How American Racism Influenced Hitler

Scholars are mapping the international precursors of Nazism.

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Hitler, circa 1923. Five years later, he noted, approvingly, that white Americans had “gunned down . . . millions of redskins.”Photograph from Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis / Getty

“History teaches, but has no pupils,” the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. That line comes to mind when I browse in the history section of a bookstore. An adage in publishing is that you can never go wrong with books about Lincoln, Hitler, and dogs; an alternative version names golfing, Nazis, and cats. In Germany, it’s said that the only surefire magazine covers are ones that feature Hitler or sex. Whatever the formula, Hitler and Nazism prop up the publishing business: hundreds of titles appear each year, and the total number runs well into the tens of thousands. On store shelves, they stare out at you by the dozens, their spines steeped in the black-white-and-red of the Nazi flag, their titles barking in Gothic type, their covers studded with swastikas. The back catalogue includes “I Was Hitler’s Pilot,” “I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur,” “I Was Hitler’s Doctor,” “Hitler, My Neighbor,” “Hitler Was My Friend,” “He Was My Chief,” and “Hitler Is No Fool.” Books have been written about Hitler’s youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design (“Hitler at Home”).

Why do these books pile up in such unreadable numbers? This may seem a perverse question. The Holocaust is the greatest crime in history, one that people remain desperate to understand. Germany’s plunge from the heights of civilization to the depths of barbarism is an everlasting shock. Still, these swastika covers trade all too frankly on Hitler’s undeniable flair for graphic design. (The Nazi flag was apparently his creation—finalized after “innumerable attempts,” according to “Mein Kampf.”) Susan Sontag, in her 1975 essay “Fascinating Fascism,” declared that the appeal of Nazi iconography had become erotic, not only in S & M circles but also in the wider culture. It was, Sontag wrote, a “response to an oppressive freedom of choice in sex (and, possibly, in other matters), to an unbearable degree of individuality.” Neo-Nazi movements have almost certainly fed on the perpetuation of Hitler’s negative mystique.

Americans have an especially insatiable appetite for Nazi-themed books, films, television shows, documentaries, video games, and comic books. Stories of the Second World War console us with memories of the days before Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq, when the United States was the world’s good-hearted superpower, riding to the rescue of a Europe paralyzed by totalitarianism and appeasement. Yet an eerie continuity became visible in the postwar years, as German scientists were imported to America and began working for their former enemies; the resulting technologies of mass destruction exceeded Hitler’s darkest imaginings. The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society: the cult of sport, Hollywood production values, the mythology of the frontier. From boyhood on, Hitler devoured the Westerns of the popular German novelist Karl May. In 1928, Hitler remarked, approvingly, that white settlers in America had “gunned down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand.” When he spoke of Lebensraum, the German drive for “living space” in Eastern Europe, he often had America in mind.

Among recent books on Nazism, the one that may prove most disquieting for American readers is James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” (Princeton). On the cover, the inevitable swastika is flanked by two red stars. Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by “excluding certain races from naturalization.” Whitman writes that the discussion of such influences is almost taboo, because the crimes of the Third Reich are commonly defined as “the nefandum, the unspeakable descent into what we often call ‘radical evil.’ ” But the kind of genocidal hatred that erupted in Germany had been seen before and has been seen since. Only by stripping away its national regalia and comprehending its essential human form do we have any hope of vanquishing it.

The vast literature on Hitler and Nazism keeps circling around a few enduring questions. The first is biographical: How did an Austrian watercolor painter turned military orderly emerge as a far-right German rabble-rouser after the First World War? The second is sociopolitical: How did a civilized society come to embrace Hitler’s extreme ideas? The third has to do with the intersection of man and regime: To what extent was Hitler in control of the apparatus of the Third Reich? All these questions point to the central enigma of the Holocaust, which has variously been interpreted as a premeditated action and as a barbaric improvisation. In our current age of unapologetic racism and resurgent authoritarianism, the mechanics of Hitler’s rise are a particularly pressing matter. For dismantlers of democracy, there is no better exemplar.

Since 1945, the historiography of Nazism has undergone several broad transformations, reflecting political pressures both within Germany and abroad. In the early Cold War period, the emergence of West Germany as a bulwark against the Soviet menace tended to discourage a closer interrogation of German cultural values. The first big postwar biography of Hitler, by the British historian Alan Bullock, published in 1952, depicted him as a charlatan, a manipulator, an “opportunist entirely without principle.” German thinkers often skirted the issue of Hitler, preferring systemic explanations. Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” suggested that dictatorial energies draw on the loneliness of the modern subject.

In the sixties and seventies, as Cold War Realpolitik receded and the full horror of the Holocaust sank in, many historians adopted what is known as the Sonderweg thesis—the idea that Germany had followed a “special path” in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, different from that of other Western nations. In this reading, the Germany of the Wilhelmine period had failed to develop along healthy liberal-democratic lines; the inability to modernize politically prepared the ground for Nazism. In Germany, left-oriented scholars like Hans Mommsen used this concept to call for a greater sense of collective responsibility; to focus on Hitler was an evasion, the argument went, implying that Nazism was something that he did to us. Mommsen outlined a “cumulative radicalization” of the Nazi state in which Hitler functioned as a “weak dictator,” ceding policy-making to competing bureaucratic agencies. Abroad, the Sonderweg theory took on a punitive edge, indicting all of German history and culture. William Manchester’s 1968 book, “The Arms of Krupp,” ends with a lurid image of “the first grim Aryan savage crouched in his garment of coarse skins, his crude javelin poised, tense and alert, cloaked by night and fog, ready; waiting; and waiting.”

