Embracing the Wrong History: Ferdinand Isserman, the Final Solution, and the Search for Meaning

Barbara Thiede

 

Denouncing the way writers and filmmakers have trivialized the Holocaust is an academic industry. Since the 1970s, scholars have blamed the use and abuse of the Final Solution on the so-called “Americanization” of the Holocaust.1 But no abuse we can identify is exclusively American—or, for that matter, exclusively non-Jewish. In fact, the clichés and banalities we disparage are rooted in liberal assumptions that Jews themselves share. What Jewish critics have condemned is the predictable product of premises Jews embrace. The outcome has not been negligible: After the Shoah, Jewish identity has been stunted when it needed growth, weakened when it required strength.

No part of this process is a product of recent history: as Hitler rose to power, Jews began framing Nazi persecution as an assault on liberal values which, they claimed, were fundamentally Jewish. Marrying Judaism to liberal values was, of course, nothing new. Jewish writers were following a path forged by Moses Mendelssohn in the eighteenth century, arguing that Judaism was foundational, not foreign, to Western civilization. They insisted that Western civilization was on a slow and steady path of progress that would ensure Jewish rights on the basis of universally accepted moral criteria. Jewish and Western values were one and the same.2

Sadly, assuming that the Final Solution was an assault on liberal values has been worse than fruitless. It has led to Jewish representations of the Holocaust that other Jews are at pains to decry, depictions that have even offered a subtle but worrisome form of Holocaust denial of their own. The consequence of these well-intentioned efforts has been a search for meaning in the wrong places, and in the wrong history. The work of one American rabbi, Ferdinand M. Isserman, provides a powerful example, serving as an early model for what has since become the de facto response of liberal Jews to the Final Solution.

Born in Antwerp in 1898, Isserman’s family emigrated to the United States in 1906. At the age of sixteen, Isserman began his studies at the Hebrew Union College (HUC), where, in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati, he studied for his bachelor’s degree while simultaneously training for the rabbinate. He completed his B.A. in 1919 and was ordained in 1922. His first pulpit was at the oldest Ashkenazic synagogue in the western hemisphere: Rodeph Shalom Congregation in Philadelphia. While serving as assistant rabbi there, Isserman pursued and completed an M.A. in comparative religion in 1924.

Historian Jacob Marcus has observed that Isserman was well-known for his leftist leanings as a student. He was ordained, Marcus noted, as a model of the kind of “social justice” rabbis the Hebrew Union College (HUC) produced in the 1920s.3 Early in his career, Isserman both served as an arbiter for labor disputes and agitated for access to birth control. After becoming rabbi of the Toronto Hebrew Congregation in Canada, he began a lifelong ministry of advocacy. He arranged Canada’s first pulpit exchange between a Christian minister and a Jewish rabbi. He was hired in 1929 by Temple Israel in St. Louis, Missouri, where he became the first rabbi of the region to exchange his pulpit with a black minister. He founded the first civic seminar of Jews and Christians in the United States, organized the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Institute on Judaism and Race Relations in 1945, created a daycare center for black children at Temple Israel in 1948, and was an active member of the CCAR’s Commission on Justice and Peace from 1942 through 1950, serving as chairman from 1942 to 1945.

Isserman’s advocacy was rooted in his conviction that liberal values emerged from Judaism itself. The prophets were his models—ancient Judaism’s spokesmen for the progress the Western world could and would achieve: emancipation, equality, social justice, and international brotherhood.4 Like Mendelssohn, Isserman believed that human beings could employ reason as a path to ethical principles. Like the writers and philosophers inspired by the Enlightenment, he argued that humankind was both essentially good and capable of improvement. Western democracy, he asserted, was based “on faith in man’s moral right to govern himself, faith in man’s fundamental goodness.”5

For Isserman, the Diaspora was the result of divine intentions. Dispersed throughout the world, Jews would naturally carry out their God-given mission to act as witnesses to God’s word and a light to the nations, to represent higher moral values to all humanity.6 Eventually, all of humanity would embrace those values. Jews would labor on behalf of humanity; their values and Western values were pointed at the same target and would surely lead to the same outcome.

