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August 08, 2005

Belafonte and Jews in the Third Reich

A bunch of folks are upset that Harry Belafonte compared Condi Rice's and Colin Powell's role in the Bush administration to the role of "Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich."  Given the number of Hitler metaphors thrown around in justifying the invasion of Iraq or any number of other countries, there seems to be a bit of oversensitivity to one black singer doing so.

But if the comparison is metaphorically harsh, it's hardly inaccurate to refer to Jewish functionaries of the Third Reich. 

The only inaccuracy in Belfonte's statement is "high up" in the hierarchy.

Unfortunately, it is quite true that quite a few Jews agreed to act as agents for the Third Reich in administering the Jewish ghettoes and executing Hitler's administrative orders among the Jews.  Some may have thought they were doing fellow Jews a favor, by having it humanely done by fellow religionists rather than by the Gestapo directly, but there is no question that Jews were functionaries in the hierarchy of the Third Reich.  

See this article for example:

Kastner, in his capacity as a Jewish community leader in Hungary, had provided indispensable assistance to SS Lieutenant Col. Adolf Eichmann in the latter's efforts to ship a half-million Hungarian and Transylvanian Jews to the extermination camps...To accomplish this goal, Eichmann needed Jewish collaborators like Kastner, since he was understaffed, with an SS team of 150 men and only a few thousand Hungarian soldiers at his disposal. Eichmann knew that the Jews would not go voluntarily to the so-called resettlement areas at the behest of the Nazis or the Hungarian authorities. The only people they would trust were their own leaders. Here, Kastner played a major role.

And the article points out that Hannah Arendt had analyzed and criticized this collaboration:

Arendt did not believe that the rise of the nation-state and its bureaucratization sufficed as an explanation of the Nazi genocide. More controversially, she also turned to an examination of the social structure of the Jewish communities and the nature of their leadership and representatives. Drawing upon Raul Hilberg's exhaustive research in The Destruction of the European Jews (a book that has never been translated into Hebrew and is not quoted in Israel), she provided an unsparing anatomy of the ways in which the European Jewish communities facilitated Nazi purposes--for example, by providing lists and addresses of their members and their property. She also analyzed the ways in which most of the Jewish leadership consciously collaborated with the Nazis.

The point is not even that it shows that there were evil Jews, but that many people of a particular group collaborate with the enemy of that people for a host of mundane, careerist and other reasons.  And they aren't sanctified by being part of the overall group that's being victimized.

Which I think was Belefonte's point.  If you are going to justify Bush's policies towards black people, pointing to a few black faces in the administration doesn't prove anything.

Posted by Nathan at August 8, 2005 05:37 PM