The Holocaust Industry

Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering

Reviewed by Omer Bartov, The New York Times, under the title  A Tale of Two Holocausts, August 6 2000. (Verso Books, New York 150 pps.)

“Norman G. Finkelstein first gained a national reputation with his essay, ”Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s ‘Crazy’ Thesis,” included in the book he wrote with Ruth Bettina Birn, ”A Nation on Trial.” Much of the essay was a brilliant dissection of Goldhagen’s book, ”Hitler’s Willing Executioners.” Its last section, however, revealed Finkelstein undergoing a bizarre metamorphosis, in which he employed the same dubious rhetoric and faulty logic he had identified in Goldhagen’s work in order to propound his own, even ”crazier,” thesis on the dark forces lurking, to his mind, behind his adversary’s success.”

“Now Finkelstein is back, with a vengeance, a lone ranger with a holy mission — to unmask an evil Judeo-Zionist conspiracy. The main argument in ”The Holocaust Industry” is based on a simple distinction between two phenomena: the Nazi Holocaust and ”The Holocaust,” which he defines as ”an ideological representation of the Nazi holocaust.” The author has little interest in the former, though he readily acknowledges that it happened, since both his parents survived its horrors and since some of the few historians he respects, notably Raul Hilberg, have written on it.”

“But in one of those strange inversions that characterize his book, Finkelstein speaks of the historical event with the same kind of awe, and demands the same sort of silent incomprehension, that he ascribes to his main foe, Elie Wiesel. In order ”to truly learn from the Nazi holocaust,” he asserts, ”its physical dimension must be reduced and its moral dimension expanded.” Whatever that might mean, it comes as no surprise that his views about the origins, nature and implications of the genocide of the Jews are but a series of vague, undocumented and contradictory assertions. Thus, for instance, in one place he writes that the ”historical evidence for a murderous gentile impulse is nil,” and rejects the notion that there might have been an ”abandonment of the Jews” by the United States government. But in another place he charges that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ”mutes the Christian background to European anti-Semitism” and ”downplays the discriminatory U.S. immigration quotas before the war,” and then goes on to cite approvingly David S. Wyman’s book, ”The Abandonment of the Jews.”

“But what really interests Finkelstein is ”The Holocaust.” The gist of his argument is simple: Had the Jews and the Zionists not had the Holocaust already, they would have had to invent it. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, this is precisely what they have done, in the form of ”The Holocaust,” despite the distracting fact that, once upon a time, such an event actually took place. And why was ”The Holocaust” fabricated? Because it legitimizes ”one of the world’s most formidable military powers,” Israel, allowing it to ”cast itself as a ‘victim’ state,” and because it provides ”the most successful ethnic group in the United States,” the Jews, with ”immunity to criticism,” leading to ”the moral corruptions that typically attend” such immunity.” (more…)

Reviewed by James A. Montanye, The Indpendent Review, A Journal of Political Economy

“The suffering of European Jews during the 1930s and 1940s gave rise to a stock of moral capital that was a measure not of exceptional moral actions by Jews as a group, but of acts committed by their Nazi oppressors. The holocaust label evokes that suffering and those acts. The Holocaust, distinguished by initial capitalization (a distinction I maintain throughout this review), is an ideology that has grown up around these interactions. The holocaust created moral capital. A “Holocaust Industry” exploits it by making a market in the suffering of “needy holocaust survivors. The disadvantages of moral capital are that it is less productive than most other forms of capital and that its value depreciates quickly as memories fade and the public sense of guilt and compassion wanes. Its highest value lies in its capacity to be transformed into more enduring political (rent-seeking) capital. The transformation process requires entrepreneurship as an input and spawns an industry that produces entrepreneurial returns for its creators and patrons.”

“These points are the foundations of historian Norman Finkelstein’s slim volume, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. The book complements a short list of recent works by Jewish scholars (several of which Finkelstein critiques) that reflect on the upturn of interest in books, movies, and television documentaries about the holocaust and that ask (some skeptically): “Why here, and why now?” (See, for example, Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999].) Finkelstein argues, against the grain, that this interest is “a tribute not to Jewish suffering but to Jewish aggrandizement” (p. 8). He documents economic exploitation by the Holocaust Industry, which he calls an “outright extortion racket” (p. 89). He also documents the U.S. role in facilitating the extraction of holocaust rents (which he inexactly terms “profits”). He argues that the Holocaust Industry would not exist without international bullying by the United States, which is why this country is not a target of rent extraction despite having a record on holocaust issues that is scarcely distinguishable from that of the recently extorted Swiss.”…

“The gravamen of Finkelstein’s argument, which is shared by an increasing number of Jews and others worldwide, is that “the current campaign of the Holocaust Industry to extort money from Europe in the name of ‘needy Holocaust victims’ has shrunk the moral status of martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino” (p. 8). Although such blasphemy would normally be attacked as an anti-Semitic diatribe, Finkelstein escapes such treatment as the son of Jewish Auschwitz survivors. Even so, he reports being called a “garbage man,” an “anti-Zionist,” and a “notorious ideological opponent of the State of Israel” (pp. 65–66) at various times in his scholarly career. Critics disparage his book, however, by associating it with those allegedly anti-Semitic officials and private individuals who express agreement with the author’s brief. These sympathizers include, among others, citizens of western European countries who see themselves as being extorted by the Holocaust Industry, even as the Palestinian victims of Zionism remain uncompensated for their continuing loss of life, land, and liberty after decades of subjugation and subordination. Occasional proposals to compensate Palestinians out of Holocaust Industry rents wither quickly and die quietly. (Palestinians simply lack the entrepreneurial skills to press their claims successfully.) The author reports the fear in some quarters that Holocaust Industry activities will provoke a dangerous wave of bona fide anti-Semitism.”…

“The aggressive defense and maintenance of the Holocaust brand have been so successful that even a few gentiles have gained wealth and notoriety by masquerading as Jewish holocaust survivors—an ironic example of chutzpah. Watchdog groups are alert for outsiders’ poaching Holocaust rents in this fashion. Some Jews also capture Holocaust rents by masquerading as holocaust survivors, usually winning industry praise rather than condemnation for their efforts.”

“Finkelstein singles out Elie Wiesel, a concentration-camp survivor and celebrity commentator on moral issues, for his role as an industry insider. He “is the Holocaust” (p. 55), according to Finkelstein. It was Wiesel who systematically applied the word holocaust to the Jewish experience. He subsequently gained recognition and fortune by lecturing about the holocaust, commanding speaking fees that Finkelstein reports to be upward of $25,000 plus a limousine. Finkelstein criticizes the fuzzy aphorisms Wiesel uses to characterize the holocaust—“noncommunicable,” “we cannot talk about it,” and “the truth lies in silence”—noting that Wiesel and others have made personal fortunes by talking and writing about it (p. 45).” (more…)


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