The Politics of Suffering

A historian examines who stands to benefit from the history of the Holocaust

Novick's book suggests the possibility for writers to widely question the proper role for the Holocaust in modern politics and culture. Certainly Israel has benefited from the use of the Holocaust, and certainly the Claims Commission is the subject of a lot of animosity from ailing and impatient survivors. So, too, there may be too much fascination or obsession with the Holocaust as a distinct occurrence. At the same time, it should be noted that the recent annals of Holocaust history have often been written by Christians--in papal encyclicals and anti-Nazi exposés--and in the instruments of pop culture, too. Neither could credibly be called an arm of "the industry."

Yet Finkelstein insists a monopoly is at work. "The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings. This was the main lesson my mother imparted. I never once heard her say: 'Do not compare.' My mother always compared. In the face of the sufferings of African-Americans, Vietnamese and Palestinians, my mother's credo always was: 'We are all holocaust victims.'" If Finkelstein were paying attention, he might have noted the growing scholarly interest in genocide studies, which incorporate the Holocaust and examine cases of mass murder and inhumanity from the Crusades through Armenia and Rwanda. (I chair such an interdisciplinary center at the University of Minnesota.) Too, he may have noted the widespread support to establish a permanent international court to try war crimes.

Challenging "Jewish martyrdom"? Historian Norman Finkelstein
Challenging "Jewish martyrdom"? Historian Norman Finkelstein

Ultimately, The Holocaust Industry is a book with a few truths but even more contradictions. Finkelstein, it seems, has lost his sense of scholarship under a blanket of bias and anomie. And so he now unleashes an argument so flawed that it might ultimately give comfort to Holocaust deniers.

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