Review: The Holocaust Industry: the exploitation of Jewish suffering

Noman Finkelstein has recently given a powerful interview attacking the Labour Party 'apparatchiks' exploiting the Holocaust to attack solidarity with Palestine and to secure their own positions. This has been an important intervention in the Zionist witch-hunt which has been launched in the Labour Party with accusations of 'anti-semitism' against anyone who has openly challenged Zionism. The full interview can be read here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/jamie-stern-weiner-norman-finkelstein/american-jewish-scholar-behind-labour-s-antisemitism-scanda . Below we republish a review of Finkelstein's important 2000 book, The Holocaust industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering, which appeared in FRFI 157. (May 2016).

Norman G Finkelstein

The Holocaust industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering
Norman G Finkelstein, Verso, 2000, £16 (HB), 150pp


In his tightly-argued book, The Holocaust Industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering, Norman G Finkelstein makes three points: the true horror of the Nazi holocaust is lost in the inflation of the numbers of those who survived and the refusal to acknowledge non-Jewish victims; the compensation industry for the victims has been used to justify uncritical support for the state of Israel; huge sums of money remain in US banks under the control of wealthy and powerful Jewish groups. 

Aficionados of detective fiction everywhere learn early that it is often the most obvious things which are the hardest to see. Finkelstein draws our attention to one such fact: at the end of World War II all authorities agreed that no more than 100,000 Jews had survived the concentration camps. Fifty years later, given average mortality rates, the number still alive would be around 25,000. Yet, according to those mounting claims for compensation, the number is said to be nearer one million. These survivors have not merely survived, they have gone forth and multiplied. They have achieved, it would appear, immortality. 

The reasons for this are simply our old friends cash and carry. The more survivors, the more money that can be extorted on their behalf from anyone and everyone deemed 'guilty' by the self-appointed bodies running the compensation business which Finkelstein calls The Holocaust Industry. This industry has created a fiction called The Holocaust which is quite distinct from the historical event which is the Nazi holocaust. 

This capitalised Holocaust - and that pun is intentional - is the creation not of National Socialism but of the Jewish lobby in the United States. It tells us a great deal about the USA and nothing at all about what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Here is a terrifying insight into the darkest heart of the capitalist adventure known as the American dream. It shows us how well-to-do, successful and highly integrated and compliant Jewish elites came to realise how they could make financial and moral capital out of the past sufferings of poor, European Jews. and that these victims were not the embarrassing losers they appeared to be. 

The turning point was the 1967 victory by Israel over the Arab countries in the Six Day War. Until then, Israel itself had been classed as a 'loser' state by Jewish elites who had seen it as dependent on US handouts. These same elites had disassociated themselves from the efforts by left-wing Jewish organisations to keep the record of fascism alive, supported McCarthyism and the death penalty for the Rosenbergs and claimed that Soviet anti-Semitism was worse than that of the Nazis. After the 1967 war Israel emerged as a hero nation and these elites wished to benefit from the US government's endorsement of Israel's strategic significance in the Middle East. In so doing, they have strengthened Zionist reaction, impeded a just settlement of the Palestinian conflict and turned Washington into `Israeli-occupied territory'. But they have reaped benefits which can be regarded as moral and material capital. Firstly, they have achieved `victim' status, a sine qua non of US ethnic politics. Secondly, they have created a vast extortion racket for milking funds from European banks, industries and individuals in the guise of compensation for the sufferings of Jewish slave labourers. This racket has not investigated money deposited in US and Israeli banks by Jews threatened by the Nazis, nor has any compensation money been paid to Jewish survivors living in Israel. It remains firmly in the control of US Jewish organisations. Indeed only 15% of the money collected has been paid to individual survivors. The rest has been siphoned off into the pockets of lawyers, rabbis, community projects and something called `Holocaust education', of which the Imperial War Museum in London is the latest example. 

The symbol of their achievement is the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust industry has made the Holocaust into a US memory. Right on the Mall in Washington, alongside the statues of Washington and Lincoln, museums dedicated to United States history, art, industry, and far more visible than the underground memorial to the Vietnam War, is a Holocaust experience for a nation who did not have that particular Holocaust. Notably absent from the Mall is any memorial or record of African slavery, the attempted genocide of the Native Americans or the Chinese slave labourers who died building the railways, let alone the hundreds of thousands of Africans, Latin Americans and Asians who were slaughtered in the rage of capitalist expansion disguised as the war against communism. The American Jewish elites reinvented themselves as `victims', a necessary makeover in the nursery politics of the United States. The ruling classes in the States are allowed to disremember the real history of their nation and replace it with what Finkelstein calls the `Dachau meets Disney' of the Holocaust experience. Everyone gets to make a lot of money. 

Finkelstein points out that 17 states encourage or mandate the teaching of the Holocaust and that US public schools which lack books, writing materials and teachers are supplied with Holocaust literature at public expense. The Washington Holocaust Museum is funded with $30 million of public money. We too are threatened with a Holocaust holy day. None of this would be possible without the craven compliance of academia which has bought wholesale into the comforting fakery of memory and hastily jettisoned the discomforting challenges of power and commitment. Holocaust Chairs now proliferate and Holocaust denial becomes the sin without pardon. Deborah Lipstadt is the doyenne of Holocaust denial detection. Holocaust denial, absurd and repellent as it is, is given some credibility by Lipstadt's definition: to question a survivor's testimony, to denounce the role of Jewish collaborators, to suggest the Germans suffered during the bombing of Dresden, or that any state except Germany committed crime in World War II. 