Unlike many Jewish leaders of his time, Isserman neither downplayed nor shied away from contending with the consequences of Hitler’s rise to power. He did, however, interpret events in the light of his liberal convictions. Between 1933 and 1939, Isserman traveled to Europe three times, visiting Jewish communities and Jewish refugees in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and Germany.7 He took Hitler’s threat that “Jewish heads would roll in the dust” seriously. After his first trip to Germany, he made his findings public in the fall of 1933 in a pamphlet he titled “Sentenced to Death! The Jews of Nazi Germany.”8 Throughout the pre-war years, Isserman continued to fight silence and acquiescence, detailing the devastating effects of Nazi policies and Nazi violence on Jewish communities in sermons, speeches, essays, and articles for a variety of Jewish and secular venues.9 He spoke at rallies and traversed America to open over forty welfare funds for the Joint Distribution Committee.

Isserman had witnessed the persecution of Jews first-hand, but he could only view it as a larger attack on Western civilization. “We Jews,” he wrote, “have been selected as the spear-head of the attack of Hitlerism, and rightly so, for Judaism has been the inspiration of democracy.”10 Democracy represented the will of God; when Nazi Germany attacked German Jewry, it also attacked Western democracy itself.11 Hitler was not merely attacking Jews—he was fighting civilization.12 Hitler was assaulting Western, thus Jewish, values of social righteousness, tolerance, equality, and protection under the law.

Hitler’s persecution of Jews, according to Isserman, was an admission of the role Jews played as guardians of Western civilization’s moral values: “No greater compliment could have been paid to the Jews of Germany than that a party which endeavored to bring about a reversal of modern civilized values knew that between it and its Machiavellian goals there stood a stiff-necked people. What a tribute!”13 Jews advocating for Jews were fighting for humanity itself: “We are not fighting merely for ourselves but for humanity—not for Jewish rights, but human rights, not for Jewish freedom, but for freedom and liberty everywhere.”14 The destruction of European Jewry was tantamount to the destruction of Western civilization; to save the Jews would be to save Western civilization.15

But in making such claims, Isserman ignored the fact that Western thought had largely imagined the Jew as a threat to civilization. As David Nirenberg’s seminal Anti-Judaism demonstrates, two millennia’s worth of theologians, philosophers, and political theorists have been at pains to claim that any fault in thinking, ideology, or practice had to be Jewish in origin. Such claims were frequently made in the absence of any Jewish presence in the author’s country, much less vicinity.16 As Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote: “To call someone a Jew amounts to an instigation to work him over until he resembles the image.”17 The Jew as the representative of the humanitarian values of Western civilization? For themselves, maybe. For the rest of Western civilization, the Jew has served as the figure of error, even evil.

Because he believed so wholeheartedly in the tenets of liberalism, Isserman was unable to grasp the history of anti-Judaism. Equating Judaism with liberal values made it impossible for Isserman—and for Jews of every decade since his time—to realize that anti-Judaism was (and remains) unconcerned with real Jews’ beliefs and actions. Becoming better at their divine task as witnesses and a light unto the nations has no bearing on how the Western world continues to objectify Jews.

In 1942, Isserman responded to yet more news of mass slaughters of Jewish communities in a Rosh Hashanah sermon. In the sermon, Isserman described a young girl rising from the dead to demand the rabbi’s explanation for her senseless death. His answer? As a Jew, she could not “escape the charge of history—‘Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.’” Jews were humanity’s savior, he added. They must continue to fight the war with every weapon—excepting vengeance or hatred.18 Judaism stood for moral values and God’s laws. Isserman imagined the girl inspired by his explanation, seeking out the man responsible for the carnage. There, face-to-face with her murderer, she proclaimed the ideals of the Jewish people and the eventual triumph of their values. Finally, she dared the commander to destroy her again. “She died,” Isserman wrote, “not pleading for mercy, not whining about her lot, not cringing cowardly, but with the dignity of martyrdom…and an awareness that by her death she linked herself with the noblest of all ages.”19

