Interview'Anti-Semitism is a cancer that eats the world'

World War II was caused by hatred of Jews, preeminent Holocaust scholar says

Yehuda Bauer says it’s ‘unfortunate’ Poland’s Duda will skip Auschwitz memorial, argues current rise in anti-Semitism is due to ‘nationalist revival’ following mass immigration

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Professor Yehuda Bauer at an award ceremony in Jerusalem, December 4, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Professor Yehuda Bauer at an award ceremony in Jerusalem, December 4, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

World War II and the enormous catastrophe it brought upon mankind occurred “probably mainly” because of anti-Semitism, according to Israel’s preeminent Holocaust scholar. Indeed, Adolf Hitler launched the war to a large extent to prevent “world Jewry” from physically annihilating the German nation, Yehuda Bauer said.

“Anti-Semitism is a cancer that eats the world, and World War II is proof of that,” he told The Times of Israel during an hour-long interview in Jerusalem last week.

Bauer, 93, will deliver the keynote address at a festive dinner for about 45 leaders from across the world Wednesday evening at President Reuven Rivlin’s residence that will kick off this year’s World Holocaust Forum. The event marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. (The only two other speakers at the dinner will be Rivlin himself and the king of Spain.)

At the event, Bauer will speak about a secret memorandum Hitler wrote to Hermann Goering in August 1936, in which he spoke about the need for Germany to be ready for war within four years. Otherwise, Hitler argued, Jewish Bolshevism will “replace” the German nation.

“For a victory of Bolshevism over Germany would not lead to a Versailles Treaty but to the final destruction, indeed to the annihilation, of the German people,” Hitler wrote.

Adolf Hitler, front, salutes parading troops of the German Wehrmacht in Warsaw, Poland, on October 5, 1939 after the German invasion. Behind Hitler are seen, from left to right: Army Commander in Chief, Colonel General Walther von Brauchitsch, new commandant of Warsaw, Lieutenant General Friedrich von Cochenhausen, Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt, Colonel General Wilhelm Keitel. (AP Photo)

This belief was compounded by a speech Hitler gave in the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Bauer said during the interview.

“If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war,” Hitler predicted, “then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

“In other words,” Bauer explained, “the Jewish capitalists who rule the West are Bolsheviks whose idea is to create a world war so that they can rule the whole world. This was a deeply held belief. And I argue that this was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of World War II, because that clearly identifies the aim — the threat of physical annihilation to German people and therefore preparation for war because otherwise it will be a terrible catastrophe.”

These 29 million victims died, up to a point — and probably mainly — because of anti-Semitism. Not because of Jews, but because of the hatred of Jews

World War II, which raged from 1939 until 1945, eventually caused 29 million non-Jewish victims, apart from the victims of the Holocaust, said Bauer, a professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“These 29 million victims died up to a point, and probably mainly, because of anti-Semitism — not because of Jews, but because of the hatred of Jews, which means that anti-Semitism is a cancer that eats society.”

Most estimates of World War II casualties — generally recognized as the deadliest military conflict in history — are much higher, between 70 to 85 million.

US soldiers suffering from malaria recover in a field treatment center in Guadalcanal during World War II, 1943. (AP)

Held under the title “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism,” this year’s World Holocaust Forum will kick off with the dinner at Rivlin’s residence, during which Bauer will get 11 minutes to deliver his message.

On Thursday, the forum’s main event is taking place at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center, and will include speeches by senior leaders from the US, Russia, France, Great Britain, and Germany.

Against the backdrop of a war of words between Warsaw and Russia about the beginning of World War II, the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin was invited to address the gathering but not his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, has led to some controversy ahead of the event.

Holocaust survivor Edward Mossberg (left) with Polish president Andrzej Duda (center) and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin (right) at a ceremony in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, as Israel marked annual Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The President’s Residence said Sunday that Duda was invited to participate in this week’s events, and that “a number of ideas were discussed,” but no agreement was reached.

“It’s unfortunate that a way was not found to have both the Russian and the Polish president in the event participate,” Bauer said diplomatically, declining to further discuss the controversial issue on the record ahead of the event.

