The Holocaust And Its Uses

Joshua Sharf Contributor, Haym Salomon Center
Font Size:

In case you’ve been trying to grow potatoes on Mars for the last couple of days, the current Most Important Issue of the Campaign centers on some remarks by Dr. Ben Carson to the effect that, if the Jews in Europe had had guns, Hitler would have had a harder time murdering all of them.

The Left, predictably, opened up with both barrels on Dr. Carson, attacking his historical knowledge and accusing him of that worst of all possible Crimes de Campaign – insensitivity and offensiveness. Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League did both.

Just as quickly, Carson’s defenders made the obvious argument that it’s easier to kill and unarmed man than an armed one, much less a whole population. After all, Carson didn’t say that the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, only that it would have been harder, which is undoubtedly true.

For the record, I think Avi Woolf and David Harsanyi had the best responses – self-defense and self-reliance are values in and of themselves, and since we’re ostensibly talking about guns in 21st Century America, we should examine whether or not they’d make it easier for us to defend ourselves.

Woolf points out that both sides miss the historical point. I think conservatives are largely missing the political point.

The intensity of the left’s reaction to Carson’s comments suggest that they’re not really upset about the implications for the gun control debate. People don’t get angry – really, stuck-pig, you’re-a-horrible-person-for-even-thinking-that angry – over a policy issue.

They get upset over symbols, especially when their symbols get attacked, or worse, appropriated.

The left isn’t concerned that Carson is wrong about guns and the Holocaust and personal protection. Instead, the left is afraid that we’re approaching the expiration date on its exclusive right to define the meaning and the terms of discussion of the Holocaust itself.

Recently, those terms have been about “hate.” In part to avoid special pleading, in part to keep the Holocaust relevant as survivors pass on, and in part to reach out to other groups that the Germans didn’t get a chance to exterminate, Jewish institutions have downplayed the Jewish uniqueness of the Holocaust and made it more about its alleged universality of “hate.”

In fact, they’ve basically defined the the Holocaust as “hate.” The Holocaust is a sufficiently powerful symbol that people are – and must be – reluctant to press it into service for transient causes. The mechanized murder of 6 million Jews and the effective destruction of European Jewish civilization must not be cheapened.

So the left’s definition of the Holocaust as “hate,” and nothing more, serves two political purposes. First, it allows them to bring up the Holocaust in support of their favorite subject, indeed perhaps their only effective topic – racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Any generalization about any favored group becomes the first step down the slippery slope to Auschwitz. At the same time, it precludes anyone else from learning or even discussing other lessons that might be drawn, or that might make the left uncomfortable, for fear of being accused of politicizing and trivializing that murder.

The Holocaust isn’t really about generic “hate,” any more than a stop sign is about generic “shape” and “color.” The Holocaust was anti-Semitism in its most virulent possible form.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has chronicled, anti-Semitism, among the world’s hatreds, is unique in its ability to mutate into the reigning psychopathy of its day. It’s been based on religion, then on race.

Now it centers on Israel, because the left has been able to make 7 million Jews in a sea of hundreds of millions of Arabs represent “the powerful.” In what is truly an astonishing moral inversion, Palestinians and their sympathizers routinely equate Israel and the Jews with the Nazis.

Equating the Holocaust with “hate” has left the guardians of the memory of the Holocaust, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, defending the very people who would perpetrate another one, as potential genocide victims.

Political movements like to see everything in terms of their favorite subjects. Right now, for the left, it’s “hate,” loosely-defined. But look out for “income inequality,” which soon will not only explain every economic woe, but also every political and social one.

Likewise, some libertarians seem to fractionally distill away every political issue into property rights.

But of course, life is “about” lots of things. The Holocaust can be about anti-Semitism, and be about access to self-defense, and about government’s crushing of liberty, and property rights, and the corruption of civil society, and about human indifference, and about faith, and human resilience, and heroism, as long as we remember what made it unique.

Limiting the discussion to “hate” isn’t just politically convenient and self-serving, it also deprives us of a much richer conversation we can be having about social and communal life.

Joshua Sharf is a contributor to the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. He is head of the PERA project at the Independence Institute, a Denver based free-market think tank. Follow him @joshuasharf.