The Sonderweg argument was attacked on multiple fronts. In what became known as the Historikerstreit (“Historians’ Dispute”), right-wing scholars in Germany proposed that the nation end its ritual self-flagellation: they reframed Nazism as a reaction to Bolshevism and recast the Holocaust as one genocide among many. Joachim Fest, who had published the first big German-language biography of Hitler, also stood apart from the Sonderweg school. By portraying the Führer as an all-dominating, quasi-demonic figure, Fest effectively placed less blame on the Weimar Republic conservatives who put Hitler in office. More dubious readings presented Hitlerism as an experiment that modernized Germany and then went awry. Such ideas have lost ground in Germany, at least for now: in mainstream discourse there, it is axiomatic to accept responsibility for the Nazi terror.

Outside Germany, many critiques of the Sonderweg thesis came from the left. The British scholars Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn, in their 1984 book “The Peculiarities of German History,” questioned the “tyranny of hindsight”—the lordly perspective that reduces a complex, contingent sequence of events to an irreversible progression. In the allegedly backward Kaiserreich, Eley and Blackbourn saw various liberalizing forces in motion: housing reform, public-health initiatives, an emboldened press. It was a society riddled with anti-Semitism, yet it witnessed no upheaval on the scale of the Dreyfus Affair or the Tiszaeszlár blood-libel affair in Hungary. Eley and Blackbourn also questioned whether élitist, imperialist Britain should be held up as the modern paragon. The Sonderweg narrative could become an exculpatory fairy tale for other nations: we may make mistakes, but we will never be as bad as the Germans.

Ian Kershaw’s monumental two-volume biography (1998-2000) found a plausible middle ground between “strong” and “weak” images of Hitler in power. With his nocturnal schedule, his dislike of paperwork, and his aversion to dialogue, Hitler was an eccentric executive, to say the least. To make sense of a dictatorship in which the dictator was intermittently absent, Kershaw expounded the concept of “working towards the Führer”: when explicit direction from Hitler was lacking, Nazi functionaries guessed at what he wanted, and often further radicalized his policies. Even as debates about the nature of Hitler’s leadership go back and forth, scholars largely agree that his ideology was more or less fixed from the mid-twenties onward. His two abiding obsessions were violent anti-Semitism and Lebensraum. As early as 1921, he spoke of confining Jews to concentration camps, and in 1923 he contemplated—and, for the moment, rejected—the idea of killing the entire Jewish population. The Holocaust was the result of a hideous syllogism: if Germany were to expand into the East, where millions of Jews lived, those Jews would have to vanish, because Germans could not coexist with them.

People have been trying to fathom Hitler’s psyche for nearly a century. Ron Rosenbaum, in his 1998 book “Explaining Hitler,” gives a tour of the more outré theories. It has been suggested, variously, that the key to understanding Hitler is the fact that he had an abusive father; that he was too close to his mother; that he had a Jewish grandfather; that he had encephalitis; that he contracted syphilis from a Jewish prostitute; that he blamed a Jewish doctor for his mother’s death; that he was missing a testicle; that he underwent a wayward hypnosis treatment; that he was gay; that he harbored coprophilic fantasies about his niece; that he was addled by drugs; or—a personal favorite—that his anti-Semitism was triggered by briefly attending school with Ludwig Wittgenstein, in Linz. At the root of this speculative mania is what Rosenbaum calls the “lost safe-deposit box” mentality: with sufficient sleuthing, the mystery can be solved in one Sherlockian stroke.

Academic historians, by contrast, often portray Hitler as a cipher, a nobody. Kershaw has called him a “man without qualities.” Volker Ullrich, a German author and journalist long associated with the weekly Die Zeit, felt the need for a biography that paid more heed to Hitler’s private life. The first volume, “Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939,” was published by Knopf in 2016, in a fluid translation by Jefferson Chase. Ullrich’s Hitler is no tyrant-sorcerer who leads an innocent Germany astray; he is a chameleon, acutely conscious of the image he projects. “The putative void was part of Hitler’s persona, a means of concealing his personal life and presenting himself as a politician who completely identified with his role as leader,” Ullrich writes. Hitler could pose as a cultured gentleman at Munich salons, as a pistol-waving thug at the beer hall, and as a bohemian in the company of singers and actors. He had an exceptional memory that allowed him to assume an air of superficial mastery. His certitude faltered, however, in the presence of women: Ullrich depicts Hitler’s love life as a series of largely unfulfilled fixations. It goes without saying that he was an extreme narcissist lacking in empathy. Much has been made of his love of dogs, but he was cruel to them.

From adolescence onward, Hitler was a dreamer and a loner. Averse to joining groups, much less leading them, he immersed himself in books, music, and art. His ambition to become a painter was hampered by a limited technique and by a telling want of feeling for human figures. When he moved to Vienna, in 1908, he slipped toward the social margins, residing briefly in a homeless shelter and then in a men’s home. In Munich, where he moved in 1913, he eked out a living as an artist and otherwise spent his days in museums and his nights at the opera. He was steeped in Wagner, though he had little apparent grasp of the composer’s psychological intricacies and ambiguities. A sharp portrait of the young Hitler can be found in Thomas Mann’s startling essay “Bruder Hitler,” the English version of which appeared in Esquire in 1939, under the title “That Man Is My Brother.” Aligning Hitler’s experience with his own, Mann wrote of a “basic arrogance, the basic feeling of being too good for any reasonable, honorable activity—based on what? A vague notion of being reserved for something else, something quite indeterminate, which, if it were named, would cause people to break out laughing.”

The claims of “Mein Kampf” notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that Hitler harbored strongly anti-Semitic views in his youth or in early adulthood. Indeed, he seems to have had friendly relations with several Jews in Vienna and Munich. This does not mean that he was free of commonplace anti-Jewish prejudice. Certainly, he was a fervent German nationalist. When the First World War commenced, in 1914, he volunteered for the German Army, and acquitted himself well as a soldier. For most of the war, he served as a dispatch runner for his regiment’s commanders. The first trace of a swing to the right comes in a letter from 1915, in which Hitler expressed the hope that the war would bring an end to Germany’s “inner internationalism.”