‘Not the place or the time to raise the issue of distortion’

Born in Czechoslovakia into a Zionist family, Bauer arrived in Israel as a teenager before the outbreak of World War II. He joined the pre-state Palmach militia, and in May 1948 returned to Israel from his studies in Wales to fight in the War of Independence. He quickly became one of Israel’s leading historians, earning the Israel Prize in 1998 for his research on the “history of the Jewish people.”

Bauer, who also serves as academic adviser to Yad Vashem, has been a vocal critic of what he calls “Holocaust distortion” by Central and Eastern European countries that glorify Nazi collaborators as national heroes and downplay the role of their citizens in anti-Jewish crimes during World War II.

Yehuda Bauer, then the director for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem at the Bonn parliament, January 27, 1998. Lawmakers remembered Holocaust victims on Germany’s national memorial day for the 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis (AP photo/Fritz Reiss)

He has lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his policies vis-a-vis some of these countries, arguing that Israel should not place realpolitik gains ahead of historical truth.

However, he said, it would be inappropriate for Netanyahu or President Rivlin to chastise VIP visitors from Eastern or Central European countries during this week’s memorial events.

“I think that is not the place or the time to raise the issue of distortion,” insisted Bauer, who also serves as honorary chairman of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. “Because the theme of the event is remembering the Holocaust and fighting anti-Semitism, and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.”

Added Bauer: “I am no supporter of Netanyahu’s take on the Holocaust. I don’t know who’s going to write his speech for him. But it’s quite clear that [we should focus on the fact that this event] commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The remnant was rescued. The remnant was liberated. And we remember the Holocaust — that’s the crucial thing.”

After the event, one can agitate against Holocaust distortion in certain parts of Europe, he added. “But first of all it has to be remembered. If you only talk about distortion, you don’t remember the Holocaust.”

There’s no anti-Semitism in China or in India. Only a kind of positive anti-Semitism

A number of governments distort their country’s Holocaust past, including Lithuania, Poland and Hungary, said Bauer, but there are “vocal minorities in other places as well,” where people insist that the Germans, not they themselves, were responsible for all anti-Jewish violence.

The history of Holocaust complicity is very complicated, the nonagenarian historian acknowledged. While it’s an undeniable fact that many Polish Jews were killed by their non-Jewish compatriots, “there were some tremendous heroes” who not only fought against the Nazis but against their fellow countrymen who threatened to denounce anyone who attempted to rescue Jews.

‘We can’t predict, particularly the future’

Reflecting on the current global rise in anti-Semitism, Bauer noted that hatred of Jews has existed since Hellenistic times, though he stressed that it’s limited to monotheistic societies.

“There’s no anti-Semitism in China or in India, only a kind of positive anti-Semitism — the idea that Jews are very important and that we want to have good relations with them,” he said.

The Jew-hatred that exists today in the West combines the “classic anti-Semitism,” which has been around for a very long time, with a new political phenomenon that has to do with declining birth rates across the developed world, according to Bauer.

A demonstrator shouts and performs a Nazi salute in front of banner reading “Europe awake” followed by a group of Hungarian Jobbik party representatives during an annual march commemorating Poland’s National Independence Day in Warsaw on November 11, 2015. ( Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images via JTA))

“That creates a necessity for immigration,” he argued. “The population is aging, and if you want to keep up your standard of living you need somebody to work for you, so you need immigration.”

Mass migration from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America to Europe and North America then “creates a reaction of part of the population that sees their culture, their language, their traditions changing because of the new immigrants,” he posited. “That creates a nationalist revival.”

In some countries, this has taken on “radical forms,” Bauer added. “The nationalism has to find an enemy. The traditional enemy are the Jews. That is the background of the rise of contemporary anti-Semitism. There are of course additional reasons, which are specific to different countries.”

Will the current upswing in anti-Semitism continue or can this wave be stopped before its gains further momentum?

“I don’t know,” Bauer said. “It depends on the struggle between liberalism and illiberalism.”

Right now it doesn’t look so good for liberalism, he acknowledged. “But that could change. You know, we can’t predict, particularly the future. We have difficulties in predicting the past. We certainly don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”

Most Popular
read more: