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Secondary Anti-Semitism: From Hard-Core to Soft-Core Denial of the Shoah

Filed under: Anti-Semitism, Radical Islam
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

The core principle of secondary anti-Semitism is the refusal or rejection of remembrance of the unprecedented crime which Germans committed during the Second World War, namely the Shoah. This has a specific dimension in Germany which basically reflects the country’s unique political culture. The cruelest version of secondary anti-Semitism is Holocaust denial. Three  categories of soft-core denial are proposed: distortion, universalization and projection of guilt/relativization/trivialization. People who generate such a soft-core denial do not often refer to the Holocaust as a lie or fabrication by Jews or their sympathizers. It is much more subtle. Disguising history by talking about history is the unstated aim. Research on anti-Semitism must be vigilant in the coming years to develop new strategies to fight this new brand of Jew-hatred. Soft-core denial today is already at least as dangerous and widespread as Neonazi, Islamic or Iranian varieties: liberals, left-wingers, conservatives, clergy and scientists of all persuasions are using this form of post-Auschwitz anti-Semitism in good conscience.

This article seeks to introduce secondary anti-Semitism, a relatively unknown and rather new concept for the analysis of anti-Semitism. It refers to the refusal or rejection of remembrance of the unprecedented crimes which Germans committed during the Second World War, which initially developed in Germany and other European countries. While the refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust as an unprecedented crime against Jews as Jews exists all round the world, in Germany it has a specific dimension which basically reflects the country’s unique political culture. Outside Germany, political activists and journalists tend to be unfamiliar with this concept perhaps because it is difficult to clearly distinguish between primary and secondary anti-Semitism.

Secondary anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism after Auschwitz. Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rex described its essence: “Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”[1] German scholar Peter Schönbach, who worked with Theodor W. Adorno in Frankfurt in the 1960s originally coined the term secondary anti-Semitism.[2] While Schönbach concentrated primarily on the generational problem and the “afterlife of Fascist anti-Semitism,” or more precisely National Socialist anti-Semitism, today the problem is more extensive. Jew-hatred is particularly easy to detect in the generations after 1945 and also after 1968. However, under a cloak of responsibility and mainstream consensus they have generated a secondary form of anti-Semitism.[3]

The cruelest version of secondary anti-Semitism is Holocaust denial. After 1945, Nazis and their sympathizers immediately began to deny the Holocaust. The first known Holocaust denier was French fascist Maurice Bardèche, according to historian Deborah Lipstadt.[4] Later, such books as Richard Harwood’s Did Six Million Really Die? published by Erich Zündel in 1974 simply propagated the same lies as Bardèche. But what happened in mainstream societies, especially, but not exclusively, in Germany – in both Germanys – and post-Holocaust Europe? French-Jewish survivors like the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch witnessed the silence surrounding crimes against the Jews, the deportations to the concentration camps, the expropriation of Jewish homes, and the transport of the Jews from railway stations “to the East,” all of which was widely known, and the mass murder during the Holocaust.

In an important early article in 1948[5] Jankélévitch describes a typical Sunday afternoon stroll down the Champs Elysees in 1943, an enjoyable event where ordinary French people window-shop for new clothes, shoes, etc. Furthest from their minds are the Jews who had been deported the night before. The French silence persisted long after the Liberation in 1944. In Germany itself the situation was even worse. Not only was there no public debate about the crimes the Germans had perpetrated, but some former mass murderers received Persilscheine, de-nazification certificates of good conduct named after a popular laundry detergent.

Both silence and the specific way Germans began to talk about National Socialism needs to be explored if we are to understand the workings of secondary anti-Semitism. In Germany, Holocaust denial is a crime. In its stead, a kind of “soft-core’ denial has developed, to use a term coined by historian Deborah Lipstadt.[6] “Soft-core” refers to a veiled or rhetorically concealed form of Holocaust denial. People who generate such soft-core denial do not often refer to the Holocaust as a lie or fabrication by Jews or their sympathizers; rather, it is much more subtle. Disguising history by talking about history is the unstated aim. According to Lipstadt this “soft” version of denial is the most dangerous in terms of its anti-Jewish implications.

Contrary to the hard-core version, soft-core denial is often not easily identifiable. Often it is tolerated, or even encouraged and reproduced in the mainstream, not only in Germany. Scholars have only recently begun to unravel this disturbing phenomenon. Manfred Gerstenfeld discusses Holocaust trivialization in an article published in 2008.[7] In Germany in 2007 two scholars, Thorsten Eitz and Georg Stötzel, published a voluminous dictionary of German language and discourse regarding National Socialism and the Holocaust. It includes chapters on Holocaust trivialization and contrived comparisons, such as the infamous “atomic Holocaust”, “Babycaust,” “Holocaust of abortion”, “red Holocaust” or “biological Holocaust.”[8]

Although secondary anti-Semitism is most visible in Germany, it can be found elsewhere, as Gerstenfeld showed in his 2008 paper. When Germany needed to recreate a positive national identity after 1945, the meaning of Auschwitz had to be whitewashed, without using the traditional methods, something which today differentiates Germany from Muslim states and societies such as Iran. Political scientist Lars Rensmann analyzed secondary anti-Semitism in Germany in the following terms:

The rationale for the refusal to remember is, last but not least, according to Critical Theory, to restore a positive identification with German national identity that was shattered after Auschwitz. This was needed to overcome the collective narcissistic damage which affects anyone involved in German history either as an actor or descendant of German perpetrators.[9]

Secondary anti-Semitism often involves an “inversion of truth”[10] and anti-Zionism. In its Europeanized or universalized form, it tends to single out Israel and the Jews particularly for anti-imperialistic, postcolonial or poststructuralist wrongs. In this essay only the broad contours of secondary anti-Semitism can be delineated but it provides a preliminary but systematic overview of the phenomenon. Thus for purposes of a better understanding of secondary anti-Semitism, the main trends have been classified in this article into three categories: distortion, universalization, and projection of guilt, relativization and/or rivalization.


