“At the Edge of The Ravine” – by Moshe Kantor, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the EJC

On the night of November 9-10, 1938, organized gangs wearing swastika on their sleeves smashed shops belonging to Jews and burned synagogues. Because the streets were covered with shards of glass from broken shop windows, this night was called Kristallnacht (the Crystal Night), in the spirit of the Nazi “aesthetic.”

Reinhard Heydrich, the Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), reported the results of the “campaign” to Hermann G̦ring: 267 synagogues were burnt and 815 shops were plundered; 20 thousand Jews were arrested, 36 people were killed and as many people were severely injured. 7,500 shops, companies and residential houses belonging to Jews were ransacked.

After that, the government adopted three decrees. As punishment for being plundered, Jews were forced to pay a fine in the amount of 1 billion marks to the German Nation, which is more that 30 billion US Dollars in today’s currency (this fact alone demonstrates that assistance granted to the State of Israel and individual Jews is not “philanthropy” but rather a partial reparation, though it is clear that no money can bring back to life those who died then). Furthermore, the Jews were completely expelled from the German economy, deprived of their remaining property and sent to ghettos or concentration camps.

The ‘open’ existence of Jews in Germany was over. Jews were ultimately chased out of German society, but they were not executed yet. November 9th was the final point in the first act of the German Jewish tragedy, which was followed by the second act – from die Kristallnacht through Babi Yar. The Third Reich’s anti-Semitism, which was part of the Fascist ideology, was evolving in line with the regime. As the general aggression in Germany was escalating and the preparations for invading the world intensified, state anti-Semitism was becoming more and more rabid, setting its final target as a complete extermination of ‘world Jewry.’

The fundamental idea in the Nazis’ policy was the principle of actively forcing Jews out of all spheres of life – economy, politics and culture. In the meantime, it was a given this purpose would be attained by any means, including psychological terror and executions.

After the NSDAP came to power, Jews were forced out of state establishments, and the “free professions” followed. In 1935, the racist Nuremberg Laws were adopted, which divided Jews into several categories and described in detail the process by which Jews were to be deprived of their civil rights.

Of the 525,000 Jews living in Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power (or 0.76% of the population), 329,000 left the country in the period 1993-1939. One should also bear in mind that both European countries and the United Stated were extremely unwilling to accept emigrants and imposed numerous quotas. There were even instances of ships with refugees being turned back.

The Nazis’ first practical task was to deprive Jews of their property. They used various means, from simple seizure of property to its forced sale at extremely low prices. Furthermore, rumors were circulating that almost the entire German economy was controlled by Jews.

That was a well-crafted, vicious anti-Semitic fabrication. Jews had very little influence in heavy industry, which was the basis of the German economy. Before Hitler came to power, there was not a single Jew in the list of 20 richest residents of Germany. However, Jews held quite prominent, if not key positions in finance, trade (which was a particular cause of hatred) and mass media.

Jews actually did play a leading role in German science. Of 20 Nobel Laureates living in Germany in 1933, eight were Jews.

This begins to explain the words of the president of the University of G̦ttingen. In reply to a question posed by a Nazi minister who asked if it were true that the University had lost a lot after the Jews were expelled, he said, “That is not true. The University did not lose anything. The University no longer exists.”

At this point, one should remember that the Jews who fled from Germany played a significant role in the development of nuclear weapons. I don’t even want to think what would have happened if Hitler had forced them to stay in Germany and work for the Third Reich.

However, the purpose of Nazi ideology was not as much plundering as total extermination. One could call it “robbery for the purpose of homicide.” Die Kristallnacht (the Crystal Night) of 1938 was the end of the economic Holocaust and the starting point of the Burnt Sacrifice – Shoa, the Holocaust of Babi Yar, Auschwitz-Birkenau and similar tragedies.

The most terrifying thing about Nazism was its combination of quite rational technical organization and completely insane, paranoid goals. This was best illustrated by the technically irreproachable system of mass extermination – from the production of lethal gases to the recycling of ash and hair.

Militant anti-Semitism in its most horrible form – a mixture of pseudo-scientific “biological” racism and apocalyptic ideas of the “atoning sacrifice” – has always been at the core of the sadistic ideology of national socialism.

Therefore, such goals as robbing Jews and uniting the nation against a designated “enemy” are rationally comprehensible (of course, not justifiable) given all their criminal cynicism. Still, these were intermediate objectives for Hitler. The main object of this hatred was different, and absolutely irrational -extermination for the sake of extermination, a “final solution” to “cleanse Humanity of wickedness.” “We do not make deals with Jews. It is either them or us.”

Hitler’s insanity was so advanced that he saw a completely fantastic picture of the world, where all the governments of states confronting him were but puppets in the hands of Jews. (By the way, these are typical judeophobic hallucinations, although usually they are not that harshly expressed). As one might expect, Hitler, the instigator of world war, blamed the Jews for the war.

This formed the basis for his famous “prophecy” (January, 1939), in which the “final solution” was explicitly articulated. Just as Jews were made to pay for their being robbed and killed in die Kristallnacht, that had to pay for the new world war, initiated by Hitler, but this time on a far greater scale.

