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The Right Plays Politics With the Holocaust

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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
Maidanek 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 memorialized not just
as three million victims, but celebrated as Jews
and Poles: as people.

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 whoever. 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 America 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 trivializing 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 Holocaust victim was, in fact, a Nazi accomplice.

Since
then, the right has utilized 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.

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 the Harvard Law School) is evidence that Obama is
a radical anti-white leftist.

I
won't describe the controversy here, allowing Eli Clifton to describe it in 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 America 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 is 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 American 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 percent of Jews adhere,
as "anti-Semitic."

All
this would be funny if it weren'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
trivialize 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?