“For as long as I can, I will continue”: Hajo Meyer interviewed

Hajo Meyer (Christiane Tilanus)

Christiane Tilanus

Since being interviewed by The Electronic Intifada in 2009, Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer has toured numerous countries to speak about his efforts to combat Zionism and his support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and equality.

In 1939, Meyer had to flee alone from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands at the age of 14 because the Nazis wouldn’t allow him to attend school. In 1943, three years after the Germans had occupied the Netherlands, he went into hiding with a poorly-forged ID. Meyer was captured by the Gestapo in March 1944 and deported to the Auschwitz concentration shortly thereafter.

In a new interview with The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof, 86-year-old Hajo Meyer about his continued activism in the past two years.

Adri Nieuwhof: In our interview two years ago — in which you compared your childhood experiences to that endured by Palestinian youth today — you said you planned to continue to be active because you “had still so much to say.” Can you tell us more about what happened since then?

Hajo Meyer: I don’t think anything remarkable has happened. Of course there were many references to the interview. I am still active, because of what I said in the interview. I have so much in common with Palestinian youth. My own fate is so similar to what young Palestinian people in Palestine experience. They have no free access to education. Preventing access to education is murder in slow motion. I am serious about this; it is criminal. I was a refugee; they are refugees. I experienced all sorts of camps that limited my mobility, just like the Palestinians.

I am one of the first members of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN). In the past two years, I went on speaking tours in Europe and North America organized by IJAN. I just returned from a three-week speaking tour to South Africa. The reason for this journey is that I know Alan Hart very well. He was a correspondent for ITN and BBC television for many years. He has published the three volume epic Zionism, The Real Enemy of the Jews.

Alan has a good relation with Muslims in Great Britain. They brought Alan and me in touch with the Al-Quds Foundation in Cape Town. Together we went on a lecture tour in South Africa. Alan knows everybody in the Middle East personally. He has been active at a practical political level and has insight in the day-to-day political activities on both sides. I have thought about the political philosophy of Zionism. I describe it as belonging to the same class of ideologies such as Stalinism or Nazism. These have gone down the drain of history, after murdering many people. That is what I hope and also fear of Zionism.

AN: You have given presentations in many countries in the past two years. What were the reactions? Did you notice any difference between the countries?

HM: I think South Africa is not to be compared to any other country I visited. It was my first time. The experience was different because I met with the Muslim community, and they were all colored or black. They were much warmer, more welcoming if compared to the Dutch. I spoke in the largest mosque in Cape Town for 2,000 people. The Maulana [Islamic religious leader] praised Chris, my wife, for making it possible for me to travel. Chris was wearing a headscarf and was sitting amongst the women. It was remarkable how the role of Chris in our tour was made visible to the public. It was very respectful. The women embraced her and thanked her for her role.

The Zionists in contrast are automatons. Wherever I speak they do always the same. They come to the audience without any arguments or just shout “lies!” … They are brainwashed to nothing.

It is a lesson I learned in Auschwitz. When a dominant group tries to dehumanize a certain distinguishable group, it is necessary that the members of the dominant group have been brainwashed beforehand. A normal human being cannot see another human being suffering, let alone inflict suffering. His or her inborn empathy needs to be reduced to be able to inflict suffering on a human being. My hope is that, eventually, a society composed of a majority that lost empathy by brainwashing right from the kindergarten until the army, like the Zionists, kills itself from within by too much aggression.

AN: What is your impression of the solidarity movement in the different countries?

HM: I am a very great advocate of the boycott of [Israeli] universities which are the architects of all the oppression and humiliation measures of the Israeli occupation forces. Israel wants to hold up how cultured it is. I remember from my time under Nazi occupation how proud the Nazis were of their contacts with universities or if Beethoven was being played in the Concertgebouw [hall] in Amsterdam by a German.

While we were in South Africa we learned that the University of Johannesburg severed its ties with Ben Gurion University. And there were protests against the speaking tour of [pro-Israel Harvard law professor] Alan Dershowitz.

I know too little about the details, but boycott, divestment and sanctions is certainly a topic in the countries, I know. I don’t know how effective it really is. I think that boycott of Israeli universities and artists is the most effective part.

AN: How do you assess the situation on the ground? Do you see any change?

HM: It gets worse every day. The discrediting of nongovernmental organizations in Israel that are trying to help Palestinians is worse. The misbehavior of the [Israeli] foreign minister [Avigdor] Lieberman is mind-boggling. Large parts of the Jewish population don’t want to talk about the Palestinians. They cannot get out of their role of the victim. They have forgotten about Jewish ethics as laid down in the Golden Rule by Hillel, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” I was educated to put inter-human ethics central in religion. This is so obviously contrary to the daily practice of Zionism. In Zionism they practice a dogmatic Holocaust religion: there is only one people which knows about suffering, that is the Jewish people [and that] any suffering Zionists inflict on Palestinians is negligible as compared to Jewish suffering. Secondly, according to high priest Elie Wiesel, the only event with which Auschwitz must be compared is the Sinai experience, when Moses got from God’s own hands the five books of the Torah and the ten commandments. This religion has for many taken the place of the former ethical Judaism. It gives the Zionists the freedom to do anything they want without feeling guilty.

Fortunately quite recently the Zionists faced a defeat in Switzerland. A judge ruled that posters to commemorate 61 years of injustice against the Palestinian people had to be put up again at the main station in Zurich. On the poster is written: “There was in the Middle East no land without a people for a people without a land. Israel: founded with violence on Palestinian land. Injustice calls for resistance.”

AN: We are both Dutch nationals. What do you think of the performance of Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal?

HM: I think he is the foreign minister of Israel. It is incredible that the Dutch parliament and the Dutch people accept that he says things as if he is the representative of Israel.

His threats to cut government funding if [the grant-giving organization] ICCO continues to support The Electronic Intifada are an incredible meddling in the freedom of expression. I am appalled by it.

The Dutch people have rightly a guilty conscience about the Jews in the Netherlands. Only in Poland the fate of the Jews was worse. However, a Dutch proverb says: it is exactly your true friend who shows you where you fail. We are bad friends of the rogue state of Israel. It is a criminal state.

AN: Do you plan to continue your activism?

HM: I am 86 years old, and I am still in reasonable health. It was quite a big strain to go on such a far journey to South Africa. However, it is also very rewarding, refreshing, to see how people respond. As long as I can, I will continue.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.