Lesson From The Holocaust
For Us All
By Robert Fisk
03 April, 2006
a second-hand book stall in the Rue Monsieur le Prince in Paris a few
days ago, I came across the second volume of Victor Klemperer's diaries.
The first volume, recounting his relentless, horrifying degradation
as a German Jew in the first eight years of Hitler's rule - from 1933
to 1941 - I had bought in Pakistan just before America's 2001 bombardment
It was a strange experience
- while sipping tea amid the relics of the Raj, roses struggling across
the lawn beside me, an old British military cemetery at the end of the
road - to read of Klemperer's efforts to survive in Dresden with his
wife Eva as the Nazis closed in on his Jewish neighbours. Even more
intriguing was to find that the infinitely heroic Klemperer, a cousin
of the great conductor, showed great compassion for the Palestinian
Arabs of the 1930s who feared that they would lose their homeland to
a Jewish state.
"I cannot help myself,"
Klemperer writes on 2 November 1933, nine months after Hitler became
Chancellor of Germany. "I sympathise with the Arabs who are in
revolt (in Palestine), whose land is being 'bought'. A Red Indian fate,
Even more devastating is
Klemperer's critique of Zionism - which he does not ameliorate even
after Hitler's Holocaust of the Jews of Europe begins. "To me,"
he writes in June of 1934, "the Zionists, who want to go back to
the Jewish state of AD70 ... are just as offensive as the Nazis. With
their nosing after blood, their ancient 'cultural roots', their partly
canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether
a match for the National Socialists..."
Yet Klemperer's day-by-day
account of the Holocaust, the cruelty of the local Dresden Gestapo,
the suicide of Jews as they are ordered to join the transports east,
his early knowledge of Auschwitz - Klemperer got word of this most infamous
of extermination camps as early as March 1942, although he did not realise
the scale of the mass murders there until the closing months of the
war - fill one with rage that anyone could still deny the reality of
the Jewish genocide.
Reading these diaries as
the RER train takes me out to Charles de Gaulle airport - through the
1930s art deco architecture of Drancy station where French Jews were
taken by their own police force before transportation to Auschwitz -
I wish President Ahmadinejad of Iran could travel with me.
For Ahmadinejad it was who called the Jewish Holocaust a "myth",
who ostentatiously called for a conference - in Tehran, of course -
to find out the truth about the genocide of six million Jews, which
any sane historian acknowledges to be one of the terrible realities
of the 20th century, along, of course, with the Holocaust of one and
a half million Armenians in 1915.
The best reply to Ahmadinejad's
childish nonsense came from ex-president Khatami of Iran, the only honourable
Middle East leader of our time, whose refusal to countenance violence
by his own supporters inevitably and sadly led to the demise of his
"civil society" at the hands of more ruthless clerical opponents.
"The death of even one Jew is a crime," Khatami said, thus
destroying in one sentence the lie that his successor was trying to
Indeed, his words symbolised
something more important: that the importance and the evil of the Holocaust
do not depend on the Jewish identity of the victims. The awesome, wickedness
of the Holocaust lies in the fact that the victims were human beings
- just like you and me.
How do we then persuade the
Muslims of the Middle East of this simple truth? I thought that the
letter which the head of the Iranian Jewish Committee, Haroun Yashayaie,
wrote to Ahmadinejad provided part of the answer. "The Holocaust
is not a myth any more than the genocide imposed by Saddam (Hussein)
on Halabja or the massacre by (Ariel) Sharon of Palestinians and Lebanese
in the camps of Sabra and Chatila," Yashayaie - who represents
Iran's 25,000 Jews - said.
Note here how there is no
attempt to enumerate the comparisons. Six million murdered Jews is a
numerically far greater crime than the thousands of Kurds gassed at
Halabja or the 1,700 Palestinians murdered by Israel's Lebanese Phalangist
allies at Sabra and Chatila in 1982. But Yashayaie's letter was drawing
a different kind of parallel: the pain that the denial of history causes
to the survivors.
I have heard Israelis deny
their army's involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres - despite
Israel's own official enquiry which proved that Ariel Sharon sent the
murderers into the camps - and I remember how the CIA initially urged
US embassies to blame Iran for the gassings at Halabja.
Indeed, it is easy to find
examples of one of the most egregious lies uttered against the 750,000
Palestinians who fled their land in 1948: that they were ordered by
Arab radio stations to flee their homes until the Jews had been "driven
into the sea" - when they would return to take back their property.
Israeli academic researchers have themselves proved that no such radio
broadcasts were ever made, that the Palestinians fled - victims of what
we would today call ethnic cleansing - after a series of massacres by
Israeli forces, especially in the village of Deir Yassin, just outside
So what is there to learn
from the second volume of Klemperer's diaries? Just after he received
word from the Gestapo that he and Eva were to be transported east to
their deaths, the RAF raided Dresden and, amid the tens of thousands
of civilians which the February 1945 firestorm consumed, the Gestapo
archives also went up in flames. All record of the Klemperers' existence
was turned to ash, like the Jews who preceded them to Auschwitz. So
the couple took off their Jewish stars and wandered Germany as refugees
without papers until they found salvation after the Nazi surrender.
Just before their rescue,
they showed compassion to three distraught German soldiers who were
lost in the forests of their homeland. And even during their worst ordeals,
as they waited for the doorbell to ring and the Gestapo to arrive to
search their Dresden home and notify them of their fate, Klemperer was
able to write in his diary a sentence which every journalist and historian
should learn by heart: "There is no remedy against the truth of