Monday, March 28, 2011

The Perils of "Holocaust Hegemony...and its Perils"

There is little I like about "Holocaust Hegemony...and its Perils", Sam Schulman’s article in the January 3/January 10, 2011 issue of The Weekly Standard.

The very least thing I don’t like about the article is that it used a photograph from the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust without permission and, when it first did so, did not credit the photographer.

I don’t like that Mr. Schulman writes his own rules of argument by failing to define explicitly what he considers to be “Holocaust hegemony.” He derives this term from the title of a University of Toronto school of education Master’s Thesis, which is the prick that spurs Schulman’s extensive discontent. Mr. Schulman’s failure to define Holocaust hegemony leaves the reader struggling, throughout the essay, to understand his true target. The convenience of a slippery definition of terms is it affords Mr. Schulman the leeway to be prosecutor, judge and jury of whatever indictment he cares to bring.

Mr. Schulman makes broad assertions and presents them as facts, a rhetorical technique I never like. What is his basis for stating that anti-Semites and anti-Zionists are well-informed about the Holocaust, that they authentically regret its murders of Jews, and that they “openly regret that those European Jews who escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Palestine were not murdered as well?” Did he take a poll? And if the last assertion is true, its repugnancy deserves direct condemnation, not a passing feint.

And I don’t like him challenging the understanding that the Holocaust is, to use his term, “nonpareil.” Historical facts make it very clear the mass murder of European Jews was unlike any other genocide before or since. These facts include but are by no means limited to: Hitler’s publication of a manifesto expressing his murderous contempt of Jews; his public targeting of Jews in a systematic campaign occurring over many years; and, the systematic evolution of killing technology.

But what I really don’t like about Mr. Schulman’s article is the aggregate effect of these offenses. He relies on shifting rules of engagement, unproven assertions, and an incorrect statement of facts to blame Holocaust education for genocide and virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Do we blame fire departments for the continuing existence of fires and for arson?

Mr. Schulman includes amongst the evils empowered by Holocaust education “Communists and fellow travelers.” Communism, as a force exported against democracy, ceased to be a threat no later than the collapse of the Soviet Union, if not earlier; ‘fellow travelers’ is a McCarthy-era phrase, rendered meaningless by its maniacal over-use and best left in the last century. And he concludes his piece with a rant charging the left in general, with “apologizing for terrorism.” This slippery slope, sky-is-falling diatribe is simply ridiculous.

I do like Mr. Schulman’s statement that “Holocaust education…will never pry…people from their defects of character and judgment.” Education cannot enter a closed mind. Those harboring the closed-minded defects of character and judgment that include Jew- and Israel-hatred, as well as racism, intolerance, and a lack of any compassion for the “other,” will never participate in Holocaust education. They will not read any of the great books that Mr. Schulman admits have been written about the Holocaust. Nor will they darken the doorstep of any “beautiful museums that have been built.” But we book writers and beautiful museum builders are there for those whose minds are already open to the idea that we might make the 21st century a little better than the 20th. And we stand ready to shine at least a candle of light into whatever crack might miraculously split in the minds of the others. To do otherwise would be merely to curse the darkness.

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