Mixed Feelings About UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is the  UN’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It’s commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, and is generally pointed to, even by UN critics, as one of the few things that the UN gets right.  For its admirers, the day pretty much absolves the UN of all sins.

I confess to having mixed emotions about it.

First, there’s the tendency towards universality that pervades everything Jewish-related that the UN does.  The Holocaust has a specific, unique meaning to Jews that it doesn’t have to anyone else.  This is a result of the special place that Jews held in Nazi ideology, and therefore the uniquely catastrophic results that the Holocaust had on the Jewish population and civilization of Europe.  This point has been made before, but the need to draw universal lessons from a uniquely Jewish experience has the effect of lessening, rather than deepening, the lessons that we actually draw from it.  It’s much easier, much more banal, to oppose “hate” in the abstract, than it is to look at the much more concrete way that a specific person or people is seen.

That universality has been the Trojan Horse by which, ironically, anti-Semitism has been given a new lease on life, when the Holocaust was supposed to have rendered it inert for all time.  As British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has repeatedly pointed out, anti-Semitism is a virus, that mutates into whatever form the current zeitgeist finds most acceptable.  Currently, racism is the one thing that can’t be tolerated.  Therefore, it is convenient to condemn Israel – and Jews – for supposed racism vis-a-vis the Palestinians.  Rebutting those charges is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and well-nigh impossible in the eyes of those who make them in the first place.  But the charge of racism, accompanied by the de rigeur comparisons of 2013 Israelis to 1943 Germans, is what has allowed anti-Semitism to regain respectability within the Left.  It will provide the cover for the very same diplomats shedding crocodile tears over the dead Jews of 70 years ago to condemn the living Jews of today for resisting a repeat of history.

In fact, there already is a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, Yom HaShoah, and it celebrates life, vitality, resistance, and renewal, rather than the passive liberation and victim-status that the world prefers for its Jews.  Two days were considered – first the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 14 Nissan.  That was rejected because of its proximity to Passover.  Instead, Yom HaShoah is commemorated a week before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.  Either one of those would be just fine for a UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, but either would make more difficult the UN’s current mission of demonizing and dispossessing the Jews of their national homeland.

If a Day of Liberation of the Camps were strictly necessary, perhaps the  anniversary of the liberation of one of the camps by Eisenhower, who actually commissioned films to be made in order to perpetuate the awful memory of what happened.  Instead, we get the liberation of Auschwitz, the Symbol of Symbols of the Holocaust, but one which was also liberated by the Red Army, which turned out to be in many ways, not much better than the Wehrmacht, and was servant to an ideology in every way the equal of Hitler’s.

Perhaps more ironically, there is a way to redeem this date specifically with respect to Jews.  In 1945, as in 2013, it falls on Parshat Beshallach, the week where Jews read of the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies.  Carrying the story a little further, we also read of the Amalekites attacking the Jews in their new sanctuary, with the intent of annihilating them, and the Jews’ success in fighting them off.

Don’t count on too many people pointing out those parallels.

UPDATE: As if to make the point, here’s a front-page cartoon from this morning’s Sunday Times of London:

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