judaism gradually transformed into its secular variant, antisemitism. An important result of the secularization of the problem was that even the limited “protection” provided by Augustine’s justification for Jewish survival no longer applied. The Jews, particularly following their 19th century “emancipation,” were now a nation like others, but strangers, outsiders, “Other” to the west: a nation apart.

Emancipation increasingly gave rise to political and social resistance. As non-Christians, Jews were not really members of the western national community (nation, people, volk), so did not qualify for equal rights and citizenship. Opposition grew into political parties encompassing the broad social spectrum, religious and secular, conservative, liberal and socialist. As described by Dr. Kantor above, Jews were increasingly the victims of physical assault and social ostracization. Several antisemitic incidents were national in scope and caught the attention of the international media. The kidnapping by the Vatican of Edgardo Mortara in Italy, the trials of Dreyfus in France and Beilis in Russia; and the lynching in the United States of Leo Frank by a mob including a former governor, a superior court judge, the son of a US senator, and led by a future aspirant for president of the United States.

But even these high profile warnings failed to hint at what would result from the contribution of Science to the definition of What is a Jew.

American eugenics aspired to improve America’s population stock by selective human breeding. Long before National Socialism in Germany American eugenicists promoted eliminating the “unworthy” by imposing immigration restrictions, sterilization and euthanasia. Among those Congress barred by restrictive immigration law was the Jews. Twenty years later, and unmoved by their plight, America n policy condemned Europe’s Jews to Auschwitz; and sterilization was still in use as a means of population “betterment” in the United States well into the 1970’s. The application of euthanasia to achieve eugenic goals was left to the Germans to perfect.

German race science owed much to American eugenics, and particularly to the active support and assistance of major American eugenicists. They admired and supported Hitler, envied Germany’s ability to fully apply eugenic principles to entire human populations. After the war they even intervened to save the lives, reputations and jobs of German academics active in the Holocaust (for an excellent source on American eugenics, see Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak).

In Hitler science and religion came together to address the Jewish Problem. Typically dismissed as a neo-pagan antisemite, he was both a product of the west’s history of prejudice and persecution, and also a self-affirmed and life-long tithe paying Catholic. In Mein Kamp, written a decade before he took power in Germany Hitler wrote, “[d]efending myself against the Jew is fighting for the work of the Lord!”

The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem was, therefore, both an act of racial hygiene, cleansing the human race of the Jewish virus, and a religious obligation to solve once and for ever Christendom’s centuries-long Problem.

As individuals and as a people we Jews strongly believe in the power of education to promote social harmony and religious tolerance. The European Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League represent this belief, are our post-Holocaust shlichim to the nations. Before and during the years of Shoah German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber was Education’s most prominent advocate. But statistical studies are ambiguous regarding its success, even in ordinary times of relative social quiet and international peace. But the point of our discussion is not the “ordinary,” but the ever-present risk of the extraordinary.

Post WWI global depression, German resentment at that nation’s perception at having lost a war they were convinced they should have won, except for the Jews “stab in the back:” Who could have foreseen that those events would result in the cataclysm of the Holocaust?

We Jews live an uncertain existence in our Diaspora. We live in the hope that education will eventually eradicate antisemitism; that Christianity can and will reform, accept us, accept Judaism as a separate legitimate religion and not the fossil remains of that which Christianity believes it supplanted. Education has not succeeded to date, and it is only necessary to read prominent Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther’s warning to appreciate its unlikely future success: “Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure (Faith and Fratricide, 1974, p. 94).”

At what point in societal frustration does the background hum of benign antisemitism resurface as lethal antisemitism, give rise to another charismatic leader intent on, once and for all solving the Jewish Problem, eradicating Jewish life entire from the Diaspora? There is no statistical model to provide warning. We can only use history as guide to the future. And nearly two thousand years of experience has, according to some estimates, resulted in one out of every two Jews born during that period being murdered by our hosts.

We can accept, reluctantly or willingly, that the extraordinary circumstances of severe economic collapse following the First World War pried open the floodgates to the west’s suppressed demons regarding the Jews. We are compelled to recognize that, with the technological advances in computers and instruments of mass murder developed since the Holocaust, that a future effort to solve the west’s Jewish Problem, to define Who is a Jew “back to a single grandparent,” will certainly be far more successful than that nearly “final solution” of the twentieth century.

Is another Holocaust assured, no. Is it likely? What does History suggest?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Vatican Stonewalling: a smoking gun?

According to Zenit, a Vatican news agency, the Holy See is prepared to post on the internet 5125 documents from the closed section of its Secret Archives. The release, according to Zenit, is in response to an appeal by New York-based Pave the Way Foundation. According to the Foundation’s director, the release will demonstrate, “ clear evidence of Pope Pius XII's efforts to mitigate suffering during the war.”

The controversy surrounding Pius XII has dogged the Vatican at least since the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play, The Deputy, which portrayed the wartime pope as indifferent to the plight of the Jews. An important reason for the continuing controversy is the beatification process of the silent pope, and determination by the Holy See to elevate him to sainthood.