The Flick Collection

Friedrich Flick (1883-1972), one of the richest and most influential industrialists in Germany in the twentieth century, was mainly involved in armaments and steel production. In 1932 he supported the Nazi rise to power. In 1935 he successfully applied for membership in the Nazi Party. He became one of the most prominent financiers of the Freundeskreis des Reichsführers SS, the Circle of Friends of SS Leader Heinrich Himmler. Contributing 100,000 German Reichsmarks a year to the Circle, Flick sponsored the club of leaders of the Nazi unit that predominantly carried out the Holocaust, the Schutzstaffel (SS). During the Nuremburg Trials, Flick was condemned as a war criminal and was sentenced to seven years in jail in 1947. He was pardoned soon afterwards and in 1963 received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Service Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Some fifty thousand slave laborers had been forced to work in his factories, 10,000 of whom perished. After the demise of National Socialism, Flick was the wealthiest man in Germany. Friedrich Christian Flick, his grandson and one of his heirs, turned his valuable art collection into a permanent exhibit in Berlin known as the Flick collection in 2004. Unlike other German firms that committed crimes during the Nazi era, the Flick heir refused to contribute to the fund  known as the The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future foundation set up in 2000 to compensate slave labor under National Socialism. This contribution is a small symbolic act and is unrelated to reparations known as Wiedergutmachung.

‘Take it or leave it’ those responsible seem to have said: the main thing is that we bring this collection to the Spree [the main river in Berlin]. Most of the liberal press also agreed. A Springer journalist immediately fell under the sway of the super-collector by describing Flick junior as a ‘giant in corduroys and a polo-neck sweater, with steel blue eyes and silver white hair.’ The more strikingly the biography of a collector is, the more these works appear to reflect his life, as a biographical project of forced interruptions and transformations [Projekt der Brüche und Wandlungen]. This enabled a German family story to be transformed on 22 September 2004 [the day the Flick Collection was inaugurated]. This metamorphosis will take place in Rieck Hall in Central Berlin, a 250 meter long and 6000 square meter space. Berlin Mayor Wowereit, Federal Minister of Culture Weiss will witness this transformation, surrounded by representatives from [the worlds of] culture, entertainment, politics, and the economy. The name ‘Flick’ no longer stands for cunning, unscrupulousness, war-profiteering and slave labor. The name now stands for one of the biggest collections of art in the 21st century.[11]

The Flick phenomenon is a specific expression of a new German lack of inhibition, and the shamelessness of the Berlin Republic.[12] As Salomon Korn, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany stated, Flick is benefitting from the “bloodied money” of his ancestors. He added that Flick is promoting “a project of forced normalization”.[13] From the very beginning Flick planned to cleanse the bloodstained name of his family. In a letter to his uncle Friedrich Karl he states he was filled with the desire “to put the name of Flick on enduring positive ground by founding an art museum.”[14]

The “Bombing Holocaust”

In recent years, debate on whether the the Allied wartime bombing of Germany constitutes mass murder has been one of the highlights of anti-Semitic distortion of guilt. Authors such as Jörg Friedrich, who has acknowledged the crimes Germans committed during National Socialism, has now changed sides. Friedrich wrote a bestseller, Der Brand[15]. To popularize it, Europe’s biggest popular daily newspaper, Bild-Zeitung, pre-published extracts from the book.[16] It thus received huge exposure. This is a typical example of the new discourse on victimhood in Germany.

In an anti-Semitic speech in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in October 1998, the best-selling German author, Martin Walser broke the Holocaust taboo by publicly – and not surreptitiously, as had been the custom since 1945 – portraying Germans as victims in the ongoing Auschwitz controversy. Walser used the term Moralkeule, moral cudgel, and Einschüchterungsmittel, attempt at intimidation, to describe the use of Auschwitz to “place demands on Germany.”  It is frightening and typical of the political culture in the Berlin Republic that almost the entire German establishment who attended his acceptance speech in 1998 gave Walser a standing ovation with the exception of three people, two of whom were the former President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Ignatz Bubis, and his wife Ida. The words Walser used in this important speech are shocking even today:

It occurs to me, trembling because of my boldness, to say: Auschwitz is not suitable to become a threat as a routine matter, an attempt at intimidation or moral cudgel or just a compulsory exercise used every day.[17]

This formed the basis for Jörg Friedrich and several others to construct their German victimhood. Friedrich took the example of the wartime bombing in general and its importance for Dresden in particular. Since 1945, both old and new Nazis consider Dresden to symbolize an event that could counterbalance Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In this way, since 1945 Germans have referred to themselves as victims in a familiar litany consisting of “Who were the Nazis?” “Hitler, Himmler and maybe my neighbor, but I was not.”

Friedrich had obvious forerunners in the Holocaust deniers, when he spoke of Dresden as a “crematorium.” The analogy with the death camps is obvious. Similar trends can be found in publications by the Federal Agency for Civic Education,[18] which provides free books and publications for pupils, teachers, students and the general public. This German Federal agency turned public opinion against Arthur Harris, the WWII Royal Air Force pilot who was responsible for the bombing of Dresden, and defamed him as a “mass murderer.”[19]

Renowned sociologists such as Wolfgang Sofsky have joined the chorus of German self-victimizers: “The German war of extermination in the East wiped out the distinction between war and crime, but the wartime bombing also massively repudiated the law of nations in times of war.”[20] Despite some criticism of details, others have also praised Jörg Friedrich’s “horrifyingly impressive picture.[21] The fairly left-liberal weekly Der Spiegel devoted a special supplement, Spiegel Spezial, to it.[22] Friedrich himself even published a propagandistic illustrated volume[23], including photos of mutilated corpses to generate anti-English and anti-American resentments.