“If the international Jewish financiers in Europe and beyond should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

Of course, this was not simply the personal mania of a serial killer. What we see is collective madness. The entire world watched as it developed and infected the entire world.

Germany was the first to be taught ruthless anti-Semitism. However, powerful traditions of German anti-Semitism existed long before Hitler (by the way, the word itself was coined in Germany). For example, Wilhelm Richard Wagner was not only Hitler’s favorite composer, but his teacher in militant anti-Semitism as well. It took only five years (1933-38) to de-humanize the majority of Germans, to teach them to enjoy exterminating defenseless people whose only difference was their nationality.

The “final solution” would not have been possible if there had not been total indifference to the events in Germany during 1930s. The few courageous and forward-looking politicians (Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt) who confronted Nazism from the very beginning were exceptions.

The West liked the aggressive policy of Nazism as a tool for fighting Bolshevism; the USSR liked it because it was opposed to western democracy. With respect to Hitler’s anti-Semitism, governing elites in the western countries were completely indifferent to it (or sympathized with it, as many politicians stated in 1930s that moderate anti-Semitism is in fact a sign of bon ton). Therefore, the policy of appeasement towards the aggressor that was articulated in disgraceful Munich Pact (1938) and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939) prevailed both in the west and in the east.

A telling point is that even when the war broke out, the Allies’ attitude towards Hitler’s anti-Semitism changed very little.

It showed itself in everything. During the war, both Soviet and western propaganda avoided mentioning the Jewish genocide as long as possible, although the leaders of the states of the anti-Hitler coalition were well-aware of the relevant facts both from intelligence services reports and from the people who were miraculously saved from Nazism.

Moreover, although they had every opportunity to bomb the access roads to the death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the united UK and US air forces did not do so (although they turned Dresden into ruins in 1945 as revenge for the bombing of Coventry in 1940). Hitler’s propaganda was shouting that “Jews and Jews only” are “behind Stalin’s and Churchill’s backs” but neither Stalin nor Churchill were taking any steps to save Jews from the execution.

European Jews were left face to face with their destiny. And their destiny was extermination.

Historians are still arguing about when the decision on practical implementation of the “final solution”; was made (I repeat, Hitler articulated the “solution”; itself in public many times – including in his speech in Reichstag in 1939).

In any case, immediately after World War Two broke out, the fascists embarked on physical executions. Both the SS and the German army were actively involved in executions (orders to that effect from field marshals von Reichenau and von Manstein still exist), as well as local nationalists, for example, in the Baltic States, who undertook a large share of the dirty work. As we know, today these serial killers of woman and children have been honored as “;fighters against communism and Soviet occupation” even as “national heroes.”

Babi Yar has become a symbol of this stage of Holocaust. Thirty-three thousand Jews were killed there during two days. This campaign was not only terrifying in and of itself. The executions were performed almost in the center of a big city, and that proved that the majority of the population was at least indifferent to killings of defenseless and peaceful people.

The acts of bravery performed by the Righteous Among the Nations were really admirable – thousands and tens of thousands of people who risked their lives (and often paid the price of their lives) to save Jews. They did not save them out of any particular love for Jews. They just could not watch indifferently as women, children, and elderly people were executed.

However, it is fair to say that unfortunately there were hundreds of thousands of those who betrayed, reported, and took part in the genocide. Without their involvement, the annihilation of 6 million people would have been impossible. And hundreds of millions of people – the peoples of occupied Europe – demonstrated complete indifference to others’ fate. The probably decided it was “every man for himself.” But let anyone who would reproach them ask himself if he is ready to risk his own life for a stranger…

We must remember the consequences of such indifference – we must remember it ourselves and not let other people forget it. This is the vaccine against any xenophobia in general.

Then, after the Wannsee Conference (1942), the third stage, involving the large-scale extermination of millions of people in death camps, was begun.

And again, after the end of World War II ant-Semitism did not evaporated. And this is significant.

Anti-Semitism was very powerful after the war. In the USSR and the East European countries, anti-Semitism was present both at the state and popular levels. Suffice it to say that the word “Jew” was banned as something unbecoming. Speaking of Babi Yar, it was said that “Soviet people died”; It was awkward to say that Jews were killed! With his poem Babi Yar, Yevgeny Yevtushenko broke the conspiracy of silence around this subject. That is the shameful and the absurd truth of the people’s fall – it was frightening to tell this simple truth, even though everyone already knew it. It was difficult, it was risky, and it was in fact a political challenge to the system. In other socialist countries – for example in Poland – state anti-Semitism resulted in the expulsion of the remaining Jews after which… the anti-Semitism continued without Jews.

The situation in the western countries was not much better. They were eager to protect Soviet Jews, but were extremely reluctant to acknowledge anti-Semitism in their own countries. Only 40-50 years after the war was France ready to tell the truth, unwillingly, that the Vichy government was engaged in genocide.

Even more violent manifestations of anti-Semitism occurred in some countries of Africa and Asia. Almost all Ethiopian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Iranian Jews had to flee their countries – almost one million people. Humankind knows almost nothing about the tragedy of these refugees who had to leave all their belongings, chiefly because no one wants to know about it.

