Three years ago Norman Finkelstein published a book entitled The Holocaust Industry. The purpose of this book was to “expose” the manner in which, according to Finkelstein, the Jewish Claims Conference had “exploited” the holocaust for money.
The Jewish Claims Conference succeeded in part in gaining a limited amount of money from the Swiss banks and from German industry as compensation for the horrors inflicted by them on the victims of the death camps of Word War II.
Finkelstein denounces the effort to collect large sums of money from these sources and argues that there are many so-called “holocaust survivors” who were in fact never in a death camp, had only tenuous connections to others who were there, wanted publicity and fraudulently exploited the Germans.
While the Jewish Claims Conference holds that 700,000 Jews survived the death camps, Finkelstein speaks of only 200,000 such survivors, of whom only 25,000 are still alive today. He believes that a good number of “survivors” are frauds who seek to gain money, publicity and a hero status by such claims.
Finkelstein also insists that the money collected by the Jewish Claims Conference should have been paid directly to the survivors for whom it was meant. This was not done. Instead the Jewish Claims Conference seeks to keep a considerable amount for administrative purposes and for various organizations who had really nothing to do with the slave labor performed by the survivors.
The dispute concerning the book by Finkelstein cannot be settled here. I can only recommend that you read the book and decide for yourself the merits of Finkelstein’s arguments.
Those of us who actually came here as refugees from Hitler’s Europe cannot deny that some of Finkelstein’s arguments are supported by our experience. Other arguments seem to be the product of Finkelstein’s need to bleed over the misery of the whole world except for the Jews.
Our experience as immigrants are these: When we first came we were indeed destitute. By “destitute” I do not mean poor. There were then and are now poor Jews. The poor are usually folks whose income is very low and whose prospects of improving their financial condition is not good. Yet, the poor are seldom destitute. By that word we mean having no home, no food, no clothing and no human contact.
George Soros, without doubt the wealthiest of all Holocaust survivors and by no means a friend of the Jewish people, told his biographer that he was utterly rejected by the British-Jewish community organizations when he first came to England as a refugee. This is not surprising. The same thing happened here.
When we first came from Europe without so much as a dollar in our pocket, without an overcoat in the freezing cold, unable to speak English, reeling from the recent horrors of Nazi-land, the Jewish organizations largely rejected us. Instead of help we earned ridicule because we could not speak English. Instead of sympathy we were treated to the same harangue we had just heard from the Nazi gangsters. Said the Nazis: “Jews are overbearing, loud and vulgar and think they are better than anyone else.” Well, as soon as we set foot in an American Jewish agency or visited a “shul” we were told that all German Jews are overbearing, loud and vulgar. The American Jewish community repeated the same accusations we had just escaped.
Never will I forget how I was told to get out of the synagogue on Yom Kippur because as a recent immigrant I had no ticket and could not afford one. I think of that every time I am now welcome because I have the money - now. Never will we forget how the bosses of Jewish organizations lorded it over us refugees, ridiculing our accents, insulting our poor clothes, demeaning our poverty only to now want to collect from us because now we have money and are non-persons no more.
American born Jewish girls would of course not date us because we were poor. I was told some time ago that a Jewish family had come from Vienna and settled in New York where they made kosher candy in their kitchen and peddled it from door to door. The family was called Klein. The son in that family sought to date Jewish girls who regularly rejected him because he was poor. Today, Barton’s is a vast candy business and those who rejected him then wish they had “only known”. No doubt his good fortune is that they didn’t.
Even today, fifty-nine years after the end of the Second World War, the Jewish holocaust survivors are still only marginally members of the Jewish community. This has two reasons. In part the marginal position of the erstwhile Jewish immigrants lies in their general poverty. Although such great successes as Henry Kissinger and George Soros are well known, nothing is further from the truth than the belief that the survivors “had it made” on coming here. On the contrary. Most of those who came here after the Nazi epoch worked in factories and in other low paying jobs and are now, in their old age, in need of help. They rarely get any help. This is somewhat contingent on the manner in which the Jewish community is organized. In every American city the Jewish community is located in the wealthy suburbs of large cities. The poor, however, cannot get there because they lack transportation and, most important, they are ashamed to come to a synagogue on a bus, if there is a bus, and without a car.
They are ashamed of their poor clothes and their inability to “keep up with the Goldsteins”.
They fear ridicule and exclusion and they would be right in their assessment. We do not welcome strangers in “shul”. We ignore them. I know that from having traveled this country from coast to coast without ever being welcomed in any “shul” I visited as a stranger.
Holocaust survivors are marginal for yet another reason. Some of us have indeed succeeded in this brutal world. A few of us, without help from anyone, gained education, money, social position and prestigious occupations. Yet, we are still outsiders in the Jewish community. For one, there are American Jews who will not speak to us or even greet us because we are foreign born. This is particularly true of those employed by the Jewish communal service. Moreover, many of us will never feel at home anywhere. Some of us have returned to our home countries only to be once more reminded of the horrors inflicted on us there. Others have never returned but have been subject to rejection and demeaning conduct by our fellow Jews here. Furthermore we have a problem no one can solve.
We never had grandparents, uncles or aunts, cousins or old friends. We never meet anyone who went to school with us years ago. Our relatives and schoolmates died a long time ago in the European gas ovens so that here we are forever alone. This is by no means the fault of anyone other than the killers but it nevertheless makes us marginal people, i.e. people who live in two or more cultures at once but fit in nowhere
Because the Holocaust has become institutionalized some survivors will no longer participate in the annual Holocaust commemoration held every April everywhere in the United States. “Institutionalized” means that Holocaust commemorations are part of the Jewish calendar to be observed like other Jewish historical events, year in and year out, forever. Like Chanukah and Purim, the Shoah commemoration must continue and ought to be part of Jewish history and observance. Yet, many holocaust survivors resent that these commemorations are now largely used to aggrandize one or the other “macher” in the Jewish community who knows nothing about the horrors he speaks about while those who really were there are ignored. Eventually, death will decide in favor of those who know about the Holocaust only from books. Nevertheless, Finkelstein calls attention to the manner in which publicity seekers have usurped the rightful place of the survivors at such public events.
If all that is true then we must evaluate Finkelstein’s book once more and agree that he has indeed provoked a discussion concerning so vital a segment of recent Jewish history.
Of course, Finkelstein’s need to preach the “liberal” doctrine leads him to the unjustified conclusion that Israel should no longer be supported and that American Jews should worry about American Indians and blacks instead of Jews. Shame on Finkelstein for such suggestions. No doubt the Arab enemies of the Jewish people have already seized The Holocaust Industry as a means of diminishing Jewish suffering. Therefore, it may have been better if Finkelstein had not written his book. Nevertheless, his merit lies in bringing on a discussion of a vital issue in the American Jewish community.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents: A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).