Holocaust Day / The True Lessons of the Holocaust

Holocaust Day in Israel this year was marked by the threats and execrations of the Iranian President. It is now Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's turn to be identified with Hitler. Over the past 60 years there has been almost no Arab leader who has not been, including King Hussein and President Sadat; there are Israelis and Jews abroad who foster this comparison for various reasons. The Holocaust-denier threatening to destroy Israel with an atom bomb is just asking for the comparison.

Contemptible, an idiot or both, Ahmadinejad does not intend his threats and curses for Israel's ears, but rather for the world's, which has internalized the Holocaust as an agreed-upon code for ultimate evil. The United Nations marked Holocaust Day for the first time this year, an innovation that also highlighted the centrality of the Holocaust in global discourse. Austria sent British Holocaust denier David Irving to jail. The impression is that the status of the Holocaust as a source of moral values is growing continually stronger. The world knows that Auschwitz gave birth to Dimona and accepts it, at least silently.

No, this is not happening because Jews control the world, but rather because the Holocaust is identified mainly with contemporary urban Europe. The more the world adopts an urban lifestyle, and the more its values undergo globalization, the more it internalizes the Holocaust. It is no coincidence that Poland demanded just at this time, and rightly so, to correct the name of the Auschwitz death camp and note that it was a German facility, not a Polish one. The Jewish people have good reason to favorably view the globalization of the Holocaust, but at the same time, the Israeli Holocaust heritage might find itself isolated.

The Israeli culture of commemoration still tends to stress mainly the need to strengthen the State of Israel in the face of its Arab enemies; it does not equally foster the humanist lessons of the Holocaust. Israeli Holocaust heritage still tends to close itself off from other groups persecuted by the Nazis, and rejects any comparison between the Holocaust and genocides that have taken place since World War II.

Unfortunately Israel has not internalized the universal lessons of the Holocaust as well as some other countries, among them Germany. However in recent years, there have been changes here too. In public discourse and occasionally in the education system, among the lessons of the Holocaust is mentioned the obligation to protect democracy and human rights, and to fight racism. Soldiers are sometimes reminded that the law requires them to refuse a patently illegal order. The concept of heroism has been extended and now includes efforts to protect human dignity. Reading the names of those murdered, as has become the custom in recent years, reflects the rise of individualism in Israeli society.

Most Holocaust survivors now living in Israel, numbering about 200,000, went through it as children. As a result, the Holocaust is increasingly perceived as a crime against children. This has expressed itself in a plethora of books about children in the Holocaust and the emphasis on this subject by the education system. There may be a connection between the tendency to stress the Holocaust's damage to children and the neglect of elderly survivors. Thousands of them are destitute, dependent on the good will of some fund for diapers, dentures and glasses.

And the state is evading its responsibility to help. Years ago, Israelis tended to be ashamed of the Holocaust and scorned its survivors. Meanwhile, they have internalized the Holocaust as a central element in their identity. But they still scorn the survivors.