The World Learned the Wrong Lesson From the Holocaust
by Elad Nehorai
Yesterday was Yom Hashoah. Holocaust Remembrance day in Israel. It is the day Israelis and Jews the world over remind themselves, “Never again.”
For years, we’ve felt strong, remembering that the world has become a much safer place for Jews, and for people of all races and beliefs. Since the Holocaust, civil rights, women’s rights, and more have all become a reality.
But as the world grows and evolves and distances itself from the events of the Holocaust, something is slowly becoming more and more clear.
The world learned the wrong lesson from the Holocaust.
After the Holocaust, images were shown the world over of the poor, emaciated Jews, helpless and pathetic, saved by the glorious Allied army. They showed the shocking images of piles of dead bodies, all just as emaciated as the Jews that had been rescued. They heard about the ovens, the gas chambers, the persecution Jews had suffered.
And so a consensus emerged: the Jews were helpless and weak, and the wonderful Western nations had saved them from certain doom.
At first, this made sense, and in many ways, it still does. The weak of the world have been given more and more power, thank G-d, due to the changes that have happened since World War II. Democracy is flourishing around the world, and countless people that never had a voice have one now.
But that’s not the lesson the world should have learned from the Holocaust. And now, the more that lesson is ingrained in others, the more we see the repercussions of this lesson spreading.
When Adolf Eichmann, a high-level Nazi, was kidnapped and tried for murder by the Israelis in 1960, the moral lesson Israelis were trying to spread to the world was not just that they were prosecuting a person who had persecuted a helpless people. There was a much deeper lesson, one not just for people who sympathized with Nazis, but for the whole world.
As Davar, a newspaper at the time put it, “Let world opinion know this, that not only Nazi Germany was responsible for the destruction of six million Jews of Europe.”
In other words, the trial of Eichmann wasn’t just an indictment of Nazi Germany, it was an indictment agaisnt the entire world. As David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel at the time said even more explicitly: “We want the nations of the world to know… and they should be ashamed.”
This myth that the Allied world were great liberators, great people that had done so much for Jews, was a retroactive truth, one that only became a reality when the world was faced with the horrible guilt it deserved for its relative quiet while Jews were being slaughtered.
For years, persecution of Jews continued unabated in Nazi Germany. It was only after the United States was attacked by Japan that they decided to help the Jews, and even then, it was only a side effect of the war they had entered. Many Jews who pleaded to the president at the time to help their brethren in Germany were ignored. Refugees who tried to run away to countries in North America were rejected outright. Even after the war, when Holocaust survivors tried to move to British-Controlled Palestine, they were arrested for their daring.
In other words, the world has for years wanted to believe the myth that they were innocent bystanders to the evil that existed in Nazi Germany. That they weren’t responsible for the fate of the people that had been burned, killed, maimed, throughout Europe, when, in fact, they had been the silent majority that let the killing continue while the Jews were murdered.
And this is where this myth that Jews were helpless, poor, people that needed saving has come from. A myth that has turned into a bigger myth: that every poor, helpless people needs saving. That those with power are inherently evil, and those without power are inherently good.
In fact, the lesson should have been that evil cannot be ignored, and whether it is only gaining in power, without power at all, or taking over countries on a whim, it needs to be attacked and eradicated.
Unfortunately, the false myth that has pervaded the world, the attempt to erase its own guilt, has transformed into something bigger. It is what has allowed world opinion to turn on Israel, and is the reason why so many are increasingly using the Holocaust as a false analogy to implicate Israel simply for being strong.
The argument these folks try to make is that Israel is strong, Palestine is weak. And while the Palestinians may do some things wrong, Israel is responsible for its actions more than the Palestinians simply because it is powerful. In other words, those with less power can do no wrong.
This view is poisoning the way the world is looking at other events as well. People assume, for example, that just because people are rioting against their rulers in the middle east that those rioters must be good-hearted. To be sure, there is no question that for the majority of these countries, their rulers are horrible despots, but the people who are trying to fight back are not necessarily any better. One needs only to look at the new leader of Egypt to see the obvious.
We see it also in Europe, where a new myth, that Jews are powerful and don’t need protection, has spread like wildfire, especially in France. In France, Jews are beginning to emigrate from the country because they are being subjected to more and more to antisemitic threats and attacks in a supposedly progressive country. These attacks are rarely reported by the media because they don’t fit into the false archetype of protecting those without power, since the majority of these threats and attacks are perpetrated by immigrants.
The world should have learned long ago that power itself isn’t inherently evil. That, in fact, the good people of the world need to have as much power as possible, and the bad need to be stripped of all the power they have until they are good or dead. To be sure, this is a more complicated matter than it appears at first, since good and bad are terms that are easily misunderstood.
But unless this ideal is internalized instead of the false one being bandied about, the strength of evil will grow. The potential for another Nazi Germany will still exist. And the pendulum of power will continue to shift back and forth between the good and the bad instead of shifting steadily in one direction.