This next highpoint of German victim discourse was when parliamentarians of the NPD – National Democratic Party – claimed on 21 January 2005 in the Landtag, the state parliament of Saxony, that the British had committed a “bombing Holocaust” against the Germans in Dresden in 1944.[24] In an earlier debate on 5 June 2003, Martin Hohmann, a Christian Democrat  who finally after prolonged discussion was expelled from the party because of other anti-Semitic statements, and MP Peter Gauweiler (CSU) referred positively to Friedrich.[25] When Queen Elizabeth visited Germany, Friedrich demanded she make a gesture similar to that of former chancellor Willy Brandt, who kneeled on 1 December 1970 in Warsaw in front of the memorial to the Jewish Ghetto.[26]

Friedrich shows us the way secondary anti-Semitism functions: it compares the Holocaust and the war against the perpetrators to events experienced by ordinary German bystanders. The stylization of the Germans victim became common after 1945 both in the former German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, but with different emphases. During the 1950s and 60s in West Germany the widely read magazines Bunte and Stern painted the bombing of Germany in a tragic palette.[27] The Allies were portrayed as war criminals and not as liberators from National Socialism. The Germans did not feel liberated but rather dominated by “foreign forces.” Such World War II narratives illustrate this attitude. The history of the Holocaust is not the focus. Even worse, this press portrayed the Germans as the true victims of the bombing. Thus Friedrich and large parts of German public misrepresent when they claim that: “we could never speak about our dramatic history during the bombing … “

Friedrich imagines himself as a leftist iconoclast. In fact he belongs to a revanchist tradition and is outclassed by the well-known German writer W.G. Sebald who lived in England for decades. He was considered to be highly cognizant of German history including the Holocaust, and delivered very problematic lectures about the Luftkrieg, the air war, in Zurich in 1997. Social scientist Annette Seidel-Arpaci[28] analyzed Sebald’s formulations in the context of the new German victim discourse. She asks what Sebald wants to express by beginning his little book on the Luftkrieg by defining it as a historically “unprecedented action of extermination,” a Vernichtungsaktion[29]:

The term “Vernichtung” has a disturbingly close proximity to what Victor Klemperer has called the “Language of the Third Reich” and may not be a term that we want to use for the murder of human beings. Nonetheless, the term acquired this connotation on a broad basis at least since the 1980s in the wake of the increasing public discourse on National Socialism and the Holocaust. “Vernichtung” then was translated for the English edition as “destruction” rather than as “annihilation”, or, as “extermination.” The word, “destruction,” resonates much more with the meaning of “Zerstörung” – for instance, of buildings – than with “Vernichtung.” I do think, therefore, that Sebald – an author very attuned to the subtleties of language – chose his terminology here as precisely as Friedrich did at similar points. Furthermore, Sebald doubles his linguistic effort on appropriation with the addition of the term “Aktion” to “Vernichtung.”[30]

The “Holocaust of Expulsion”

The same type of logic can be found in the debate over the expulsion of the Germans from the East. The Russians, Poles and Czechs are accused of having committed crimes against German victims. The interest group of those who were expelled, the Bund der Vertriebenen (BdV), the Organization of the Expelled, for decades has agitated incessantly for the idea of Volk und Heimat and the landsmannschaftlichen Gedanken; i.e., a people in its homeland and a kind of unified worldview associated with the regions which they left behind.[31] They intentionally present the Holocaust as being in the same category as the expulsion of Germans from the East. Erika Steinbach, President of BdV underscored this when she said that both groups of victims are comparable, and that “Jews and expellee [Germans]” complement one another. In her view both groups became victims in similar ways of the entmenschte Rassenwahn, a delusion of dehumanized race.[32]

As in the case of the Allied bombing, this interest group has distorted the perspective in a new way, breaking the taboo in order to portray Germans as victims of National Socialism. The unprecedented crimes Germans committed during the Holocaust are stripped of their reality and Jews simply fall out of the picture as victims of the Holocaust. This soft-core denial must be clearly identified and analyzed. Research on anti-Semitism must take this tendency into account, especially in Germany. The Germans are basically proclaiming “It’s our turn now! We are as much a victims of the Second World War – or of National Socialism in general – as the Jews.” In a representative opinion poll, 90% of German population declared that they view themselves, ordinary Germans in general, as victims of World War II.[33] Nazis and Neonazis now use the term Vertreibungsholocaust, The Holocaust of Expulsion.”[34]

“The Good Sides” of National Socialism

While discussion and remembrance of the Shoah are treated with reluctance, other aspects of Nazi Germany are coming to the fore. It is now claimed that not everything was bad damals,”at that time.” When German use “damals” it is clear they are talking about National Socialism. Eva Herman, a television personality of many years standing (1989-2006) and host of the Tagesschau, the Day in Review, on ARD, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the leading news program on German TV, several times publicly declared that family and women’s policies under Hitler were rather good. Herman is also in love with the German Autobahn (highways) and articulates views which many Germans hold. One only has to mention the city of Wolfsburg, where the head office and giant Volkswagen automobile factory are located. If it had not been founded in 1938 under the name of Stadt des KDF-Wagens as the biggest project of the Nazi organization Kraft durch Freude (“KDF”) or Strength through Joy, this city would not have existed.[35]

KDF was a large, highly popular National Socialist organization, not only for children and teenagers, but also for parents and adults who took part in their leisure time activities, including the screening of films for instance in rural areas where there had never been a movie theater, etc. The car-factory-city in today’s Wolfsburg was its well known highlight. If someone commented publicly on the historical fact that slave laborers “helped” build these highways, he or she would be ridiculed.

