Washington, DC - A couple of years ago my wife and I made the first of three trips to Poland to visit her family's ancestral home. As far as anyone knows, the Gruenbaum/Ellenbogen family had been living in the Galicia area of Poland for centuries. That long sojourn ended with the German invasion of 1939. There is no need to describe what happened subsequently, except to note that the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek death camps were each about 90 minutes from the family's home in Rozwadow. The family members who survived the Holocaust ended up in the United States, Israel, Canada, and Australia. Some remained in Poland until after the 1967 Six Day War, when the Communist regime there drove them out as "Zionists".
Washington, DC - A couple of years ago my wife and I made the first of three trips to Poland to visit her family's ancestral home. As far as anyone knows, the Gruenbaum/Ellenbogen family had been living in the Galicia area of Poland for centuries.
That long sojourn ended with the German invasion of 1939. There is no need to describe what happened subsequently, except to note that the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek death camps were each about 90 minutes from the family's home in Rozwadow.
The family members who survived the Holocaust ended up in the United States, Israel, Canada, and Australia. Some remained in Poland until after the 1967 Six Day War, when the Communist regime there drove them out as "Zionists". A few remained in Poland long enough to rejoice in the downfall of the Communist regime.
Our visits to Poland are always emotional. Next year, we will return to visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews for its opening. The museum, a joint project of the Polish and Israeli governments, focuses not on how the Jews of Poland died, but rather on how they lived. They will be memorialised not just as three million victims, but celebrated as Jews and Poles: as people.
"No one can make the memory of the Holocaust or its use as an antidote to hatred disappear. But people do succeed in trivialising the Holocaust."
Nonetheless, it is impossible to forget how they were killed. Nor should we try to forget. Although recalling the Holocaust does nothing for the victims, remembrance is a weapon against other acts of genocide (although, as is obvious, only a limited one). It also serves of a reminder of where hate - in this case anti-Semitism - can lead.
That is why so-called Holocaust deniers insist that it never happened. If it didn't, they believe, then the nexus between racial/ethnic hate and murder is broken and it is easier for them to openly hate Jews, African-Americans, gays or whomever. If no-one can say, "you know where that kind of thinking can lead, don't you?", then they are more comfortable promulgating their hate.
Fortunately, Holocaust denial is no more successful than Civil War denial (which, to my knowledge, does not exist). Yes, a few nutty people could assert that no civil war occurred in the US between 1861 and 1865. But only crazy people would ever believe it.
No one can make the memory of the Holocaust or its use as an antidote to hatred disappear.
But people do succeed in trivialising the Holocaust.
Until recently, that did not happen very often. The memory of the Six Million, or the single face of Anne Frank, or the little boy with his hands held in the air, in front of a Nazi soldier, prevent people from disrespecting the victims.
No more. Today anyone can be called an anti-Semite and any event can be likened to the Holocaust. I don't know when that started, but it reached a new height when Glenn Beck, the former Fox commentator, decided that the best way to destroy the reputation of liberal philanthropist George Soros was to lie and say that this Jewish man, who survived living under the Nazi occupation of Hungary, was, in fact, a Nazi accomplice.
Since then, the right has utilised Nazi horrors as a tool against every progressive cause they don't like, including the president's signature health care law and his call for Congress to raise the debt ceiling.
Even worse is the name-calling. If the right does not like someone, there is a good chance he will be likened to Nazis or called an anti-Semite. That applies to Jews, even Israelis, who oppose bombing Iran or want to end the occupation of Palestinian lands.
This week's target of choice is CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, who had the temerity to challenge (and essentially eviscerate) a Breitbart.com editor for saying that President Obama's friendship with Professor Derrick Bell (the first tenured African-American professor at Harvard Law School) was evidence that Obama is a radical anti-white leftist.
I won't describe the controversy here, allowing Eli Clifton to describe it on Think Progress. It is enough to say that the absurdity of the whole manufactured brouhaha was made manifest when Sarah Palin jumped in to say that Obama's friendship with Bell was evidence that these two African Americans wanted to return the US to the days before the Emancipation Proclamation. The bottom line is that Breitbart.com and the "editor" who tried to debate the Harvard-educated O'Brien looked ridiculous. A laughing stock.
And then, sure as clockwork, came the charge that Soledad O'Brien was an anti-Semite. In an exchange of public tweets, Chris Loesch, the husband of CNN commentator Dana Loesch, wrote that O'Brien's denial of Obama's radicalism was dictated by the fact that "it's cool and edgy to be an anti-Semitic leftist right now".
Say what? The whole rightist case against Obama and Bell is that they were two incredibly accomplished African Americans who happened to be friends and who agreed that US racism was a deep-seated problem that had to be addressed. Also relevant, no doubt, is that the two men broke down the doors of white privilege - in Obama's case, the ultimate such door.
But anti-Semitism? Anti-Semitism has as much to do with this phony controversy as the number of points Jeremy Lin scored in the Knicks' last game.
The only reason it is only being employed to discredit O'Brien is because she, on national television, so successfully tore apart the arguments of a Breitbart fantasist, who happens to be Jewish.
Far more relevant is that this is a classic right-wing tactic: attack the opponent's strength. Call war hero John Kerry a war shirker. Call George Soros, the leading funder of anti-Communist movements, a Communist. And label liberalism, the political ideology to which 80 per cent of Jews adhere, as "anti-Semitic".
All this would be funny if it wasn't so hateful and calculated. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Jews are liberal Democrats. (Had Jews been the only people voting, history would record the landslide victories of presidents named McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry.) To call liberals and progressives anti-Semitic is to call Jews anti-Semitic.
Perhaps even worse is the revolting disrespect to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust demonstrated by the slam at O'Brien. Six million Jews were murdered in the name of anti-Semitism. A million and a half of them were children. They were gassed and their bodies were burned in crematoria.
I don't know what the proper response is to that, except the old, but still true, mantra: Never Again. That and, as Elie Wiesel says, respectful silence.
To trivialise anti-Semitism (and by extension the Holocaust) by tossing the "anti-Semite" charge around with joyful recklessness is ugly, disrespectful, and obscene.
Is it too much to ask the right to show a little respect for the dead?
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network.
Follow him on Twitter: @MJayRosenburg
Source: Al Jazeera