The historian Thomas Weber, who recounted Hitler’s soldier years in the 2010 book “Hitler’s First War,” has now written “Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi” (Basic), a study of the postwar metamorphosis. Significantly, Hitler remained in the Army after the Armistice; disgruntled nationalist soldiers tended to join paramilitary groups. Because the Social Democratic parties were dominant at the founding of the Weimar Republic, Hitler was representing a leftist government. He even served the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. It is doubtful, though, that he had active sympathies for the left; he probably stayed in the Army because, as Weber writes, it “provided a raison d’être for his existence.” As late as his thirtieth birthday, in April, 1919, there was no sign of the Führer-to-be.

The unprecedented anarchy of postwar Bavaria helps explain what happened next. Street killings were routine; politicians were assassinated on an almost weekly basis. The left was blamed for the chaos, and anti-Semitism escalated for the same reason: several prominent leaders of the left were Jewish. Then came the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in June, 1919. Robert Gerwarth, in “The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), emphasizes the whiplash effect that the treaty had on the defeated Central Powers. As Gerwarth writes, German and Austrian politicians believed that they had “broken with the autocratic traditions of the past, thus fulfilling the key criteria of Wilson’s Fourteen Points for a ‘just peace.’ ” The harshness of the terms of Versailles belied that idealistic rhetoric.

The day after Germany ratified the treaty, Hitler began attending Army propaganda classes aimed at repressing revolutionary tendencies. These infused him with hard-core anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic ideas. The officer in charge of the program was a tragic figure named Karl Mayr, who later forsook the right wing for the left; he died in Buchenwald, in 1945. Mayr described Hitler as a “tired stray dog looking for a master.” Having noticed Hitler’s gift for public speaking, Mayr installed him as a lecturer and sent him out to observe political activities in Munich. In September, 1919, Hitler came across the German Workers’ Party, a tiny fringe faction. He spoke up at one of its meetings and joined its ranks. Within a few months, he had become the leading orator of the group, which was renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

If Hitler’s radicalization occurred as rapidly as this—and not all historians agree that it did—the progression bears an unsettling resemblance to stories that we now read routinely in the news, of harmless-seeming, cat-loving suburbanites who watch white-nationalist videos on YouTube and then join a neo-Nazi group on Facebook. But Hitler’s embrace of belligerent nationalism and murderous anti-Semitism is not in itself historically significant; what mattered was his gift for injecting that rhetoric into mainstream discourse. Peter Longerich’s “Hitler: Biographie,” a thirteen-hundred-page tome that appeared in Germany in 2015, gives a potent picture of Hitler’s skills as a speaker, organizer, and propagandist. Even those who found his words repulsive were mesmerized by him. He would begin quietly, almost haltingly, testing out his audience and creating suspense. He amused the crowd with sardonic asides and actorly impersonations. The musical structure was one of crescendo toward triumphant rage. Longerich writes, “It was this eccentric style, almost pitiable, unhinged, obviously not well trained, at the same time ecstatically over-the-top, that evidently conveyed to his audience the idea of uniqueness and authenticity.”

Above all, Hitler knew how to project himself through the mass media, honing his messages so that they would penetrate the white noise of politics. He fostered the production of catchy graphics, posters, and slogans; in time, he mastered radio and film. Meanwhile, squads of Brown Shirts brutalized and murdered opponents, heightening the very disorder that Hitler had proposed to cure. His most adroit feat came after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, in 1923, which should have ended his political career. At the trial that followed, Hitler polished his personal narrative, that of a simple soldier who had heard the call of destiny. In prison, he wrote the first part of “Mein Kampf,” in which he completed the construction of his world view.

To many liberal-minded Germans of the twenties, Hitler was a scary but ludicrous figure who did not seem to represent a serious threat. The Weimar Republic stabilized somewhat in the middle of the decade, and the Nazi share of the vote languished in the low single-digit figures. The economic misery of the late twenties and early thirties provided another opportunity, which Hitler seized. Benjamin Carter Hett deftly summarizes this dismal period in “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic” (Henry Holt). Conservatives made the gargantuan mistake of seeing Hitler as a useful tool for rousing the populace. They also undermined parliamentary democracy, flouted regional governments, and otherwise set the stage for the Nazi state. The left, meanwhile, was divided against itself. At Stalin’s urging, many Communists viewed the Social Democrats, not the Nazis, as the real enemy—the “social fascists.” The media got caught up in pop-culture distractions; traditional liberal newspapers were losing circulation. Valiant journalists like Konrad Heiden tried to correct the barrage of Nazi propaganda but found the effort futile, because, as Heiden wrote, “the refutation would be heard, perhaps believed, and definitely forgotten again.”

Hett refrains from poking the reader with too many obvious contemporary parallels, but he knew what he was doing when he left the word “German” out of his title. On the book’s final page, he lays his cards on the table: “Thinking about the end of Weimar democracy in this way—as the result of a large protest movement colliding with complex patterns of elite self-interest, in a culture increasingly prone to aggressive mythmaking and irrationality—strips away the exotic and foreign look of swastika banners and goose-stepping Stormtroopers. Suddenly, the whole thing looks close and familiar.” Yes, it does.

What set Hitler apart from most authoritarian figures in history was his conception of himself as an artist-genius who used politics as his métier. It is a mistake to call him a failed artist; for him, politics and war were a continuation of art by other means. This is the focus of Wolfram Pyta’s “Hitler: Der Künstler als Politiker und Feldherr” (“The Artist as Politician and Commander”), one of the most striking recent additions to the literature. Although the aestheticizing of politics is hardly a new topic—Walter Benjamin discussed it in the nineteen-thirties, as did Mann—Pyta pursues the theme at magisterial length, showing how Hitler debased the Romantic cult of genius to incarnate himself as a transcendent leader hovering above the fray. Goebbels’s propaganda harped on this motif; his diaries imply that he believed it. “Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple,” he wrote.