In Germany’s most popular and most highly rated television late night entertainment show Schmidt & Pocher which is also broadcast by the publicly financed ARD, the two hosts presented a “Nazometer” in October 2007. This Nazometer is a light bulb which begins to glow when a suspicious word is spoken, such as highway, gas, or shower: Autobahn, Gas, Dusche. Schmidt and Pocher got a kick out of saying “I have a gas cooker in my house”; a few minutes later, in a very different context, they said: “In the morning I take a shower.” This kind of German humor deserves scrutiny: the entertainers find it extremely comical to associate words like Gas and Dusche saying, “These are harmless words, aren’t they? Why does our Nazometer-lamp light up?” In Germany most of the viewers found this funny. For Jews and Holocaust survivors it is a sad sign of lack of emotion.

This is yet another indication of how the remembrance of the Shoah has been neglected and marginalized. For Jews it is no laughing matter to make fun of the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Germans don’t mind. In a poll, 25% said that National Socialism “had its good sides.” The actual percentage may be even higher, because not all dare to speak out in this way. But this represents a large number of people, roughly 20 million Germans.


Heidegger, 1949: “Motorized Agriculture” and “Gas Chambers”

German philosopher Martin Heidegger said in one of his four Bremen lectures, which were published in 1949 under the title Das Gestell:

Agriculture is nowadays a motorized nutritional industry, by nature the same as the production of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and the starving out of countries, the same as the production of the H-bomb.[36]

Beyond its well-known projection of guilt on the USSR and the USA, something else stands out: the unprecedented crime of the destruction of European Jews in the gas chambers is equated with modern agriculture. This represented a new kind of anti-Semitism, which Heidegger promoted in 1949, a few years after the Shoah. This comparison is a banalization of the unimaginable by its universalization.

Modern, motorized agriculture is indeed a product of modern capitalism – and at that time as well what was called “real existing socialism” – but it has nothing to do with the crimes against humanity which the Germans committed against the Jews. For scientific research Heidegger’s 1949 lecture is of great importance, not only because Heidegger is arguably the world’s most widely taught philosopher of the 20th century, but also and especially because he was one of the founders of the concept of rejection and universalization of German guilt. He attributed the responsibility for the crimes of the Second World War on modernity in general, which then made it possible to deemphasize the responsibility of the German mass murderers.

Another example is American historian and anthropologist Ward Churchill, who was finally dismissed as Professor of Indian Studies at the University of Colorado in 2007. In a voluminous monograph in 1997 he writes about “the Holocaust of the Americans”, as applied to the history of the native inhabitants since 1492.[37] Churchill mocks the September 11th World Trade Center attack by calling the victims of this Jihad massacre “little Eichmanns”:

If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.[38]

In 2005 he made the following anti-Semitic statement:

What I said was that the “technocrats of empire” working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of little Eichmanns. Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.[39]

By making a parallel between a multicultural democracy like the United States and Nazi Germany, Churchill is engaging in secondary anti-Semitism. He rejects any substantial reflection on the essence of dictatorship when he treats it as just another form of democracy and capitalism. He belittles the Holocaust, and as such his argumentation is anti-Semitic.

Like Churchill, who considers himself a left-winger, the most important theorist of the right wing extremist New Right in Germany, Henning Eichberg, is another representative of the universalization of Auschwitz, another act of soft-core denial. For him, the destruction of European Jewry did stop with the end of National Socialism. He sees Auschwitz as a paradigm for the modern world as such,[40] like Heidegger in 1949 or Churchill in 1997:

After the industrial eradication of the “parasites” [referring to IG Auschwitz industries, C.H] work began – in the name of the same values: progress, productivity, competitiveness – to create new minority problems …. The extermination of people of the 19/20th century, of the Sinti [gypsies], Jews and Indians is being played down, if one regards them as archaic remains of old behavior (“prejudices of the Middle Ages”, “barbaric contempt for mankind”). The destruction of the “parasites” in the name of progress and productivity wasn’t old, but new, not backward, but modern and industrially. In it the subjugation of volklich [ethnic] identities[41] and progress itself coincided in a murderous way. 1945 did not represent a break with history [a caesura]. The end of the industrial genocide and ethnocide rests still with us.[42]

Eichberg repeats the argument that 1945 was not a caesura found in several other articles. This can best be illustrated by an article published in a handbook on history and education by the German historian Dieter Langewiesche who ultimately won the Leibniz prize.[43] Eichberg considers the Holocaust, not in its own right, but as a typical byproduct of every modern industrial society. This argument could be called anti-productivist anti-Semitism.

While anti-Jewish propaganda portrayed the Jews as “pests”, in Poland of 1939 the first ghettos emerged. In 1940 “one” started with deportations and in1941 mass destruction began. Several million human beings [!] were the victims of the finally industrial organized and mechanized eradication. Out of the fixation of production of industrial society, the industrial destruction of the “unproductive” resulted.[44]

Germans are not presented as perpetrators, rather Eichberg – who is not being singled out as an individual, but as a proponent of a special kind of secondary anti-Semitism – suggests Heidegger’s “man” did kill. Who was murdered is not clear, in that aside from the mention of Jews being sent to ghettos they do not appear as a specific group of victims, because Eichberg writes about “several million human beings who were killed.” Even though Eichberg is not quoting Heidegger, the veiled reference to the term “motorized nutritional industry” is obvious. Under no circumstances do these authors wish to mention the anti-civilized Germans who committed unprecedented crimes. Thus, Auschwitz is universalized and the killing of the other half of European Jewry by the Polizeibatallione, the Wehrmacht, the Sichheitsdienst (SD) and the SS and others in the East, in Babi Yar, or the woods of Lithuania and the villages of the Ukraine are simply ignored. The destruction in the gas chambers is seen as the ultimate consequence of modernity itself, an assumption of the philosophical school of post-structuralism as well (see the works of the French writer Michel Foucault, the British writer Zygmunt Bauman or the Italian Giorgio Agamben). For the analysis of soft-core denial this technique is crucial.

