The Benefits of the Holocaust for the Jews
The Holocaust and the murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi Germany during World War II was and is till now one of the few genocide attempts, which were precisely organized and planned for total annihilation of the Jews. Many other plans such as this one were attempted before, taking as an example by Alexander the Great, but first: the idea never occurred to Alexander’s mind. Why? Because “the technology of his time did not make such a thought conceivable” (Cargas, 132). So, ethnic violence has not been uncommon in world history, but the Holocaust stands out as the only systematic effort by a modern government to destroy an entire people. Not only Jews were killed by the Nazis but also Slavs, Gypsies, Polish intelligentsia, resistance fighters from all the nations, German opponents of Nazism, homosexuals, Habitual criminals, and the “anti-social” such as beggars, vagrants, and hawkers. Every Jewish community in occupied Europe suffered losses during the Holocaust solely because of the fanatic Nazi belief that they were the carriers of a genetic inheritance that threatened German and Christian values. But how was Adolf Hitler able to convince the German population of his fanatic ideas, how did all this started, and who is responsible for the Holocaust?
Hostility between Christians and Jews is ancient, but “the anti-Semitic bias was [increasing] everywhere in Germany before and especially after the First World War”(Cargas, 16). In the late 19th century many Germans came to see the Jew as the symbol of all they feared: the big city, international finance, secularism, big business, liberalism, and the erosion of traditional ways of life. German nationalism, which was conservative and ethnic, intensified the hostility toward Jews, who were not thought to be part of the German “Volk”. After World War I, when Germany faced political and economic crisis including the raging inflation and the great depression of the 1930s, the Nazi party became the leading German anti-Semitic movement. “Lucy S. Dawidowicz, in her 1975 definitive book, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, states that in the years of 1907 to 1910 [ ], anti-Semitic organizations proliferated, anti-Semitic writing and propaganda poured forth in an unending stream” (Cargas, 16). By the outbreak of World War II, Jews were being excluded from public life, forced to surrender their property, and also boycotted, beaten, imprisoned, and sometimes killed. The idea of the “Final Solution” (Endloesung) began as the German armies moved to the East. While thousands of Jews were murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of discriminatory measures instituted against Jews during the years of the “Third Reich”, the systematic murder of Jews did not begin until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The term “Final Solution” refers to Germany’s plan to murder all the Jews of Europe. Special units began the mass shootings that killed two million Jews, others were driven into ghettos in Polish cities and kept there waiting for their transportation to death camps . Other Jews were killed immediately in gas chambers, their bodies were cremated after their gold teeth, hair, and clothes were taken off.
It all began with Hitler’s appearance on the scene. Drastic steps against the Jews were taken within a matter of days after he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. “But the development and execution of the ‘Final Solution’ under Adolf Eichmann and his fellow executioners came many years later. Consequently, the nagging question remains and recurs: could not the other nations of the earth have done much more than they did to prevent the murder of 6 million Jews?” (Cargas, 18). First of all there is the question of how much knowledge the outside world was permitted to obtain. Once the war began, obtaining information became difficult, but reports, nonetheless, were published regarding the fate of the Jews. Thus, although the Nazis did not publicize the “Final Solution”, less than one year after the systematic murder of the Jews was started, details began to reach the West. While these details were neither complete nor wholly accurate, the Allies were aware of most of what the Germans had done to the Jews at a relatively early date. The response of the Allies to the persecution and destruction of European Jewry was inadequate. “Only in January 1944 was an agency, the War Refugee Board, established for the express purpose of saving the victims of Nazi persecution” (Cargas, 18). But the Allies refused to bomb the death camp of Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to the camp, despite the fact that Allied bombers were at that time engaged in bombing factories near the camp and were well aware of its existence. Moreover, in every country the Germans occupied, with the exception of Denmark and Bulgaria, the Nazis found many locals willing to cooperate fully in the murder of Jews. Despite the difficult conditions to which Jews were subjected, many engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis.
There is always the problem of responsibility; “Who is to be held accountable? How widely must the net of accountability be spread? It includes Hitler. It includes Eichmann. Does it include the guards in the camps, the ‘good Germans’, who only followed orders? Does it include those who knew what was going on and chose to remain silent? Does it include those who feared what was going on and took special pains not to find out? Does it include the Allied high command who, when told what was going on in Auschwitz, still would not give the order to bomb the railroad tracks leading to the death camp?” (Cargas, 84). These questions of responsibility are a major cause for the feeling of guilt that non-Jews have since then.
