On Segev’s The 7th Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust

The following is a short summary and commonplace passages with comments on Tom Segev’s book, The 7th Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust. It’s one of the many books I examined when writing my first book, Elie Wiesel and the Politics of Moral Leadership.

cf. Peter Novick’s study on the Holocaust reception in the US and Ed Linenthal, Preserving Memory

This is Segev’s main claim: “The most fateful decisions in Israeli history, other than the founding of the state itself — the mass immigration of the 1950s, the Six-Day War, and Israel’s nuclear project — were all conceived in the shadow of the Holocaust.  Over the years, there were those who distorted the heritage of the Holocaust, making it a bizarre cult of memory, death, and kitsch.  Others too have used it, toyed with it, traded on it, popularized it, and politicized it.  As the Holocaust recedes in time — and into the realm of history — its lessons have moved to the center of a fierce struggle over the politics, ideology and morals of the present.”  11

Here, then, are the main parts of the work:

Part 1  Hitler:  The Yekkes are Coming deals with the arrival of the first German refugees from Hitler’s Reich.  Segev studies the reaction of and to the German Jews  who were more refugees than they were Zionist ideologues.  A major theme throughout — how the Holocaust is used politically by the different Zionist and ideological factions for their own purposes, from Begin to Ben-Gurion.  Sobering. EW:  Diaspora vs. Zionism.

Part 2  Holocaust:  It Was in the Papers deals with the conflagration and how life essentially went on in Palestine because (1) it is most important to build up the yishuv for a future state (which the Holocaust proved the Zionist argument that Jews would only be safe in a sovereign Jewish state, although it’s also true that Zionism was a failure because when German Jews and others could have left Europe [before severe British restriction in 1939], they didn’t) and (2)  the Zionists were powerless to do much of anything.   Chilling is the talk  mid-way through the war of establishing a memorial to the victims, acting as if it were already in the past, and they had only a glorious future to look forward to.  EW:  What could the Zionists do? [Hannah Senesh]

Part 3  Israel:  The Last Jews describes the arrival of the remnant to a new society who now make the previous German immigrants seem like old-timers; they weren’t treated so well and contra Wiesel’s nice Jewish boys characterization, there was plenty of talk about revenge.  The last Jews are soon to be transformed into new sabras.  EW:  his criticism in All Rivers Run to the Sea about how poorly they were treated, no doubt, but that’s because of political (not religious) Zionism.

Part 4 Restitution:  How Much Will We Get for Grandma and Grandpa?  explores the huge debate about normal relations with Germany, principally whether to receive reparations; here is where Begin took the lead in denouncing Ben-Gurion.

Part 5 Politics:  The Kastner Affair raises the issue of a scandal of Jewish collaboration with the Final Solution.  Once again, the Holocaust period is used by different factions to defend or exonerate themselves or promote their own program and power.

Part 6 Trial:  Eichmann in Jerusalem covers the watershed of the trial that brought raw emotions to the surface as Ben-Gurion made sure both Israel and the world would confront the past and see the necessity of a Jewish state.  Of course, what’s interesting is that Ben-Gurion didn’t want the trial to be too hard on Germany, because he was trying to get all he could from Adenauer.  EW:  This material is very useful to counter Wiesel’s mystical religious reading of the trial which -as Arendt saw -was quite politically motivated and executed.

Part 7 Growing Up:  From War to War  deals with how in national emergencies the Holocaust was used, especially by Begin to  pillory the Labor Party. EW:  good stuff herein on June war, 73, and Lebanon.  Use this.

Part 8:  Memory:  The Struggle to Shape the Past is a complement to Linenthal’s work for the Israelis, with  analysis of the Zionist propensity to link the Holocaust with heroism.  EW:  this reveals the different ways  the Holocaust is remembered; there’s no one orthodox way or there’s no doxa, there are competing rival factions or camps of interpretation and remembrance.