From 500 years of Colonial “Reich” to “Auschwitz as a factory” of capitalism

Similar to Ward Churchill and from a left-wing perspective there has been another minimization of Auschwitz, but within the broader historical context of the expansion of Western society. Around 1992, 500 years after the landing of Christopher Columbus in America (aka “Western-India”) several types of cultural events took place including the publication of books and lectures. One such event was the publication in Germany of the book, Das Fünfhundertjährige Reich. Emanzipation und lateinamerikansiche Identität 1492-1992,The 500 Years of Colonial Reich; Emancipation and Latin American identity: 1492-1992.[45] The US is blamed for being as bad as Nazi Germany and the capitalist world economy is defamed as analogous to the German Reich and the volkisch  Volksgemeinschaft, the ethnic people’s community, under National Socialism.[46] The destruction of slave laborers by Heinrich Himmler is justified by equating it to the “politics of western capital,” as allegedly applied to the third world.[47] Finally, and not surprisingly, the Palestinian Intifada after 1987 is justified by attacking “US-Jewish leaders” and their support for Israel.[48] This echoes the ongoing debate over the anti-American and anti-Israeli bestseller by Americans John Walt and Walther Mearsheimer, The Israel-Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy[49], even though leftists in Germany in 1992 presumed them to be light-years away from the “realistic school” in political science. In fact they are bosom buddies of Noam Chomsky, who contributed to their book condemning 500 years of “colonial Reich.”

A bit more sophisticated, but essentially in the same category is the German author and leftist Robert Kurz. In the 800 pages of his Blackbook of Capitalism he draws a direct line between the Taylorist conveyor belt production of cars and vans to the Holocaust and Auschwitz. The Shoah is not analyzed as part of the history of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism, but rather as part of a capitalistic continuum:

But Auschwitz was a negative factory. Nothing was produced, but something was “disposed” of – as the phantasmagoric embodiment of abstract, product producing system as such. Therefore Auschwitz was the utmost consequence of Fordism[50] as a capitalistic enterprise and industrial religion: the industrial redemption for German blood democracy by extermination of the Jews.[51]

The more or less brutal organization of shop production, like the production of cars on the assembly-line, is equated with the senseless destruction of European Jews. Remembrance of the Shoah is neglected as such and is denied and negated by comparing the Holocaust with totally different aspects of modern industrial societies. Even worse, a perspective such as that of Robert Kurz gives the impression of being really critical and leftist. In fact it is an echo of former NSDAP member Martin Heidegger.

Relativization, Trivialization & Projection of Guilt

PETA: “Holocaust on your plate”

Anti-Semitic illusions can also be found in advertising for the worldwide animal rights organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Jews are portrayed as animals in cages to attract attention, shock the public, and garner support to combat caging and intensive life stock farming. The killing of Jews in the concentration camp of Treblinka is treated as the equivalent of the treatment of livestock.[52] This type of comparison is an insult to every Holocaust survivor. It has nothing to do with a rational critique of animal husbandry. The Holocaust is used as an instrument in the fight for animal rights. Remembrance of the Shoah is neglected while talking about the Shoah: this is the core feature of today’s secondary anti-Semitism. As has frequently been the case when Jewish communities and organizations in Europe protested against the PETA campaign,[53] it did not offend non-Jewish Europeans (or the American mainstream).

Heinrich Himmler as a Violent French Criminal – Büchner Prize 2007 to Promote the Trivialization of the SS

Yet another example comes from the German mainstream. The most important prize for literature in Germany is the Büchner prize, named after the famous revolutionary Georg Büchner, who lived in the early 19th century. The prizewinner in 2007 was German writer Martin Mosebach, a little-known author. His announcement as Büchner prizewinner was a surprise for many.[54] In his acceptance speech he compared a 1793 text by the French Revolutionary Saint-Just in which he threatened his rivals with violence and death, with an unprecedented address in modern world history – the speeches of the chief of the SS Heinrich Himmler in Posen in October 1943. There, the chief of the Schutzstaffel (SS) praised German mass murderers having “behaved themselves.” The Shoah is justified and for him, German perpetrators are heroes. To compare these unprecedented crimes with a typical text of the French Revolution has two effects: first, the remembrance of the crimes Germans committed is reduced and veiled, if one can compare one of the ugliest speeches in world history with any text of the French Revolution. Second, conservative Mosebach pleads for an aggressive anti-Utopian stance, because in his view both the French Revolution and National Socialism were results of utopian ideas.This specifically ignores the anti-Semitic impact of right-wing extremism before 1933 as well as between 1933-45. Decades ago in his Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne, (Beyond Guilt and Atonement), Holocaust survivor Jean Améry foresaw this kind of anti-Semitism:

Hitler’s empire…will first continue to pass as an accident in the workings of history. But, finally it will be regarded as history pure and simple, neither better nor worse than any other dramatic historical period. Even stained with blood, the empire will have had its daily life, its family life. The picture of grandfather in SS uniform will be hung in the place of honor, and schoolchildren will hear less about the selections that took place on the ramps [of Auschwitz] than about the surprising victory over an all-pervasive unemployment. Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner will become names like Napoleon, Fouché, Robespierre, and Saint-Just.[55]

Améry’s terrible premonition became reality in the Berlin Republic, and was even rewarded with a prize.

