Reclaiming Holocaust memory from Zionism

A survivor of the German-led European genocide during World War II resigned from the British Labour Party following a threat of expulsion because he was to speak at an online Holocaust memorial event organized by a left-wing group.

I also spoke at that event along with Stephen Kapos – “Reclaiming the memory of all those who died in the Nazi Holocaust” – which was hosted by the Socialist Labour Network on 27 January.

The other speakers were Suzanne Weiss, who survived the Holocaust because she was hidden from the Nazis and their French collaborators by farmers in the French countryside. Weiss’ mother, however, did not survive. She was murdered at Auschwitz.

Also among the speakers and organizers was Tony Greenstein, who recently spoke to The Electronic Intifada Podcast about his new book Zionism During the Holocaust: The Weaponization of Memory in the Service of State and Nation.

Adrian Richard Marsh provided a presentation about Roma and Sinti victims of Nazi extermination.

You can watch the entire discussion, moderated by Esther Giles and starting with my 10-minute talk, in the video at the top of this page. At the request of several participants, I’ve included the lightly edited text of my talk below.

The key theme of my own comments is that the Holocaust has been cast – ahistorically and retroactively – as a foundation stone of the European Union.

This re-writing of EU history is happening in parallel with the abduction of the memory of all those who were murdered as the justification for the establishment of the Zionist settler-colony in Palestine, the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians and ongoing perpetration of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid by Israel with the full support of Europe.

I argue that this equation has to be rejected.

Zionist collaboration with the Nazis

Stephen Kapos was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1937. During the Nazi occupation, his father was deported to the Belsen and Theresienstadt concentration camps, while he, his mother and his siblings went into hiding using false papers.

Half a million Hungarian Jews did not escape. They were murdered by the Nazis, who were helped among others by Rezső Kasztner, the leader of the Labor Zionist Movement in Hungary.

Although Zionism was a minority view among Jews in Hungary at the time, the Zionist policy of collaboration played an important role in helping the Nazis exterminate Hungarian Jews.

Kasztner knew that the Nazis planned to deport and murder Hungary’s Jews. But he made a secret deal with the Nazis that he would help prevent a rebellion among Hungary’s Jewish masses who were marked for death.

In exchange, he would be allowed to handpick a group of prominent Jews and Kasztner family members to leave the country safely on a train.

Meanwhile, Kasztner and his operatives lied to the Jewish communities that the trains the Nazis were putting them on were taking them to be resettled in another part of Hungary. In fact they were going to Auschwitz.

Following the war, Kasztner went to Israel, where he became a government official, broadcaster and parliamentary candidate. In Israel, he faced accusations of collaboration with the Nazis and was cajoled by Israel’s embarrassed rulers into suing a pamphleteer who made the accusation for libel.

But the Israeli judge found that the accusations of collaboration were true.

“One cannot estimate the damage caused by Kasztner’s collaboration and put down the number of victims which it cost Hungarian Jews,” the judge wrote.

“These are not only the thousands of Jews in Nodvarod or any other community in the border area, Jews who could escape through the border, had the chief of their rescue committee fulfilled his duty toward them,” the judge ruled.

“I do remember the very intimidating, sad atmosphere within the family when they first had to actually make their own yellow stars and sew it on clothes,” Kapos recalled during the 27 January event, about the tightening restrictions on Jews following the Nazi invasion of Hungary in 1944.

Very quickly, the Nazis forced the Jews into crowded ghettos or houses also marked with yellow stars in preparation for transport to their deaths.

Kapos says that his father and uncles heard about the Kasztner scheme and perhaps through family or professional connections managed to enroll the family.

But the train that Kapos’ father was put on never made it to Switzerland as the Nazis had promised. Instead Kapos’ father ended up in Belsen, and then Theresienstadt where he nearly died from typhoid.

In the meantime back in Hungary, Kapos and other relatives were hidden by members of the Hungarian protestant church, a secret effort to protect Jews led by Lutheran pastor Gabor Sztehlo.

Although scattered, Kapos, his mother and father survived the war and were eventually reunited. Kapos moved to the UK in the 1950s and spent his career there as an architect.

Labour expulsion threat

Just days prior to our 27 January panel, Kapos received an email from a Labour Party official warning him that he faced expulsion if he participated in the memorial event because Socialist Labour Network has been banned by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.

