Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Raul Hilberg on International Holocaust Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I happened to recently watch Claude Lanzmann's Shoah once again - all nine and a half hours of it - after reading Lanzmann's thoroughly enjoyable memoirs Lièvre de Patagonie.

In the clip above, we see Raul Hilberg, the first major historian of the Holocaust - a term he, incidentally, disliked - demonstrating, via Reichseisenbahn documents, how railway officials of the Third Reich knew full well why they were transporting Jews to Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hilberg, as in all his interviews in Shoah,can barely conceal his disgust at the task in hand, but that's hardly surprising seeing he lost 26 family members in the Nazi death camps.

Hilberg died three years ago. Though he could be a loose cannon at times, his old-fashioned Mitteleuropean sense of academic rectitude never deserted him and he never allowed what might appear to be the 'right fight' to cloud it. He deplored the shoddy tendentious scholarship of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners and proved an unlikely ally for Norman Finkelstein during the controversy over Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry. Hilberg agreed with him that the extent of Nazi gold stolen from Jews held in Swiss banks was exaggerated.