The Holocaust is said to be the main reason for two different but related phenomenon: First, the growing rage within the Jews of the need to have a homeland of their own. The second: the feeling of guilt and sympathy under which many countries were suffering was one of the main reasons why they helped the Jews create a homeland. Elie Wiesel wrote in one of his novels Dawn, “no longer can the Jews simply be the passive victims of historical fate. They must seize their fate in their own hands [ ] go to Palestine with the guerrilla forces and engage in whatever terrorist activities are necessary to drive out the British and ensure the Establishment of a Jewish State” (Cargas, 87). So, one could see that there is a direct connection between the Holocaust and the creation of Israel. “It is simply impossible to deny the fact that the war ended in 1945 and only three years later the state was declared” said professor Yisrael Gutman, Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian (Chalfen, 2). Other scholars believe that the Israeli state emerged in response to age-old aspirations toward a return to Zion rooted deep inside every Jew, and “came at a moment of history when the Jewish people were under a threat of extinction, when the doors of Christian nations were for the most part closed to them” (Cargas, 106). There are other scholars, who see the Holocaust as the main reason for the “slowing down” of the creation of the State of Israel. Professor Yehuda Bauer, Head of the International Center of Holocaust Studies, believes that, “contrary to conventional wisdom on the subject, the Holocaust almost prevented the establishment of the state” (Chalfen, 1). He explains this by saying that during the Holocaust many Jews were executed, and that this decrease in the number of Jews could have stopped the creation of Israel. But then Bauer concludes that the Holocaust itself did not cause the creation of the state of Israel, rather the impact of the Holocaust did. He said that “the result of the Holocaust was murder” but “the result of escaping this process was the creation of the state” (Chalfen, 1). What other “positive” results could be directly related to the Holocaust?
At the same time with Germany’s great losses of the war and its division that had deep impact on the Germans, the Jews (mainly survivors of the Holocaust) were on their way to creating their own country. The created state -which is sometimes seen as a result of the guilty conscious that the western countries were trying to get rid of- had relations with the Federal Republic based on the background of the Hitler regime’s extermination of the European Jews during World War II. This kind of relation had a strong psychological effect on both; Germans and Jews, which neither has yet been able to overcome completely. Shortly after the division of Germany the Israeli government started mentioning the fact that the Germans have to pay for what they did to the Jews during the Holocaust and for the horrors committed by Hitler and his followers. It was through “compensation” that the relationship between Israel and West Germany began. “The requirement that the Germans must pay compensation to the victims of Nazi oppression, to those, that is, who were physically or economically harmed for reasons of race, creed or nationality” (Lavy, 1). While the German government was more than willing to pay this compensation, German public, emerging from years of starvation and economic ruin, was not eager to take this step since there were other priorities that should come first. Many Germans “felt they had had no part in the destruction of European Jewry and that no blame therefore attached to them” (Lavy, 2). The Israeli public on the other side was not ready for such a relation with the Germans, but the Israeli government saw the compensation offered by West Germany too tempting to be rejected. Israel was not wealthy at that time; it had few natural resources, its land was largely desert, and it was surrounded by neighbors willing to engage in war at any time. Adding to all this the problem of settling thousands of immigrants, who were arriving to Israel every year. So, Israel was not able to reject the compensation, but at the same time secrecy was preserved by the two sides to prevent any discontent by the public. Germans also knew that the Jewish people are not ready for good relations with them. “Official Germany was prepared to exercise patience: the healing process would need time and the Federal Government would not press the issue, but would wait until Israel is ready” (Lavy, 32). Later on, due to political changes and pressures in Israel, politicians there recognized the importance of the West German State and the urgent need to come to terms with it. Step by step the Jews were showing signs of readiness to strengthen the relations with the Germans. The Prime Minister, Moshe Sharett, mentioned in an informal interview “the possibility o a West German consulate in Tel Aviv” (Lavy, 33). In fear of public disagreement he excluded full diplomatic relations for the time being. Later on in early 1956 the Israeli government stated that it no longer objects to the establishment of full diplomatic relations. In the same year West Germany started helping Israel economically, which in one way or another helped increasing Israel’s war potential. So, for some time the German-Israeli relations began to develop all behind the scenes, in a way that was of great importance to the security if not the existence of the Jewish State. The attack on the Suez Canal by Britain, France and Israel all at the same time was met with displeasure by the United States, who cut off arms supplies to the Jewish State. “For Ben-Gurion to exploit the only remaining source, the Federal Republic, was a bold step, fraught with great political danger to his [ ] government” (Lavy, 48). Secret agreements were successfully developing the military relationship between the two countries. When the secret was finally revealed to the public, it paradoxically led to the normalization of official relations between the two states.