In a later sermon equally reliant on the language of martyrdom, Isserman wrote of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: “Young Jews with hand grenades in their pockets flung themselves beneath advancing German tanks, heedless of life, preferring to die as free men, striking a blow for freedom, rather than being massacred like pigs in the human abattoir, erected by the fiendish Gestapo.” The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was a modern symbol of the Maccabean spirit, of the refusal to submit to oppression. God, he wrote, lived on. Righteousness would triumph.20

Isserman’s worldview led to a denial of reality. If Judaism’s purpose was to embody the best of humanity’s values, Jewish victims of the Holocaust inevitably became martyrs, heroes who would give their lives to defend Judaism’s role as the foundation for modern civilization’s Western values. Their slaughter could not be senseless. It could not be meaningless. But we know and he should have: no child murdered at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen could choose her death; the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising would have been slaughtered whether they fought back or not. Isserman denied the facts of the Final Solution—a denial that Jews have repeated in every decade since his time. Isserman’s search for meaning, like ours, ends in clichés and banalities. These may comfort, but they do not inform.

Jewish writers have echoed Isserman’s insistence on linking Judaism with the very foundation of Western civilization’s liberal values. “Western leaders,” wrote Henry Feingold in The Politics of Rescue, “…would not pick up the cudgels in defense of European Jews because they were not prepared to acknowledge the role of Jews in the origin and development of the civilization they led.”21 Yehuda Bauer added: “Connected with its anti-Semitism was the Nazi rebellion against the civilizing mission of Judaism and Christianity…Judaism was, in the Nazi perception, a mortal, universal danger…it had to be fought and eliminated in order to build a new order based on Germanic hegemony.”22 Michael Berenbaum, a primary architect of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, insisted that the events of the Holocaust constituted “a violation of every essential American value.” These included the “inalienable rights of all people, equal rights under law, restraint on the power of government, and respect for that which our Creator has given and which the human community should not take away.”23 In the spirit in which Isserman insisted that Jews must battle for humanity first and Jews and Judaism second, Elie Wiesel later insisted: “The mission of the Jewish people has never been to make the world more Jewish, but to make it more human.”24

Framing the Holocaust as an assault on humanity obviated the historical conditions Jews faced, however, in Isserman’s time and in the decades since. A few years after Isserman imagined he could inspire a young girl to choose to die for Judaism, another Jewish girl—though this time, a historical one—would become the icon of Jewish martyrdom. Upon reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Jewish journalist Meyer Levin wrote: “Anne Frank’s voice becomes the voice of six million vanished souls…Anne’s diary is a great affirmative answer to the life-question of today, she shows how ordinary people, within this ordeal, constantly hold to the greater human values.”25 Levin, unlike Isserman, visited Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen after they were liberated. He saw the dead who had been denied the grace of those “greater human values.”26

Though The Diary of Anne Frank can tell us nothing about Nazism, nothing about Bergen-Belsen, and nothing about piles of skeletal corpses, it has been canonized in the corpus of Holocaust literature and its author sanctified. How and why? Because it was made to function as the embodiment of the liberal spirit Isserman appealed to with such conviction. Anne’s life in the Secret Annex depicts the attempt to degrade the human spirit; her diary demonstrates its nobility and triumph. If we know of no other part of The Diary, we have certainly heard the words that end the play and screenplay: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Anne had, when she wrote this, no idea what “everything” was. Still, she continues to serve simultaneously as one of the most famous victims of the Final Solution and as a universally recognized symbol for the struggle for human rights.27 Anne is our martyr. We understand her and we identify with her; we respond to her diary as though she speaks for the dead. Like Isserman, who also insisted on the immutable goodness of humanity, Anne’s diary tells us that righteousness will, in the end, triumph. If we have to ignore Anne’s fate so that we may permit ourselves to be convinced that liberal values will prevail, we do so. We will not encounter descriptions of Anne screaming at a fellow prisoner who stole food from her.28 We will not read accounts of the misery Anne and her sister Margot endured as they lay dying of typhus in the coldest and most dangerous section of their barracks.29 Anne’s emaciated body, added to the pile, shall not offer us challenge.30

