This interview by Dr.Manfred Gerstenfeld with Professor Dan Michman was first published in Israel National News, and republished here with the author’s consent.
Why the Holocaust is more than “a Genocide”
Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Dan Michman
“Was the Holocaust a genocide or was it more than that? To answer that question definitions are required. It was the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’ in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He had started to contemplate the concept of genocide years earlier in view of the mass killing of Armenians by the Turks in the First World War.
“Lemkin defined genocide as: ‘… a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against a national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.’”
Professor Dan Michman is head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem and Emeritus Professor of Modern Jewish History specializing in Holocaust research at Bar-Ilan University
“Lemkin who later lived in the United States also initiated the United Nations’ 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention). This Convention has been ratified by 147 States.
“In recent years the Holocaust has been increasingly equated with the genocide of Jews. This equivalence should be reassessed. To do so, one has to research National Socialism’s purpose concerning the Jews. This can best be defined as wanting to totally eliminate the so called ‘Jewish Spirit.’ Hitler and an enormous host of associates and first, second and third class thinkers, believed the demonic antisemitic absurdity that the world was poisoned by the ‘Jewish’ idea of human equality, which was carried over the ages by the Jews all over, and thus had penetrated into Christianity, liberalism, socialism and its ultimate form communism, capitalism, democracy, etc. Through these political and religious systems, the pollution had also penetrated into other domains, such as the arts, science and medicine.
“This was explained in detail by SS member, Dieter Wisliceny, a close collaborator of Adolf Eichmann. In 1946 he elaborated on the national socialist world view as follows: ‘The world is directed by forces of good and evil. According to this view, the principle of evil was embodied in the Jews… This world of images is totally incomprehensible in logical or rational terms [because] it is a form of religiosity that leads to sectarianism. Millions of people believed these things…, something that can be compared only to similar phenomena from the Middle Ages, such as the mania of witches.’
“This revealing testimony explains that the Nazi target went far beyond the physical murder of Jews. It aimed also at a Sisyphean struggle against all expressions of assumed Jewishness. In the Nazi worldview that meant all ideas and political systems which are based on equality. In the Nazis’ fantasies Jews were the only group which were – or had an influence – everywhere in the world and were thus the binding element of all enemies of National Socialism.
“Hitler indeed had a grand vision of restructuring the world along racial lines, as scholarship has demonstrated very well, but also of healing it – an aspect often neglected. In this context the war against the Jews was a long-term central obsession. Already in 1919 he coined the expression ‘Entfernung der Juden überhaupt‘ (the total removal of the Jews). This remained a guiding principle during Hitler’s life.
“Hitler’s view was shared by many lower echelon functionaries. In 1933 an inter-ministerial committee stated the goal of German anti-Jewish policies: ‘To use this unique moment to purify the German people and liberate it from the alien power which had been controlling it hitherto in its own home, in overt and covert ways which were an existential danger.’
“In order to turn his vision into action Hitler had to rely largely on his collaborators. The great fervor of their assistance made the rapid escalation of the anti-Jewish campaign possible. This led to the burning of books, anti-Jewish legislation, expropriation, promotion of emigration, and also extensive efforts to ‘purify’ art, science, legal thought and language from assumed Jewish influences. At the origins of these policies were different personalities and power centers. The unprecedented zealous brand of Nazi antisemitism also radicalized the many other types of antisemitism including those which were part of the Christian European tradition.
“In view of all this it is clear that the Holocaust is much more than the murder of 6 million Jews. The mass murder (the Final Solution policy) was essential, yet only part of the much larger anti-Jewish campaign.”
Michman concludes: “In view of the above-mentioned characteristics the Holocaust/Shoah is an event of exceptional dimensions. It had an important chapter of genocide in it, yet it was much more: it was also a spiritual apocalyptic-like global campaign; that makes it different from the commonly accepted patterns of genocide.”