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The Holocaust Isn't a Feel Good Story for Christians
Away with your "Judeo-Christian" gabble and Gentile Savior narratives.
You can find an index of all my substack posts on fascism here.
Right wing pundit Ben Shapiro this week joined all the other right wing pundits in defending Clarence Thomas’ billionaire benefactor Harlan Crow. Harlan Crow needed defending because he apparently owns a bunch of Nazi memorabilia, including paintings by Hitler and a signed copy of Mein Kampf.
Which most people think is gross. But not self-declared King of the Jews Ben Shapiro.
I’m going to have a piece about Crow’s memorabilia habit on Public Notice tomorrow if the good lord is willing and the creek does not rise. Here, though, I wanted to focus on one of Shapiro’s off-hand remarks.
“Harlan Crow collects basically memorabilia from defunct Communist and Nazi states and he has a garden in which he displays these things in order to show what the capitalistic free market and Judeo-Christian ethic has overcome.”
The Holocaust Is Not a Moral Triumph for Judeo-Christian Values, For Fuck’s Sake
I think the term “Judeo-Christian” is gross in the best of circumstances, given the fact that much of the “Judeo-Christian” tradition involves, not shared values, but Christians tying Jews to the rack and torturing them to death.
But it’s a whole new level of repulsiveness to refer to the Holocaust—the fucking Holocaust—as an object lesson in the triumphant virtue of the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” The “Judeo-Christian” tradition didn’t demonstrate its awesomeness in the Holocaust. On the contrary, Christians executed, butchered, and tortured to death six million Jews. Christians in Germany adamantly refused to believe that there was a shared Christian and Jewish moral world; they refused to believe that Christians and Jews shared a common humanity.
It's true that Hitler and some in the Nazi high command hated Christianity, which they felt shared too much with Judaism. But most people in Germany, including most Nazis, belonged to Christian churches. There was a negotiation and a struggle between the Nazis and most churches—but for the most part that negotiation did not meaningfully involve effective, or even meaningful, resistance by the churches to the extermination of Jewish people.
Christian culpability didn’t stop at Germany’s borders. Pope Pius XII adamantly refused to take a stance against the Nazis, and did nothing to prevent genocide. He also worked to prevent Jewish orphans from being united with their relatives after their parents were killed in Auschwitz, on the grounds that they’d been secretly baptized and were now Catholic. Clearly, the Pope did not feel there was a shared Jewish/Christian tradition—and indeed didn’t think that Jews had any traditions worth respecting.
The United States and Britain were majority Christian nations. But so were Germany and Italy. The Holocaust is best understood not as a triumph of Judeo-Christian values, but as a struggle between (mostly) Christians over (among other issues) just how vicious persecution of Jews should or should not be.
The Nazis built their horrors on centuries of Christian antisemitic animus. To call the results a triumph of Christian values is to spit on the graves of those incinerated in the name of those same values. To call the Holocaust a triumph of Judeo-Christian values is a shocking moral failure. Jews, to put it mildly, did not triumph in the Holocaust.
Ben Shapiro Hearts Hollywood
Shapiro is a particularly dim bulb as well as being a far right ideologue. It would be nice to just dismiss this weird triumphant narrative of the Holocaust as a limited delusion indulged in by only the most wretched Christofascist bottom feeders.
(And yes, Jewish people can be Christofascists if they really try. And Shapiro does.)
Where was I?
Oh right. I was saying that it would be nice if Shapiro were alone in seeing the Holocaust as some sort of transcendent validation of Western Christian civilization, with or without the Judeo.
But he isn’t alone. On the contrary, the Holocaust is regularly presented as a kind of guarantor of both national and individual virtue. You see that, as an early example, in Casablanca (1943), in which Ricks starts out as a neutral, and by the end gets off the fence to righteously oppose Nazism. His spiritual transformation is, by not very buried metaphor, also the spiritual transformation of the United States, which also abandoned neutrality to morally self-actualize via the battle against fascism.
That moral self-actualization is notably and deliberately gentile. Laszlo, the implicitly Jewish dissident in the film, is admirable but also annoying. Ugarte, the implicitly Jewish black marketeer, is oily and repulsive—a backstabbing antisemitic caricature. They aren’t the point of identification or of aspiration; at best Laszlo is an excuse for moral transformation. Rick’s virtue is sealed because he lets Laszlo get away with the girl, rather than punching him in the snoot. Jewish tragedy isn’t really about Jews; it’s just a springboard for gentile triumph.
That dynamic hasn’t changed much over the decade. Gentile savior stories remain the most popular Hollywood representation of the Holocaust. They also remain a central bulwark of serious cinema.
Or to put it another way, Holocaust gentile savior stories are how our culture signals to itself that it is morally serious. Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Zookeeper’s Wife, Jojo Rabbit, and on and on. Whatever you think of the merits of the movies, they all are built around gentiles who defy the prevailing prejudice and help Jewish people at considerable risk to themselves. Jews, in these scenarios, are generally off to the side; their main function is to run, hide, and express gratitude, testifying to the virtue of their deliverers.
Gentile savior Holocaust films always end with a note about how many people, precisely the gentiles saved. And it’s true that every person saved is precious.
But it’s also true that every person who died was precious—which is why the Holocaust is not in fact an uplifting story. It’s a story, for the most part, about the terrible toll of human evil and hate. European Jewry was largely eliminated in the places the Nazis controlled. And while Hitler has served as a warning to some, he’s also been an inspiration and a blueprint. The Christofascists attacking trans people today include explicit neo-Nazis and people who are more circumspect about their historical lineage. But both groups know what Hitler did and how he did it, and they are more or less consciously attempting to replicate his success.
If People Need to Feel Good to Fight Nazis, They Probably Aren’t Going to Fight Nazis
Treating Jewish victims—or other victims of fascism—as step stools for your own ascent to virtue is ugly and condescending. It’s also not a good way to build an antifascist coalition.
People who assume the “Judeo-Christian tradition” is a tale of untrammeled progress and moral improvement aren’t in a good position to notice when their leaders, friends, or allies are dabbling—or more than dabbling—in hate. When you’ve convinced yourself that your role in fighting fascism is to lead boldly and then receive the accolades of targeted people, you’re unlikely to heed the early warnings of those targeted people, who are, after all, the ones in the best position to know when they’re in danger.
The term “Judeo-Christian” is designed to appropriate the historical experience of Jewish people—including the historical experience of Christian persecution—for a Christian supremacist reactionary political program. In a similar way, gentile savior narratives use Jewish genocide to glorify the moral strength of the people whose vaunted virtue, as a group identity, was thoroughly vitiated long before the Holocaust.
The fact that some Jews, like Ben Shapiro and Steven Spielberg, find narratives of Christian virtue congenial is only more depressing, since it indicates how swiftly the oppressed can seek to identify with the oppressors if given the opportunity to do so. But you can’t fight fascism by trusting in the benevolence and superior moral virtue of white Christians, or of anyone accepted, however provisionally, into coalitions of the powerful. Resistance doesn’t begin with those who claim to represent progress and salvation. Resistance begins with those who have no choice but to resist.
You can find an index of all my substack posts on fascism here.
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