In this context I would like to say the following.

I, as President of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, am often asked – why do we do this? Is it worth endlessly raking over the ashes of the past? “Let the dead bury their dead.” We should eventually agree that this is history. Preserve its artefacts, monuments, and whatever else, but do not talk about this issue with such fervour. At the Forum “Let My People Live!” in Kyiv I had a talk with the teacher who inculcated in me a desire to be involved in charity. His name is Ronald Stanton, one of the greatest philanthropists in the world, who for a long time was Chairman of the Board of Yeshiva University, one of the largest Universities in the US. I asked him about the level of anti-Semitism in the USA. He replied: “Essentially, it is non-existent. It is a matter of history. We should be involved in education. Why remember the Holocaust? It is counterproductive.”

I told him: You, in the US, are too satisfied and too conceited. But you don’t see what is happening right under your noses. Europe, Israel and the whole world see you as pilots but it turns out that you are blind pilots. In reality, you cannot be trusted with anything because you don’t see that Jews are not accepted to non-Jewish clubs, Jews are not accepted to non-Jewish schools. Do you think that doesn’t matter?

Don’t you see the processes developing in Europe? Don’t you see the processes taking place in Eastern Europe, where anti-Semitism grows by 10-15% yearly, taking into consideration only acts of terrorism, beatings and attacks… That is why these processes must be thoroughly examined by politicians. They should work like microbiologists watching germs develop under their microscopes. Have a look at the story of the President of Iran.

Today this seems to be the most relevant story for the US, the US President, Israel and Russia. Since the development of its nuclear programme, Iran is the most important international topic. And somehow the Holocaust happens to be the card that is played once again. Has anyone asked why? The answer is very simple. Mocking our values and our memory of the people who were killed, this man knows that the Holocaust existed in reality. What does he expect? He expects somebody to rise to his provocation, thus untying his hands by an improvident act.

My answer to these remarks is the following. We should definitely know history, clarify dates and figures, and conduct discussions. But the problem is that the Holocaust is not history. Rather, it is not mere history. It is no accident that in some European countries denial of the Holocaust is punished by law. Debates on topics concerning the Napoleonic wars are not prosecutable offences…

Turning over the tragic pages of history, we ought to pay tribute and acknowledge the efforts of politicians who do all in their power to fight xenophobia and anti-Semitism, putting the interests of their own countries first. And here I would like to acknowledge the activities of the presidents of Germany, Russia, Poland and Ukraine. Giving proper attention to positive steps is part of a productive dialogue.

Xenophobia is not history. Everybody knows that it is one of the most important and pressing political problems today (and Russia is no better or worse than any other large country). Naturally, xenophobia does not concern only Jews. This is, first and foremost, a problem that touches migrants. It is a very complicated tangle of problems that I am not going to deal with today.

What is important today is that even though state anti-Semitism does not exist in any European country, nevertheless it is still alive. Moreover, it is the oldest, most resilient and “ideologically elaborated” form of xenophobia, having its roots in ancient tradition. Anti-Semitism is still a festering venom that poisons all other forms of xenophobia. As they say, “the womb from which the beast crawled is still fertile.” One of the most important components of xenophobia is Holocaust denial, mocking the tragedy as they did in Iran some time ago when they initiated a competition for cartoons about the Holocaust.

Those who deny the Holocaust today do not do so by virtue of “scientific arguments” and not in the course of “scientific discussion.” Denial of the Holocaust is its justification; it is one of the forms adopted by a cowardly and hidden induction of a new Holocaust. As a result, reminding people of the Holocaust is not just an exercise in history or charity. It is a political activity and an important part of our common work against xenophobia and anti-Semitism. This is what makes this issue so serious

I want to recount something that happened to me this autumn while we were preparing for the Forum “Let My People Live!” which took place in Kyiv.

At an Italian flea market, I bought two pieces of old soap. It turned out that this soap had been produced in Italy under Mussolini specifically for Auschwitz. This soap was cut in 12 pieces (according to the number of tribes in Israel) and handed out to those who were sent into the gas chamber, where they were told they would be taking a shower. One piece was given to every two people. There was a profane symbolic sense to this – with this soap they “washed” Jews from the face of the earth.

We took this soap, and we too had it cut. This soap of vigilance is to be given to politicians as a physical symbol and reminder. The soap is a reminder that Humankind must observe spiritual hygiene, and that these are politicians who must look after its moral health.

One of the most important factors of any xenophobia as a political illness is the position of central authorities. This illness has no chance of developing if state authorities say and regularly send messages: “we intend to act in accordance with the law, paying no attention to political, religious, economic and other factors. If a Jew is guilty, he will be punished. If a person who attacked a Jew is guilty, he will be definitely punished.” Even if there is just one Jew surrounded by millions of others. Such authority will guarantee the country’s greatness. And this is true for every country and every people.

Of course, Humankind did step away from the edge of the ravine. But it did not step so far away that it can’t look back and remember the edge at which we all once stood.


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