To read the Holocaust as the ultimate attack on humanity’s moral values led Isserman to a fantasy. So it has continued. So it must, given such premises. Based on the belief that the Holocaust pits ultimate evil against the good in humanity, modern-day Jews, like Isserman, represent the Final Solution in fairy-tale terms. Nazism is the symbol of evil, often represented by an insanely powerful villain whose own dehumanization makes him a devil in disguise—foreign, frightening, and predictably vanquished by the powers of good. In Schindler’s List, arguably one of the most influential of Holocaust films, we are given just such a character in Amon Goeth. The mass murder of six million Jews becomes, in this film, the work of monsters; we are granted permission to avoid the obvious fact that it took perfectly normal human beings to produce Zyklon B, sell it, transport it, and release it into the gas chambers each and every day. We are granted the same permission to bypass the truth by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which issues copies of passports featuring a victim or survivor to each visitor. None will receive identity cards of a member of the Einsatzgruppen, a kapo in the camps, or a doctor who experimented on inmates. No one must face the fact that people just like themselves made the Holocaust possible. Our liberal assumptions make the cliché possible: madmen were at work in creating and carrying out the Final Solution. We are not madmen.

We are already convinced of our innocence. Thus, we welcome the opportunity to think of ourselves as saviors in the making. Telling an unsubtle story of good against evil, Schindler’s List informs its audience that anyone can become a rescuer, hero and heroine—despite historical realities, of course, in which there were hardly any of the kind.31 It takes apathy, indifference, collusion, and collaboration to produce millions of corpses, after all. But no: like Schindler himself, we can become righteous. Humanity is, by its very nature, good. Just give us the opportunity and we will show ourselves so. The Final Solution is not the topic here. Not even for a Jewish director.

Believing that the Final Solution demands that we reassert our liberal values leads Jews to Faustian bargains. In Schindler’s List, Spielberg offers his audience a Christian narrative for the Holocaust which supersedes the Jewish story it claims to tell. Schindler’s progress from reprobate to devout Christian turns him into a Christ-like figure. To achieve his status as a modern-day savior, Schindler must become chaste, desexualized, recommitted to Catholicism. “His” Jews are saved through Christian generosity and grace. As the film ends, worshipful Jews look up at Schindler as he delivers a farewell sermon. After Jews whom he saved (together with actors who played their roles) make pilgrimage to his final resting place, a rose is placed on his monument. The camera pulls away: we gaze on a landscape of crosses.32

When Isserman described Warsaw Ghetto fighters as modern-day Maccabees rising against tyranny, he mythologized both past and present. In Schindler’s List, as in most every film on the Holocaust, the political, social and historical processes that combined to create Nazism and the Final Solution go equally ignored. They are disregarded because we insist that the Holocaust was an assault on liberal values; our task is merely to demonstrate how depravity and evil assaulted goodness and righteousness.

To confirm our beliefs, we then engage in a self-serving search for meaning that profits no one.33 Treating the Holocaust as a tale of the monstrous simply serves to perpetuate a cliché; if we are to be civilized, then we must reassert our shared moral values of tolerance, understanding, and human brotherhood. But we do not need to study the Holocaust to learn the value of human life. It serves no purpose to use the Final Solution to such ends. The outcome is vacuous; we subscribe to platitudes that negate the history we seek to understand.34

While the Holocaust could well have been trivialized without Jewish collusion, we Jews cannot avoid our responsibility or our participation. We cannot avoid the consequences, either: the Final Solution reduced to an icon for the battle of Western values against all evil is a Final Solution with no real meaning at all. Further: if Judaism rests on the affirmation of liberal values and the Holocaust stands as the cruelest attack on those values, we wed ourselves to the Final Solution as proof of who we need to be and what we stand for.35 But we cannot be Jews or identify with Judaism on the basis of what others have done. To do so is to internalize narratives we did not produce.

