What we’re told to remember and why

How can you tell when “remembering” horrible events is being twisted to defend the status quo and support the powerful against the weak? When a sports network airs a Nazi Holocaust themed show.

Last week TSN ran a six-minute video feature about Hank Rosenbaum, a Polish Jew whose life was turned upside down when German troops invaded 77 years ago. The sports angle for TSN’s “Yom HaShoah, the international day of remembrance for the more than 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust during WW II” commemoration, was that Rosenbaum became a hockey fan when he arrived in Toronto six decades ago. The sports network showed him watching his 10-year-old grandson’s house league game.

While the Rosenbaum story was horrifying and more socially meaningful than TSN’s typical fare, does it really represent a concern for human rights by the broadcaster?

TSN is not seeking out a hockey loving Kikuyu who hid in forests around Nairobi when British forces rounded up most of Kenya’s largest ethnic group in the mid-1950s (with a Canadian in charge of the police force). Nor will they interview a Herero descendent of the German concentration camps in Namibia or an East Timorese whose family was wiped out by Indonesian forces. While also crimes against humanity and analogous to Rosenbaum’s experience, these stories would shine a light on little-known imperial history and challenge authority, which is the anti-thesis of the “Holocaust Industry”.

In The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein argues that the American Jewish establishment has exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for economic and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Finkelstein shows how discussion of the Nazi Holocaust grew exponentially after the June 1967 Six Day war. Prior to that war, which provided a decisive service to US geopolitical aims in the Middle East, the genocide of European Jewry was a topic largely relegated to private forums and among left wing intellectuals.

Paralleling the US, the Nazi Holocaust was not widely discussed in Canada in the two decades after World War II. One study concluded that between 1945 and 1960 Canadian Jewry exhibited “collective amnesia” regarding the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. “B’nai B’rith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress displayed little interest [in discussing Nazi crimes] immediately after the war”, wrote Professor Henry Srebrnik in the Jewish Tribune. When a National Jewish Black Book Committee (with Albert Einstein as honourary chair) published The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People in 1946, “the book went almost unnoticed in Canada. Valia Hirsch, the executive secretary of the [National Jewish Black Book] committee, voiced her concerns that no meetings had been held in the Jewish communities of Montreal,Toronto, Ottawa, or Hamilton, to bring it to the attention of the Jewish community. The Canadian Jewish Congress had ordered 100 copies of the book in the summer of 1946, but had never bothered, according to Hirsch, to obtain them from Canada Customs. The CJC indicated a year later that they were no longer interested and ‘cannot use them.’”

Numerous commentators trace the establishment Jewish community’s interest in Nazi crimes to the Six Day War. “The 1967 war,” explained Professor Cyril Leavitt, “alarmed Canadian Jews. Increasingly, the Holocaust was invoked as a reminder of the need to support the Jewish state.” President of the Vancouver Jewish Community Center, Sam Rothstein concurred. “The 1967 war … was the one development that led to a commitment by community organizations to become more involved in Holocaust commemoration. … Stephen Cummings, the founder of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, said that ‘consciousness [of the Holocaust] has changed. Jews are much more proud, and that’s a post-1967 [phenomenon]. It was the event that gave Jews around the world confidence.’”

Holocaust memorials proliferated after Israel smashed Egyptian-led pan-Arabism in six days of fighting, providing a decisive service to US geopolitical aims. Nearly three decades after World War II, in 1972, the Canadian Jewish Congress and its local federations began to establish standing committees on the Nazi Holocaust. The first Canadian Holocaust memorial was established in Montreal in 1977.

Today’s Yom HaShoah ceremonies are often explicitly aligned with Israel advocacy. Standing in front of Israeli flags, at last week’s Montréal commemoration Mayor Denis Coderre criticized the “new anti-Semitism”, which he described as “singling outone state among the family of nations for discriminatory treatment.” Similarly, in a Yom HaShoah statement Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose said, we havealways been proud to support Holocaust remembrance and education both in Canada and around the world. As a Government, we took a leading role in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism, including against efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Beyond Israeli apologetics, the Nazi Holocaust/anti-Semitism are increasingly invoked to attack Leftist political movements. Zionist groups, media commentators and Blairites in the British Labour Party recently whipped up an “anti-Semitism” crisis to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. As part of the witch-hunt, Black-Jewish activist Jackie Walker was suspended from the Party for writing on her Facebook that her ancestors both benefited from and were victims of the transatlantic slave trade, which she described as an “African Holocaust”.

A Canadian Jewish News editorial and front page cover about the NDP supporting the Leap Manifesto suggests the Jewish community’s leading organ would pursue similar tactics if the NDP elected a left-wing leader. Already, established Canadian Jewish organizations have cried “anti-Semitism”/Holocaust desecration to attack non-Palestine focused progressive movements. During the 2012 Québec student strike some protesters responded to police repression by comparing the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) to the Nazi SS secret police. Many chanted “S-S PVM, police politique!” while others mocked the police by marching in formation and extending their arm as if saluting Hitler. On what he said would have been Nazi victim and child author Anne Frank’s 83rd birthday, B’nai B’rith CEO Frank Dimant issued a statement attacking a social movement much reviled by the establishment. “We condemn, in the strongest of terms, this inexcusable display of hate by Quebec student protesters”, which Dimant said “defile[s] the memory of the Holocaust.” Similarly, Jewish representatives and Canadian officials repeatedly accused Hugo Chavez’ government of anti-Semitism. In 2009 former Liberal Minister Irwin Cotler said the Venezuelan government, which was focused on redressing inequality and lessening US dominance, was responsible for a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.”

In their story TSN failed to mention that Rosenbaum is co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants. Affiliated with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the survivors’ organization was established 54 years after World War II ended. For his part, Rosenbaum says he only began to talk about his experiences in Poland after watching the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.

If Rosenbaum, TSN and others publicly commemorating the Nazi Holocaust are truly motivated by a desire to prevent crimes against humanity and not simply by Israeli nationalism, I expect to see them support reparations to the victims of slavery and colonialism as well as indigenous (including Palestinian) rights.

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