Kapos wrote back stating that, “As a child survivor and one of the fewer and fewer still living direct witnesses to the Holocaust I feel a compelling duty to bear witness and speak out about it at any platform that would invite me and to any audience ready to listen.”

“I have personal experience of the Kasztner project in Hungary which was driven by Zionist ideology,” Kapos explained. “My father was a victim of Kasztner’s scheme and ended up stranded in the Belsen and Theresienstadt concentration camps. I was myself briefly interned in a Kasztner-run detention camp in Budapest.”

“The defense of Palestinians living under a brutal occupation is very important to me, particularly as a Holocaust survivor,” Kapos, who is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, added. “Palestinians live under a system of apartheid as recognized by Amnesty International and other major human rights organizations.”

Refusing to be threatened into silence, Kapos resigned from the Labour Party.

“Your attempt to effectively bar me from speaking about the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day was the last straw for me,” Kapos wrote.

Under Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has declared that he supports Zionism “without qualification,” there has been an escalation of the witch hunt targeting left-wing party members, especially supporters of Palestinian rights.

A disproportionate number of those investigated, suspended or expelled under Starmer’s campaign of allegedly fighting anti-Semitism are themselves Jewish.

Text of my talk

Here is the text of my comments during the 27 January webinar. It is slightly edited and includes a few observations that I omitted from the webinar to keep to time constraints:

When I was growing up in Belgium in the late 20th century, I was taught that the German-led European Christian genocide of European Jews was an atrocity of a singular nature.

Leaving aside the question of whether the Nazi-led European genocide should be set apart from and above the European and American genocides of Indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa and Asia, there was still a sense that the lessons that could be drawn from the European Holocaust were universal: No one, ever again, anywhere should be subjected to persecution and extermination on racial grounds.

I do not recall, living in Brussels at the time, that the Holocaust was presented as the defining and founding event of contemporary Europe.

For instance, Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator, recently asserted: “Never Again is a solemn oath on which the EU is built.”

Similar claims have been advanced by other EU officials.

In 2020, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, asserted that “The Holocaust was a European tragedy, it was a turning point in our history and its legacy is woven into the DNA of the EU.”

“Remembering the Shoah is not an end in itself,” she added. “It’s one cornerstone of European values.”

However the claim that the Holocaust was somehow the impetus for European political and economic integration is not true.

What became the EU was founded on the idea that economic integration, especially between France and Germany, would create interdependence and prevent war from again breaking out on the European continent – at least among the states in Western Europe.

This is clearly laid out in the 1950 Schuman declaration, in which European integration was first formally proposed.

That declaration makes no mention of the Holocaust.

Nor does Jean Monnet, one of the founders of what eventually became the EU, mention the Holocaust in his key speeches laying out the ideas behind the European project.

The 1957 Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community – which would later be expanded and renamed the European Union – contains no mention of the Holocaust either.

Rather, in order, to achieve Monnet’s vision, the early European institutions were more than happy to integrate actual Nazis.

The first judges and top officials of the European Court of Justice, for example, included former officials from the fascist regimes of both Hitler and Mussolini.

Historian Perry Anderson notes for instance that the German judge on the court, Otto Riese, was a devoted Nazi who retained his official membership of Hitler’s party until 1945.

Karl Roemer, an advocate-general at the court, spent the war managing companies and banks for Hitler’s regime in Nazi-occupied France.

After the war Roemer served as a defense lawyer for Waffen SS members charged with the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in the French village of Oradour.

Another advocate-general for the European Court was Maurice Lagrange, who as a senior member of France’s collaborationist Vichy regime was, according to Anderson, “in charge of coordinating the first wave of persecution of French Jews.”

Anderson has commented: “That figures like these were the ornaments of Europe’s first Court of Justice reflected, of course, the closing of political ranks after the Cold War set in, when what mattered was not the misdeeds of the fascist past but the menace of communist present.”

And it is now well established that until the 1970s, West Germany’s own justice ministry was dominated by former members of the Nazi Party.

These are only some examples of how Hitlerites were integrated into the US-led Cold War order in Western Europe.

It is therefore revisionism to suggest that contrition over the Holocaust had anything to do with the founding of the European Union.