For Jews and Judaism to flourish and thrive, we must know how we can and why we should. Like Isserman, we must search for meaning in Judaism. Our search, however, must begin in exploring what we ourselves have created, nurtured, and adapted. It must begin in our multifaceted traditions and rituals, inventive liturgy, and endlessly provocative texts. This is the history we must investigate with abandon and energy, with creativity and inclusiveness. We must know what is ours, first and foremost. There, our search for meaning will never disappoint.

 


NOTES

1 A few references will have to suffice. See Tim Cole, Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler—How History is Bought, Packaged, and Then Sold (New York: Routledge, 2000); Lawrence L. Langer, Using and Abusing the Holocaust (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006); Alvin H. Rosenfeld, “The Americanization of the Holocaust,” in Commentary 99:6 (June 1, 1995), pp. 35–40; Lawrence L. Langer, “The Americanization of the Holocaust on Stage and Screen,” in Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000); Hilene Flanzbaum, ed., The Americanization of the Holocaust (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
2 According to Mendelssohn, writing in a letter of July 23, 1771 to one Elkan Herz (and now published in his Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, trans. and ed. Alfred Jospe [New York: Schocken, 1969], p. 137; and cf. his comment in “Jerusalem,” published in that same volume on p. 97), Judaism had no doctrines “contrary to reason.” Judaism produced ethical principles based on universally accepted moral criteria. Jews could thus become citizens—even patriots. See Samuel Feiner, Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness, trans. Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverston (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2002).
3 Remarks given by Dr. Marcus in a seminar meeting at HUC (August 21, 1984).
4 Ferdinand M. Isserman, Rebels and Saints: The Social Message of the Prophets of Israel (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1933), passim.
5 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “Teachers’ Oaths and the Shadow of Fascism over Education,” sermon delivered February 28, 1936, at Temple Israel in St. Louis, p.6; from Ferdinand M. Isserman Papers, Manuscript Collection 6, Box 14, Folder 3, American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College. All future Isserman manuscripts cited here will include box and folder numbers as they are listed in the collection.
6 Barbara Thiede, “Ferdinand M. Isserman as Prophet: An American Rabbi Responds to the Holocaust, 1933–1945,” unpublished manuscript, pp. 2–3. See also Rebels and Saints, passim.
7 Isserman visited Nazi Germany during each of three European trips, in 1933, 1935 and 1937.
8 Isserman is apparently referring to Adolf Hitler’s 1930 speech to the Reichsgericht, when he announced that a revolutionary federal court will “have heads roll in the sand.” Peter Bucher, Der Reichswehrprozess: Der Hochverrat der Ulmer Reichswehroffiziere (Boppard: Harald Boldt, 1967); cf. Nebelspalter 56.41 (1930), p. 6. By the time Isserman visited Germany, the expression that “heads would roll” had become ubiquitous in Nazi propaganda. “Sentenced to Death” was not, despite the title, sensationalist. The pamphlet was packed with verifiable, specific data on economic and legal conditions for German Jews. Ferdinand M. Isserman, “Sentenced to Death! The Jews in Nazi Germany” (St. Louis, MO: Temple Israel, 1933; rpt. 1951), passim. See also Thiede, “Isserman as Prophet,” pp. 5–6.
9 Isserman delivered radio addresses in St. Louis, gave speeches locally to assorted civic groups, and published editorials and articles in local newspapers as well as in nationally recognized Jewish and Christian magazines such as The Reform Advocate and The Christian Century. Cf. Thiede, “Isserman as Prophet,” pp. 3–4.
10 Ferdinand Isserman, address delivered before the St. Louis Council of the American Jewish Congress, May 14, 1934 at the YMCA, St. Louis, p. 13; 13/7.
11 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “What Jews Believe,” sermon delivered March 6, 1936, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 6, 14/3.
12 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “The Olympic Victory and the Maccabean Victory,” sermon delivered December 20, 1935, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 5, 14/2. This theme was pervasive in Isserman’s sermons: See Thiede, “Isserman as Prophet,” p. 34, n. 30.
