It wasn’t the kind of remark you’d expect to hear from a German-born Jew who as
a teenager had to flee Nazi Germany to America, but earlier this week former US
secretary of state Henry Kissinger was in the news for something he said in
private to president Richard Nixon 37 years ago.
“If they put Jews into
gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger was
quoted as telling Nixon in a recently released recording.
Kissinger: Gassing Jews would not be a US problem
Douglas Davidson, the US envoy on Holocaust
issues, was careful on Monday to disassociate the State Department from the
controversial comment made by its former head, saying it did not correspond with
its current policies.
“The Holocaust is an American issue, obviously;
that they have someone like me with a title of special envoy on Holocaust issues
[testifies to that],” he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in Tel
Aviv. “I have a counterpart who is a special envoy for monitoring and combating
anti-Semitism. Things have changed since the 1970s. Most of what I do is a
legacy of what happened during the 1990s, lawsuits that were filed and
agreements that were reached. So there’s been an evolution in the West like
there was an evolution [in the way the Holocaust is seen] elsewhere and here, I
imagine. Once, people didn’t want to hear so much about it.”
who is currently in Israel for the Plenary Meetings of the Task Force for
International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, a
three-day conference in Haifa that started Monday, mentioned that before he was
appointed to his position last spring he had been involved with US policy in the
former Yugoslavia – an experience that he said had some relevance to his current
“There’s a big discussion right now for what lessons the Holocaust
has for the prevention of genocide, and people look at Bosnia and Rwanda and
wonder why we didn’t learn the lessons of the Holocaust,” the career diplomat
Although it’s been 60 years since Nazi Germany was defeated, there
is still much that remains unresolved for Jewish survivors and their kin. For
instance, property worth billions of dollars which belonged to those killed by
the Nazis and their allies has still not been returned to Jewish
“A good deal of attention is focused on Poland, which lacks a
private property restitution law,” Davidson said.
“There’s a second
problem that Jewish communal property has been restituted [at] a much slower
pace in comparison to the Catholic Church, which has gotten virtually all its
property back. The whole process is grinding to a halt because of a scandal in
the restitution of Catholic property, which is affecting not just the Jewish
community, but the Greek Orthodox and other restitutions.” Davidson said he was
also closely following developments in other Eastern European countries like
Romania, Ukraine and Latvia, where he said the restitution process had either
halted or was moving forward at a slow pace.
While the US has without a
doubt taken a leading role in obtaining compensation for victims of the
Holocaust, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it needed to do
more to oppose efforts to equate crimes of communism with that of
Zuroff mentioned the Prague Declaration of 2008, a manifesto
signed by Eastern European intellectuals and right-wing politicians, as an
effort to minimize the scale of local collaboration with Nazis by tying the
murder of Jews to resistance against communism.
“The Prague Declaration
is not a government declaration, but mostly one signed by central and Eastern
European intellectuals, including the one Jewish member of the Lithuanian
parliament who is on the foreign relations board, so in that sense,
diplomatically, it has been hard to be vocal about something that is not an
official government statement but to focus on restitution and remembrance,” he
He pointed to the Teresin Declaration, a guideline for Holocaust
restitution signed by dozens of countries in 2009, “hosted by the Czechs in
Prague but done at US instigation,” as a “significant” instance in which the US
had succeeded in advancing Jewish causes while remaining practical.
don’t want to diminish that people suffered under the communist yoke, but to
compare it with what happened under the Shoah, that’s where we draw the line,”
he said. “In Vilnius, there is what locals call the genocide museum, which is
where the KGB used to be.
The US embassy is very careful to call this the
In small and large, we try to distinguish between the
The Claims Conference, which is the body charged with distributing
billions of dollars in compensation that Germany has given to survivors, is one
of the most important organizations in the field of Holocaust
Last month, defendants were charged in a US court with
defrauding it of some $42 million. Davidson, who works closely with the Claims
Conference, said he saw no foul in their treatment of the affair.
did exactly the right thing when they discovered the fraud, and went directly to
the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cooperated,” he said. “The US attorney
for the southern district of New York has brought charges. Maybe we’re a
litigious society, but this will all be coming out in court. As far as I can
tell, they did what they had to do in this case.”
Others have criticized
how the Claims Conference allocates its funds, claiming the organization is
hoarding money instead of handing it out to needy survivors, and that its
executives receive excessive salaries. But in Davidson’s admittedly “biased”
opinion, the organization is being run efficiently.
“I can’t speak for
the pace in which they do it, but they deal with vast sums of money, and I met a
lot people who are very pleased with what they do,” he said.
visited the Satmar haredi community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn and met with six
women who survived Auschwitz, and each is dependent on payments for medical
care... no human organization is perfect, but the staff I deal with is very
dedicated, they take themselves seriously.”