Anti-Zionism and Projection of Guilt: Israelis as the “new Nazis” (and Palestinians as the Jews of today)

The best-known and by far the most widely held example of projection of guilt is the defamation of Israel as the “Nazis of today.” This is one of the most objectionable forms of anti-Semitism after Auschwitz. When German bishops visited Israel and the territories in 2007, the bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke said:

In the morning during the visit to Yad Vashem we saw the photos of the inhuman Warsaw ghetto. In the evening we drove to the ghetto in Ramallah. I blew my top.[Da geht einem doch der Deckel hoch.][56]

Auschwitz and the Holocaust are not denied in the old-fashioned Neo-Nazi way; rather they are denied using soft-core methods by comparing them to non-comparable situations and events. Jews are not seen as victims of the Shoah but as perpetrators. Other Catholics found this statement useful and now talk about “Auschwitz in Ramallah.”[57] This has nothing to do with reality; it is an anti-Semitic projection of former German behavior on the Jews. Augsburg bishop Walter Mixa spoke that day of “ghetto-like circumstances” for the Palestinians. Joel Fishman analyzed the “inversions of truth” these bishops typologically stand for:

From the 1960s, inversion of truth and reality has been one the most favored propaganda methods of Israel’s adversaries. One of its most frequent expressions has been the accusation that the Jewish people, victims of the Nazis, have now become the new Nazis, aggressors and oppressors of the Palestinian Arabs.[58]

Theoretical Conclusion: from “Hard-core to Soft-core” Denial

The German psyche after 1945 still needs to be deciphered. A distorted exploitation of victimhood under the Nazis and by the Allies, and the refusal or rejection of remembrance of the Shoah goes hand in hand. Current research is wrong to claim that the anti-Jewish inversion of truth is identical to that of the German anti-Semite Heinrich von Treitschke in 1879, as Werner Bergmann, following Klaus Holz, another controversial German scholar of anti-Semitism, has argued.[59]  Rather, secondary anti-Semitism can only belong to the post-Auschwitz era. Furthermore, secondary anti-Semitism also has its unique characteristics, as typified by Islamic or Iranian Jew-hatred, which often includes Holocaust denial. But anti-Semitism in Iran for instance is different from what is found in Germany. Some years ago this author argued that “Germans only like dead Jews, Islamists don’t like any”.[60] What does this mean? The German mainstream is aware of the Holocaust and publicly expressed hard-core Holocaust denial is a crime. The Holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin was a political decision. Germans apparently need the memory of the dead Jews of the Holocaust to proclaim: “We remember what happened, so we cannot be anti-Semites”. This may not be true. This essay shows that the more sophisticated version of secondary anti-Semitism allows Germany as well as Europe and the Western world to develop and cultivate anti-Semitic resentment in a soft-core version.

Research on anti-Semitism must be aware of such tendencies so as to develop new strategies to fight this kind of Jew-hatred. Soft-core denial today is already at least as dangerous and widespread as the Neonazi, Islamic, or Iranian versions. Liberals, left-wingers, conservatives, clergy and scientists of all persuasions are using this form of post-Auschwitz anti-Semitism in good conscience. These people imagine they are speaking in the name of humanity by blaming all the evils in the Middle East on Israel. As early as in 1982, left-wingers in Germany spoke about the Endlösung der Palästinenserfrage, the Final Solution to the Palestinian Question.[61] Today, Hamas and the Palestinians talk about a “Holocaust in Gaza.”[62] Such myths are an essential part of the new anti-Semitism.

This is extremely aggressive anti-Jewish propaganda. Without the decades-long help of Europeans, especially left-wing anti-Zionists, or the German bishops quoted above, such inversions of truth would have crumbled. Even Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have realized that it is better strategically to talk about Holocaust than to deny it like the Iranians. To accuse the Jews and Israelis of being the “new Nazis” is anti-Semitism after Auschwitz.

To commemorate the Shoah it is essential to remember the specifics of anti-Semitism, including anti-Judaism. Accordingly, in the fight against (new) anti-Semitism the analysis of secondary anti-Semitism has become crucial. The struggle for “victimhood” is entirely an anti-Jewish enterprise. Anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-imperialistic activists and scholars are trying to establish themselves as blacks, third-world inhabitants, Arabs, Muslims etc. victims like the Jews in the Holocaust. They neglect their own anti-Semitic impact (e.g. the Nation of Islam, as well as individuals like Muhammed Ali, the former boxing champion, who is a strong anti-Zionist) and suggest placing themselves in the same category as the Jewish victims of National Socialism. Leftist and recently liberal circles often support such attempts. French philosopher Jacques Derrida and German philosopher Juergen Habermas were at the helm of the peace movement in 2003 against America and its allies. Symbolically they stand for that struggle of victimhood. Ignoring the danger of secondary anti-Semitism and the refusal to fight Islamic Jihad, militarily, if necessary, is an inadequate answer to the threat of global resentment against the West, the United States and especially Israel and the Jews.

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Publication of this article was made possible in part by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation and Education) for the JCPA program on Contemporary Holocaust Distortion.

[1] See Henryk M. Broder, Der ewige Antisemit. Ueber Sinn und Funktion eines beständigen Gefühls, (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1986) [German].

[2] Theodor W. Adorno (1962/1998)??: Zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus heute, in Adorno, Collected Works, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1962/1998): 360-383, here 362  [German].

[3] Although the term “secondary anti-Semitism” is not used as such, for a clear analysis of current anti-Semitism in Germany see Susanne Urban (2004): Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies, Jewish Political Studies Review Vol. 16 (Fall 2004), 3-4.

[4] Deborah Lipstadt (1993/1996)??: Leugnen des Holocaust – Rechtsextremismus mit Methode, (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt) 103ff. See also Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory (New York, Plume, 1994).

[5] Vladimir Jankélevitch, l’Imprescriptible Pardonner? Dans l’honneur et la dignité (Paris: Seuil, 1986). [French]

[6] “Holocaust scholar warns of new ‘soft-core’ denial,” Jerusalem Post, 6 February 2007, .

[7] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Holocaust Trivialization,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 68, 1 May 2008.

[8] Thorsten Eitz & Georg Stötzel, Wörterbuch der “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”. Die NS-Vergangenheit im öffentlichen Sprachgebrauch (Hildesheim/Zürich/New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2007). [German] For Holocaust comparisons see in particular 342-360.

