by Paul Eisen
My family were ordinary folk – ‘twice-a-year Jews’ we used to call them. But like most of us second and third generation, upwardly mobile, North London Jews, our Jewishness filled our lives. And, at that time, that meant Zionism and the Holocaust. For me, my family and our friends, a post-Holocaust Israel meant quite simply ‘never again’.
But, while seemingly ordinary, my family was also rather extraordinary. My father was unusually tolerant and free-thinking, and my mother too was unusually lively in her thinking. A born rebel, there was nothing she loved more than to burst a balloon. As for me, I started off, first as the family tsaddik – awfully concerned with God and my Jewishness (though always strangely at odds with other Jews) – then the family dissident-intellectual. By young adulthood, you would have found me somewhere on the Zionist left – unquestioning in my support for the Jewish state but wishing it would not behave quite so badly and stop embarrassing me in front of my friends. However, when it came to the Holocaust, my faith was unwavering.
This is me in 1978 at Yad Vashem:
Then through the museum and its unfolding narrative: Concentration, Deportation, Selection, Extermination. It wears you out, it really does. Like countless others, we stand dumb in front of the little slave-labourer’s shoe in the glass case and also like countless others, we know we’ve had enough.From We Stand with Israel by Paul Eisen
Then to the shrine itself: The bunker with its dulled metal floor, off-centre the smoky flame flickers, through the hole in the roof, a trickle of black smoke, a world destroyed. Then outside, from the gloom into the brilliant Mid-Eastern sunshine and up the few steps, and there it is: after the fall, redemption and the future – the blazing panorama of Jewish Jerusalem. We Jews really do do these things awfully well.
That was 1978 and I didn’t then know what I now know: that, as I came out of that bunker – that universally known symbol of Jewish suffering, and took in that perfect view – I was looking straight at that completely unknown symbol of Palestinian suffering, the village of Deir Yassin. Of course, I didn’t know then about Deir Yassin, and even if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have much cared.
Thinking back, I suspect my response would have been something like: Ah yes, Deir Yassin, the one stain on an otherwise unblemished Zionist record. (The line had come, pretty much verbatim from my reading (age eleven) of the blockbuster Exodus.) And anyway, I would have reasoned, was not the fevered anguish of the Zionist leadership (later referred to by me as ‘Jewish breast-beating’) yet more evidence of an essential Jewish moral grandeur?
Sure, I’d known about Deir Yassin – both the village and the massacre – but I had not known, nor probably wanted to know, about the close to five hundred other destroyed or depopulated Palestinian villages or about the seventy known massacres which accompanied the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Like the child who does not, cannot, or will not see the lamb chops on his plate as skipping round the farmyard, so for now, I did not, could not and would not see those refugees, terrorists or biblical shepherds on my TV screen as those same folk – those safely de-personalized and de-humanized ‘Arabs’ – who had lived in what was, and as far as I was concerned, had always been, Israel.
But I must not blame myself. I do not blame myself. Even after digging through the accumulated layers of indoctrination to which any Jewish child could expect to be subjected, this was still some story. After two thousand years of exile, an ancient people return to their ancient homeland – a land given to them by God, or, (for the more secular amongst us), by History.
Because mine was no run-of-the-mill Zionism. What was claimed by so many Jews (particularly of the anti-Zionist, Marxist variety) to be an essentially political ideology, just a Jewish version of imperialism or an add-on – an essentially practical solution to an ever-present anti-Semitism, was for me – and I now know, deep-down, for most Jews – a deep, emotional, spiritual, even religious affiliation. For my Zionism was a true sense of my Jewishness – a feeling that came deep from within Jewish history and even destiny – a feeling that I, with all Jews, had stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and, also with all Jews, had marched through history – a history which, at the time, I had not yet dreamt of questioning.
But question it I did. Here I am again in 1996 on the phone to the first name listed under “Palestine” – PSC: the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
“Hello, look, I’m doing a bit of research, trying to find the name of a Palestinian village on the site of a particular kibbutz…I used to stay there….”
“Which one?” “I’m sorry…?”
“Yad David. It’s in the north, about five miles from….”
“Hang on…..” Then fifteen seconds later…
“It’s al Zawiyyeh”
“How did you do that?
“We’ve got a list… It’s from a book. It lists all the villages…”
“Can I get a copy?”
“Well, you may get it in a couple of bookshops… Try Al Hoda on the Charing Cross Road.”
