Fred Schlomka on Holocaust Remembrance Day

I’m taking the liberty of copying and pasting this (public) Facebook post by Fred Schlomka, the founder and director of Green Olive Tours in Israel/Palestine. I’ve gone on maybe five or six of Green Olive’s tours over the past few years, and have made lifelong friends on them while learning things I would never otherwise have figured out about Israel and Palestine. I’m profoundly grateful to Schlomka as well as his staff and guides for enriching the experiences I’ve had there, and admire his willingness to speak his mind on topics that so often elicit silence and evasion. 

Here is his comment on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. My father, Michael Schlomka, was an early survivor, and escaped from a Nazi camp in 1936, eventually making his way to Mandate Palestine. He had been tortured and abused by the German regime, contributing to an early death in the 1950s when I was just a child.

Remembering him is painful.

Michael Schlomka was a socialist and an activist in the political opposition against the Nazis in Germany, which was why he was among the first to be taken. May his memory be a blessing.

My father was was shocked after his arrival in Palestine, at the excesses of the terrorist pre-state Jewish militias. His imagined Zionist-socialist utopia melted in front of him, even as it was emerging into a state, strident and authoritarian from the beginning.

I can only imagine what he might have thought of today’s scenario in Israel/Palestine – the religious court system imposed on all Jews – the colonisation of the West Bank – the encapsulation and blockade of Gaza – the dehumanisation of human life – the wanton killing of Arabs – the degeneration of Zionism into a twisted effigy of the founders’ dreams.

What have we become? Have we learned nothing from the Holocaust? Does ‘Never Again’ really mean that in order to be strong we have to degrade all non-Jews? The soul of Jewish life in Israel is slipping away and being replaced by an ugly and deformed parody of the Zionist Dream.

Worst of all, the nation can’t see it. The Jewish people in Israel are so bedazzled by their ‘Start-up Nation’ status and Neo-riche lifestyles, that they have come to accept the daily atrocities as somehow a normal and necessary part of our development as a state – Much like the European immigrants to the colonial regimes of the Americas accepted the genocide of the native population.

I cried last night after watching ‘Shindlers List’. Not for the 6 million who perished. Their tragedy is over. Enough tears have been shed in their memory. My tears were for us, the descendants of the survivors, who have normalised the barbaric attitudes and behaviours that are defining the state of Israel.

Make no mistake my fellow Jews. We are all responsible. Turn your backs if you like. Put your head in the sand. Justify all you want. But when the tally is taken at the end of the road, we will all be found wanting, and you may be asked by your children or grandchildren, – “What did you do?”. How will you answer?

Dedicated to the memory of the six million. May they rest in peace.

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4 thoughts on “Fred Schlomka on Holocaust Remembrance Day

  1. A day after I posted this, I got this comment:

    卐 Aryan Kameraden

    Without the holohoax lie, the jews have nothing to hide behind. It will be very interesting to see how this will unfold…

    Well. On the one hand, I’m not about to approve a vacuous comment by a fake-named Nazi commentator: I hate to sound like Mark Zuckerberg, but I’m afraid that comments of the preceding sort violate PoT’s terms of service.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe in deleting comments unless there’s some pressing need to do so, and there isn’t in this case. In fact, there’s some value to reading this one, since it links back to a Nazi publication I’d never heard of, and there’s no better way to understand how Nazis think than to read them.

    What you’ll encounter there is a brand of journalism influenced by what I think of as a Procrustean-Ptolemaic sort of coherentism: assume that the world conforms to some set of propositions, P (e.g., race science); then cherry pick evidence that appears to confirm the claims of P; then add epicycle and after epicycle to plug the inevitable gaps in the P-World View; then insist that the method you follow is the method that everyone follows and can’t help following, except that your particular application of it, unlike theirs, proceeds from The One True Truth about the World, namely P.

    I wish I knew a good epistemological discussion of this pattern of thought. Offhand, the only one that comes to mind is Jonathan Adler’s Belief’s Own Ethics, but Adler only discusses Procrustean-Ptolemaic coherentism in passing, and not, to my mind, very persuasively.

    We can, Adler argues, ignore denials of “standardly reported” versions of “well established” background beliefs, whether or not we are ourselves in possession of the evidence to rebut them. “[T]he thundering testimony of absent evidence, which we all share, constitutes more than adequate refutation” (p. 108). In other words, faced with a Holocaust denier, Adler thinks that you’re to appeal to the fact that someone else has established the truth of the Holocaust, whether or not you have access to that knowledge (or know anything, or justifiably believe anything, about the reliability of their discovery procedures); their having (what everyone takes to be) knowledge becomes your having knowledge, simply by believing it, even if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    There’s more to it than that, but at the end of the day, I don’t see how Adler distinguishes his procedure from dogmatism or question-begging. Take a look for yourself, if you’re so inclined.