[9] Lars Rensmann, Kritische Theorie über den Antisemitismus. Studien zu Struktur, Erklärungspotential und Aktualität, (Berlin/Hamburg: Argument-Verlag, 1998), 233.

[10] Joel Fishman “The Big Lie and the Media War Against Israel: From Inversion of the Truth to Inversion of Reality,”Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 19, No.1-2 (Spring 2007),

[11] Peter Kessen, Von der Kunst des Erbens. “Die Flick-Collection” und die Berliner Republik. Mit einem Vorwort von Micha Brumlik, (Berlin & Vienna: Philo, 2004) 22.

[12] See Andrei Markovits, “A New (or Perhaps Revived) “Uninhibitedness” toward Jews in Germany,” in March 2008).

[13] Quoted by Kessen (2004), 125.

[14] Quoted by Kessen (2004), 113.

[15] Jörg Friedrich, The Fire (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). [original in German]

[16] Circulation is about 8 million copies a day.

[17] Martin Walser, “Erfahrungen beim Verfassen einer Sonntagsrede,”  Frankfurter Rundschau, 12 October 1998.[German] “Auschwitz eignet sich nicht dafür, Drohroutine zu werden, jederzeit einsetzbares Einschüchterungsmittel oder Moralkeule oder auch nur Pflichtübung.”. Without making an explicit reference, Walser draws on German philosopher Martin Heidegger and with the typical classic existential-ontological rhetoric concerning fate he shouts from the rooftops, quoting Sein und Zeit: “Duty is part ‘Dasein’ from the very beginning.”

[18] In German, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.

[19] Michael Sontheimer, “Fanatischer Krieger. Churchills Chefbomber Arthur Harris war zeit seines Lebens eine umstrittene Figur,” in Als Feuer vom Himmel fiel. der Bombenkrieg in Deutschland, Stephan Burgdorff & Christian Habbe, Eds. (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2004), 129-131.[German]

[20] Wolfgang Sofsky, “Die halbierte Erinnerung,” in Lothar Kettenacker ed., Ein Volk von Opfern? Die neue Debatte um den Bombenkrieg 1940-45 (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2003), 124-126. [German]

[21] Horst Boog (2003): “Ein Kolossalgemälde des Schreckens,” in: Kettenacker, ed. (2003), 131-136.

[22] Der Spiegel “Als Feuer vom Himmel fiel. Der Bombenkrieg gegen die Deutschen”, special issue January 2003.

[23] Jörg Friedrich, “Brandstätten. Der Anblick des Bombenkrieges,” (Munich: Propyläen, 2003). [German]

[24] See Stern, 21 January 2005: .

[25] Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Berichte, 48. Session 5. June 2003, “Plenarprotokoll 15/48.”

[26] Interview with Jörg Friedrich (Westdeutschen Rundfunk, 1 November 2004). [German]

[27] See Michael Schornstheimer, Bombenstimmung und Katzenjammer. Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Quick und Stern, (Cologne: Pahl-Rugenstein, 1989 ) 255-259, the chapter “Bombenstimmung und Bombenterror: Deutsche als Opfer.” [German]

[28] Annette Seidel-Arpaci, “Lost in Translations? The Discourse of  ‘German Suffering’ and W.G. Sebald’s Luftkrieg und Literatur,” in Helmut Schmitz ed., A Nation of Victims? Representations of German Wartime Suffering from 1945 to the Present, (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi 2007; German Monitor 67), 161-179.

[29] W.G. Sebald, Luftkrieg und Literatur, (Frankfurt am Main: Hanser, 1999), 12. [German]

[30] Seidel-Arpaci, (2007), 165.

[31] See Samuel Salzborn, “The German Myth of a Victim Nation: (Re-)presenting Germans as Victims in the New Debate on their Flight and Expulsion from Eastern Europe,” in Helmut Schmitz, ed. A Nation of Victims (2007), 87-104.

[32] Compare ibid. 92.

[33] Compare ibid. 91, “Umfragen der Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (October, 23, 2003) referring to the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza (21 October 2004) [German]

[34] Rolf Josef Eibicht & Anne Hipp, Der Vertreibungsholocaust. Politik zur Wiedergutmachung eines Jahrtausendverbrechens, (Riesa: DS-Verlag, 2000). [German]

[35] The importance of the KDF in the creation of the Stadt des KdF-Wagens is charted by Marie-Luise Recker, Die Großstadt als Wohn-und Lebensbereich im Nationalsozialismus. Zur Gründung der „Stadt des KdF-Wagens”, (Frankfurt/New York, Campus, 1981). [German]

[36] Martin Heidegger, Einblick in Das Was Ist. (Bremer Vorträge 1949), in Martin Heidegger (1949a): Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, Gesamtausgabe (Vol. 79) 3-77, here 27. The original German reads as follows “Ackerbau ist jetzt motorisierte Ernährungsindustrie, im Wesen das Selbe wie die Fabrikation von Leichen in Gaskammern und Vernichtungslagern, das Selbe wie die Blockade und Aushungerung von Ländern, das Selbe wie die Fabrikation von Wasserstoffbomben.”

[37] Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide. Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997).

[38] Ward Churchill, “‘Some People Push Back’. On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” in: Pockets of Resistance, 20, zitiert nach (9 March 2008).

[39] Churchill’s statement, on 31 January 2005, quoted by (9 March 2008).

[40] Henning Eichberg, “‘Produktive’ und ‘Parasiten’. Industriegesellschaftliche Muster des Volksgruppenmordes,” in: Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch, (Vol. 31, No. 4, 1981): 451-454. [German]

[41] See a critique of the use of the term volklich, which means a rhetorically veiled form of völkisch, Clemens Heni, Salonfähigkeit der Neuen Rechten. “Nationale Identität”, Antisemitismus und Antiamerikanismus in der politischen Kultur der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1970 – 2005: Henning Eichberg als Exemp. (Marburg: Tectum Verlag; Dissertation, University of Innsbruck 2006) 203-211 and 228-238.