The true artist does not compromise. Defying skeptics and mockers, he imagines the impossible. Such is the tenor of Hitler’s infamous “prophecy” of the destruction of the European Jews, in 1939: “I have often been a prophet, and have generally been laughed at. . . . I believe that the formerly resounding laughter of Jewry in Germany has now choked up in its throat. Today, I want to be a prophet again—if the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” Scholars have long debated when the decision to carry out the Final Solution was made. Most now believe that the Holocaust was an escalating series of actions, driven by pressure both from above and from below. Yet no order was really necessary. Hitler’s “prophecy” was itself an oblique command. In the summer of 1941, as hundreds of thousands of Jews and Slavs were being killed during the invasion of the Soviet Union, Goebbels recalled Hitler remarking that the prophecy was being fulfilled in an “almost uncanny” fashion. This is the language of a connoisseur admiring a masterpiece. Such intellectual atrocities led Theodor W. Adorno to declare that, after Auschwitz, to write poetry is barbaric.

Hitler and Goebbels were the first relativizers of the Holocaust, the first purveyors of false equivalence. “Concentration camps were not invented in Germany,” Hitler said in 1941. “It is the English who are their inventors, using this institution to gradually break the backs of other nations.” The British had operated camps in South Africa, the Nazis pointed out. Party propagandists similarly highlighted the sufferings of Native Americans and Stalin’s slaughter in the Soviet Union. In 1943, Goebbels triumphantly broadcast news of the Katyn Forest massacre, in the course of which the Soviet secret police killed more than twenty thousand Poles. (Goebbels wanted to show footage of the mass graves, but generals overruled him.) Nazi sympathizers carry on this project today, alternately denying the Holocaust and explaining it away.

The magnitude of the abomination almost forbids that it be mentioned in the same breath as any other horror. Yet the Holocaust has unavoidable international dimensions—lines of influence, circles of complicity, moments of congruence. Hitler’s “scientific anti-Semitism,” as he called it, echoed the French racial theorist Arthur de Gobineau and anti-Semitic intellectuals who normalized venomous language during the Dreyfus Affair. The British Empire was Hitler’s ideal image of a master race in dominant repose. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a Russian forgery from around 1900, fuelled the Nazis’ paranoia. The Armenian genocide of 1915-16 encouraged the belief that the world community would care little about the fate of the Jews. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hitler spoke of the planned mass murder of Poles and asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?” The Nazis found collaborators in almost every country that they invaded. In one Lithuanian town, a crowd cheered while a local man clubbed dozens of Jewish people to death. He then stood atop the corpses and played the Lithuanian anthem on an accordion. German soldiers looked on, taking photographs.

The mass killings by Stalin and Hitler existed in an almost symbiotic relationship, the one giving license to the other, in remorseless cycles of revenge. Large-scale deportations of Jews from the countries of the Third Reich followed upon Stalin’s deportation of the Volga Germans. Reinhard Heydrich, one of the chief planners of the Holocaust, thought that, once the Soviet Union had been defeated, the Jews of Europe could be left to die in the Gulag. The most dangerous claim made by right-wing historians during the Historikerstreit was that Nazi terror was a response to Bolshevik terror, and was therefore to some degree excusable. One can, however, keep the entire monstrous landscape in view without minimizing the culpability of perpetrators on either side. This was the achievement of Timothy Snyder’s profoundly disturbing 2010 book, “Bloodlands,” which seems to fix cameras in spots across Eastern Europe, recording wave upon wave of slaughter.

As for Hitler and America, the issue goes beyond such obvious suspects as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model,” with its comparative analysis of American and Nazi race law, joins such previous studies as Carroll Kakel’s “The American West and the Nazi East,” a side-by-side discussion of Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum; and Stefan Kühl’s “The Nazi Connection,” which describes the impact of the American eugenics movement on Nazi thinking. This literature is provocative in tone and, at times, tendentious, but it engages in a necessary act of self-examination, of a kind that modern Germany has exemplified.

The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. In 1856, an Oregonian settler wrote, “Extermination, however unchristianlike it may appear, seems to be the only resort left for the protection of life and property.” General Philip Sheridan spoke of “annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction.” To be sure, others promoted more peaceful—albeit still repressive—policies. The historian Edward B. Westermann, in “Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars” (Oklahoma), concludes that, because federal policy never officially mandated the “physical annihilation of the Native populations on racial grounds or characteristics,” this was not a genocide on the order of the Shoah. The fact remains that between 1500 and 1900 the Native population of U.S. territories dropped from many millions to around two hundred thousand.

America’s knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be “our Mississippi,” he said. “Europe—and not America—will be the land of unlimited possibilities.” Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands—tens of millions of them—would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels’s less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy—an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.

American eugenicists made no secret of their racist objectives, and their views were prevalent enough that F. Scott Fitzgerald featured them in “The Great Gatsby.” (The cloddish Tom Buchanan, having evidently read Lothrop Stoddard’s 1920 tract “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy,” says, “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged.”) California’s sterilization program directly inspired the Nazi sterilization law of 1934. There are also sinister, if mostly coincidental, similarities between American and German technologies of death. In 1924, the first execution by gas chamber took place, in Nevada. In a history of the American gas chamber, Scott Christianson states that the fumigating agent Zyklon-B, which was licensed to American Cyanamid by the German company I. G. Farben, was considered as a lethal agent but found to be impractical. Zyklon-B was, however, used to disinfect immigrants as they crossed the border at El Paso—a practice that did not go unnoticed by Gerhard Peters, the chemist who supplied a modified version of Zyklon-B to Auschwitz. Later, American gas chambers were outfitted with a chute down which poison pellets were dropped. Earl Liston, the inventor of the device, explained, “Pulling a lever to kill a man is hard work. Pouring acid down a tube is easier on the nerves, more like watering flowers.” Much the same method was introduced at Auschwitz, to relieve stress on S.S. guards.

When Hitler praised American restrictions on naturalization, he had in mind the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed national quotas and barred most Asian people altogether. For Nazi observers, this was evidence that America was evolving in the right direction, despite its specious rhetoric about equality. The Immigration Act, too, played a facilitating role in the Holocaust, because the quotas prevented thousands of Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, from reaching America. In 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference on the plight of European refugees; this was held in Évian-les-Bains, France, but no substantive change resulted. The German Foreign Office, in a sardonic reply, found it “astounding” that other countries would decry Germany’s treatment of Jews and then decline to admit them.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans died fighting Nazi Germany. Still, bigotry toward Jews persisted, even toward Holocaust survivors. General George Patton criticized do-gooders who “believe that the Displaced person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals.” Leading Nazi scientists had it better. Brian Crim’s “Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State” (Johns Hopkins) reviews the shady history of Wernher von Braun and his colleagues from the V-2 program. When Braun was captured, in 1945, he realized that the Soviets would become the next archenemy of the American military-industrial complex, and cannily promoted the idea of a high-tech weapons program to ward off the Bolshevik menace. He was able to reconstitute most of his operation Stateside, minus the slave labor. Records were airbrushed; de-Nazification procedures were bypassed (they were considered “demoralizing”); immigration was expedited. J. Edgar Hoover became concerned that Jewish obstructionists in the State Department were asking too many questions about the scientists’ backgrounds. Senator Styles Bridges proposed that the State Department needed a “first-class cyanide fumigating job.”

These chilling points of contact are little more than footnotes to the history of Nazism. But they tell us rather more about modern America. Like a colored dye coursing through the bloodstream, they expose vulnerabilities in the national consciousness. The spread of white-supremacist propaganda on the Internet is the latest chapter. As Zeynep Tufekci recently observed, in the Times, YouTube is a superb vehicle for the circulation of such content, its algorithms guiding users toward ever more inflammatory material. She writes, “Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” When I did a search for “Hitler” on YouTube the other day, I was first shown a video labelled “Best Hitler Documentary in color!”—the British production “Hitler in Color.” A pro-Hitler remark was featured atop the comments, and soon, thanks to Autoplay, I was viewing contributions from such users as CelticAngloPress and SoldatdesReiches.

In 1990, Vanity Fair reported that Donald Trump once kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. When Trump was asked about it, he said, “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.” Since Trump entered politics, he has repeatedly been compared to Hitler, not least by neo-Nazis. Although some resemblances can be found—at times, Trump appears to be emulating Hitler’s strategy of cultivating rivalries among those under him, and his rallies are cathartic rituals of racism, xenophobia, and self-regard—the differences are obvious and stark. For one thing, Hitler had more discipline. What is worth pondering is how a demagogue of Hitler’s malign skill might more effectively exploit flaws in American democracy. He would certainly have at his disposal craven right-wing politicians who are worthy heirs to Hindenburg, Brüning, Papen, and Schleicher. He would also have millions of citizens who acquiesce in inconceivably potent networks of corporate surveillance and control.

The artist-politician of the future will not bask in the antique aura of Wagner and Nietzsche. He is more likely to take inspiration from the newly minted myths of popular culture. The archetype of the ordinary kid who discovers that he has extraordinary powers is a familiar one from comic books and superhero movies, which play on the adolescent feeling that something is profoundly wrong with the world and that a magic weapon might banish the spell. With one stroke, the inconspicuous outsider assumes a position of supremacy, on a battlefield of pure good against pure evil. For most people, such stories remain fantasy, a means of embellishing everyday life. One day, though, a ruthless dreamer, a loner who has a “vague notion of being reserved for something else,” may attempt to turn metaphor into reality. He might be out there now, cloaked by the blue light of a computer screen, ready, waiting. ♦

Source: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/30/how-american-racism-influenced-hitler

They survived the Holocaust. Now the world is forgetting what they endured.

 Columnist

They have lived so long they are watching the world forget.

These Holocaust survivors — who range in age from 79 to 101 — gathered for an annual brunch Sunday in suburban Washington, where they were honored in the twilight of their extraordinary lives for what they had endured and how they had rebuilt in America. There were white rose corsages and boutonnieres, bagels and lox, a nice fruit salad.

But the past was not in the past. Hours before the gathering, a neo-Nazi rally was held in Georgia that ended with the burning of a giant swastika. In August, the Holocaust survivors watched white supremacists and neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville, chanting chilling anti-Semitic messages right out of the Hitler playbook: “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil.”

Edith Mayer Cord, 90, who was born in Vienna and spent her youth hiding and then escaping while family members were taken to Auschwitz, said she never imagined Nazi flags would fly in America in her lifetime. Or that rising anti-Semitism would be part of the national conversation.

“No. I never,” Cord said. “Not in this country.”

“I thought it was finished,” she said.

Yet over the weekend, President Trump tweeted about “Sleepy eyes Chuck Todd,” the NBC “Meet the Press” host who is Jewish. That is one of Trump’s favorite insults for Todd and one of the descriptions that has been hurled at Jews in the past. It has been on horrifying “How to Spot a Jew” lists since World War II and all over racist, white nationalist websites.

Trump has been accused of anti-Semitism before, especially in the wake of Charlottesville. Though the president has Jewish grandchildren, he seems to have lots of sympathy for virulent anti-Semites.

Then there is D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), an elected official right here in the nation’s capital, who wondered aloud last month whether the Rothschilds — a wealthy Jewish banking family often accused of controlling governments — are somehow controlling the weather, too.

After White was accused of rank anti-Semitism, he launched an apology tour and agreed to a guided visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for some much-needed education.

During the tour last week, Washington Post reporter Peter Jamison saw White insist that a woman in a 1935 photo being publicly humiliated and marched through her German town by Nazi stormtroopers was being protected.

One of White’s aides, in front of a photo of the Warsaw Ghetto, likened it to “a gated community.” The patient tour guide told them it was “more like a prison.”

By then, White had ditched his tour and his guides and left the museum without explanation, halfway through the visit.

Then, The Post’s Fenit Nirappil learned that White had given a $500 donation in January at a Nation of Islam event where Louis Farrakhan said, “Powerful Jews are my enemy.”

When Joel Appelbaum began the survivors’ brunch at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville eight years ago, it was in the spirit of honoring the people and their remarkable lives.