    Adler relies heavily in his discussion on “what we all conventionally believe” about the Holocaust. This article is relevant to the quoted idea in more ways than one (ht: Carmi Lecker):

    Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.

    Can “we all” conventionally believe something if “we” cease to believe it?

    In any case, a question: Hitler didn’t come to power through force? Taken literally, it’s a ridiculous claim, almost as ridiculous as Holocaust denial itself, and proof that ignorance isn’t any more edifying when it comes from liberals than when it comes from Nazis.

    Isn’t it obvious that Hitler came to power by force in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and France? If so, where is the wrongness in thinking that he “came to power by force”?

    Though the annexation of Austria is often described as having been voluntarily accepted by a plebiscite, the plebiscite was preceded by a Nazi campaign of assassination and terrorism, by a Nazi ultimatum enforced by a military invasion, and by mass imprisonment (by the Nazis) of 70,000 Austrian political dissidents. How is that not “coming to power through force”?

    If the claim is that Hitler didn’t come to power through force in Germany–in the sense of not having assumed the Chancellorship of Germany in January 1933 by using force in that very act–that’s true, but it’s not, alas, what the article actually says. And pedantic as it sounds, exact wording matters here. “Hitler didn’t come to power by force” is not even close to the same thing as saying “Hitler’s assuming the Chancellorship was a matter of peaceful, behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing.”

    To belabor the obvious: prior to Hitler’s becoming Chancellor in 1933, the Nazis were essentially a terrorist organization. If we take the period 1924-1933 as the period of the Nazis’ campaign to assume power, it’s an undeniable fact that they did so through a systematic campaign of violence that began with the Beer Hall Putsch (1923), continued through Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (1933), and ended with the military defeat of the regime itself (1945). The Nazis’ use of force throughout 1923-1932 was instrumental to their assuming power in 1933.

    Yes, it’s true that Hitler assumed the Chancellorship peacefully, by wrangling it out of Papen and Hindenberg in the wake of the 1932 German elections. But there was more to Hitler’s coming to power than the Nazis’ performance in that election, or of the political maneuvering involved in his assuming the Chancellorship. Bottom line: plenty of force was involved in Hitler’s coming to power.

    There’s something exasperating about being on the receiving end of liberal sanctimoniousness about historical knowledge that’s this far off the mark. But there’s also something about it that explains why fascist-style Holocaust denial finds traction. If liberals feel free to play fast and loose with the facts, they don’t exactly have standing to call bullshit on the fascist version of the same thing. Check out Renegade Tribune for the results.


    • I think the most you’ve shown here is that “Hitler came to power through force” is by itself ambiguous and that on certain interpretations it isn’t true. I don’t think that amounts to much, though, since it seems pretty clear that in the relevant context “Hitler came to power by force” means that Hitler acquired his position of authority in Germany only by using violence to depose his predecessors in a coup or something near enough — i.e. that Hitler didn’t become Chancellor (and Führer) through a series of government acts recognized as legitimate by that government, but only by forcibly dissolving existing laws, policies, and institutions. That’s false, as you know; Hitler was no Lenin or even a Louis Napoleon. No doubt the vagueness and ambiguity of the expression diminishes the value of any survey research that makes use of it, but I’m having a hard time seeing how your interpretation of “came to power through force” is the natural one; in any case, I can’t see that the claims here — that Hitler didn’t come to power through force, but that many Americans falsely believe that he did — are so “far off the mark” as to merit your suggestion of moral or journalistic equivalence between The New York Times and the Renegade Tribune (if that is what it appears to be).

      I haven’t read Adler, and I’m not going to, so I’ll just take your report of his views for granted. I’m then left wondering why you would select such an obviously weak and poorly framed account of the epistemology of testimony and epistemic authority when less apparently absurd alternatives are available to justify dismissing holocaust deniers by appeal to epistemic authority. If you’re objecting to reliance on standard opinions, why isn’t something like the following enough for our purposes? 1. The beliefs of a large majority of qualified experts in a field have defeasible epistemic authority for those of us who are non-experts; 2. If someone has epistemic authority for me in a domain, then their believing P, where P is in the relevant domain, gives me a defeasible but otherwise sufficient reason to believe P. 3. The majority of qualified historians — qualification here measured by credentialed academic training and good standing in the field — believe that the Holocaust occurred. 4. Therefore I have a defeasible but otherwise sufficient reason to believe that the Holocaust occurred. The belief is defeasible, of course, so it’s possible not only that it’s false but that some evidence could be produced sufficient to show that it’s false. So perhaps some holocaust deniers could show that it really was a hoax, after all. But even without considering any of their arguments myself, why should I not regard myself and others like me as suitably justified in believing the majority of qualified experts? I cannot show that the holocaust occurred by reasoning on the basis of evidence independent of appeals to the work of historians; but why should I have to? Granted that in some cases an issue might become sufficiently controversial in general public discourse that I really need to take some time to familiarize myself with the details (though even that will typically involve lots of reliance on epistemic authority and expert testimony), why suppose that reliance on epistemic authority is always or usually insufficient for justified belief? And why suppose it in the case of holocaust deniers?

