Thieves Of History
Francine Klagsbrun
As we mark the 68th anniversary this week of Kristallnacht, “the Night of the Broken Glass,â€? it is sobering to reflect on the reality that while the generation that experienced that event is vanishing, the anti-Semitism at its core has not disappeared.

On that dreadful evening of Nov. 9, 1938, and during the next day, Nazis in Germany and Austria smashed the windows of thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, destroyed hundreds of synagogues and attacked dozens of Jews, quickly accelerating the German war against the Jews toward the horrors of the Holocaust.

Although such state-sponsored violence does not exist in Europe today, increasingly we hear of anti-Jewish incidents in European countries, often triggered by their growing Muslim populations. Go to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Web site, and you will find lists of anti-Jewish acts in countries throughout the world. Surf the Internet and you will see sites devoted to denying the Holocaust.

More than anyone, perhaps, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represents the extreme of the anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, Holocaust-denying rhetoric heard round the globe. During a visit to the United States in September, he repeated his outrageous contentions again and again that the Holocaust was a “myth,â€? and that Jews were simply among the many millions of people killed during World War II. When challenged, he insisted that the “claimâ€? about the Holocaust needed to be “investigated,â€? ignoring, of course, the indisputable truths.

But Ahmadinejad also put a twist on his pronouncements that took them to another level of obscenity. While denying the Holocaust, he demanded to know why the Palestinian people had to pay the price for what happened in Europe. “On the pretext of the Holocaust,â€? he said to members of the Council on Foreign Relations, “people from around the worldâ€?—meaning Jews—gathered in Palestine and “formed a government on land belonging to others.â€? Using the Holocaust as an excuse, he was saying, Jews established a state on so-called Palestinian lands.

“Ahmadinejad is crafty and dangerous,â€? says Robert K. Lifton, former president of the American Jewish Congress (and my brother), “so we have to pay attention to his real message. He bases the existence of Israel solely on the Holocaust. Then, by denying the validity of the Holocaust, he denies the validity of Israel.â€?

To be sure, strong links exist between the Holocaust and Israel, particularly in the tens of thousands of refugees from the European catastrophe who created new lives in that country. But as we know, the ties of Jews to the land of Israel did not begin with the Holocaust or even with the Zionist movement. Those ties go back thousands of years, to Abraham and Joshua and the Jewish kingdoms there. By the time Muhammad founded the religion of Islam in the 7th century, and—according to Islamic teachings—ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, Jews had lived in the land for centuries. They may not have ruled it during all those years, but they had a continual presence in it.

In his new book, “Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divideâ€? (Knopf), Jeffrey Goldberg describes his complex friendship with a Palestinian man he had guarded in an Israeli prison, when Goldberg was in the Israeli army. He tells of meeting an important Egyptian sheikh shortly after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount and the outbreak of the second Intifada. The sheikh insists that Islam is older than Judaism, and that there never was a temple in that area, which Muslims call the “Haram-al Sharif.â€? Angered, Goldberg writes of his response, “…there was something he needed to understand: Before there was a Dome of the Rock and a Prophet Muhammad, there was a Jewish Temple and a King Solomon.â€?

Goldberg labels the cleric “a thief of history.â€? The term applies as well to Ahmadinejad and others like him who distort history by denying the Holocaust and distort it again by using that denial to deny Israel’s legitimacy.

I’m far from a “greater Israelâ€? advocate who thinks Israel must encompass all ancient biblical territories. The Palestinians have their own claims to lands that have to be recognized. But we have our claims also and we need to assert them loudly and clearly, over and over. Young people, especially, need to know ancient history and Zionist history, from poet Judah Halevi’s pilgrimage to Palestine in the 12th century to Theodor Herzl’s political writings in the 19th. They need to know and publicize the fact that wherever Jews lived in the world, they maintained a bond with their ancestral homeland.

Commemorating Kristallnacht each year reminds us of the devastation of the Holocaust. It reminds us also of how much we lost as a people because there was no sovereign Jewish state then, and how determinedly we need to stand up now to those who would steal our history and deny us that state. n

Francine Klagsbrun’s most recent book is “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.â€?

Special To The Jewish Week