There were 50 of them, and very few wanted to talk publicly about their experiences, but they gathered and told small snippets of their stories to tablemates.

That is part of the survival, packing it away. Because how can you live a life of paying bills, doing dishes, raising the kids and sitting at a desk if you keep remembering the Nazi stormtroopers who machine-gunned everyone in the house while you — tiny, terrified you — hid in the closet during the bloodbath? If you keep lingering on the moment when half the people you were with were marched out to the freezing river, shot and thrown into the current when you were just 5 years old? If you remember the packed, hellish train to Auschwitz, during which 70 people in the train car died and you were one of 40 who survived — only to face the horrors of a death camp?

There is a new urgency in remembering those stories.

Two-thirds of American millennials polled did not know what Auschwitz is, and 22 percent had not heard of the Holocaust or were not sure if they had, according to a new survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

In their sunset years, the incredible Maryland survivors are opening up.

A handful of them went to the microphone at the Progress Club in Rockville on Sunday and told small stories they had not told before. Because something has changed in this country.

Not that it is easier.

Josiane Traum, 79, still choked up as she talked about the incredible act of bravery by her mother, Fanny Aizenberg, who lived through all the signature horrors of the Holocaust — from beatings by the Gestapo, to time in Auschwitz as a laborer and medical experiment subject — after giving her little daughter up to people who said they would hide her.

“My mother was so brave,” Traum said. “My mother gave me up and didn’t know if she’d ever see me again. . . . I am really, really lucky.”

They did see each other again. They sat next to each other at the brunch, representing the alpha and omega of the survivors’ age range, 79 and 101.

Aizenberg, the grande dame of the survivor’s group who still volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum once a week, refuses to be called a hero.

“People tell you how they survived? They always ask me, ‘How did you survive?’ ” she said, in between brunch bites. “No one can tell you how they survived.”

“I don’t know how I survived,” she said.

The horrors are so profound. The stories grotesque and cruel, especially when told in a setting of china and stemmed water glasses.

The horrors are not gone. Never has that been clearer with this group than now.

“Nazism isn’t something that just happened one day because of one bad guy,” Cord said. “All of these ideas were there — all he had to do was pick them up.”

All of those ideas are still here. But we must never, ever let anyone pick them all up.

Never again.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/they-survived-the-holocaust-now-the-world-is-forgetting-what-they-endured/2018/04/23/f1d94500-4704-11e8-8b5a-3b1697adcc2a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2e8df71da96

 

Polish nationalists seek probe of Rivlin for saying Poland played Holocaust role

Group asks prosecutors to check whether Israeli president broke new controversial law when, speaking at Auschwitz, he said Poland enabled Nazi genocide

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, left, and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, center, walk in the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — A Polish nationalist group has asked prosecutors to investigate whether Israeli President Reuven Rivlin broke a new Holocaust speech law during a visit to Poland last week.

The National Movement says it believes the Israeli leader might have violated legislation that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or state for the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II.

The group’s vice president, Krzysztof Bosak, said it formally filed its request to prosecutors on Tuesday.

He said the matter concerns Rivlin telling his Polish counterpart during commemorations at Auschwitz last Thursday that Poland enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide.

Rivlin told Polish president Andrjez Duda last week that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination, and that Poland as country played a role.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging the recently passed legislation.

Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

Bosak acknowledged his group was testing the law, which is not being enforced in practice after sparking a dispute with Israel.

The Israeli president noted that Israel honors those Poles who gave their own lives to save Jews, but pointed out the widespread anti-Semitism that existed in Holocaust-era Poland and the fact that many Poles also participated in the extermination.

“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.

“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda.

“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”

Addressing the recent controversy over the Holocaust legislation, Duda admitted “there is great disagreement” on the matter but reiterated that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”

One key paragraph of the new law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

But last month, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/polish-nationalists-seek-probe-of-rivlin-over-holocaust-remarks/?preview_id=1832154

‘Like a mitzvah’: Italian conductor brings to life music composed in the camps

Francesco Lotoro spent the last 30 years researching music lost in the Holocaust; now he’s performing it with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra

Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro rehearses his concert of reconstructed musical compositions created in the concentration camps, April 8, 2018 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

When the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra performs a selection of reconstructed music composed by Holocaust victims next week in Jerusalem, it will feel like the fulfillment of a mitzvah, said Italian conductor Francesco Lotoro, using the Hebrew word for a meritorious act.

“To play this music feels like a reparation for me,” said Lotoro. “Each Jew is said to have a book in them. These victims didn’t get the chance to write their books, but this is their book; it’s a testament to what they would have done.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Lotoro began a laborious process of researching works of music composed in the concentration camps, delving into the lives and thoughts of the victims who found ways to write lyrics and compose scores.

Lotoro has since discovered 8,000 pieces of music composed by Jews in the concentration and work camps, and has reconstructed some 400 of them. He has published a set of 24 discs called the “Encyclopedia of Music Composed in Concentration Camps.”

On Sunday, Lotoro arrived in Ashdod’s Yad Labanim auditorium for a morning of rehearsals for “Notes of Hope,” the upcoming April 15 concert featuring the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

The project is spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund in the United Kingdom, with the goal of celebrating Israel’s 70th and raising awareness of increasing levels of global anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

The British non-profit also funds two music schools in Israel’s south, and some of those young musicians will be performing alongside the more senior members of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra.

Francesco Lotoro, the Italian conductor and pianist, who has spent 30 years researching music composed in the concentration camps (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

During Sunday’s morning rehearsal, Lotoro was busy working with the musicians, introducing pieces to the orchestra with a brief bio of the composer. He sprang into action with each composition, waving his hands and muttering the tune or words, if there were any, sotto voce.

The pieces vary widely in sound and genre. There are classical works heavy on violins and cello, joyous, big-band scores full of horns and the sounds of ragtime, and a piercing, emotional work of Greek music.