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you and you don’t mean to be rejecting all coherentist or quasi-coherentist appeals to expert testimony (since, after all, such appeals can be integrated more or less happily into a broadly foundationalist epistemology — though not, I think, into all of its varieties). But in either case I’m puzzled about why exactly you discuss Adler at all, because if Adler isn’t supposed to be a representative of some broader approach, then I don’t know why you discuss his view at all; sure, it sounds worthy of criticism, but how do those criticisms fit into the larger topic here? Adler’s is the only discussion that comes to mind of what you call ‘Procrustean-Ptolemaic’ coherentism — but is his view supposed to be an unsuccessful critique of it, or an instance of it (or both?)? And if you’re looking for a critique of it, why focus on Adler? The flaws of the approach are fairly clear in your own description of it, and it doesn’t seem like we need anything more sophisticated than an intro-level ‘critical thinking’ textbook to diagnose them. I, at least, wouldn’t want to use any such book that didn’t discuss in one way or another the problems with ignoring relevant evidence or embracing explanatory hypotheses solely on the grounds that they support some antecedently held proposition and without consideration of competing hypotheses.

      So I’m confused about just what you’re up to here.


  2. A comment I posted on Facebook, responding to the NYT article above:

    Irfan Khawaja Isn’t the Holocaust’s fading from memory just a consequence of history’s fading from memory? A hypothesis: you can’t expect anyone to understand the Holocaust if you try to teach it in abstraction from the broader history of the two World Wars. But it’s now become standard in K-12 education in the US to try to teach “the Holocaust” as though it was a sui generis event disconnected from the political context that preceded it. Maybe the Holocaust is fading from memory because basics like Verdun, the Somme, Versailles, the Weimar Constitution, etc. were never part of students’ memory in the first place, and there is no way to grasp what the Holocaust was unless you grasp what they were. If so, there’s no point wringing our hands at the loss of the Holocaust per se. The real underlying problem here (in the US) is the devaluation of world history, and its hostage-like status to local constituencies.

    The right hand column of Chart 1 in this paper tells the essential tale.


    • I’m skeptical of this hypothesis. I’ve spent much of the past year trying to get 10th graders to care about European history from the Renaissance to WWI, and I don’t think I’ve been very successful. Certainly neither I nor any of their previous teachers have given them a knowledge of “basics like Verdun, the Somme, Versailles, the Weimar Constitution” (I haven’t given them that because I don’t teach that period; but they’ve covered the period in middle school history, and have clearly forgotten anything they learned about the Weimar Republic or German history prior to WWII). My students are not only without exception aware of the holocaust; it is one of a few historical events that I can rely on them to be interested in and to approach with moral seriousness. Hence when I can find a way to hook whatever I’m teaching up to Hitler, it makes them more interested, at least as far as I can assess interest by the number of questions and attentive faces. It’s safe to say that the average level of historical literacy and interest is higher in my school than in many others, but the point is that these students don’t currently have any discernible knowledge of the context of the holocaust or much discernible interest in history in general, and yet they certainly aren’t disposed to forget it or not care about it. On the contrary, when in 11th grade they cover the world wars in detail, I’m confident that most of them will be more interested than they usually are in history precisely because that material will be helping them to understand the holocaust and Nazism more generally.

      Just impressionistic anecdote, of course, but for what that’s worth, it leads me to doubt the hypothesis, at least if the hypothesis is supposed to explain why people’s memory of the holocaust is fading. Of course, if the hypothesis is just that people don’t have a satisfactory historical understanding of the holocaust because they haven’t been taught about it in a way that adequately situates it in its context, then it’s perfectly plausible, especially given the demanding conception of ‘understanding’ you’re working with (though here, too, my experience leads me to wonder whether they really haven’t been taught about it in this way or, instead, just didn’t care enough about history to learn it or retain what they learned long after the exam). But I take it that there’s quite a lot of room between lacking an adequate historical understanding of something and more or less forgetting about it. If people are really forgetting about it, then I don’t know that insufficiently contextual history teaching is to blame.


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