One hour later I arrived at the Al Hoda Islamic bookshop in the Charing Cross Road and headed for the shelves marked ISRAEL(OCCUPIED PALESTINE). This is heady stuff, and there are some interesting things too, “The Zionist in Literature” is one, with an intriguing essay on Ari Ben Canaan, which I really must read sometime, but nothing really on the villages. Most of it’s about this-way-to-peace or that-way-to-peace, so I’m there about three quarters of an hour before I find what I came for. It’s been misplaced on the wrong shelf – so that’s why I missed it, and it looks like it’s been there for quite a time. Not surprising, when I see the forty-five pound price tag. But it is what I’ve come for, All That Remains by Whalid Khalidi, with the names, locations and the fate of four hundred and sixteen Palestinian villages destroyed since 1948.
“By the end of the 1948 war, hundreds of entire villages had not only been depopulated but obliterated, travellers of Israeli roads and highways can see traces of their presence that would escape the notice of the casual passer-by: a fenced-in area, often surmounting a gentle hill, of olive and other fruit trees left untended, of cactus hedges and domesticated plants run wild. Now and then a few crumbled houses are left standing, a neglected mosque or church, collapsing walls along the ghost of a village lane, but in the vast majority of cases, all that remains is a scattering of stones and rubble across a forgotten landscape.”
There are photos too, mainly of piles of rubble, which, to tell the truth, are a bit disappointing. After all, when you’ve seen one pile of rubble… a few stones… rubble…deserted site… rubble, overgrown with thorny plants… rubble… a few carob trees, piles of stones, crumbling terraces… rubble… a few stones… no landmarks… rubble…rubble… rubble.
But then there is something. As I hold the book in my hands it’s as if I’m holding something important, a record, a testimonial, a symbol of resistance, if you like.
I move on to the business at hand. District of Tiberias, 23 out of 26 villages destroyed… District of Bisan, all 28 villages destroyed… District of Safed, 68 out of 75 villages… Safed! Yad David is near Safed. Then I spot something… Kfar Yitzhak… I know that place. It’s a couple of kilometres from Yad David. I used to cycle there… Founded in 1943 on the site of the village of Qaytiyya… population predominantly Muslim… from agriculture and animal husbandry… had its own grain mill… …at midnight June 5th 1949 army trucks encircled the village and Israeli troops swept down… rounded up the villagers and dumped them on a hillside south of Safed… villagers treated with brutality… kicks and curses… All that remains are a few stones… much of the lands absorbed by the settlement of Kefar Yitzhak…
I cannot believe what I’m reading, but I manage to turn the page just one more time and see what I’ve come here for: “Yad David… founded in 1946 one kilometre north of the village of al Zawiyyeh…The village now lies under the cotton fields of Yad David.”
As I’m going out, I show the man the slip of paper on which I’ve written the name al Zawiyyeh and I ask what it means. He looks at the paper. “Corner?” He says as if asking me whether such a thing could really be so. Then, as I’m leaving and just as an afterthought I ask: “There’s this word I keep seeing. Nakba. What does it mean?” “al Nakba… the Catastrophe “
From “1996” by Paul Eisen
In 1998, I met Dan McGowan founder of the Palestinian solidarity organisation “Deir Yassin Remembered,” but not once in our short conversation or in the extended interview he gave afterwards did Dan mention the proximity of Deir Yassin to Yad Vashem. I read about that later, in the leaflet Dan gave me, on the London Underground, somewhere between Gloucester Road and Holloway Road.
“The Holocaust museum is beautiful, and the message ‘never to forget man’s inhumanity to man’ is timeless. The children’s museum is particularly heart-wrenching; in a dark room filled with candles and mirrors, the names of Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust are read aloud with their places of birth. Even the most callous person is brought to tears. Upon exiting this portion of the museum, a visitor is facing north and is looking directly at Deir Yassin. There are no markers, no plaques, no memorials, and no mention from any tour guide. But for those who know what they are looking at, the irony is breathtaking.”From “Deir Yassin Remembered” by Dan McGowan
For Dan, a conservative American patriot, no more was needed than to note both the fact and the irony. But for me, with my leanings and obsessions, searching as I was for some meaning to the jumbled mass of my Jewish childhood and to the Holocaust, Israel and Palestine, it was epiphany. Deir Yassin was one thing but Deir Yassin in clear sight of Yad Vashem was quite another.
Of course, it was only much later, long after I had begun to think, write and speak about these things, that I was able to properly articulate even to myself that it was precisely this ‘breathtaking irony’ of Dan’s that had so held my attention. But even if I didn’t then know it, I certainly hung onto it – from that moment I was a messenger who had found his message.
