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Jewish World ReviewNov. 12, 1999 /3 Kislev, 5760

Sam Schulman

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The un-Holocaust --
THE EDITORS of The New Republic have, correctly, demanded that the US apologize for what was clearly a mistake: the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. Based on the reporting of James Risen in the New York Times, it's now clear that no one in our government had any conviction that the plant was a terrorist operation even at the time. As the editorial says, "Now, more than 14 months later, after repeated investigative reports and repeated evasions by the Clinton administration, it is clear that the missile attack was a mistake. It's time to say so."

I wonder when the courage will come to say "it was a mistake" about the Yugoslavia bombardment. Do you remember Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen proclamation that "Serbia's deeds are, in their essence, different from those of Nazi Germany only in scale."

Bliss it was to be alive in those days of May. But now the bad news is beginning to transpire: there was no holocaust of Albanians. There are only a handful of mass graves. There was no genocide, no Auschwitz, no mass extermination. In the face of this emergency, a grim and desperate body count is going on to verify the NATO claims of 10,000, or 40,000, or even 100,000 dead.

Alas, it is failing miserably.

Last week, one of the EU pathology teams, from Spain, pulled out in disgust. Its leader, Dr. Pujel, was frankly disappointed. He told the Sunday Times that "I calculate that the final figure of dead in Kosovo will be 2,500 at the most.

This includes lots of strange deaths that can't be blamed on anyone in particular." His team had been prepared to perform 2,000 autopsies, which would take him through November to get through. Instead, "On September 12 I called my people together and said: 'We have finished here.' I informed my government and told them of the real situation. We had found a total of 187 bodies. Four or five had died from natural causes." And few were in mass graves.

It is sad enough that, under the cover of war, Serbs and Albanians killed one another even in these numbers. It is criminal that, under the protection of UN forces, Albanians are now killing Serbs with virtual impunity, and are finishing the job of ethnic cleansing the KLA was formed to undertake a decade ago.

And it is a profound horror that our government undertook a war against unarmed civilians in order to prevent a genocide that was not taking place, and to stop a mass deportation that had not happened. Moreover, they did so in a way that inflicted killing solely on civilian targets: over 1,000 Serbian citizens were killed by our bombs, but only a handful of Milosevic's soldiers lost their lives. The New York Times reported recently that only the conviction that an invasion was about to be undertaken brought the war to an end; and implied that had such an enterprise been threatened at the beginning, the 89 days of civilian bombardment would have been unnecessary.

And not only western governments, but those among us speaking in the name of the Holocaust bear particular responsibility for this outcome. Who said this (and I apologize for inflicting this rotten prose upon your ears):

"Any people that commits such deeds in open defiance of international law and the vehement condemnation of virtually the entire international community clearly consists of individuals with damaged faculties of moral judgment and has sunk into a moral abyss from which it is unlikely, anytime soon, to emerge unaided. The majority of the Serbian people, by supporting or condoning Milosevic's eliminationist politics, have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent to conduct their own affairs and a presumptive ongoing danger to others."

Again, this is Professor Goldhagen, whose book arguing that the entire German Volk were complicitous in the holocaust has had great influence. But who can believe his historical work now? He clearly judgment and common sense are clearly as faulty as his ear for the English language. He imputes guilt to an entire people in the same language of race-theorists and nationalists he thinks he decries. One heard the same imputation of blood-guilt on the Serbs in many other Jewish writers at the time.

Even Elie Wiesel brings out his memories of the historical Holocaust in order, coyly, to try to understand the stories he was told in the KLA refugee camps. "What I saw and heard there was often unbearable to the survivor that still lives in my memory. In fact, I never thought that I would hear such tales of cruelty again." And now it may turn out that the tales of cruelty may, many of them, be nothing but tales.

I think that the age of the Holocaust may be coming to an end. And the Kosovo warriors have hastened its demise. Curiously, the deed was done not by Holocaust-deniers, but by Holocaust-affirmers. On the one hand, there are those who have permanently debased the currency of the Holocaust by seeing in every war, in every bit of cruelty or bullying, another holocaust. On the other hand, there are the academic Holocaustorians, who, as Gabriel Schonfeld has so brilliantly shown, have taken the holocaust out of history and politics, in which its study belongs, and reduced it to trivial social science. No wonder that "Holocaust scholars" are reduced in desperation to applying academic fads to the death camps, wondering not how it happened, but whether Anne Frank would, had she not been carted off to a death camp, murdered, and buried in a unmarked grave, or perhaps her bones ground to dust-have become a lesbian when she grew up. (The answer? Good news! She would have been!).

The Holocaust was not people bullying each other, not people carrying out vendettas against one another, not people being moved at gunpoint out of their homes, not people being put on trains and sent away from their country, not reprisals and guerrilla warfare, not teenaged girls being pinched or slapped by teenaged boys. All these things are bad enough in their own right. But it's too late. The Holocaust, as it really was, is over. Its usefulness has come to an end. And I fear now for its memory.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


©1999, Sam Schulman