July 30, 2013
The first Holocaust memorial planned for the grounds of any U.S. state capitol was approved Thursday by the Ohio State Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. Privately funded, it was designed by artist Daniel Libeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors, and features an account from an Auschwitz survivor embossed on it, and a stone wall with an engraving honoring the death camp liberators: “If you save one life, it is as if you saved the world.” It also includes a broken Star of David, and therein lies a controversy.
Board Chairman Richard Finan, who was concerned that the religious symbol blurred the line of separation between church and state, voted against the memorial. He said he would have been fine with “a reasonable memorial, something smaller” on the grounds. “But this is just too much to the Jewish religion,” Finan said. Perhaps Mr. Finan needs to be reminded that the Holocaust itself was “too much to the Jewish religion.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation also objected to the Star of David, the inclusion of which they argued is a violation of the separation of church and state set out in the U.S. Constitution. There is no Constitutional separation of church and state, but in any case the useful atheists at the FFRF suggested that instead of its current design, “the monument could resemble numerous powerful war memorials across the U.S. which do not use any sectarian images, including the national World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.” But this is not a war memorial; this is a memorial to the victims of a genocidal campaign known as the “Final Solution,” which targeted the despised and demonized Jews.
On Friday, Shannon Bream of Fox News interviewed David Silverman about his objection to the memorial – or more specifically, to the Star of David. Who is David Silverman? Since 2010 he has been president of the small but strident American Atheists organization. “We are the bad guys,” he has said proudly. “We are the grumpy atheists who say you can’t use dead cops as a shield to put up a cross at Ground Zero and the fact that you are religious shouldn’t get you out of paying taxes.”
Silverman, who calls himself “America’s loudest heathen,” told Bream that the symbol is “immoral, because it discounts the 40% of [Holocaust victims] who were not Jewish, but it’s also illegal, because it’s an obvious endorsement of a religion over non-religion, Judaism over everyone else.”
Ridiculous. First, a Holocaust memorial is obviously not an endorsement of a religion. It’s not about recruiting converts or elevating “Judaism over everyone else.” It’s about honoring the memory of those slaughtered primarily because they were Jewish, and about keeping us vigilant against another Holocaust.
Second, Silverman’s “40%” figure is misleading. Eleven million Holocaust victims, of which six million were Jews, is the commonly accepted number. But that number is based solely on the influential estimate of Simon “Nazi Hunter” Wiesenthal, who, as Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt has noted, “admitted that he had invented the figure of eleven million victims in order to stimulate interest in the Holocaust among non-Jews. He chose five million [non-Jews] because it was almost, but not quite, as large as six million”:
On the one hand, the total number of non-Jewish civilians killed by the Germans in the course of World War II is far higher than five million. On the other hand, the number of non-Jewish civilians killed for racial or ideological reasons does not come close to five million.” [Emphasis added]
But Silverman quoted that 40% figure to Bream precisely because it allows him to diminish the Jewish dimension to the Holocaust, distorting and diluting its historical significance.
When Bream countered that the Holocaust was about exterminating Jews, and other groups got “roped into that,” Silverman’s response was, “It was about eugenics, okay? It was about creating an Aryan race.”
“With Jews as the primary target,” Bream reiterated.
“Yeah, they were a primary target but not the only target.”
The Jews were not a primary target. They were the primary target. As for the non-Jewish victims, the memorial hardly excludes them. Bream quoted a passage from the memorial’s inscription:
In remembrance of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and millions more including prisoners of war, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, and political dissidents who suffered under Nazi Germany.
Sounds pretty inclusive. But Silverman claimed that people driving by won’t see the inscription. All they will see is “this big huge thing with this big Jewish star on it… it’s going to look like a temple, it’s going to look like a Jewish shrine, it’s going to look like a synagogue.” And if people driving by see nothing but “this big huge thing” without any symbol on it, they won’t have any clue there is a Holocaust memorial there.
“It’s important,” Silverman stressed revealingly, “that we not give the Holocaust to just the Jews.” And there you have it: it’s important to Silverman and his ilk that they whitewash the antisemitism at the heart of the Final Solution and argue that the Holocaust was about something else: eugenics or intolerance or bullying or whatever bland, politically correct, universal terminology is fashionable these days to describe people not being nice to each other.
The Holocaust was not about some Germans being rude. It was about the systematic elimination of every Jewish man, woman, and child from the face of the earth. And if we let people like David Silverman obscure that ugly reality, then Holocaust memorials will become little more than memorials to our own historical ignorance and moral failure.
Doris Wise Montrose, a child of Holocaust survivors, is the founder and president of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) – a Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to educating the public about the importance of American exceptionalism, of Israeli security, and of the U.S.-Israel relationship.