|Post-war Warsaw, Poland|
On January 30, 2017, The Atlantic published a piece by Deborah Lipstadt about the Trump White House's Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.
The White House statement is not very good. When I read it, it was impossible not to imagine the editor's pen in my hand. The statement opens with a cliché. The first sentence is missing a conjunction and the second sentence contains a split infinitive. I'm pretty sure that whoever wrote the speech wanted to use the verb "prevail," not the adjective "prevalent" in the final sentence. The statement is vague and no one could imagine that it is heartfelt.
The statement does not mention Jews. This struck me as a mistake. Later I learned that the author purposely did not mention Jews. This struck me as disastrous, and stupid.
But I've gone on and on elsewhere about Trump, and I don't want to do that here.
Rather I want to say that Deborah Lipstadt's article, alleging that the Trump White House is engaging in Holocaust denial, is itself a form of denial. Lipstadt is a Holocaust scholar who fought in court against a Holocaust denier. I wish I could admire her more than I can after reading her piece in The Atlantic.
Lipstadt writes that anyone who mentions non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust is maligning Jews and engaging in Holocaust denial: "Underlying this claim [that non-Jews suffered under the Nazis and that they should be mentioned] is the contention that the Jews are 'stealing' the Holocaust for themselves. It is a calumny founded in anti-Semitism."
This is an utterly outrageous statement. Lipstadt is close to accusing anyone who remembers non-Jewish suffering under the Nazis of a thought crime.
Lipstadt writes, "There were indeed millions of innocent people whom the Nazis killed in many horrific ways, some in the course of the war and some because the Germans perceived them—however deluded their perception—to pose a threat to their rule. They suffered terribly. But that was not the Holocaust. The Holocaust was something entirely different. It was an organized program with the goal of wiping out a specific people."
Poles were similarly targeted for extinction. Hitler's "Armenian quote" is famous. "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
Poles, like Jews, had been at the receiving end of centuries of aggression and stereotyping. Otto von Bismarck's quote about eliminating Poles is notorious. It has been translated in various ways. Here's one translation, "Hit the Poles so hard that they despair of their life; I have full sympathy with their condition, but if we want to survive, we can only exterminate them; the wolf, too, cannot help having been created by God as he is, but people shoot him for it if they can."
German aggression against Poles was part of a centuries-long process, drang nach osten.
Poles did not lose as large a percentage of their population as Jews did. That is a fact. It is also true that millions of Poles met fates comparable to that of millions of Jews: exile, impoverishment, deportation, torture, medical experimentation, or death. Poland lost huge stretches of territory and it was delivered, by its former allies, into the hands of the Soviet Empire and remained there for two generations after the war.
In saying these things, I am not a Holocaust denier. I am not accusing Jews of anything. I am merely stating historical reality.
In her Atlantic piece, Lipstadt never mentions Poles. She should have.
It seems to me that she, rather, is engaging in a form of denial – a denial of Nazi crimes against non-Jews, and a demonization of anyone who mentions those crimes.
I want to admire Deborah Lipstadt. I don't know how representative of her attitudes this piece is. I hope it is not representative.
FWIW, many in the comments section of The Atlantic shared my frustration at what felt, to me, like Lipstadt's callous dismissal of the suffering of non-Jews under the Nazis, and the complete evil of the Nazi plans for non-Jewish untermenschen: Gypsies, the handicapped, Poles, Soviets, other Slavs, homosexuals, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah's Witnesses, dissidents, Christianity itself, and anyone I have forgotten to mention here, but whose life matters to me.
Statement by the President on International Holocaust Remembrance Day
It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.
Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.