Free Life 22, April 1995, Tony Kushner’s Book on the Holocaust, Reviewed by Sean Gabb

From Free Life No. 22, April 1995
ISSN: 0260 5112

The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination:
A Social and Cultural History

Tony Kushner
Blackwell, Oxford, 1994, 336 pp., £14.99
(ISBN 0 631 19483 5)

This book might have been written by Dr Heinz Kiosk: WE ARE ALL GUILTY! We the British are guilty for our indifference to foreigners and our ability to assimilate them, our Jewish fellow subjects for their often narrowly British sympathies, and the Israelis for their disinclination to dwell on past misfortunes. In short, everyone is guilty who fails to see the holocaust as the most awful event in all recorded history, and who is not inclined to wear ashes and sackcloth in permanent recognition of this.

The European Jews were not the only ones who suffered during the second world war. They were not the only victims of German national socialism, and were perhaps not the majority of victims. Nor was national socialism the most murderous of the totalitarian ideologies. In extent and duration, Hitler’s crimes were dwarfed by those of Stalin and Mao. So far as the holocaust is unique, it has nothing to do with the suffering of its victims, but all to do with the passing derangement of a great and civilised nation.

And the nation deranged was not our own. The Germans may have good reason to feel ashamed. We have none. Throughout his book, Dr Kushner continually takes offence at British attitudes. Well, I find his thoroughly offensive. I do not feel the need for a holocaust museum somewhere in London, or for a holocaust memorial in Whitehall, just opposite the Cenotaph, or for holocaust awareness courses in the National Curriculum.

Nor, I am happy to say, do most British Jews. They have consistently refused to fund or to press for any of these projects. Lord Jakobowics, the former Chief Rabbi, even “rejects the sanctification of the Holocaust as a cardinal doctrine in contemporary Jewish thought and teaching”. [p.261]

Nowhere does Dr Kushner explore any of these objections. This is a shame, for the effects of the holocaust on some types of the Jewish imagination are well worth exploring. It happened. It was a terrible thing. It should not be forgotten. But to keep it permanently in mind must be deeply corrosive. Show me someone who is told every day of his life how many of his relations were murdered, and how it could one day happen to him, and I will show someone with at least a tendency to depression or paranoia. I will also show someone like Dr Kushner, or his friends at Searchlight, whose obsessive sniffing out of anti-semitism where it often does not exist can only tend to excite hatred of the Jews.

Take, for example, Dr Kushner on the holocaust revisionists:

For survivors, whose need to give testimony has often been an essential part of their post-war life, Holocaust denial has been particularly disturbing…. [Yet i]ndividual liberty has been put on a higher plane than the sensitivities of those who have suffered some of the worst abuses of the twentieth century. [p.267]

Never mind the warped priorities of a man who puts what I think a questionable therapy “on a higher plane” than individual liberty: just look at the neat economy of what is being proposed. Holocaust revision in this country has been the preserve of a few eccentrics, whose claim is that the Jews control the media, and that they censor anything that might lead to the exposure of their holocaust fraud. These claims are to be countered by a law to punish anyone who dares make them. And then, after a few nasty but harmless old fools like Colin Jordan and Lady Birdwood have become martyrs by dying in prison, I suppose we shall need another law to censor the expressions of outrage.

There are people who will call Dr Kushner a hate-crazed fanatic, whose sole end is the destruction of what little freedom we retain. Having read his book, I must confess to a less flattering belief about him: Dr Kushner is not evil – just stupid.

Marian Halcombe (Sean Gabb)

© 1995 – 2017, seangabb.

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