Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The World Learned the Wrong Lesson From the Holocaust

January 28, 2013 1:32 am 3 comments

A Nazi Death Camp.

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.

Holocaust Liberation

The liberation of Dachau.

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.

A corpse in a Nazi death camp.

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.


  • Astute observation. Well thought out…

  • geno senopole

    Pray for the peace in Jerusalem….Psalm 78

  • John Atkinson

    Agree with the sentiments but I think that Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) 2013 begins in the evening of
    Sunday, April 7 and ends in the evening of Monday, April 8 2013.
    The 27 January is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. It has been adopted as Insernational Holocaust Memorial Day when genocide in in WW2 and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Former Yugoslavia, Rawanda and Darfu are remembered. To some extent this day takes the focus off the Jewish tragedy and internationalises it.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Food Spirituality/Tradition ‘Pastry Secrets’ Arrive Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah

    ‘Pastry Secrets’ Arrive Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah – Babka. Strudel. Stollen. Danish pastry. Not to mention Gugelhopf and Charlotte. The names set the mouth to watering and conjure up lovingly concocted pastries that feed the body and comfort the soul. If you didn’t have a grandmother who baked these delicacies, you wish that you had. George Greenstein was never a grandmother, but his life as a baker provided his children and grandchildren with memories infused with the smell of fresh baked bread and rugelach. His daughters, Julia […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Fusing Israeli and Holocaust History, Novel Offers a ‘Middle Eastern Western’

    Fusing Israeli and Holocaust History, Novel Offers a ‘Middle Eastern Western’ – There is a game that all of us have played at some time in our lives. We ask ourselves: What would my life be like if I had gone to this school instead of that one, or if I had married this girl instead of that one? In their newly published book The Ambassador, authors Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees play that game with modern Jewish history. Avner — who died earlier this year, and was a speechwriter, secretary and adviser to […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Lifestyle A Toulouse Fashion Student Finds Style and Harmony in the Holy Land

    A Toulouse Fashion Student Finds Style and Harmony in the Holy Land

    A unique group of young fashion bloggers and designers recently visited Israel to learn more about the country’s fashion industry and diverse culture. Hailing from the Philippines, Korea, Kenya, Japan, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K., the 10 participants toured the country and met with top Israeli fashion designers throughout last week. “It was an amazing experience,” said Meissene Maghni from Toulouse, France — one of the participants of the program. “I’m Muslim and I really wanted to see Israel […]

    Read more →