In 1999 the Church convened its International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission to look into the allegations in the hope of exonerating its wartime pope. Two years later the commission resigned protesting Vatican refusal to allow access to materials beyond those specially chosen by the Church itself. The documents in the collection now scheduled for release are not newly declassified, as might be inferred by their location in the “Secret Archives” but are, instead, a re-release of the same materials previously rejected as one-sided by the Vatican commission in 2001.

Which raises the question of how, ten years after these documents failed to convince its own commission, the Holy See hopes they will achieve a different outcome with the public today?

More than sixty years have passed since the end of the Second World War. With the exception of the Vatican, all major war-time archives, including those of the United States, Russia and Germany, have long been open for study. The Vatican continually puts off opening the archives for "technical" reasons, but a more immediate reason seems at hand, its experience with having opened the archives to John Cornwell.

Mr. Cornwell, a noted Catholic scholar who once considered joining the priesthood, was permitted access to the archives for background material to a biography on Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII he intended to write. From the Introduction to his book Cornwell relates that he began the task believing that "if his full story were told, Pius XII's pontificate would be exonerated.” But by “the middle of 1997,” he writes, “I was in a state of moral shock. The material I had gathered amounted not to an exoneration but to an indictment.” Among his conclusions was that Pius was not merely anti-Jewish, he was a supporter of Hitler who acted to silence what Catholic opposition existed to the Fuhrer in Germany.

The Vatican's International Commission was convened soon after Hitler’s Pope was published.

The Zenit article is intended to support the Vatican in its beatification of Pius XII. That is understandable since the news service describes its purpose as, “The world as seen from Rome.” But what purpose is served by the Vatican attributing the release of these materials to an outside, supposedly unaffiliated organization as the subheading to the Zenit article announces, Pave the Way Foundation Proposal Approved. What is this Foundation that the Church would go to the trouble of turning over the materials to them on request; why was it chosen to serve this purpose? And who is its leader, Gary Krupp? Conveniently both Zenit and the Foundation are based in New York City. But let Jesús Colina, the article’s author and editor of Zenit, take it from here.

For purposes of clarity and to avoid misunderstanding what follows is a verbatim transcript of Krupp’s comments as they appear in the Zenit article. “The organization's president, who is from New York but of [sic] Jewish decent, stated, ‘In the furtherance of our mission we have recognized the papacy of the war time Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) as a source of friction impacting over one billion people.’" The interview continues, “controversy abounds on whether he did enough to prevent the slaughter of Jews at the hands of the Nazis... Our research has revealed that five years after Pius XII's death, the KGB hatched a plot to discredit their enemy, the Roman Catholic Church, called 'Seat 12.' A dirty trick, which condemned Pope Pius XII for his 'silence' during the Holocaust in the form of Rolf Hochhuth's fictitious 1963 play The Deputy. The result was the worst character assassination of the twentieth century."

That certainly should put the matter to rest! According to Krupp Pius silence is an invention of the Russians. Certainly they attacked Pius. But their attack, political considerations notwithstanding, did not occur in a vacuum: Pius invited attack as an outspoken critic of Russia and Communism spanning his entire career, and particularly during and following the Second World War. This is one explanation for his well-known support of Nazi anti-Communism. By conveniently leaving out Pius provocations towards the Soviets the impression is created of an unprovoked assault by the superpower. By projecting Pius the victim of that recent bugaboo, Soviet Communism, his innocence of the allegations appears intact, and his beatification is restored to credibility.

As for the controversy surrounding the 2001 resignation of the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, Krupp has an equally imaginative rationalization. As Colina summarizes the Foundation leader, “Krupp explained that in 1999, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, at that time the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called for a special commission of Jewish and Catholic scholars to come together to study these documents. ‘This positive advance unfortunately ended July 21, 2001 in failure partly because the scholars simply did not read the languages of the collection." Not “read the languages of the collection"? Is Krugg-Colina here suggesting that Cardinal Cassidy intended from the start to ensure an unsuccessful outcome by limiting his selection to those illiterate in the document's languages? That makes even less sense than what actually did occur, forcing their resignation by limiting access to relevant documents. My own memory of the incident is that these were all recognized experts in their fields. Some among them would have been proficient in all languages involved. What would Cassidy have achieved by inviting illiterates?

As with Krupp's earlier assertion regarding Pius innocence as victim of Soviet propaganda, this assertion also falls short of credibility.

But whatever the facts regarding the “Russians” or the “Commission,” using an obviously partisan that just happens to be headed by someone described as a Jew as driving the release of these materials achieves nothing. Because the main issue continuing to drive the controversy of Pius silence is still Vatican silence.

It has been thirty years since President Nixon learned the hard way that stonewalling results only in intensifying crisis and loss of credibility. Perhaps the Vatican is yet capable of learning that lesson from history.

If the Holy See would seek absolution both for the silence of its pope as well as its own indifference during the Holocaust; if indeed there truly is no smoking gun hidden in those Secret Archives, then time has long since past to open them and be rid of the appearance of cover-up. The only way to achieve credibility, to clear itself and its wartime pope, is to reconvene the Vatican International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, and allow the scholars to finally complete their work.

Alternatively the Vatican can remain silent, continue to stonewall. And face the decades and longer repercussions certain to follow its controversial promotion of Eugenio Pacelli to sainthood.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Saint Pius XII" and Holocaust Denial

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.
It is this that defines Jewish Holocaust denial.

The beatification process of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, maintains open the question of world leaders, not just the Vatican, of passive complicity in the destruction of European Jewry. Under the Vatican leadership of Pius XII some Jews were protected, as were a few by Churchill's England and Roosevelt's United States. Indeed there were Jews who, following the war, hailed Pacelli a hero, as there were those who hailed Churchill and Roosevelt for their assumed efforts in behalf of our victims. But, as with the Vatican, neither of the "world's leading democracies" made any effort beyond symbolic to save Europe's Jews. Yes, towards the end of the war Roosevelt hesitantly permitted a few fleeing death to be housed in a refugee camp in upper New York State. England apparently had a somewhat better record of admitting Jews fleeing death. But British-controlled Palestine, the only real refuge for the victims remained closed to them. And the death camps and the rail lines daily feeding our victims remained untouched, free to pursue their obsession to rid Europe and the world of Jews. And allied bombers daily over-flew the death camps and their rail feeder lines daily.

The claim is made that the Vatican intelligence network was the most extensive regarding the unfolding Holocaust and this may have been so. But this does not change the fact that England’s monitoring of German military communications provided up-to-date reports of Einsatsgruppen success in a Germany’s pre-Auschwitz murder campaign. In less than a year those death squads managed to murder up-close and personal by rifle, machine gun and pistol one million Jews while the allies chose to look the other way.

Did Pacelli’s Vatican assist Nazi’s to evade justice, assist them to find new homes in South America? This is well documented. But so also is the complicity of the US in the effort called, at the time, the Rat Line. But America went a step further by inviting those Nazis considered more valuable to quietly settle in the United States. Among those who found refuge from prosecution for war crimes was, most famously, Hitler’s rocket scientist von Braun, whose efforts involved working his slave laborers to death.

Of guilt enough there is enough to go around. Not just Pacelli's Vatican, but Roosevelt's United States, Churchill's England. And while Germany may have been the inspiration behind the Holocaust that country could not have succeeded in cleansing Europe of its six million Jews without the open and enthusiastic support of the people and governments of Europe itself. France apparently had no problem of conscience rounding up its Jews for transport to death; and not even members of those einsatsgruppe expressed revulsion in those field reports ignored by the allies at the excesses of East European townspeople, inspired by their German occupiers, clubbing their Jewish neighbors to death. Even after the war, many among the tiny and emaciated Jewish remnant returning from the death camps faced a frenzy of antisemitic assault, were clubbed to death by the residents of the towns to which they sought to return. Who needed the “Nazis” to inspire and blame?

None of which is justification for the beatification of Eugenio Pacelli, of course. But then how should we respond to the same complicity-by-passivity of, say, Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Let us not, we Jews who by accident of birth location survived the Holocaust, be distracted by the celebrity of a single high profile instance of Holocaust denial. Conclusions must be drawn also from the obvious fact that our leaders also are guilty, also complicit in the murder of Europe’s Jews.

Holocaust denial comes in many shades and serves many purposes. When not intentionally antisemitic, its proponents may simply be attempting to distance Christendom’s murder of Jews in the 1940’s from Christianity’s gospel-inspired theology of Jew-hatred. Persecuting and murdering the Jews is, after all, as long as the Diaspora in Europe. And while no less reprehensible, this motive is at least understandable. But what's in for we Jews who ourselves deny the implications of the Holocaust? What do we gain from criticizing the Vatican move to promote to sainthood an individual clearly flawed as judged by his response to the unfolding policy of the Holocaust; at the same time choosing not to judge our own national leadership who were no less guilty?

Viewed through the same moral lens by which we criticize the beatification of the head of the Holocaust-era Vatican, Roosevelt comes out no less blemished. We Jews are justifiably outraged by this Vatican action; at the same time we choose to ignore that of our own national leaders. Towards what purpose?

As long as Shoah occurred "over there," perpetrated by leaders “over there” we, resident of our own "exceptional" Diaspora haven can rest easy. As did our relatives in Germany in the 1920's we can deny our continuing Diaspora history of victimhood and assure ourselves of a continuing and happy future, a safe haven for our children, and theirs.

We Jews are not responsible for provoking the Holocaust. We are responsible for denying its significance, the lessons of our Diaspora history in Christendom. By that choice do we perpetuate our victimhood, gamble the lives of our children, the survival of our people.

It is this that defines Jewish Denial.