The cynicism inherent in the attitude of the institutions of the Jewish state to Holocaust survivors is not a revelation to those born and living among them. We grew up with the yawning gap between the presentation of the State of Israel as the place of the Jewish people’s rebirth and the void that exists for every Holocaust survivor and his family. The personal “rehabilitation” was dependent on the circumstances of each person: the stronger ones versus the others, who did not find support from the institutions of the state. During the 1950s and 1960s we saw the demeaning view of our parents as having gone “like sheep to the slaughter,” the shame of the new Jews, the Sabras, over their misfortunate, Diaspora relatives.
It can be argued that during the first two decades, much of this attitude could be attributed to the lack of information and the very human lack of an ability to grasp the full meaning of the industrialized genocide perpetrated by Germany. But the awareness of the material aspects of the Holocaust started very early, with Jewish and Zionist institutions starting in the early 1940s to discuss the possibility of demanding reparations. In 1952, the reparations agreement with Germany was signed, by which that country agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel to cover the absorption costs of the survivors and pay for their rehabilitation. The agreement obligated Germany to compensate survivors individually as well, but the German law differentiated between those who belonged to the “circle of German culture” and others. Those who were able to prove a connection to the superior circle received higher sums, even if they emigrated in time from Germany. Concentration camp survivors from outside the “circle” received the ridiculous sum of 5 marks per day. The Israeli representatives swallowed this distortion.
This is part of the roots of financial cynicism that the media is being exposed to today, due to several reasons: the advanced age and declining health of survivors, the intentional weakening of the welfare state, the presence of survivors from the former Soviet Union who are not included in the reparations agreement, the media activism of nongovernmental welfare organizations and the welcome enlistment of social affairs journalists.
They are shocked by the gap between the official appropriation of the Holocaust, which is perceived in Israel as understood and justified, and the abandonment of survivors.
Turning the Holocaust into a political asset serves Israel primarily in its fight against the Palestinians. When the Holocaust is on one side of the scale, along with the guilty (and rightly so) conscience of the West, the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland in 1948 is minimized and blurred.
The phrase “security for the Jews” has been consecrated as an exclusive synonym for “the lessons of the Holocaust.” It is what allows Israel to systematically discriminate against its Arab citizens. For 40 years, “security” has been justifying control of the West Bank and Gaza and of subjects who have been dispossessed of their rights living alongside Jewish residents, Israeli citizens laden with privileges.
Security serves the creation of a regime of separation and discrimination on an ethnic basis, Israeli style, under the auspices of “peace talks” that go on forever. Turning the Holocaust into an asset allows Israel to present all the methods of the Palestinian struggle (even the unarmed ones) as another link in the anti-Semitic chain whose culmination is Auschwitz. Israel provides itself with the license to come up with more kinds of fences, walls and military guard towers around Palestinian enclaves.
Separating the genocide of the Jewish people from the historical context of Nazism and from its aims of murder and subjugation, and its separation from the series of genocides perpetrated by the white man outside of Europe, has created a hierarchy of victims, at whose head we stand. Holocaust and anti-Semitism researchers fumble for words when in Hebron the state carries out ethnic cleansing via its emissaries, the settlers, and ignore the enclaves and regime of separation it is setting up. Whoever criticizes Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians is denounced as an anti-Semite, if not a Holocaust denier. Absurdly, the delegitimization of any criticism of Israel only makes it harder to refute the futile equations that are being made between the Nazi murder machine and the Israeli regime of discrimination and occupation.
The institutional abandonment of the survivors is rightly denounced across the board. The transformation of the Holocaust into a political asset for use in the struggle against the Palestinians feed on those same stores of official cynicism, but it is part of the consensus.
AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.