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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Quiz Holocaust historian Norman Finkelstein
Jewish American historian Norman Finkelstein argues in his explosive new book, "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering" that Holocaust remembrance has been exploited by the Jewish establishment.
In his book he contends that a greater threat to the memory of the Holocaust than Holocaust deniers is what he calls 'The Holocaust Industry'.
He accuses those who exploit the Holocaust of telling lies and of naked greed. He argues that the ruthless industrialisation of the Holocaust has encouraged the rebirth of anti-semitism in Europe and the United States
The son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and concentration camps, he says, "I do care about the memory of my family's persecution. The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of "needy Holocaust victims" has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino."
We put a selection of your questions to Norman Finkelstein who answered them in a live video forum.
Ian Sullory, UK: Why, what made you do it why have you decided to make these claims?
Norman Finkelstein: I think I would say that my motivation was personal. My parents had fairly recently passed away in 1995 and I felt that it was time to settle accounts of the Holocaust Industry, in my view, both as a perversion and falsification of my parents' experience. Secondly, as a corruption of my parents' experience by turning it into a shakedown industry, ruthlessly extorting huge sums of money from European countries in the name of what they call the "Holocaust Victims". When they actually manage to get the monies, the victims never see any of it.
Alex Laidlaw, UK: Why are you attacking Holocaust survivors for wanting compensation for what the Nazis did? The Nazis stole untold millions of people's money. They have every right to demand compensation. Instead of attacking the "Holocaust Industry" as you call it, why don't you attack the German industrialists that made a very big profit from exploiting the Jews?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that both are fair questions. Firstly, I am absolutely for the victims of Nazi persecution receiving compensation; it's never been an issue for me. Secondly, it's impossible to assign dollar value to the kinds of suffering the Jews and other groups endured under the Nazi regime. However, one has to be honest about these things and the record of the German Government as compared to other governments in the world, regarding compensation, has been relatively good. They have paid out roughly 50-60 billion Dollars in compensation. Compared to the Americans, we have to say that the German record is good.
Jamil Farah, France: : I attended the TARI conference in Boston earlier this year and was very impressed by your contribution. I would like to know if you consider the state of Israel an important actor in the "Holocaust industry"?
Norman Finkelstein: If we're going to establish the principal that property wrongly expropriated should be returned, we have to ask why Israel is not applying the same standards. Why aren't they applying the same standards that we insist on for Swiss banks, the German industrialists and the Eastern European governments?
Adrian, undergraduate at Cambridge, and son of Holocaust survivor: Is it at all possible that your comments have been made in the pursuit of fame and fortune, or perhaps some sort of rebellion against your parents? In addition what makes you an authority on the number of survivors, which have been verified by numerous academics of greater calibre than yourself? So far you have only damaged the cause for Holocaust remembrance.
Norman Finkelstein: First of all, it's impossible for anybody to be the best judge of his or her motives. I would say, at the risk of sounding immodest, I think that I have a reasonably decent track record of trying as best I can, to preserve the historical record of many issues - the Israel/ Palestine conflict, the question of the Nazi Holocaust - at considerable personal sacrifice. There are easier ways to gain fame and fortune in this world. As for my expertise, I freely admit I don't claim to be an expert on this topic. What I do in the book is exactly what your questioner would want me to do - I cite the authoritative figures.
David T, UK: What is worrying is that an internet search for "Norman Finkelstein" shows that you are quoted with approval by organisations and individuals as diverse as Odin's Lounge, David Irving, and by the National Journal whose website boasts: "Why are anti-Semites "dangerous"? - Answer: ... "because they are in the right" Does it worry you that you have become a totem for the extremist racist right?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that problem arises but I would want to add two points. Firstly, I have enlisted the support of authenticates of Nazi persecution who are grateful to me for bringing this issue to the public domain. Secondly, if you search my web site, you'll find contributions from a large number of mainstream figures who have very generously reviewed my last few books.
Adam McIntosh, United States: I deeply appreciate your efforts to restore the Holocaust to its rightful, but still horrific, place in history. What was the starting point in your intellectual journey that eventually brought you to the idea of the "Holocaust Industry"?
Norman Finkelstein: I think the starting point is a very simple one. My parents looked on with growing repugnance at the way the experience they passed through was being depicted in the mainstream media and in Holocaust scholarship. In fact when they referred to the Holocaust, it was as if it was another event - a spectacle. It was that scepticism and disgust with the way the matter was being depicted, that finally inspired me to sit down and settle the accounts of this nonsense.
Pepita Diamand-Levy, United Kingdom: I agree that people should not profit from the suffering of others. Have you considered giving your book's proceeds to Peace Now, the UNHCR or the United Negro College Fund?
Norman Finkelstein: I very much doubt this. I work for a very small publisher, I received a $5,000 advance, and given that I'm self-employed about a third to half of this will go to taxes. I have a very marginal income - it's not as if I'm raking in huge profits from my parents' misery and suffering.
Kenneth Little, United Kingdom: Do you believe that too much emphasis is put upon making people feel guilty when the Holocaust is discussed? I was born twelve years after the camps were liberated. Can I be responsible for events that took place when I was not even alive? Do you believe that my real responsibility is not to be guilty but to work towards a society where bigotry and prejudice are marginalised?
Norman Finkelstein: You can't be responsible and I wouldn't hold you responsible. I really do make a major effort to reach out to German young people for whom I have a very high regard. On the other hand, I think we should be sensitive to the crimes committed in the name of our country.
Nader Hashemi, Canada: Unlike in North America your new book has been reviewed widely in the European press and generated a storm of mostly hostile letters. What are some of the biggest distortions and misrepresentations of your thesis that you would like to correct?
Norman Finkelstein: I am not averse to scholarly attacks. I try my best to preserve the integrity of historical records and if I've made an error, I want to exchange error for truth. In England, the critical remarks have been along the lines that the book is shrill, strident and a rant. You can't engage in a scholarly discussion with that kind of criticism.
Bill from Paris in France: I have heard that American law firms are sending people to Europe to find Holocaust survivors or their family members to sign them up for class action suits which these US law firms are running. A report yesterday mentioned the $5 billion suit against a long list of German firms. How much are these law firms keeping for themselves as payment for these cash settlements? The usual 35%?
Norman Finkelstein: Some of these law firms will be sending their teams to Mars and Venus looking for Holocaust survivors - the whole thing has become a grotesque joke. These people are grave robbers.
B. Lewis, UK Should your main contribution not be to show that the Holocaust did take place, and highlight the need for people to be conscious of racism in whatever form it may take and oppose it by all means.
Norman Finkelstein: I totally agree and I think that a rational discussion of the Nazi Holocaust, in my view, would lead us to conclude that we have to be sensitive to, be careful of and fight against all forms of racism. The problem is the way the Nazi Holocaust is depicted by the Holocaust Industry. They claim that the Nazi Holocaust was unique and nothing can compare to it.
Babs, USA: Isn't it possible that your basic tenet of victimisation to justify breast-beating and Jewish racism will fractionalise the Jewish communities?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that there is a problem in the United States. It's clearly a problem arising among those who are not Jewish becoming sick and tired of hearing of the Holocaust. I feel that it's time for the Jewish community to open their hearts to the rest of humanity - there are other people suffering out there.
26 Jan 00 | Europe
Is there a Holocaust 'Industry'?
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