Israeli writer Boas Evron accurately notes that: 

    'Holocaust awareness is an official, propagandistic indoctrination, a churning out of slogans and a false view of the world, a real aim of which is not at all an understanding of the past, but a manipulation of the present.' (p41) 

In order to achieve this, Holocaust propagandists have to make two manifestly false claims. One is that the Nazi holocaust was a unique event; the second, that it represented the culmination of thousands of years of irrational hatred of the Jews. These dogmas, of course, come very close to the Nazis' own justification for the extermination of the Jews. They both involve the concept of Jewish uniqueness. This is argued by pseudo-scholars like Daniel Goldenhagen in his now discredited Hitler's Willing Executioners as well as by neo-Nazis like David Irving. In his failed libel action against Lipstadt, Irving asserted that Jews should look into their mirrors each morning and ask `Why does everyone hate me?'. Holocaust industry apologists claim that Jews are different because everyone hates them. That's why they need their own states which must be exempted from the laws which apply to all other nations because Jews are not like anyone else. The sins of Zionism have been paid for in advance by the blood of Auschwitz. That is also the reason why industry spokesmen have been determined that no one else should be allowed to muscle in on the act. Other victims of Nazi persecution such as gypsies, communists and gays are rigorously excluded from the memory game. A spokesman for the Washington Museum committee is quoted as saying that the gypsies are not `really a people'. Niemoller's famous quote has been altered in the Museum so that the phrase `When they came for the Communists I did nothing' has been left out. Elie Wiesel refused to take part in a conference on genocide held in Israel because it would have included representatives of the Armenian victims of the Turkish state. Wiesel, along with the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Bnai Brith and the Anti-defamation League have not only never protested against Israeli onslaughts against Palestinians, they have sought to blame Palestinian leaders in the 1940s for the Nazi atrocities! Wiesel attacked Simon Peres for linking Auschwitz with Hiroshima. Holocaust industry spokesmen have not spoken out against genocide in Rwanda, the slaughter in East Timor, the use of Zyklon B gas by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, to mention just three recent experiences where one might have expected that sheer human empathy might have carried some weight. 

The false claim of Jewish uniqueness, mirroring the ideology of anti-Semites everywhere, is the bedrock of the Holocaust industry. It is also becoming a main fomenter of growth in anti-Semitism, especially in impoverished but newly privatised Eastern Europe, where Holocaust industry claims for compensation are threatening to dispossess and further pauperise some of the most disadvantaged people in Europe. Claims there from Jews still living in the ex-Soviet bloc will only be met if they are adherents of a recognised religious practice. So this money will fund a `revival' of Judaism in these countries and undoubtedly many people will, like Madeleine Albright, wake up one day and remember that they are Jewish. 

At the end of the day, this all comes down to numbers: bodies and dollars. Again a discomfiting parallel from the past comes to mind: the price per head the Nazis collected from Jews they allowed to leave. An Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Report, claimed on 15 June 1999, that the American Claims Conference, which now handles all compensation actions, `has plenty to gain by ensuring the survivors get nothing'. While Knesset member Michael Kleiner called the Conference `A Judenrat carrying on the Nazis' work in different ways'. The numbers game of the Holocaust industry makes disturbing reading. Numbers of survivors have been boosted by strategies such as the inclusion of Polish Jews who spent the whole war in Russia; the relatives of those who survived the camps; Jews who spent the war hiding or in neutral countries; Jews who had no connection with the camps but who were traumatised by hearing about them; non-Jews who imaginatively empathised with the plight of the Jews and even those who wrote fake accounts are acclaimed and claimed by this multi-million dollar enterprise. 

`In fact, to believe the Holocaust industry, more former Jewish slave labourers are alive today than half a century ago...In juggling these numbers the Holocaust industry...whitewashes Nazism. Raul Hilberg, the leading authority on the Nazi holocaust, puts the figure for Jews murdered at 5.1 million. Yet, if 135,000 former Jewish slave labourers are still alive today, some 600,000 must have survived the war. That's at least a half-million more than standard estimates. One would then have to deduct this half- million from the 5.1 million figure of those killed...the numbers of the Holocaust industry are rapidly approaching those of the Holocaust deniers.' (p127) 

Does this kind of juggling with numbers make you feel uneasy? The idea that some kind of accounting can be used to compute the suffering inflicted at Auschwitz is abhorrent. Yet it is the basic fantasy of capitalism that everything has a price. When money interposes itself between the human and the real, we can never learn from history. Money cushions us against the horror of what we are capable of and comforts us with the delusion that there is no pain without a price that will make everything all right. 

The Holocaust industry teaches us nothing about how we may safeguard our futures against such dark nights of the soul. We learn only what we knew already: the human greed for gold makes us less than human.
Jackie Kaye

FRFI 157 Oct / Nov 2000