For use in a  political reading of Wiesel:

  1. What is Wiesel’s political interest in distorting the truth?
  2. The Irgun and Stern gang 33 ff.
  3. Worthy & unworthy immigrants 44
  4. Holocaust as no big news in Palestine 65
  5. Zionist politics:  “For the leaders of the state-to-be believed it was not their job to save the Jews of Europe.  The Jewish Agency’s business, DBG said at the height of the Holocaust, was to build the Land of Israel.” 82-8
  6. Holocaust as Catastrophe for Zionism:  the mass murder would prevent the est. of a Jewish state, “there won’t be anyone to build the country with!” 97
  7. Wiesel’s suspicion of Israeli treatment of survivors:  “Negation of the Exile took the form of a deep contempt, and even disgust, for Jewish life in the Diaspora, particularly in eastern Europe, which was characterized  as degenerate, degraded, humiliating, and morally corrupt.   In their tragedy, Diaspora Jews seemed even more repellent.”  109  Haim Yahi:  “Our attitude toward the remnant was determined not by humanitarian motives alone but above all in accordance with an evaluation of the role they were to play on our struggle.” 139 see 158 ff.  “The sabra represented a national ideal, and the Holocaust survivor its reverse.  Moreover, the survivors threatened that ideal at a time when sabras were still fighting their parents’ generation for preeminence in Israeli society.” 180
  8. Contra Wiesel’s nice Jewish survivors — the thirst for revenge against the Germans 142, an accounting — “The avengers saw themselves as history’s agents, but most of the Zionist leaders saw them as a nuisance and a political liability.  The avengers wanted justice; the leaders wanted statehood.  The avengers spoke for the last Jews; the future belonged to the first Israelis.” 152
  9. The Arab Miracle — who took over 800,000 Palestinian homes?
  10. Sabras vs. debris, then Ashkenazi v. Sephardim.  186
  11. BG’s pragmatic relations with Germany.
  12. Wiesel as latter-day Begin — “Begin sought to develop the heritage of the Holocaust into an almost religious dogma.   The lessons of the Holocaust were to guide national policy, to serve as a political ideology and emotional alternative to BG’s pragmatism.  As the high priest of this new religion, Begin not only put emotion above national policy, the ‘soul of the nation’ above financial interest, but put the lessons of the Holocaust above the state itself — just as the ultraorthodox parties challenged it with God, and just as, for a short time period, Mapam and the Communists challenged it with Marx.” 225-6
  13. The reparations issue 233 ff. “This agreement depicted Israel not as the homeland of the Jewish people, the realization of the Zionist dream, but rather as a state accepting immigrants for money.” 252.
  14. Wiesel on Kfar Kassem [another Deir Yassin]  The Nazi analogy 301
  15. BG’s political goals in the Eichmann trial   — remind the world that the Holocaust obligated them to support the only Jewish state on earth; and to impress the lessons of the Holocaust on the younger generation. 327  allow Mapai to reassert its control over the heritage of the holocaust 328  BG made the victims into Zionists 330  BG wanted to protect the German people 346! 358 ff. on Arendt.
  16. Background to 67 war and fear of extermination  was real 389 ff.
  17. Begin’s rise to power and the increased reliance on Holocaust  396  He expropriated Labor’s monopoly on Holocaust.  398  “No one can preach morality to our people.” 399 Boaz Evron’s article 402
  18. What was EW’s position on Meir Kahane?
  19. On intifada 408 ff.  Nazi analogies proliferate 409
  20. EW’s interpretation of Holocaust and heroism and martyrs ascribing a meaning?
  21. NB  Many of the [Jews] died precisely because they had preferred not to move to Palestine when that option was open to them.  And most of the world’s Jews, Holocaust survivors among them, chose not to come to Israel even after the state was founded.” 432
  22. Rivalry between Yad Vashem and USHMM?
  23. Kibbutz & destroyed Arab village of Samariah 451
  24. Pilgrimage to camps — The trip was a ritual laden with emotion and symbols and a sometime bizarre union of kitsch and death.  Nourished from two sources, one nationalist and the other religious, it had a clear political orientation as well.  It exuded isolationism, to the point of xenophobia, rather than openness and love of humanity.” 488
  25. Gulf War 505 ff.
  26. Uses of Holocaust 514 ff.  “Emotional and historical awareness of the Holocaust provides a much easier way back into the mainstream of Jewish history, without necessarily imposing any real personal moral obligation.” 515
  27. Holocaust as lesson for insular chauvinism or respect for human rights.
  28. Sum:  “The Holocaust summons all to preserve democracy, to fight racism, and to defend human rights.  It gives added force to the Israeli law that requires every soldier to refuse to obey a manifestly illegal order.  Instilling the humanist lessons of the Holocaust will be difficult as long as the country is fighting to defend itself and justify its very existence; but it is essential.  This is the task of the seventh million.” 517


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