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Not entirely convincing
on 10 July 2017
Over the years, I have been interested in the Holocaust as a historical event and have spent (wasted!) quite a lot of time reading the objections to the generally accepted version of this aspect of history. Through my various trawlings through Amazon, I came across this book and note the general appeal it has enjoyed, often with people who express strong objections to the veracity of this history. Of the 60 reviews posted on UK Amazon before this one, only two appear to have given it less than 4 stars. I am therefore going out on a limb and adding to this small number of naysayers.
The initial moment the hackles began to rise on my back was when I read the introductory chapter when Finkelstein describes the Holocaust as a construct (i.e. an idea or theory considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence) rather than a tragic sequence of events. The strange thing is, Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors and does not question the veracity of the Holocaust as history although he does appear at certain points appear to consider that there is some exaggeration.
Despite this, he does not appear to condemn Holocaust deniers. He wrote the book in 2000 and it is clear that he was aware of the libel trial between Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving. However he seems to regard David Irving as being a useful historian who has added to our knowledge of the period. I would say that the wilful misrepresentation of history to suit Irving’s agenda does seriously taint his work. I do take issue with Finkelstein’s view that Deborah Lipstadt is responsible for publicising the existence of Holocaust denial to a wider public. Even before I started taking issue with the subject of denial, I have long been aware (for nearly 40 years) that there have been publications expressing doubts about the Holocaust (actually basically saying it is a Jewish hoax). What Lipstadt was demonstrating was the links between the people who peddle these doubts and their support for Far Right causes and general antipathy to Jews. Her book was actually pretty obscure before Irving sued her. Indeed it was out of print at the time. If anyone has publicised the issue and the massive growth of Holocaust Denial it has been Irving through his taking of legal action against Lipstadt.
Finkelstein refers to a couple of fake Holocaust memoirs at some length and the approval that they continued to hold with members of what Finkelstein calls the Holocaust Industry. I have issues with this too. Firstly, there are fakers with every historical event. Why should the Holocaust be any different? Secondly Finkelstein fails to see that he confounds his own thesis by pointing out that much debunking of fake holocaust memoirs has been done by widely admired historians like Raoul Hilberg, who surely are themselves key parts of this supposed industry. Finkelstein writes about how the “Holocaust Industry” widely praises Daniel Goldhagen’s book “Hitler’s Wiling Executioners” even though the wider academic community containing wide variety of views (including Jewish ones) has largely condemned its contents. The thing is I just don’t buy the notion of a “Holocaust Industry” imposing a specific orthodoxy on these events.
Finkelstein claims that the Nazi holocaust became THE HOLOCAUST after the Six Day War in 1967, which showed that Israel was a stronger state. The impression was that Israel was invoking the Holocaust in some way to legitimise the actions of Israel. Now, I don’t claim to have any special expertise on Israel Palestinian relations nor do I have any interest in taking sides. However, I don’t believe that most of the other people who write so approvingly about this book necessarily have any greater knowledge or understanding than me. Having said that, I do consider that there is a very strong anti-Israel bias. The UN has passed more resolutions against Israel than any of its neighbours. Is Israel’s regime far worse than say, Iraq or Iran? I don’t think so. Whatever Israel’s faults (and I don’t doubt that they exist), I would say that hostility to it is based on anti-Semitism more than any other motivation.
Another stream of concern is the whole notion of reparations for Jews. Maybe Finkelstein is sore because his own mother received so little while the” Holocaust Industry” has extracted huge sums from governments across Europe and from banks in Switzerland and America to give to people who he considers to be less deserving. He might be right in this but I suspect much of this book’s audience are more likely to consider that it is not that the monies have been misapplied: it is more that it has been applied at all. It plays to another stereotype, that Jews are liars and greedy, which I don’t think is Finkelstein’s actual purpose.
Finally, we come to the notions of uniqueness of the Holocaust. Finkelstein seems to imply that Jews have no interest in remembering the other groups that suffered under the Nazis. This does seem a trifle unfair. I note that most holocaust deniers don’t spend much time trying to debunk the genocide of these other groups. The books only concentrate on “The Six Million”, as if it is not worth their while to consider the whole of what happened. There is a distinction. Among educated people, there is little distinction between Jew and gentile. In pre-War Germany (and elsewhere), many Jews held many of the high status jobs (lawyers, doctors and teachers etc) enjoyed by their compatriots. Their Jewishness did not impinge on their work or their loyalty to their nation. Many German Jews had distinguished military careers. Rooting out Jews from Europe was a far more tricky undertaking than dealing with Gypsies, who stood outside German society and did not enjoy the levels of education or employment as Jews.
So, while I think that Finkelstein has interesting things to say, I have found too many things that irritate me and with which I don’t agree.