13 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “Hope, Honor and Heroism,” sermon delivered September 25, 1936, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 8, 14/4. At times Isserman’s choice of words could be deeply disturbing, however, as in this claim: “I am happy that Nazis feel compelled to extirpate the Jews from Germany…the Nazis seem to state to the world that their barbarian conception of the state can never endure if there are Jews in Germany” (in his “Why Remain Jews, Members of a Chosen or Cursed People?”, sermon delivered March 2, 1934, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 5, 13/7). See also “The Struggle of Two Worlds: A Reply to Hitler’s Last Address,” sermon delivered December 13, 1940, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 8, 22/6.
14 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “Whither Jewry?” sermon delivered September 19, 1934, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 7, 13/8.
15 “Sentenced to Death! The Jews of Nazi Germany,” p. 27. In the early 1930s, Isserman claimed that only the world’s conscience had forestalled the wanton killing of German Jews. See Thiede, “Isserman as Prophet,” pp. 9–10.
16 David Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The History of a Way of Thinking (New York: Norton, 2013), passim.
17 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectics of Enlightenment (New York: Seabury Press, 1972), p. 186.
18 Until late 1940, Isserman was an avowed and adamant pacifist; like so many, he claimed that war could only destroy liberty and democracy. See “Keeping America Safe for Democracy,” radio sermon delivered January 7, 1940 over KXOK, St. Louis, p. 7, 22/6. Eventually, he argued that young Jewish men who chose to join the armed forces and take up arms during the struggle would die as martyrs, too, striking blows for the values Judaism represented. See Isserman’s “If My Son were a Soldier, Sailor or a Marine,” sermon delivered November 8, 1942, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 2, 16/4.
19 Ferdinand M. Isserman, “Rosh Hashono Service,” delivered September 11 and 12, 1942, Temple Israel, St. Louis, p. 8, 16/4.
20 “Thumbs Up,” sermon delivered April 8, 1944, Temple Israel, St. Louis, pp. 3–4. See also “If My Son were a Soldier, Sailor or a Marine,” p. 2, 16/7.
21 Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938–1945 (Boston: Rutgers University Press, 1980), p. 329.
22 Yehuda Bauer, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Joint Distribution Committee (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), pp. 17–18. Bauer declared that Nazism saw humanist trends as “stemming from Judaism” (p. 18).
23 Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Museum (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1993), pp. 2–3. Today, the museum’s website (at www.ushmm.org/information/about-the-museum) reads: “the Museum provides a powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, the myth of progress, and the need for vigilance in preserving democratic values.”
24 Wiesel made this statement in his book, A Jew Today, trans. Marion Wiesel (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 13. In 2000, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, he published this exact statement in a New York Times advertisement, at www.jcrelations.net/What+Being+Jewish+Means+to+Me.1305.0.html?L=3.
25 See Meyer Levin, “Life in the Secret Annex,” in New York Times Book Review (June 15, 1952), p. 1. Anne’s own father—certainly no American—was himself intent on transforming his daughter’s diary into just such a call to humanity’s nobler instincts. He had warned Levin that his daughter’s diary was “not a Jewish book…So do not make a Jewish play of it.” (This comment is cited in Judith E. Doneson, “The American History of Anne Frank’s Diary,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 2.1 [1987], pp. 149–160, n. 152.) Today, the website for the Anne Frank House notes that “Otto became increasingly convinced that young people must be shown that it is both possible and necessary to contribute to a better world. He answered thousands of letters from young people who had read his daughter’s diary, and often ended his letters with the words: ‘I hope Anne’s book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your own circumstances, you will work for unity and peace,’” at www.annefrank.org/en/Sitewide/Organisation/Otto-Frank/Otto-Frank-his-mission/. See also Cole, Selling the Holocaust, pp. 31–32. Again, both Levin and Frank had either experienced or had seen the consequences of the Final Solution first-hand, as Jews.
