The insidious hatred that spawned the Holocaust and Hamas' latest pogrom
When it comes to their view of Jews, there is no difference in the mindset of the Nazi SS and Hamas
From Anne Frank’s iconic “Diary of a Young Girl,” one quotation is especially prized: “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical,” she wrote. “Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” It’s a sweet sentiment, but wishful thinking, written before her exposure to the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where she died.
There are rare born saints, but goodness or badness is largely a function of upbringing. In the Nazi scheme of things, Anne Frank was an “untermensch,” a lower form of life, vermin. Indeed, the Nazis presented the need for Jews to be eradicated as a hygiene issue. One feels no guilt in killing rats.
Such a view of “the other” is evil, and produces evil actions. As philosopher Jacob Howland observed in a recent Unherd article on the subject, “Evil has a way of disabling moral receptivity and short-circuiting intelligence,” which allows the demonic impulse to spread: through a family, a clan, a tribe or a political movement.
What constitutes “absolute evil”? Howland cites an example from Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary, “Shoah” (Holocaust), a granular exploration of how tolerance for absolute evil can metastasize through an entire culture. Nazis threw live babies into fire pits, because “in this manner, the SS saved approximately two-fifths of a cent per child on Zyklon-B, the insecticide they used in the gas chambers.”
The monsters who performed these acts were not generally tortured by a bad conscience. The same is true of the Hamas monsters who photographed themselves smiling during their pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. We must therefore dispense with any notion of a righteous, “decolonization”-based calculation in Hamas’ pogrom.
When it comes to their view of Jews, there is no difference in the mindset of the Nazi SS and Hamas. With the added twist that in the contemporary version, it is considered not only virtuous to hate Jews and kill them, it is also a glorious act to martyr oneself in the process.
And another twist: nobody in the Allied nations openly rejoiced when images of Nazi death camps were made public, but some of Hamas’ “progressive” allies in the West jubilantly celebrate the terrorists’ evil deeds. Cornell University professor Russell Rickford, for example, told a pro-Palestine rally he found Hamas’ pogrom “exhilarating” and “energizing.”
The loathing of Jews among the Palestinian people did not begin with Israel’s occupation of Gaza following the 1967 war.
In 1961, during Egypt’s Gaza-occupation tenure, Martha Gellhorn, an outstanding war correspondent, spent time touring Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza, culminating in a 17,000-word article, “The Arabs of Palestine,” in The Atlantic.
Her angle was anthropological. She wanted to understand the Arab mindset. She chose to visit eight of 58 UNRWA-run camps, requesting that she be shown “your best and your worst camp, and if time permits, let us also look at the in-between.” She met Palestinians in their homes. The refugees talked, and she listened. She asked questions, and they responded with candour.
The remarkable essay she produced — which is still relevant, with much to offer any curious and objective reader at this existential moment in Arab-Jewish relations — is the product of a capacious and insightful mind.
Ironically, Gellhorn found Gaza — a hellhole today — the most attractive of the camps: idyllic weather, pristine white beaches, lush terrain, abundant cafés and a main square with “an array of parked Mercedes.” It was a “beehive of activity,” full of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers who “spend money in the town in their free time,” along with upper-class Egyptians.
“The refugees seemed to bring prosperity with them,” wrote Gellhorn. Ninety-eight per cent of the children attended school, dressed in neat uniforms. They put on shows for the parents. There were “Brownie babies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, girl gymnasts and boy gymnasts.” Daily life was calm, orderly and civilized.
The downside was that they were exposed “to the full and constant blast of Egyptian propaganda.… And having been so devastatingly beaten by Israel again, in 1956 … it only makes the orators more bloodthirsty.” The residents hated Jews and believed all manner of conspiracy theories about them.
One kindly schoolteacher told Gellhorn he believed the partition plan (the UN’s 1947 offer of two states, one for Jews, one for Arabs) was a good idea. Astonished, Gellhorn reminded him that the Arabs had rejected the 1947 offer of a state, instead gambling on a winner-takes-all war to finish off the Jews, and lost.
He conceded that was true. So she asked, “Now you say that you want to return to the past; you want partition.… If you had won the war, would you now accept partition? Would you … allow the 650,000 Jewish residents of Palestine — who had fled from the war — to come back?”
He unhesitatingly responded, “Certainly not. But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea.”
From this exchange, Gellhorn said she realized she had “the missing clue” as to why, although she liked individual refugees she met, she could feel “no blanket empathy” for the Palestinians: it was the consistent absence of empathy in her subjects for anyone else’s suffering.
“It is hard to sorrow for those who only sorrow over themselves,” she writes. “It is difficult to pity the pitiless.”
Not all Germans supported the Nazis, but enough Germans did to open the gates of hell. Similarly, not all Palestinians support Hamas, but enough Palestinians do to rattle them. (Indeed, a greater percentage of Palestinians support Hamas than Canadians who supported the Liberals in the last election.)
In this pivotal moment, Lanzmann’s words about the making of “Shoah” ring true: “The worst moral and artistic crime that can be committed in producing a work dedicated to the Holocaust is to consider the Holocaust as past.”