Mercy, Mercy, Don’t You Wish Sometimes Your Heart Was Made Of Stone?

It’s easy to forget the reality of human capacity for great evil in our meme-drenched, A.D.D. ‘culture’ [sic]. The only difference today and 1999 and sock puppets? ‘Brandistas’ are the new celebrities. Pepsi is hiring ‘social networking’ brand gunslingers to make things like Quaker Oats cereal ‘vital to the conversation’ by glomming on a social website or game ‘experience.’ To oat meal?

Contrary to Chuck Todd’s anxious, sleepless worries, the NYT’s claim the Internet makes America dumb is wrong. Internet gadgets don’t make Americans stupid. They just expose and *validate* the always present American thirst for passive consumption of frivolity. (And media types, you especially).

Contemporary Israel’s tragic emulation of its forebearers’ Greatest Enemy over the past decades becomes even more unintelligible in this milieu. The barrage of ‘defensive actions’, new settlements, protest images, tweets, yelling on TV perfect for today’s collective miasma. Understanding and knowledge that Israel’s security is perversely undermined buried. That Israel undermines American strategic interest in the region not even in the mix (although Petraeus got about 15 minutes raising it months ago).

So it is, too, with Helen Thomas’ remarks about the origins of the Zionist movement in Europe and how Ashkenazi Jews helped establish the State of Israel (we’ll lump in some Sephardic as well there). Instead, Colbert cajoles Helen Thomas to eat 50 hamburgers. No adult analysis of what really happened to Jews in Europe, Western, Central, Eastern and the former Soviet Union. Just celebration of the faux pas.

What ‘Why Don’t They Go Back To Where They Came From’ Means

Timothy Snyder offers an antidote in The New York Review of Books, writing on Christopher R. Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi-Slave Labor Camp. What history tells us if we will listen is that even today the real scale of anti-Semetic eliminationism is carefully buried. Here, Synder describes Browning’s exhaustive interviews with almost 300 Jewish survivors from the town Wierzbnik. From there, Synder weaves in the bloody, murderous and tragically duplicitous relationship among Polish nationalist forces, widespread anti-Semitism and initial Jewish cooperation with German occupiers against Polish nationalists for revenge.

It’s heartbreaking reading. Trebly so because this so-called ‘micro history’ of Wierzbnik is so common throughout Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, France – in short anywhere even faintly associated with ‘Western Civilization.’ (We’ll exclude Poland and the East from the full Enlightenment). The native population in almost all these Nazi-occupied territories featured political factions and leaders as indifferent to or as dedicated to the genocide as the tightest of Himmler’s SS circles (a secret he unleashed on the whole Nazi Party at Poznan in 1943 in a ‘we are all in this together and the boats are burned’ speech, a speech Speer spent the rest of his life trying to pretend he never heard).

We’ve never embraced Daniel Goldhagens ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’ completely from the last decade. His thesis that ordinary Germans knew and approved of genocide because of centuries of viral preparation is we think factually untrue regarding deeper history. He also misrepresents in convenient ways what happened 1933-1945. Even so, the German genocide against the Jews was initially popular with many in occupied lands from Brest to Tula. Empirically undeniable. It’s also true that there was great heroism and self-sacrifice for and by Jews. In the case of Poland, Snyder argues persuasively that the Home Army featured anti-Semitic elements, practiced anti-Semitic policies and came very late to the game realizing the genocide meant more than a political morsel to feed London and Washington.

Said in such broad sweeping language, it’s almost anodyne to the subject. So we’ll close with Synder’s heart wrenching reality check:

By the time the Red Army finally reached Warsaw in January 1945, the Wierzbnik Jews, Łódz´ Jews, and other Jews were being marched from Auschwitz to labor camps in Germany, where they would remain until the end of the war. This ordeal was deadlier for the Wierzbnik Jews than Starachowice [and arms factory town – LS ] and Auschwitz; hundreds died in a matter of a few months. After the Red Army took Berlin in May, Polish- Jewish survivors found their way to displaced-persons camps in Germany. A few dozen Wierzbnik Jews were able to return to Poland and their hometown, where they were greeted with ugly threats from the Poles who had stolen their houses. In June a few returning Wierzbnik Jews were murdered by Poles. One Jew was beheaded. In Poland as a whole, hundreds of Jews were murdered by Poles in the months after the war was over . . .

Snyder concludes with a palette of grey, trying to show the Polish Home Army wasn’t truly anti-semetic. It is a complex historical record. He also knows complete rehabilitation via white wash has been tried, worn out and now pointless:

Though the record of the Home Army toward Jews is ambivalent, the dark legend must be abandoned. Important as Jewish testimonial material is to the history of the Holocaust, the recollections of Jews who spent years in camps cannot serve as the basis for historical reckonings with the Home Army. If its history were to be written from Jewish perspectives, these would have to include those of people such as Chaja and Estera Borenstein, who volunteered as nurses at the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising, or Marian Mendenholc, who died trying to rescue Polish comrades right at its very end. It would have to allow for the experiences of Jews such as Stanisław Aronson. Fighting in the most celebrated unit of the Home Army in the Warsaw Uprising, Aronson stormed Umschlagplatz, from which he himself had been deported to Treblinka two years before. Then he and his Polish comrades liberated a concentration camp on the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, and freed several hundred Jews.

