Monday, April 23, 2012

The Universalist Holocaust

Everyone deals with trauma in different ways. Getting violently attacked on a street late at night. Watching a loved one murdered in front of your eyes. Feeling the fire on your skin as your home burns. It's not just the pain of the experience, it's realizing afterward how your world has changed and that your life will never be the same.

There are two basic human responses to an assault. I will protect myself. I will make the world a better place. The first deals with the risk of an attack. The second with your feelings about the world. The first leaves you better able to cope with an attack. The second makes you feel better about the world.

The Jewish response to the Holocaust fell into these two categories. Never Again and Teach Tolerance. And the two responses were segmented by population. Never Again became the credo of Israel and Teach Tolerance became the credo of the Western Diaspora. There were many Israelis who believed in teaching tolerance and many Western Jews who believed in self-defense, but for the most part the responses were structural. And yet the divide between Nationalists and Universalists also predated the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a transformative event, but only to a degree, the responses to it came out of earlier debates that had been going on for two generations. Before the Holocaust, the Czarist pogroms had led to the same fork in the road between a collective struggle for a better world and national self-defense. The current debates about Israel revisit an old argument that has been going on for well over a century.

To the Nationalists, the Holocaust was not an unexpected event. Nationalist leaders like Jabotinsky had warned repeatedly that it was coming. To the Universalists however, it was an inexplicable event because it challenged the entire progressive understanding of history as a march to enlightenment. Violent bigotry was a symptom of reactionary backward thinking, not something that modern countries would engage in. There might be anti-semitism in Berlin, but there wouldn't be mass murder. That was for places like Czarist Russia, but not for the enlightened Soviet Russia or Weimar Germany.

The Universalists seemed to have a point.

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1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry that you seems to belive this new religion,or as it is known by many now adays,the Holohoax.