For the sparse audience at the rehearsal, there was a sense of wonder in imagining what it must have been like for the camp inmates who composed these works while undergoing Nazi torture. Yet for the musicians, it was the usual cacophony of perfecting sounds and handling logistics.

A pair of preteen violinists approached Lotoro about where they were sitting, while an accordion player wanted to be sure he was getting the right sound on one section.

Lotoro is the right person to ask. He reconstructed these compositions based on materials he found, scouring secondhand stores, attic drawers and dusty archives.

“When I would find sheets of music in a museum, okay, it’s there,” he said. “But sometimes survivors or their family would find a song, but no score. One woman had recordings, and I made a master of that and then had to figure out the score.”

Sometimes survivors could remember a piano piece, which Lotoro would then recreate from their humming the tune or singing the lyrics. Sometimes there written pieces that had disintegrated, eaten by insects, or had been written in pencil that had become nearly invisible.

A composer might have written notes quickly and roughly, leaving markings and notes that Lotoro painstakingly transcribed into something akin to a musical score.

In a German labor camp, Ervin Schulhoff, a Jewish Czech communist who loved jazz and ragtime, included three cryptic sets of horizontal markings in a piece of 10 verses he composed. After conferring with another musicologist, Lotoro figured out that the markings stood for Lenin, Stalin and Marx, the three Communist leaders.

One of the discovered works, Rudolf Karel’s ‘Nonet’ scrawled on toilet paper (Courtesy Francesco Lotoro)

“Each one of them had their histories, and their lyrics and scores referenced all of that,” he said. “They couldn’t use their mother tongues in the camps — that was prohibited — and that also altered what they wrote.”

Lotoro’s involvement in this piece of Holocaust history began when, in his work as a pianist and conductor, he happened upon several pieces of music composed by concentration camp victims, exposing him to an area of research that hadn’t been examined closely at that time.

“There was no internet, no iPhones,” he said. “I was curious, and that meant traveling to the cities where these composers had lived, to Prague, to Paris, to Holland.”

His research focused on a period beginning in 1933, when Jews in Germany began experiencing Nazi persecution, and continuing through 1944, when the Germans began to lose World War II.

It wasn’t an obvious area of research for Lotoro, 53, who was raised as an  Italian Catholic in Barletta on the Adriatic coast, a place of maybe “300 Jews,” he said, holding up three fingers.

Yet from the age of 15, Lotoro felt he had a Jewish soul. He had, on his own, begun a process of Jewish study, eventually converting to Judaism in 2004. He later discovered that his great-grandfather was Jewish.

The Holocaust research happened alongside his drawn-out conversion process. Over the last 30 years, Lotoro has spent months on the project, recruiting friends and family as well, traveling to many countries, searching homes and attics, archives and libraries.

“I didn’t do this because I was becoming a Jew,” he said. “As a musicologist, I was interested in the music. But as a Jew, this feels like a mitzvah.”

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/like-a-mitzvah-italian-conductor-brings-to-life-music-composed-in-the-camps/

PA TV presents image of Nazi camp victims as taken from ‘Deir Yassin massacre’

Original picture, photographed right after liberation of Nordhausen, edited to exclude images of corpses in striped uniforms

A doctored image of Jewish Holocaust victims portrayed by Palestinian television in April 2018 as an image of Arab victims of the "Deir Yassin massacre" in 1948 (PMW)

The Palestinian Authority’s official television station misappropriated a photo showing dead bodies at a Nazi concentration camp, presenting them as Arabs killed by Jews in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

In an April 9 report on the 70th anniversary of the Deir Yassin events, Palestine TV used an image from the Nazi camp at Nordhausen, originally a subcamp of Buchenwald, to describe what took place at the Arab village in 1948, the Palestinian Media Watch group said Wednesday.

The Palestinians refer to those events as the “Deir Yassin massacre,” a term used repeatedly in the PA TV report. The village was located at the entrance to Jerusalem, where the Givat Shaul neighborhood stands today.

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During the incident, fighters from the Jewish Irgun and Lehi groups entered the town and, in house-to-house fighting, killed many of its residents, including women and children. The death toll is disputed: while the Israeli fighters said they had killed some 254, other counts put that figure at as low as 107.

The original picture, which was taken right after liberation of the concentration camp by the American army, was “carefully distorted” by Palestine TV so that the images of the corpses in the striped uniforms, the American soldiers and the concentration camp buildings were not seen, PMW said.

An image of Jewish Holocaust victims that Palestinian television doctored and presented as an image of Arab victims of the Deir Yassin killings in 1948 (PMW)

The following caption was added by Palestine TV: “When they killed and mutilated the bodies of 250 women, children and elderly residents.” The caption refers to the events at Deir Yassin.

The TV video also included a photo of victims of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugees camps in Lebanon. Then, hundreds of Palestinians were slaughtered by Christian militiamen. The photo of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre was also misrepresented as showing Arabs killed by Jews in Deir Yassin.

The Palestine TV video also included a photo with the following text printed on the screen: “And [the Jews] burned the women and children in the village’s oven.”

On Thursday, Israel will mark Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, to pay tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust, including at Nazi concentration camps like Nordhausen.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/pa-tv-presents-image-of-nazi-camp-victims-as-taken-from-deir-yassin-massacre/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=af0e915820-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-af0e915820-55812549

Israel solemnly remembers 6 million victims on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Israel solemnly remembers 6 million victims on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In first, Kastner honored at Knesset Holocaust Remembrance Day event

Parliament defends right for Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, accompanied by mother, to dedicate candle-lighting to her controversial grandfather accused of Nazi-collaboration

Suzi Kastner (C) lights a memorial candle in the Knesset for her father, Israel Rudolf Kastner at the parliament’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Her daughter, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, is pictured on the right (Knesset spokesperson’s office/Yonatan Sindel)

Six decades after the deeply controversial trials over his negotiations with high-ranking Nazis and his subsequent assassination, Yisrael Rudolf Kastner was honored during the Knesset’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday, in the presence of the prime minister, Knesset speaker, opposition leader, and head of the Supreme Court.