And takers there were a-plenty. Palestinians, long resigned to Jewish suffering being placed at the centre of their own tragedy, were still pleased with the surge of publicity that the story and the resulting Jewish participation brought to their cause, and Jews were, as ever, delighted to have themselves and their suffering once more centre-stage. Deir Yassin gave Palestinians a new and effective narrative for resistance, and Jews an activism, sufficiently challenging to seem courageous and meaningful, but not so challenging as to necessitate any loosening of tribal bonds. And the rest – the Christians, the Marxists and the various non-aligned – well, as usual, they just went along with the Jews.
Now I had it all – Palestinian suffering/Jewish suffering, abused/abuser. Okay, so, my much-loved Jewish victim was now the perpetrator but no matter, Deir Yassin could be viewed only from Yad Vashem – and the suffering of the Palestinian people could be seen only through the prism of my beloved Jewish suffering.
Unfortunately or fortunately (it really does go both ways) it didn’t stop there. Here I am in 2004:
It is understandable that Jews might believe that their suffering is greater, more mysterious and meaningful than that of any other people. It is even understandable that Jews might feel that their suffering can justify the oppression of another people. What is harder to understand is why the rest of the world has gone along with it.From Speaking the Truth to Jews by Paul Eisen
That Jews have suffered is undeniable. But acknowledgement of this suffering is rarely enough. Jews and others have demanded that not only should Jewish suffering be acknowledged, but that it also be accorded special status.
Jewish suffering is held to be unique, central and most importantly, mysterious. Jewish suffering is rarely measured against the sufferings of other groups. Blacks, women, children, gays, workers, peasants, minorities of all kinds, all have suffered, but none as much as Jews. Protestants at the hands of Catholics, Catholics at the hands of Protestants, pagans and heretics, all have suffered religious persecution, but none as relentlessly as Jews. Indians, Armenians, gypsies and aborigines, all have been targeted for elimination, but none as murderously and as premeditatedly as Jews.
Jewish suffering is held to be mysterious, and beyond explanation. Context is rarely examined. The place and role of Jews in society – their historical relationships with Church and state, landlords and peasantry – is hardly ever subject to scrutiny, and, whilst non-Jewish attitudes to Jews are the subject of intense interest, Jewish attitudes to non-Jews are rarely mentioned. Attempts to confront these issues are met with suspicion, and sometimes hostility, in the fear that explanation may lead to rationalisation, which may lead to exculpation, and then even to justification.
The issue (of Jewish suffering) is complex and cannot be fully debated or decided here, but the following points may stimulate thought and discussion.
- During even the most terrible times of Jewish suffering such as the Crusades or the Chmielnitzky massacres of seventeenth century Ukraine, and even more so at other times in history, it has been said that the average peasant would have given his eye-teeth to be a Jew. The meaning is clear: generally speaking, and throughout most of their history, the condition of Jews was often far superior to the mass of the population.
- The above-mentioned Ukrainian massacres took place in the context of a peasant uprising against the oppression of the Ukrainian peasantry by their Polish overlords. As has often been the case, Jews were seen as occupying a traditional position of being in alliance with the ruling class in their oppression of the peasantry. Chmielnitzky, the leader of this popular uprising, is today a Ukrainian national hero, not for his assaults on Jews (there are even references to his having offered poor Jews to join the uprising against their exploitative co-religionists – the Jews declined) but for his championing of the rights of the oppressed Ukrainians. Again, the inference is plain: outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence, though never justified, have often been responses to Jewish behaviour both real and imaginary.
- In the Holocaust three million Polish Jews died, but so did three million non-Jewish Poles.
- Similarly, the Church burned Jews for their dissenting beliefs but then the church burned everyone for their dissenting beliefs. So again, the question must be asked: what’s so special about Jewish suffering?
The Holocaust, the paradigm for all anti-Semitism and all Jewish suffering, is treated as being beyond examination and scrutiny. Questioning the Holocaust narrative is, at best, socially unacceptable, leading often to social exclusion and discrimination, and, at worst, in some places is illegal and subject to severe penalty. Holocaust revisionist scholars, named Holocaust deniers by their opponents, have challenged this. They do not deny a brutal and extensive assault on Jews by the Nazi regime, but they do deny the Holocaust narrative as framed by present day establishments and elites. Specifically, their denial is limited to three main areas. First, they deny that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the Nazi regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe; second, they deny that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers; third, they claim that the numbers of Jewish victims of the Nazi assault have been greatly exaggerated.From Jewish Power by Paul Eisen
But none of this is the point. Whether those who question the Holocaust narrative are revisionist scholars striving to find the truth and are shamelessly persecuted for opposing a powerful faction, or whether they are crazy Jew-haters denying a tragedy and defaming its victims, the fact is that one may question the Armenian genocide, one may freely discuss the Slave Trade, one can say that the murder of millions of Ibos, Kampucheans and Rwandans never took place and that the moon is but a piece of green cheese floating in space, but one may not question the Jewish Holocaust. Why? Because, like the rest of the Jewish history of suffering, the Holocaust underpins the narrative of Jewish innocence, which is used to bewilder and befuddle any attempt to see and to comprehend Jewish power and responsibility in Israel/Palestine and elsewhere in the world.
