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The Führer Furor

February 10, 2000

Governments, demonstrators, pundits, and even musicians are protesting the inclusion of the Austrian Freedom Party in the new Conservative government. The Freedom Party is of course led by Jörg Haider, February’s Hitler of the Month.

“The rise of Jörg Haider in a country whose role in the Holocaust still awaits clarification is more than unsettling, it’s shameful and unforgivable,” says the great Jewish pianist Andras Schiff, canceling a scheduled concert at the Austrian embassy in Washington. Several governments, including the United States, have already announced sanctions against Austria because of Haider’s anti-immigrant politics and controversial remarks about the Third Reich. He reminds people of Hitler.

[Breaker quote: Meet the 
latest Hitler of the Month.]If only Haider were a Communist! Communists still participate, without international indignation, in European coalitions. Despite the rather sanguinary history of the “socialist republics” from Russia to Cambodia, which have resulted in a hundred million abbreviated life spans, nobody is seriously disgraced by choosing to associate himself with the name, symbols, and history of Communism.

Liberal opinion has trivialized Communism by censuring anti-Communism as “McCarthyism” and ridiculing those who see “Commies under every bed.” But hysterically free-associating people with Hitler (d. 1945) is still considered normal behavior. In spite of Stalin, you can still name your kid Joseph (thank God!); but don’t name him Adolf!

Since the late 1960s Hitler and Nazism have become synonymous less with World War II than with the program of mass-murder now known as the Holocaust, though the term Holocaust was never used by either Hitler or his enemies — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, or even “Uncle Joe” Stalin. Today the term is ubiquitous, and several countries have actually made it a crime to doubt that the Holocaust occurred.

The Holocaust has become so many things: memory, cautionary lesson, guilt trip, metaphor, explanation, and — though unique in history — perpetually imminent danger. It can happen again at any time, regardless of circumstances, defying normal laws of causality, without such preconditions as a Hitler, a world war, a Versailles Treaty, and economic catastrophe.

Moreover, everyone is guilty, not just Hitler and the Nazis. The stain of guilt for the Holocaust has spread to all the German people, the Allies, Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church as a whole, the authors of the Gospels who originated the anti-Semitism that would result, two millennia later, in genocide; not to mention such anti-Semitic authors and artists as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Wagner, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

The Holocaust has entered the realm of science fiction. In novels and movies like The Boys from Brazil and Marathon Man, new little Hitlers can be cloned, or a handful of octogenarian Nazis hiding in South America can launch the whole thing all over again. Talk about a Master Race!

As a symbol with such limitless potential, the Holocaust can even be turned against the Jews themselves. Critics and enemies of Israel liken its racially discriminatory policies — on immigration, residence, citizenship, and even marriage — to Hitler’s. And in truth, Jörg Haider has little to teach the Israelis about abusing and excluding minorities.

Which hasn’t prevented the Israeli government from recalling its ambassador from Austria, with appropriate moral bluster: “We are calling on the free world, all the democracies, to isolate this neo-fascist government,” says one Israeli official, unblushingly. Perhaps he has forgotten such Israeli leaders as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Benjamin Netanyahu. All Israeli practices, however brutal, are justified as necessary exercises in Holocaust prevention.

Since the danger is eternally imminent, there is no limit to what may be done in the name of avoiding another Holocaust. Normal standards of decency, prudence, and rhetorical restraint may be set aside when a budding Hitler is spotted. A minor local politician sparks a worldwide furor; a dissident historian of World War II is denounced as “one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial.” Dangerous? Yes! If you deny the first one, you see, you’re promoting the next one. (Even “Holocaust denial” can cause a Holocaust.)

Thus an endless anti-Hitler frenzy becomes a form of moral witness. It makes the McCarthy Era seem like a moment of calm.

Joseph Sobran

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