Kastner’s daughter, Suzi, and granddaughter, Zionist Union lawmaker Merav Michaeli, lit a candle at the official parliament ceremony for the former Budapest Zionist leader, who both rescued nearly 1,700 Jews during the war and later testified on behalf of prominent SS officers in the Nuremberg trials.

The Knesset, in a statement, defended Michaeli’s right to dedicate the candle to her grandfather. Six Knesset representatives and employees, accompanied by survivors, lit candles at the memorial event.

“The Knesset never has and never will hold personal ceremonies for people killed in the Holocaust or survivors,” it said. “The Knesset members who go up to light a memorial candle tend to dedicate the candle to a family member who was killed or survived the Holocaust and no one in the Knesset can dictate to the Knesset member who they may honor with their memorial candle.

“It is flawed and immoral to try and determine who is more or less worthy among the survivors and victims,” the Knesset said. “Certainly the Knesset won’t act this way, and one must hope that others will also respect the Holocaust and the sanctity of the ceremony.”

Likud minister Ofir Akunis stepped out the hall in protest when Michaeli and her mother stood up to light the candle.

A Likud youth activist group on Tuesday had sent a letter expressing “disgust and disappointment” over the honor, citing Kastner’s actions “to save Nazi murderers, including mass murderer Kurt Becher, from the noose” and his “controversial actions during the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz chimneys.”

But otherwise, little protest was registered over the inclusion of the former Hungarian Jewish journalist turned-Israeli official, who was defended by the State of Israel in the now-infamous 1954 libel case over accusations of Nazi collaboration.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Holocaust ceremony held at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament in Jerusalem, April 12, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sixty-four years ago, the State of Israel brought libel charges against pamphleteer and Hungarian-Israeli Jew Malchiel Gruenwald, over claims Kastner had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The case ultimately served as a searing indictment of Kastner’s activities during the Holocaust in his dealings with high-ranking Nazi officers, with Halevy accusing him of “selling his soul to the devil.”

The main characters in the high-stakes courtroom drama would also go on to have ties to the Knesset: The defense attorney cross-examining Kastner, Shmuel Tamir, became justice minister under Likud’s Menachem Begin, and the judge, Benjamin Halevy, also later became a Knesset lawmaker.

The Supreme Court in 1958 cleared Kastner of all the collaboration charges handed down by Halevy, and said he was solely motivated in his dealings with the Nazis by the rescue of Jews from their deaths.

The justices, however, unanimously established that Kastner had testified on behalf of Becher at Nuremberg in a perjurious affidavit, resulting in the senior SS officer’s exoneration. (In his statement to the tribunal, Kastner maintained Becher tried to save Jews and attested to his “good intentions.” The Israeli justice system, however, determined Kastner was well-aware of the Nazi plans for the genocide of the Jews. Kastner also lied to the Jerusalem court about his Nuremberg testimony. Becher died in 1995. He was never tried.)

The exoneration by the Supreme Court came too late for Kastner, however, who was assassinated by right-wing extremists in 1957.

Defenders of Kastner maintain that he, in an impossible moral position, used his ties with the Nazis to save Jews, and point to the outcome in the form of the so-called Kastner Train — nearly 1,700 Jews taken to safety in Switzerland.

His critics, meanwhile, say those Kastner saved were friends and relatives, as well as other prominent Jews. They charge that the remainder of Hungarian Jews were actively duped by Kastner, who was aware of the Final Solution and the Auschwitz gas chambers, but did not inform the local community, thus preventing attempts to organize resistance efforts or flee en masse across the border, and thereby facilitating the mass deportations to Auschwitz that resulted in the decimation of most of Hungarian Jewry.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-first-kastner-honored-at-knesset-holocaust-remembrance-day-event/

Poles helped in Nazi extermination, Rivlin tells Polish counterpart

Israel’s president says Warsaw has witnessed a ‘wave of anti-Semitism’ sparked by law criminalizing mention of complicity in Holocaust

President Reuven Rivlin, center, and Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, left, participate in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site in Poland, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

On Polish soil, President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart, Andrjez Duda, on Thursday that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said during a joint press conference with Duda in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging recently passed legislation that criminalized the mention of complicity by the Polish state in the Holocaust.

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The president noted that Israel honors those Poles who gave their own lives to save Jews, but pointed out the widespread anti-Semitism that existed in Holocaust-era Poland and the fact that many Poles also participated in the extermination.

“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda (R) and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin (L) arrive to attend the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim on April 12, 2018 (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich history, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda.

“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”

For his part, Duda welcomed his Israeli counterpart to Poland. “Our meeting today is a great honor, but also of course a testimony to the enormity of the disaster that happened here,” Duda said.

The Polish president acknowledged that “three million Jews were murdered in Poland in the Holocaust” and assured Rivlin that Poland “will never forget them.”

Addressing the recent controversy over the Holocaust legislation, Duda admitted “there is great disagreement” on the matter but reiterated that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”

Rivlin’s own words ahead of the annual March of the Living from Auschwitz barracks to the Birnenau death camp, which he led, echoed a speech he gave the previous evening in Israel at a state ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance eve.

He asserted that no country can “legislate the forgetting” of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, in what ostensibly was meant to be a jab at Warsaw.

“We do not expect European countries to pass on to the younger generation a sense of guilt. However, we do expect and demand that they pass on the torch of memory and responsibility,” he said.

Rivlin used similar rhetoric during the Thursday press conference, telling Duda that “cooperation between Israel, Poland, and the Jewish people on remembrance and memorial, in education and research is the way to pass the torch of remembrance and responsibility to the next generations.”

Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

A group of Panama youth visit the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz ahead of the yearly March of the Living, a Holocaust remembrance march, in Oswiecim, Poland on April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

But last month, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.

Source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/poland-and-poles-helped-in-nazi-extermination-rivlin-tells-polish-counterpart/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=af0e915820-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-af0e915820-55812549