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.
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.