Forward: ‘Is 15 Minutes Enough Time For Trump At Yad Vashem?’

How much time should American presidents be required to spend at Yad Vashem? (Forward)

American Jewish historian Peter Novick writes in his book The Holocaust in American Life:

…In the late sixties and early seventies, at the same time that the arrival of the “new anti-Semitism” was announced, American Jewish organizations were changing their priorities and their posture, a change that has so far proved permanent. It is probably best described as an inward turn — a shift away from the previously dominant “integrationist” perspective and toward an emphasis on the defense of distinctive Jewish interests, a kind of circling of the wagons…

The qualifications for certification as a Righteous Gentile [by Yad Vashem] had little connection with the everyday meaning of “righteousness”: following accepted moral norms and doing what people could reasonably be expected to do. The criteria were to have risked one’s life, and often the lives of the members of one’s family as well, to save another; to have displayed self-sacrificing heroism of the highest and rarest order. At Yad Vashem nominees for Righteous Gentiles are carefully screened. Often the process takes many years, and the most rigorous standards are applied. (Thus fishermen who transported Danish Jews to Sweden in 1943 are not eligible because they were paid.)

The intention of most commemoration of the “righteous minority” has been to damn the vast “unrighteous majority.” The article “Righteous among the Nations,” in The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, stresses that “the acts of those few show that aid and rescue were possible…had there been more high-minded people.” The director of Yad Vashem’s Department of the Righteous explained that “spicing” the history of the Holocaust with stories of rescuers were indispensable in showing the delinquency of European Christians “against the background of the righteous.” In the United States, the head of the Anti-Defamation League discussed a book by the director of the ADL’s Foundation for Christian Rescuers. He insisted that “what is important about the book is that the reader comes away understanding that rescue of Jews was a rare phenomenon. [The fact is] that 700 million people lived in Nazi-occupied Europe; to date 11,000 have been honored by Yad Vashem for rescuing Jews. The ratio of unrighteous to righteous gentiles — thousands to one — is repeatedly underlined by commentators. “For every righteous person,” said Benjamin Meed, “there were thousands upon thousands who collaborated…or who, at best, stood idly by and did nothing.”

Those who have written or spoken about gentile rescuers, for purposes other than underlining their rarity, report that they often receive a hostile reception from Jewish audiences. …But the institutional use of the commemoration of Righteous Gentiles as “the exceptions that prove the rule” has usually been in the service of shoring up that mentality — promoting a wary suspicion of gentiles… “When I move to a new town,” writes a university teacher, “I give great thought to whom, among my gentile friends, I might entrust my children, should that ever become necessary.” A prominent Jewish feminist: “Every conscious Jew longs to ask her or his non-Jewish friends, ‘Would you hide me?’ — and suppresses the question for fear of hearing the sounds of silence.” A professor of psychology:

“Many Jews report that the unspoken question they ask themselves when interacting with a non-Jew is, ‘Would she or he have saved me from the Nazis?’ I have asked myself this question innumerable times: sometimes I surprise myself by answering, ‘I don’t know,’ when asking this question of a non-Jewish friend I had otherwise assumed was close to me. The answer is the ultimate standard by which to measure trust in a non-Jewish person.”

Hovering over all of this is the absurd maxim In extremis veritas — that it is imagining the most desperate circumstances that one gains insight into what gentiles really think of Jews. To be preoccupied with the question of whether one could be sure that one would be saved by gentile friends if a holocaust came to America is to actively solicit anxiety and doubt, because who could ever be sure of such a thing? The asking of this pointless question seems to have become culturally approved, a sign that one has learned “the lesson of the Holocaust.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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