In the 80s, when I was studying History, I remember being confronted by the “Historikerstreit”, (The Historians Conflict), which began in 1986 when, Jürgen Habermas, a left-wing philosopher, attacked the three leading conservative German historians, Andreas Hillgruber, Ernst Nolte and Michael Stürmer. My post graduate studies in History at the LSE were looming but I had already read Nolte’s book, ‘The Three Faces of Fascism’ and I had already quoted Hillgruber in a number of essays. The debate attracted my attention at the time, with Ernst Nolte basically putting forward the thesis that Nazi Germany did not represent absolute evil and the Holocaust was not unique. Nolte, is not, in my opinion a particularly good historian but then that is only my opinion and in his favour, I have to say that any thinking person must come to the conclusion that “absolute” is hardly necessary to describe evil. Evil is evil and we don’t need quantifiers. Nazi Germany was evil the ‘Khmer Rouge’ was evil, Indonesian atrocities in East Timor were evil. There is no “more evil” and, indeed, there is no “less evil” as such. Similarly, the Holocaust is unique only in the same way as other events in history are unique and, while it is a very poignant indictment man’s inhumanity to man so too are the killing fields of Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing of Armenians, Palestinians and Bosnian Muslims, the attempted genoicide on East Timor and, finally, the UN sanctions that caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children to die.
Today I sort of stumbled onto a debate on who the Holocaust belongs to. With some people arguing that Israel has a special claim to it. No, the Holocaust belongs to everyone who has a conscience and not to Israel. Moreover, those who were slaughtered at Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sachsenhausen and elsewhere, and those who genuinely suffered because their nearest and dearest were killed by the Nazis, share an intrinsic bond with those who were tortured on Pol Pot’s “killing fields”, those who died at Adana in 1909, when the Turks massacred between 15,000 and 30,000 Armenians, those who were butchered at Jasanovac between August 1941 and April 1945 (see post from October 26) and those who were similary raped and butchered some fifty years later during the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and, dare I say it, those who were forced off their land and killed during the Palestinian catastrophe.