shake down

The Holocaust Industry

The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering is a book published in 2000 by Norman G. Finkelstein, who argues that the American Jewish establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for financial and political gain, as well as to further the interests of Israel. According to Finkelstein, this "Holocaust industry" has corrupted Jewish culture, as well as the authentic memory of the Holocaust. Finkelstein's parents were both Holocaust survivors who had been inmates of concentration camps.

The book was a bestseller in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, and has been translated into 16 languages.

Finkelstein on the book

As the child of Holocaust survivors (every member of both sides of family being exterminated by the Nazis), Norman Finkelstein has lived with the Holocaust all his life. However, he thinks of the holocaust as a historical event, while "The Holocaust" is its ideological representation.

His earliest memory of the historical event is his mother watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Other than that, it did not intrude on his childhood. No friend (or parent of a friend) asked any questions about what his mother and father had suffered. As he says "This was not a respectful silence. It was indifference. In this light, one cannot but be sceptical of the outpourings of anguish in later decades, after the Holocaust industry was firmly established."

In the foreword to the first paperback edition, Finkelstein notes that the first hardback edition had been a considerable hit in several European countries and many languages, but had been panned in the US. He sees the New York Times as the main promotional vehicle of the Holocaust industry, and notes that the 1999 Times index listed 273 entries for the Holocaust and just 32 entries for the whole of Africa. Historian Omer Bartov, one of the world's leading authorities on the subject of genocide, ridiculed the notion of Holocaust profiteers as a "novel variation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Only a few months later he railed against the "growing list of Holocaust profiteers," and fingered "The Holocaust Industry" as a prime example.

Reviews and critiques

The critical response has been varied. In addition to prominent supporters, such as Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, the esteemed Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is on record as praising Finkelstein's book:
I would now say in retrospect that he was actually conservative, moderate and that his conclusions are trustworthy. He is a well-trained political scientist, has the ability to do the research, did it carefully, and has come up with the right results. I am by no means the only one who, in the coming months or years, will totally agree with Finkelstein's breakthrough.

Others have argued that The Holocaust Industry is an unscholarly work that promotes antisemitic stereotypes. For example, according to Israeli journalist Yair Sheleg, in August 2000, German historian Hans Mommsen called it "a most trivial book, which appeals to easily aroused anti-Semitic prejudices."

Omer Bartov, Professor of History and European History at Brown University reviewing the book wrote:

What I find so striking about The Holocaust Industry is that it is almost an exact copy of the arguments it seeks to expose. It is filled with precisely the kind of shrill hyperbole that Finkelstein rightly deplores in much of the current media hype over the Holocaust; it is brimming with the same indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics and dubious contextualizations; and it oozes with the same smug sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

Here he [Finkelstein] combines an old-hat 1960's view of Israel as the outpost of American imperialism with a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", which warned of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Now, however, the Jewish conspiracy is intended to "shake down" (his favorite phrase) such innocent entities as Swiss banks, German corporations and East European owners of looted Jewish property, all in order to consolidate Jewish power and influence without giving the real survivors of the genocide anything but empty rhetoric.

This book is, in a word, an ideological fanatic's view of other people's opportunism, by a writer so reckless and ruthless in his attacks that he is prepared to defend his own enemies, the bastions of Western capitalism, and to warn that "The Holocaust" will stir up an anti-Semitism whose significance he otherwise discounts. Like any conspiracy theory, it contains several grains of truth; and like any such theory, it is both irrational and insidious. Finkelstein can now be said to have founded a Holocaust industry of his own.

Finkelstein was to later blame Bartov's review for the poor US sales of the book.

University of Chicago Professor Peter Novick, whose work Finkelstein described as providing the "initial stimulus" for The Holocaust Industry , asserted in the July 28, 2000 Jewish Chronicle (London) that the book is replete with "false accusations", "egregious misrepresentations", "absurd claims" and "repeated mis-statements" ("A charge into darkness that sheds no light").

Andrew Ross reviewing the book for Salon magazine wrote:

On the issue of reparations, he barely acknowledges the wrongs committed by the Swiss and German institutions — the burying of Jewish bank accounts, the use of slave labor — that gave rise to the recent reparations drive. The fear that the reparations will not wind up in the hands of those who need and deserve them most is a legitimate concern. But the idea that survivors have been routinely swindled by Jewish institutions is a gross distortion. The chief reason why survivors have so far seen nothing of the $1.25 billion Swiss settlement, reached in 1998, is that U.S. courts have yet to rule on a method of distribution. On other reparations and compensation settlements, the Claims Conference, a particular bete noire of Finkelstein, says that it distributed approximately $220 million to individual survivors in 1999 alone.

Finkelstein responded to his critics in the foreword to the second edition:

Mainstream critics allege that I conjured a "conspiracy theory" while those on the Left ridicule the book as a defense of "the banks". None, so far as I can tell, question my actual findings.

Publishing history

Publishing history of The Holocaust Industry :

  • 2000; First published, by Verso Books (London) 150 p. Hardcover, ISBN 1-85984-773-0 (Blue star of David on cover)
  • 2001; First paperback edition, Verso. ISBN 1-85984-323-9 (Yellow star of David on cover)
  • 2003; 2 edition, expanded; 286 p., paperback, Verso. ISBN 1-85984-488-X (Red star of David on cover)

See also


External links

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