It was while writing the above and more that I came across Joel Hayward’s ill-fated M.A. thesis The Fate of Jews in German Hands 1933-1945. That Hayward recanted mattered not one jot, and his credibility was only enhanced by his own clear astonishment at what he was writing – an astonishment fully matched by my own at what I was reading. That the Holocaust was exploited and abused, I had understood, but its veracity? No way. Now, for the first time ever, there could be doubts.
It’s always worth defining your terms. Not that it does that much good – the inquisitors will see what they want to see and claim what they want to claim. But for the record here’s what I do and do not question. First, what I do not question:
- I do not question that the National Socialist regime brutally persecuted Jews.
- I do not question that Jews in Germany were discriminated against, violently assaulted, dispossessed, imprisoned in camps and expelled and that many Jews died as a result.
- I do not question that Jews in countries occupied by Germany or within the German sphere of influence were pitilessly assaulted, dispossessed and subjected to brutal deportations, many to forced labour camps where many hundreds of thousands died.
- I do not question that many Jews were executed by shooting in the East.
- But enough of this negativity – here’s what I do question:
- I question that there ever was an official plan on the part of Hitler or any other part of the National Socialist regime systematically and physically to eliminate every Jew in Europe.
- I question that there ever existed homicidal gas-chambers.
- I question the figure of six million Jewish victims of the Nazi assault and I believe that the actual figure was significantly less.
- And finally, one more thing I do not and do question: I do not question the horror of what was done to Jews by National Socialists or the right of Jews (including myself) to regard that horror any way they wish. I do, however, question their right to compel the rest of the world to feel the same.
Deny the Holocaust!
For my money, a child of six can see that something’s not right about the Holocaust narrative, and the science simply confirms what I already suspect. But I differ from the Holocaust Revisionists. They are scholars – historians and scientists who apply ‘truth and exactitude’ to determine the truth or otherwise of the Holocaust narrative. I’m no scholar. I care nothing for the chemical traces in brickwork or the topological evidence for mass graves. But I’ve read the literature, and it just doesn’t add up.
That Jews suffered greatly from 1933-1945 is not in question, but the notion of a premeditated, planned and industrial extermination of Europe’s Jews with its iconic gas-chambers and magical six million are all used to make the Holocaust not only special but also sacred. We are faced with a new, secular religion, a false god with astonishing power to command worship. And, like the Crucifixion with its Cross, Resurrection etc, the Holocaust has key and sacred elements – the exterminationist imperative, the gas chambers and the sacred six million. It is these that comprise the holy Holocaust which Jews, Zionists and others worship and which the revisionists refuse.
Nor is this a small matter. If it was, why the fuss, why the witch-hunt, why the imprisonment of David Irving, Ernst Zündel and Germar Rudolf? And it’s not just them. What may be a massive lie is being used to oppress pretty much all of humankind. The German and Austrian peoples who, we are told, conceived and perpetrated the slaughter; the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Rumanian, Hungarian, peoples etc. Who supposedly hosted, assisted in and cheered on the slaughter; the Americans, the British, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Italians (but not the Danes and the Bulgarians) etc. Who apparently didn’t do enough to stop the slaughter; the Swiss who earned out of the slaughter, and the entire Christian world who, it seems, created the faith-traditions and ideologies in which the slaughter could take place, and now the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim peoples who seemingly want to perpetrate a new slaughter – in fact, the Holocaust oppresses the entire non-Jewish world and indeed much of the Jewish world as well. Stand up and have done with it.
So here’s something else. The Holocaust revisionist scholars and researchers are dedicated and skilled students of historical evidence, and for them ‘Holocaust denier’ is but a term of abuse to be hurled as ‘witch’ might have been hurled in the Middle Ages. But for me, ‘Holocaust Denier’ is a label I accept. This is not because I don’t think anything bad happened to Jews at the hands of the National Socialists – for what it’s worth the real story of brutal ethnic cleansing moves me far more than any ‘Holocaust’ – and it’s certainly not because I think any such assault is right and proper. No, I deny the Holocaust because, as constituted, exploited and enforced, the Holocaust narrative is a false and abusive god, and I wish to put as much moral distance between it and myself as I can.