West Germany’s effort to establish close relations with Israel was regarded as a symbol for the Germans’ intention to overcome what they did in the past. “By the end of 1961 the value of West German military equipment sent to Israel had reached DM 20 million, a small amount considering what followed later” (Lavy, 53). These payments of large sums of money and the military aid given to the Jewish State are ways by the Germans to win the forgiveness of the Jews for the Holocaust. Yet the Jews always made it clear that ”material restitution could never completely repay such a debt” (Lavy, 72). Recalling an article I read 4 or 5 weeks ago in Al-Ahram about a conversation that went on between an Egyptian and an Israeli, who got to talk together in Sharm El-Shaykh. The conversation was about the bombs still present in the ground of Sinai, which lead to several deaths every year. The Israeli told the Egyptian, that if this was to happen in Israel then the Israelis would have been paid for every single leg, arm and even finger that gets hurt because of these bombs. It is very obvious from this kind of conversation that the Israelis know how to get money. Even if this money will “regretfully” not bring the dead people back, it will help the now living people have a better chance than their predecessors. It seems that the Jews were able to use the Holocaust for realizing their own goals. Back in the 1960s Israeli politicians wished that Germany’s aid would continue “as a mark of the German’s moral debt for the crimes committed against the Jewish people during the Second World War “ (Lavy, 137). As a matter of fact this wish came true and Germans are till this very day paying for the Jews and for what has happened more than 50 years ago.
At the beginning of the 21st century a meeting was held between the Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping in Tel Aviv. At this meeting Barak noted the close ties between Israel and Germany and expressed the gratitude of the Israeli government for Germany’s contribution toward the construction of the navy’s new submarines. “The three submarines were built in shipyards in northern Germany, and two of them were funded by Germany” (Barzilai, 1). Germany is now seen as the second largest supplier of weapons systems, after the United States. Although Germany tries to be as neutral as it could be concerning the weapons sales to the region, it has sold Patriot missile batteries to Israel. Also during the 1998 Gulf war “Germany provided Israel with thousands of gas masks” (Barzilai, 2). There are still many people in Germany today who want to remember the past and are sympathetic towards Israel, and the government even if it does not admit it, is still aware of the moral debt. But with the changes in Europe and the ultimate passing of the Holocaust generation in both countries the relationship is likely one day to become normal in every sense.
As seen above, the Holocaust could be seen not only as a painful memory for the Jews, but as very beneficial to the Jews, especially for their newly established state. This state could not have been established so “easily” if it was not for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was one of the main reasons for the worlds’ acceptance of the idea that the Jews needed a homeland for themselves. The Holocaust also resulted in the constant German and United States constant aids and economic supplies during the past 50 years. Not only this, but the Holocaust was used as an excuse for what the Jews did to the Palestinians since they came to their land. One Egyptian political scientist said that during his stay in the United States for 10 years he learned that propaganda was very important for the Jews. This is a tool they learned from Hitler, who used the same method to have the acceptance and encouragement of the public. The political scientist told me that whenever he heard that the Israelis killed or injured Palestinians, he knew that as soon as he would open the TV he would find three or four documentary films picturing the Holocaust. These films were played to revive the guilt and sympathy within the people and make them see this as an excuse for what the Israelis are doing nowadays to the Palestinians. No denying that the media and the propaganda that comes with it are very important tools nowadays in political life, in justifying certain acts and winning the public opinion. The Jews learned the lesson from Hitler and knew how to use the painful Holocaust for their own benefit. If the Holocaust killed 5,860,000 Jews and wounded several other millions, Jews should not forget that the Holocaust miraculously revived current generations and gave them a homeland of their own and a life better than the one they ever dreamed of.
Barzilai, Ammon. “Ties with Germany will Broaden.” Ha’aretz 11 Jan 2000.
Chalfen, Daniel J. “Was the State of Israel created because of the Holocaust?”
Lavy, George. “Germany and Israel.” Moral Debt and National Interest.
London: Frank Cass, 1996.