Peace or Poison

HAIFA – Contrary to the hopes of many, the end of the Second World War and the shock of the Nazi atrocities did not mean the end of war and genocide. Indeed, the decades following it have been rife with bloody conflicts in which entire population groups have been murdered. Remember Angola’s civil war, the Khmer Rouge’s massacre of millions of Cambodians, Rwanda’s tribal wars, the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the extermination of Christians in Southern Sudan. Nor should we forget the Stalinist crimes against the peoples of the former Soviet Empire.

And yet there is something unique about the Holocaust that made the United Nations single it out and devote a special day to its commemoration. The difference lies not only in the mind-boggling number of victims and the ferocity with which it was perpetuated, but also in the absence of the usual motives found in other massacres and genocides.

The Nazis did not kill the Jews because they wanted their territory – the Jews had none; or because the Jews were followers of a rival religious faith – the Nazis and their henchmen were atheists and enemies of all religion. Even less did the Nazis kill Jews because of their ideological differences – Jews had no peculiarly “Jewish” ideology. Nor did the Nazis exterminate the Jews in order to take their property – most Jews were poor, and those who owned anything probably would have given it up gladly in order to save themselves.

The Nazis looked at Jews as a strain of “microbes,” and it was for this reason that they wanted to destroy them so brutally and meticulously. The Holocaust was born of an absurd and hallucinatory mechanism that associated the Jews with an invented congenital threat, and that gave rise to a deranged, burning, irrational hatred. It is a hatred that did not disappear with Nazism, and that one can still, 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, glimpse in terrifying manifestations.