26 Levin witnessed conditions as a war correspondent in Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen during the last week of World War II. See Ralph Melnick, The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman, and the Staging of the Diary (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 1–2.
27 The insistence on Anne Frank as a symbol of liberal values is essential to the Anne Frank House. The website describes the mission of the museum, as expressed in a 2015 report, as “bringing the life story of Anne Frank to the attention of as many people as possible worldwide with the aim of raising awareness of the dangers of antisemitism, racism and discrimination and the importance of freedom, equal rights and democracy,” at www.annefrank.org/en/sitewide/organisation/annual-report-2015/organisation/mission-and-strategic-objectives/.
28 Hannah Elisabeth Pick-Gosler, “Her Last Days,” in Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy, eds. Hyman A. Enzer and Sandra Solotaroff-Enzer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), p. 51.
29 Willy Lindwer, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, trans. Alison Meersschaert (New York: Pantheon, 1991), pp. 104–105.
30 In the words of the one of the women, Lin Jadalti, who found Anne’s corpse: “We placed her thin body in a blanket and carried it to the mass grave. That was all we could do.” Cf. her chapter “Bergen Belsen,” in Enzer and Solotaroff-Enzer, Anne Frank: Reflections on Her Life and Legacy, p. 54.
31 And become, as Oprah Winfrey insisted she did, a “better person.” Cf. Omar Bartov, “Spielberg’s Oskar: Hollywood Tries Evil,” in Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler’s List, ed. Yosefa Loshitzky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 48: “For the general, well-meaning Christian/humanitarian audience, the story had all the heart-warming aspect of the Good Samaritan, the promise of human decency arising even from the darkest souls and the greatest depth of evil.”
32 See Cole, Selling the Holocaust, p. 80; and cf. Sara Horowitz, “But is it Good for the Jews: Spielberg’s Schindler and the Aesthetics of Atrocity,” in Loshitzky, Spielberg’s Holocaust, pp. 132–133, and Judith Doneson, “The Image Lingers: The Feminization of the Jew in Schindler’s List,” in Loshitzky, Spielberg’s Holocaust, p. 148. Critics have long noted that Jewish characters conform to stereotypes (haggling in the church during Mass for example), are generally poorly developed, and simply not the point of the film. The Christian hero, Schindler, is the story.
33 The Christian reading of the Holocaust has depended on universalizing the Final Solution in similar terms. But where Jews argued that Jewish values were Western ones to, in part, demonstrate that Judaism was foundational to Western civilization, Christian reliance on liberal values to explain the Final Solution permitted avoidance of responsibility for the long and bitter history Christians are heir to; the implications of anti-Judaism can be set aside when the Final Solution is simply a crime of humanity against humankind itself.
34 And thus it is possible for the Trump White House to issue a presidential statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that wholly excludes the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem in order to be “inclusive.” Again: Holocaust denial takes many forms.
35 As Jews have done for decades. In 1989, an American Jewish Committee survey (quoted in Cole, Selling the Holocaust, p. 12) noted that although only 46% of Jews felt it important to practice Jewish ritual, 85% said the Holocaust was important. In 1997, the American Jewish Committee survey showed that 97% of respondents felt it critical to “keep the remembrance of the Holocaust strong” and that respondents to a similar survey two years later cited the Holocaust as more important to their Jewish identity than the State of Israel or religious observance. See Monty Noam Penkower, “Shaping Holocaust Memory,” in American Jewish History (March 2000), p. 128. In 2013, a Pew poll (at www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-3-jewish-identity) found that “roughly seven-in-ten Jews say remembering the Holocaust and leading an ethical life are essential to what it means to them to be Jewish…The view that remembering the Holocaust is essential to what it means to be Jewish is shared by majorities in all of the large Jewish denominational groupings.”