One town in Poland. Helen Thomas’s off the cuff comments – however ill-considered and born of frustration – deserve rebuke. But not by Colbert’s hamburgers. With the historical truth of ‘back there’ and evil. True, the Israelis, AIPAC, ADL and the gang devalued that coin through too frequent recourse. Helen Thomas, however, likely would still be sitting front row if she simply asked what was the legal basis for the Gaza blockade and what makes it different from other historical ghettoes.


  1. cato says

    What if Helen had been more precise
    and narrow where she could have expressed
    virtually the same sentiment?

    For instance she could have wedded the
    subsides/rewards/bribes Israel provides
    to those that move to some of the settlements–
    to the fact many are recent arrivals from Europe and Russia.

    She could have argued on strong grounds that it would
    be more just that these arriveste-Israelis should go back from where
    they came–and name the same countries.

    And that Valdimir from Russia changes his name on arrival Israel to
    Moshe to brand the Israeli cryto-rootedness.

    My understanding is that many Israeli’s don’t want to go to the
    settlements some panged with guilt others with safety concerns.

    Unfortunately–the messenger gets killed–but knowing the dynamics
    Helen should have finessed her statement

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Latte, this is intriguing on many levels. Thank you for sharing. Read it several times and find new avenues. If you’d care to elaborate or refine, would be happy to post it for you as a main item for our merry band – that way the work is part of the larger database and remains easier to find and reference. Should it be something of interest.

    And, of course, the offer is open to all of our tight community as well. The site is as much yours as anyone’s. Without the sense of humor and contributions from current and past bunker mates, this site would have become a “Sasha and Malia meet Penguin Island” walled garden social fanbase long ago.

  3. latte says

    I have a lot to say on this, but I’ll spare you the arcana and the bulk of it.
    Short version:
    There is an epic failure of situational perception on the part of the Jewish intellectual elite in the matter of grand strategy. They miss opportunities even more than they miss traps.
    Elaboration(mostly spared) explores some proposals. […] –Zionism is a product (now atavism) and parallel development to Bismarkian statism mated to national identity marketing (racial manufacturing that Warhol would giggle at).
    Radical pluralism (as organizing philosophical principle of a society) has unexplored potential, with benefits obvious to cosmopolitan (mercantile) nomadicisms like Judaism. [… …]
    Under light of such considerations, Israel(the nation state and parcel of land) in the Jewish portfolio loses its dramatic status as the Alamo[…] it’s just not well-placed or even very desirable except for (atavism again) questionable nostalgic or superstitious reasons[…] They almost chose Madagascar or Uganda[…](South Africa glimmers ironically), many simply chose a more modern diaspora (tones of pluralism again).
    There is an urgent esthetic(indiscernable zones shared with ‘moral’; i put the whole continuum under ‘esthetic’ for benefit of objective generalization) issue demanding attention: modalities of cololization? (what is possible? ie what is or how to characterize the field of possibilities in the matter of colonization… methodological hint: try running counterfactuals on the history of English-American colonization 1600-1800…) This may sound like inane, academic, idling but the parameters in play are of supreme importance to the relevant discussions, of which the purveiws are by no means limited to the past or present games in play globally, nor only of the Judaic set’s status in them. […] (some variant of) Colonization is in effect wherever there are mass movements(of people or of capital or of technology). The cosmpopolitan space is of a piece with the capitalist market; or, as D&G would have us know, is the smooth space of the sea or the Native continent always in the process of being striated by colonizations (the mode of the Jew in diaspora/port/grid). But in a property and market system this includes the entire continent/globe, and territory can spring up anywhere; most especially true in the mid-late 21snt century.(?)
    The mundane upshot (tactical indications): the Israeli political establishment needs to be Directed, in no uncertain terms, not by the American political elite but by the Ju(daic) elite/leadership (a global entity(if a global Jewish conspiracy doesn’t exist, why the f_-_ not?! it should exist, and its raison-de-etre is contepmlation and generation of grand strategy for the Judaic diaspora and associated portfolios… completely separate is the issue of whether or not it could be considered a subversive influence to other political entities (Bismarkian paternalist homogenous nation*TM* states on oatmeal schedules?))) (rec non-empty intersection) to play extra extra nice in the that particular neighborhood for the forseeable future(implied strategic posture retreat from visions of lebensraum clear through Jordan(?))… ie speak very softly and develop a formidable deterent force for effective maintenence of credible MAD vs any and all comers (rendering entirety of Iran game off-the-table for the nearterm). The operational justification for this (tactical) posture adjustment is better terms on the international/global scene yielding better long-term returns (via diaspora in pluralistic global milieu) in metrics associated with territory and production.
    […investment psychologies?]

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