[42] Eichberg (1981), 454.

[43] Henning Eichberg, “Lebenswelten und Alltagswissen,” in: Dieter Langewiesche/Heinz-Elmar Tenorth (Hg.): Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte. Vol. V 1918-1945, (Munich: Beck, 1989), 25-64.

[44] Ibid., 37.

[45] Bruni Höfer, Heinz Dieterich & Klaus Meyer eds., Das Fünfhundertjährige Reich. Emanzipation und lateinamerikanische Identität 1492 – 1992, (Frankfurt am Main: Medico International, 1990); Stefan Armborst/Heinz Dieterich/Hanno Zickgraf eds., Sieger und Besiegte im Fünfhundertjährigen Reich. Emanzipation und lateinamerikanische Identität: 1492-1992, (Bonn: Pahl-Rugenstein Nachfolger, 1991). [German]

[46] Heinz Dieterich, “Ironien der Weltgeschichte. Strukturparallelen zwischen Nazi-Lebensraum und Erster/Dritter Welt heute,” in Höfer ders.Meyer ed. (1990) 69-147. Another kind of ‘new’ anti-Semitism is the use of the word Endlösung (Final Solution). Immediately after the screening of the TV series Holocaust in Germany in January 1979 several people begun to claim they were also victims of a (former or future) “Holocaust” (e.g. “atomic Holocaust”, relating to nuclear energy systems).  Dieterich, cited above, talks about the  Endlösung der ‘Indianer’-Frage in Nordamerika (“Final Solution of the Indians in North America”), ibid. 133. This is exactly what Ward Churchill is also talking about.

[47] See ibid., 131f.

[48] See ibid., 140, note 12.

[49] Andrei Markovits & Jeffrey Herf, “A reply to Mearsheimer and Walt,” in:

[50] Taylorism designates “scientific managment” and was an invention of Frederic Winslow Taylor (1856-1915). He believed in the departmentalization of tasks to increase productivity, especially by  separating head- and hand-work. Fordism is mostly based on Taylorism and is the symbol of mass production (not only, but first of cars) and relatively high incomes, including mass consumption from the 1910s until the 1970s.

[51] Robert Kurz, Schwarzbuch des Kapitalismus. Ein Abgesang auf die Marktwirtschaft, (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 1999), 493. [German]

[52] (9 March 2008).

[53] .

[54] Sigrid Löffler, “‘Das hat etwas Perverses’. Löffler kritisiert Vergabe des Georg-Büchner-Preises an Mosebach,” (2007).  [German]

[55] Jean Améry, Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne, (1966), quoted in Enzo Traverso (1995): The Jews & Germany. From the ‘Judeo-German Symbiosis’ to the Memory of Auschwitz, (Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 159.

[56];art771,1947527. [German]

[57] “Ein neues Auschwitz in Ramallah” [“A new Auschwitz in Ramallah”], . For criticism of this anti-Semitic, Catholic webpage see , the most important, state sponsored,Austrian Institute for the remembrance of National Socialism, the Shoah, the fight against anti-Semitism, racism and right-wing extremism.

[58] See Joel Fishman ,”The Big Lie and the Media War Against Israel: From Inversion of the Truth to Inversion of Reality,” in: Jewish Political Studies Review Vol. 19 No. 1-2 (Spring 2007).

[59] See Werner Bergmann, “‘Störenfriede der Erinnerung.’ Zum Schuldabwehr-Antisemitismus in Deutschland,” in Klaus-Michael Bogdal, Klaus Holz, Matthias & N. Lorenz eds., Literarischer Antisemitismus nach Auschwitz, (Stuttgart/Weimar: J.B. Metzler, 2007), 13-35 [German]; see also Klaus Holz, “Nationaler Antisemitismus. Wissenssoziologie einer Weltanschauung,” (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2001). [German] Bergmann cites several interesting examples of German refusal of remembrance after 1945, without even quoting two of the most important books on the topic: Lars Rensmann, Kritische Theorie über den Antisemitismus, (Berlin/Hamburg: Argument 1998) [German]; Lars Rensmann, Demokratie und Judenbild, (Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2004). [German] This is no accident. It is rather the stigmatization of Rensmann by the young scholar Matthias Lorenz. Furthermore, Klaus Holz himself continues to have an effect. Both have challenged Rensmann’s internationally recognized works, because he criticized Holz for having written an anti-Zionist essay, see Klaus Holz, Elfriede Müller & Enzo Traverso, “Schuld und Erinnerung. Die Shoah, der Nahostkonflikt und die Linke,” in This essay generated secondary anti-Semitic topoi by creating the term “Sichtblende Auschwitz” (“blind effect of Auschwitz”). According to Holz several pro-Israeli German scholars and activists are blind to history and current trends in the Middle East conflict because of Auschwitz. He suggests, like German, European and worldwide trends in anti-Zionist propaganda, that the remembrance of the Shoah is a obstacle to the analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the analysis of Islamic Jihad after 9/11, etc. For Rensmann’s critique of Holz see Rensmann (2004) 105-113 and also Matthias Lorenz: ; Klaus Holz (2006) en&link=holztext.html; Lars Rensmann (2006): “Parameter einer selbstreflexiven Antisemitismusforschung,” .[German]

[60] Clemens Heni, “Deutsche mögen nur tote Juden, Islamisten gar keine,” in Gewerkschaftliche Monatshefte, Vol. 53, No. 9 (2002) 555-556. [German]

[61] See for example the leftist  journal, Arbeiterkampf (Workers’ Struggle), 225 (1982) 1.

[62] (24 April 2008).

*     *     *

Dr. Clemens Heni is a political scientist and author. As of September 2008 he is a Post-Doctoral Associate at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University, USA. He lives in New Haven and was a Felix Posen Fellow at SICSA in 2003 and 2004.