It’s my custom on Yom HaShoah to spend some time sitting with the facts of the Holocaust, looking at photos and listening to the testimony of survivors. Painful work, I find, but an important remembrance- a small way to connect with all of what was lost. A couple of good resources online are the Fortunoff Archive and the site Holocaust Survivors.org.
This got me thinking about George Soros, among other things. Soros, for those who don’t know, is a multi-billionaire, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and a sometimes contributor to progressive causes. He has also come out recently as a critic of AIPAC.
In a New Republic article, “Tyran-a-Soros”, Martin Peretz - a neoconservative intellectual who disagrees with Soros’ criticism of U.S. policy in the Mideast - accused Soros of collaborating with the Nazis. He quoted a 1998 interview Soros did with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. We’ll come back to the part in bold type momentarily.
Kroft: “You’re a Hungarian Jew …” Soros: “Mm-hmm.”
Kroft: “… who escaped the Holocaust …”
Kroft: “… by posing as a Christian.”
Kroft: “And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.” Soros: “Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.”
Kroft: “In what way?”
Soros: “That one should think ahead. One should understand that–and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a– a very personal threat of evil.”
Kroft: “My understanding is that you went … went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”
Soros: “Yes, that’s right. Yes.”
Kroft: “I mean, that’s–that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?”
Soros: “Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t … you don’t see the connection. But it was–it created no–no problem at all.”
Kroft: “No feeling of guilt?”
Kroft: “For example, that, ‘I’m Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.’ None of that?”
Soros: “Well, of course, … I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was–well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in the markets–that is I weren’t there–of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would–would–would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the–whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the–I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.”
It’s hard to hear Soros saying he feels no guilt. It’s inconceivable to me that he could have lost his family, seen his community vanish, and not had powerful feelings that he would carry through his life. The halting way he answers the questions is, I think, a sign of his discomfort. But how he has dealt with this, and what he may have felt like sharing on national television, is another matter.
I do not think it’s the place of non-survivors to judge those who lived through the Holocaust. What Peretz may not understand is that there really were no heroes at the height of the Nazi terror. If Soros had stood up and claimed his heritage, he would simply have been murdered. Many Jews did what they had to do to survive, and I am sure that many compromised themselves in ways we can hardly imagine. That is the nature of totalitarianism.
Even more disturbing, though, is that Peretz evidently doctored the transcript, cutting out parts that explain Soros’ actions, and making him look like a willing collaborator with the Nazis.
The unedited transcript, dug up by Media Matters, reads:
KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.
SOROS: Yes. Yes.
KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.
SOROS: Yes. That’s right. Yes.
In other words, Peretz removed the reference to the official who was protecting Soros - making it look as if Soros, himself, was collaborating with the Nazis to steal property from Jews who had been sent to the camps.
Soros responded in an April article in the New York Review of Books.
Ever since I participated in a meeting discussing the need for voicing alternative views, a torrent of slanders has been released including the false accusation in The New Republic that I was a “young cog in the Hitlerite wheel” at the age of thirteen when my father arranged a false identity to save my life and I accompanied an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, posing as his godson, when he was taking the inventory of a Jewish estate.
To look honestly at the Shoah is to come face to face with unimaginable evil and unimaginable suffering. Even to think about it evokes deep fear, grief, rage, and many other emotions that we usually wish to avoid.
It’s understandable not to want to face these things. Most of us live our lives in relative insulation from this part of our heritage. That’s one reason Yom HaShoah is important.
If we cannot face all the implications of the Holocaust, however, one thing we must never do is trivialize it. This is something I see done on the right, and on the left as well, when we use it as a political weapon or a rhetorical device.
Some have a strong conviction that the only possible answer to the Holocaust was the creation of a Jewish state. Others have an equally strong conviction that we must never practice on another people the brutalization and dehumanization to which we were subjected under the Nazis. I would consider both of these views valid, whether I agree or disagree in substance, because they strike me as heartfelt responses to a terrible reality.
Before we evoke the Holocaust in our political talk, though, we should look long and hard at this reality: what was done, what people lived through, what was lost. It is not a small thing to call an oppressive government a Nazi state; nor is it forgivable to throw around false accusations of collaboration to discredit someone with whom you disagree.