Associated Newspapers Ltd., 11th July, 2000:
The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
By Victor Sebestyen
Doctor Norman Finkelstein, a humanities professor at Columbia University in New York, claims some Jewish leaders are exploiting the Holocaust and peddling deliberate lies about Nazi atrocities.
He argues that the pursuit of reparations from Swiss banks and German industrialists for survivors of the death camps is "an outright extortion racket" which will result in an increase of anti-semitism in Europe and America; that the majority of people who claim to have survived the concentration camps are fakes, and that it is time to call a halt to building new Holocaust memorials and museums, such as the exhibition opened by the Queen at the Imperial War Museum last month.
But his most controversial challenge to world Jewry is an attack on the article of faith held by Jews and gentiles throughout the West - that the Holocaust was a unique event that cannot be compared with anything else in history. This belief, argues Finkelstein, which few people dare to challenge, is ruthlessly being used by Jews to justify Israel's appalling human rights record and create an environment of fear where nobody, either in academia or politics, can discuss the Holocaust honestly and rationally.
Only a Jew could have written this book and found a reputable publisher for it. Only a Jew could have been brave enough to call it The Holocaust Industry, a title which in itself will cause offence. If David Irving had made these claims, he might have found himself once again appearing in the Royal Courts of Justice; the leader of US Muslims Louis Farrakhan would have been placed by American public opinion even further beyond the pale and if Jörg Haider had spoken like this, he would have ensured yet harsher EU sanctions against Austria.
Yet it is hard to level against Finkelstein one of the vilest charges that can be made against anybody in a liberal democracy: Holocaust denial. His father and mother were survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and Nazi death camps and all the rest of their family were exterminated at Treblinka. He is a product of the Holocaust, which, he claims, is why he is battling against its use "not to remember Jewish martyrdom, but for the purposes of Jewish aggrandizement".
Finkelstein's tone is often angry and scathing. Sometimes he over-states his case or uses language so far removed from normal academic discourse that some might be tempted to doubt his credentials. But he deserves to be heard, and not only because of his background. He is making some profound points that many younger and more thoughtful Jews have quietly been attempting to debate, but whose voices have been stilled by the establishment, particularly in the US.
The Holocaust, he argues, was barely mentioned in America, or anywhere outside the Jewish State, for the first two decades after the war, when memories were freshest. "I do not remember the Nazi Holocaust ever intruding on my childhood. The main reason for this was that no one outside my family seemed to care about what happened," he says.
It was only after the Six-Day War in 1967 that the Holocaust "industry" began to boom. "I sometimes think that the worst thing that ever happened to the Nazi Holocaust was that American Jewry discovered it."
This "discovery", insists Finkelstein, had nothing to do with fear for the survival of Israel, which after all had spectacularly smashed its enemies in under a week and occupied land along its borders seven times its own size.
The Holocaust was "reinvented" mainly to underpin US strategic interests. Israel became America's surrogate in the Middle-East and the Holocaust was used to justify the alliance and, later, Israel's policy towards its Arab neighbours.
"The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a 'victim state' and the most influential 'ethnic group' in the US has likewise acquired victim status.
"Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood - in particular immunity to criticism, however justified. Those enjoying this immunity have not escaped the moral corruptions that typically attend it."
It was the US Jewish elite which turned the Nazi holocaust into the Holocaust. Here Finkelstein enters his most controversial waters and treads on the most tender sensibilities. Jewish leaders, led by people such as Simon Wiesenthal and Elie Wiesel, argue that the Nazi extermination of the Jews was a unique event - and uniquely irrational. Weisel, for example, has maintained that it is a "religious mystery " unknowable and inexplicable. That, Finkelstein claims viciously, doesn't stop Weisel charging a standard $25,000 plus a chauffeur-driven car on the lecture circuit in an attempt to explain it.
So entrenched is the belief in the uniqueness of Hitler's crimes against the Jews that even to challenge it, according to some powerful academics such as Deborah Lipstadt - victor over David Irving in the libel courts - amounts to Holocaust denial. Yet the conviction is itself irrational, argues Finkelstein. No historical event is unique. And, dangerously, it leads to myth-making and distortion.
The uniqueness claim also gives Jews an undeserved "sovereignty over suffering" and Hitler a place in demonology categorically different from Stalin, Mao Tse Tung or Pol Pot. This political correctness has become so extreme on some campuses that to compare the Nazi death camps with an atrocity such as the slaughter of 10 million Africans in the Congo as a result of the Belgian ivory and rubber trade, is met with accusations of Holocaust denial.
The "industry" has built dozens of Holocaust memorials and museums throughout the world, yet there isn't one to the handicapped victims of Nazism. A higher proportion of Europe's gipsies than Jews were slaughtered claims Finkelstein, and there's no memorial to them. Washington DC has a big Holocaust museum, but nothing for victims of the slave trade or of the genocide against American Indians.
Among the reams of schlock (Finkelstein's word) in Holocaust literature, there are lies - most notoriously Benjamin Wilkomirski's book Partings, written in the Seventies, which became a huge best-seller and a vital text in the "industry". Wilkomirski claimed to have been a child survivor of Auschwitz, when in fact he isn't Jewish and spent the war growing up quietly in Switzerland.
Thousands of others falsely claim to be survivors of death camps, claims Finkelstein. There were, he says, about 100,000 when war ended, and about a quarter died within two months. Yet the "industry" has claimed that since the early Nineties, 10,000 have been dying a month. "It would mean there were eight million in 1945, but there were only seven million Jews in German-occupied Europe before the war."
Finkelstein is most scathing about the business end of the industry. "The current campaign...to extort money from Europe in the name of 'needy Holocaust victims' has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino," he writes. Switzerland and Germany were the target of a "shakedown". After a 15-year battle, the Swiss banks last year agreed to pay more than $200million in compensation for "blood money" allegedly looted from Jewish Holocaust victims before and during the last war. The figure, he argues, was far less than the $7 billion to $20 billion victims had claimed in a series of court actions and probably five times higher than was actually due.
Finkelstein says little of the money will ever be seen by victims; like much of the $12billion compensation paid by Germany over the past 50 years, Jewish organisations will use it to open more museums and set up more departments of Holocaust studies at universities.
In the US, maintains Finkelstein, the Holocaust is "taught" at schools and colleges in far greater depth than the Civil War, the defining moment of US history. The pursuit now of compensation from former Eastern bloc countries such as Poland shows the "industry" has "gone berserk". It could fuel antisemitism that already shows dangerous signs of increasing.
Finkelstein concludes: "The challenge today is to restore the Holocaust as a rational subject of inquiry. Only then can we really learn from it. The abnormality of the Nazi Holocaust springs not from the event itself but from the exploitative industry that has grown around it. The noblest gesture for those who perished is to preserve their memory, learn from their suffering and let them, finally, rest in peace."
It's a stirring call. But peace is the last thing that will break out among Jewry with the publication of this book.
The Holocaust Industry, Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, is published by Verso on 20 July.