Of course it is good and necessary that Europeans acknowledge their history of genocide, but the elevation of the Holocaust to a sort of foundation stone for the EU is happening in parallel with the total abduction of the memory of all those who were murdered as the justification for the establishment of the Zionist settler-colony in Palestine, the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians and ongoing perpetration of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid by Israel with the full support of Europe.

Here, I cannot put it better than Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University, who wrote last March:

Since World War II and the establishment of Israel in 1948, Palestinian Arab history and Jewish history have been inextricably linked. Israeli Zionists have appropriated events in Jewish history, including the Holocaust, for propagandistic purposes to assert their “right” to Palestine - a land to which they had laid their suspect colonial claim half a century before the genocide.

By appropriating the Holocaust, Israel asserts that any acknowledgment of the genocide is an acknowledgment of Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state”, while any attempt to deny this right is to deny the Holocaust.

This formula was enshrined in the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel: “The Nazi Holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the reestablishment of the Jewish state, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gate to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations.”

Israel began to use the Holocaust more insistently in the 1960s and 1970s in defense of Israeli colonial violence against Palestinians. Palestinians and other Arabs were called upon to accept the linkage between the Holocaust and Israel’s “right to exist as a Jewish state” as a package deal. Former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion unequivocally asserted that “the Jewish state is the heir of the six million [Jews who died in the Holocaust] … the only heir.”

Massad also notes that the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian intellectuals actively sought to delink the Holocaust – which they rightly abhorred – from the founding of Israel, which they also rightly abhorred, because it meant the destruction of Palestine.

“These attempts have been condemned by Israel, which also rejects the Palestinian contention that Holocaust survivors left Europe as refugees but arrived in Palestine as armed colonial settlers,” Massad states.

But the process of linking the two events has only accelerated in recent years in the official equation in Europe and the West more generally of Holocaust remembrance with support for Israel, and with silence about Israel’s crimes.

This could be seen in the welcome received by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, a committed anti-Palestinian racist, at the European Parliament in Brussels this week as part of the EU’s official Holocaust commemorations.

Receiving Herzog, the parliament’s president Roberta Metsola declared: “The annual Holocaust remembrance day is always a sombre moment for all the members of our parliament and this year it is particularly significant as we also mark the 75th anniversary of the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel.”

In other words, to remember the Holocaust is to celebrate Israel.

Metsola went on to claim that the European Parliament was upholding the “timeless promise of never again” by among other things standing up to “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” and “sanctioning the regime in Iran who executes young people standing up for women, life and freedom.”

But as she stood next to Herzog, Metsola was totally silent about Israel’s crimes.

Instead she asserted that the “European Union and Israel are tied by a close friendship based on a shared history and common values of democracy, open society and rule of law.”

Nor did Metsola note the horrible irony that the EU’s support for Ukraine has meant in practice supporting and arming acolytes of Stepan Bandera, the Hitler collaborator in German-occupied Western Ukraine who along with his followers helped the Nazis murder hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles.

Now we have reached a point where Holocaust memory is no longer about actually remembering the victims of the European genocide, but about weaponizing their memory to justify the dispossession and persecution of the Palestinians. That’s as perverse a situation as one can imagine.

We Palestinians have always understood that our enemy is not and has never been Jews as Jews, but Zionism, a political, colonial, ultra-nationalist and racist movement originating in Europe, which falsely purports to act in the name of Jews everywhere.

But for Europeans, especially Germans, who seek to cleanse their consciences, the mere existence of Palestinians is now sometimes considered to be anti-Semitic.

Consider that in Berlin, last Nakba Day, police were ordered to arrest anyone displaying a Palestinian flag or even wearing a keffiyeh.

The European formula is simple: “We Europeans light candles and make pious speeches showing ourselves to be good people, but it is the Palestinians who will pay the price for our forebears’ crimes with their land and lives.”

This is a formula the Palestinian people can and will never accept. Palestinians will not pay the price for Europe’s horrific misdeeds.

As a Palestinian, as a human, I take this moment to honor the memory and lives of all the victims and survivors of the German-led European genocide and stand in solidarity with Jews and with all people who face discrimination, hatred and persecution because of their identity.

Truly honoring their memories means committing to “Never Again, not to anyone” and never again, not by anyone, including Israel.

We must say: Never again shall victims of racial oppression justify oppressing others racially by appealing to their own prior oppression as granting them a license to oppress.

Thank you.