The lesson of the Holocaust should be “never again” for anyone, including Palestinians.
The Israeli government draws on the experience of the Holocaust to justify many of its policies, especially those relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the people who defend Israel cite the Holocaust as one of the justifications for the founding and aggressive militarism of the Jewish state. For these people, the Holocaust serves as both a reminder of Jewish history and a cautionary tale for the future. When the Jewish people had neither a nation nor a military of their own, they were nearly exterminated; now anything the Israeli state and army does is acceptable because extermination could threaten Jews again.
But some Holocaust survivors cite the Holocaust as the very reason they oppose Israeli policy; specifically, its treatment of Palestinians. These people see that oppressing Palestinians is not just unnecessary and wrong, but hypocritical for a nation founded to provide people with a refuge from oppression. For them, the lesson of the Holocaust isn’t “never again” for Jews. It’s never again for anyone, including Palestinians.
1. Hajo Meyer. Born in Bielefeld, Germany, in 1924, Meyer fled Germany for the Netherlands at age 14, where he went into hiding when the Nazis invaded a year later. Captured in 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz. His parents died after being deported from Germany. When the war ended, Meyer returned to the Netherlands and studied theoretical physics, eventually becoming the director of the Philips Physics Laboratory. He has written several books, including The End of Judaism. In 2011, Meyer went on a 13-city speaking tour throughout the U.S. and Canada called ” Never Again for Anyone.”
Although initially supportive of the founding of Israel, Meyer grew not only to reject Zionism but to see it as antithetical to Judaism. Meyer rejects the way the Israeli government exploits the Holocaust and survivors to achieve its ultimate goal of “the maximum territory with a minimum number of Palestinians….They use the Holocaust to implant paranoia in their children.”
Meyer criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu for using the Holocaust to further Zionism: “And like Netanyahu did the other day in the General Assembly of the United Nations, he used the number on my arm—or the number on our arms—to defend a coming attack on Iran. They have nothing to do with each other… The Zionists have not any right whatsoever to use the Holocaust for any purpose.”
Meyer likens the experience of the Palestinians to that of Eastern European Jews during the Holocaust, “in that they are very often held up at checkpoints, or they are not allowed to move from one place to another.” To Meyer, Israel’s mentality bears comparison to National Socialism; he believes Israel has “given up everything that has to do with humanity, with empathy, for one thing: the state. The ‘blood and soil,’ just like the Nazis. I learned in school about blood and soil, and that’s exactly their idea, too.”
2. Hedy Epstein. Born in 1924 in Freiburg, Germany, Hedy Epstein was sent to England at 14 via the Kindertransport, which brought nearly 10,000 children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland to England during the months between Kristallnacht and the onset of WWII. After the war, Hedy returned to Germany. Her parents had perished in Auschwitz and Hedy worked on the Nuremberg medical trial. In 1948, she joined her only living relatives, an aunt and uncle, in the United States.
Epstein has been to Palestine five times since 2003, taking part in demonstrations against the Occupation, the wall, and the demolition of Palestinian homes and olive orchards. Epstein’s autobiography, Remembering Is Not Enough was published in 1999.