There’s a terrible irony to the denial-minded Holocaust Conference going on today in Iran — an irony so bitter it feels almost delicious, and certainly forbidden.
You see, for many Jews like myself, the impossible image of a world where the Nazi slaughter never happened is a secret fantasy, a dark dream where we sometimes reside. Feelings of guilt and self-hatred related to the Jewish slaughters of World War II have become an evergreen obsession among Jews of every generation in every country in the world, and we all sometimes yearn for a fantasy world where “it never happened”, where our children won’t ever have to hear about it.
The problem is the secret formula that every Jewish kid figures out at some point: “they tried to kill us, so we must deserve it. There is something despicable about us” — whether this thing is genetic, learned or karmic or most often a combination of the three — “and we deserve to die”. This myth cuts deep into the consciousness of many westernized Jews, especially those in safe countries (and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this explains a lot about Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Roseanne Barr, Larry David and many others).
Holocaust myths? Yeah, there are plenty around, and if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to start investigating myths about the Holocaust I think I’d like to knock a couple down too.
The biggest myth is that Hitler’s Holocaust represents a uniquely terrible moment in human history. The sad truth is that it was no such thing. It was not the deadliest genocide of the 20th Century, for instance — Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong both arranged for the deaths of greater numbers of their own citizens in order to reduce unsupportable populations. It was not the most efficient Holocaust — it took many years for Eichmann’s Aryan bureaucrats to kill millions of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and others, while the Hutus of Rwanda killed a million Tutsis in a single month in 1994. It wasn’t the only Holocaust aimed at wiping an entire ethnic group off the face of the earth (the Turkish government tried the same thing in 1915, murdering one and a half million Armenians).
Here’s the really bleak truth: Genocide is cheap. Genocide is easy. Genocide R Us. Read today’s paper and catch up on the growing Holocaust in Darfur. Look at the bombings between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. I’m not even talking about Bosnia and Serbia and Kosovo, or Cambodia, or the the Belgian Congo, or the Native Americans. Can’t tell your genocides without a program …
There are a lot of Holocaust myths, and if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran wants to examine what happened in Europe between 1933 and 1945 I think he’s going to find out more than he wants to know.
How should American Jews react to the news of this conference of Holocaust deniers, which includes American Idiot David Duke? It sure is offensive (I’d like to go there and tell them how I personally know that the Holocaust happened — because Grandma Clara had no family). But it doesn’t do much good to get offended, so I say we wish them good luck, because genocide is a big topic for all of us to think about, and they might even learn something. They are entering the realm of study Joseph Conrad referred to as the Heart of Darkness, and it sure is dark in there. Not just for Jews, either.