A lesson from the Holocaust for us all
This account fills one with rage that anyone could deny the
reality of the Jewish genocide
By Robert Fisk
-- -- At a second-hand book stall in
the Rue Monsieur le Prince in Paris a few days ago, I came
across the second volume of Victor Klemperer's diaries. The
first volume, recounting his relentless, horrifying degradation
as a German Jew in the first eight years of Hitler's rule - from
1933 to 1941 - I had bought in Pakistan just before America's
2001 bombardment of Afghanistan.
It was a strange experience - while sipping tea amid the relics
of the Raj, roses struggling across the lawn beside me, an old
British military cemetery at the end of the road - to read of
Klemperer's efforts to survive in Dresden with his wife Eva as
the Nazis closed in on his Jewish neighbours. Even more
intriguing was to find that the infinitely heroic Klemperer, a
cousin of the great conductor, showed great compassion for the
Palestinian Arabs of the 1930s who feared that they would lose
their homeland to a Jewish state.
"I cannot help myself," Klemperer writes on 2 November 1933,
nine months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. "I
sympathise with the Arabs who are in revolt (in Palestine),
whose land is being 'bought'. A Red Indian fate, says Eva."
Even more devastating is Klemperer's critique of Zionism - which
he does not ameliorate even after Hitler's Holocaust of the Jews
of Europe begins. "To me," he writes in June of 1934, "the
Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of AD70 ...
are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after
blood, their ancient 'cultural roots', their partly canting,
partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a
match for the National Socialists..."
Yet Klemperer's day-by-day account of the Holocaust, the cruelty
of the local Dresden Gestapo, the suicide of Jews as they are
ordered to join the transports east, his early knowledge of
Auschwitz - Klemperer got word of this most infamous of
extermination camps as early as March 1942, although he did not
realise the scale of the mass murders there until the closing
months of the war - fill one with rage that anyone could still
deny the reality of the Jewish genocide.
Reading these diaries as the RER train takes me out to Charles
de Gaulle airport - through the 1930s art deco architecture of
Drancy station where French Jews were taken by their own police
force before transportation to Auschwitz - I wish President
Ahmadinejad of Iran could travel with me.
For Ahmadinejad it was who called the Jewish Holocaust a "myth",
who ostentatiously called for a conference - in Tehran, of
course - to find out the truth about the genocide of six million
Jews, which any sane historian acknowledges to be one of the
terrible realities of the 20th century, along, of course, with
the Holocaust of one and a half million Armenians in 1915.
The best reply to Ahmadinejad's childish nonsense came from
ex-president Khatami of Iran, the only honourable Middle East
leader of our time, whose refusal to countenance violence by his
own supporters inevitably and sadly led to the demise of his
"civil society" at the hands of more ruthless clerical
opponents. "The death of even one Jew is a crime," Khatami said,
thus destroying in one sentence the lie that his successor was
trying to propagate.
Indeed, his words symbolised something more important: that the
importance and the evil of the Holocaust do not depend on the
Jewish identity of the victims. The awesome, wickedness of the
Holocaust lies in the fact that the victims were human beings -
just like you and me.
How do we then persuade the Muslims of the Middle East of this
simple truth? I thought that the letter which the head of the
Iranian Jewish Committee, Haroun Yashayaie, wrote to Ahmadinejad
provided part of the answer. "The Holocaust is not a myth any
more than the genocide imposed by Saddam (Hussein) on Halabja or
the massacre by (Ariel) Sharon of Palestinians and Lebanese in
the camps of Sabra and Chatila," Yashayaie - who represents
Iran's 25,000 Jews - said.
Note here how there is no attempt to enumerate the comparisons.
Six million murdered Jews is a numerically far greater crime
than the thousands of Kurds gassed at Halabja or the 1,700
Palestinians murdered by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies at
Sabra and Chatila in 1982. But Yashayaie's letter was drawing a
different kind of parallel: the pain that the denial of history
causes to the survivors.
I have heard Israelis deny their army's involvement in the Sabra
and Chatila massacres - despite Israel's own official enquiry
which proved that Ariel Sharon sent the murderers into the camps
- and I remember how the CIA initially urged US embassies to
blame Iran for the gassings at Halabja.
Indeed, it is easy to find examples of one of the most egregious
lies uttered against the 750,000 Palestinians who fled their
land in 1948: that they were ordered by Arab radio stations to
flee their homes until the Jews had been "driven into the sea" -
when they would return to take back their property. Israeli
academic researchers have themselves proved that no such radio
broadcasts were ever made, that the Palestinians fled - victims
of what we would today call ethnic cleansing - after a series of
massacres by Israeli forces, especially in the village of Deir
Yassin, just outside Jerusalem.
So what is there to learn from the second volume of Klemperer's
diaries? Just after he received word from the Gestapo that he
and Eva were to be transported east to their deaths, the RAF
raided Dresden and, amid the tens of thousands of civilians
which the February 1945 firestorm consumed, the Gestapo archives
also went up in flames. All record of the Klemperers' existence
was turned to ash, like the Jews who preceded them to Auschwitz.
So the couple took off their Jewish stars and wandered Germany
as refugees without papers until they found salvation after the
Just before their rescue, they showed compassion to three
distraught German soldiers who were lost in the forests of their
homeland. And even during their worst ordeals, as they waited
for the doorbell to ring and the Gestapo to arrive to search
their Dresden home and notify them of their fate, Klemperer was
able to write in his diary a sentence which every journalist and
historian should learn by heart: "There is no remedy against the
truth of language."