Another Tack: Symptom of craziness

The Nazi-era annals of those with only tenuous Jewish links paradoxically illustrate how unparalleled the Holocaust was.

By
April 9, 2010 18:16
Pianist Paul Wittgenstein in concert.

paul wittgenstein 311. (photo credit: .)

 
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The latest Egyptian blockbuster movie, Cousins (Welad Ela’am), ostensibly set in Tel Aviv (actually filmed in far-off Cape Town), unabashedly demonizes Israelis as Nazis. In one scene, as drivers halt their vehicles for Holocaust Remembrance Day’s memorial siren, the Arab hero provocatively asks an old man standing at solemn attention: “And what about the Holocaust you perpetrated against the Palestinians?”

Dwarfing and distorting the Holocaust serves our enemies – from Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Ramallah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas (who earned a PhD in Moscow for a dissertation which denied the Holocaust and simultaneously blamed it on Zionists).

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This is the common Arab warp of history. It goes entirely unchallenged in the Arab/Muslim milieu and is fast becoming axiomatic in Europe and among the so-called progressives who proliferate in America’s media and campuses.

Their assorted misrepresentations omit to mention that the very word genocide was coined post-Holocaust specifically to describe what was plotted against the Jewish people. Eventually the term was devalued and used in reference to any bloody combat, though Europe’s Jews were never a combatant side and instigated no aggression against Germany. Not even the remotest casus belli existed against them.

THE NAZI-ERA annals of those with only tenuous Jewish links – such as the once-great Wittgenstein clan of Austria – paradoxically illustrate how unparalleled the Holocaust was, how distinct from even the worst massacres of recent history which are fallaciously compared to it and used to diminish its terrifying uniqueness.

This is particularly odd given the fact that the Wittgensteins weren’t Jewish according to any Jewish criteria, that none perished in any of Germany’s industrialized death facilities and that some Wittgenstein scions fought with distinction in the Wehrmacht. Unlike the struggling Jewish masses, the Wittgensteins were among the wealthiest members of the prewar European upper crust. They were intellectually brilliant and exceptionally eccentric by any yardstick. They could plainly afford to be.

The powerful and prominent Viennese Wittgensteins are today perhaps most renowned for their youngest son Ludwig, considered one of the greatest 20th-century philosophers, and for his brother Paul, who gained international fame as a concert pianist despite having lost his right arm fighting for Austria in World War I.



Yet precisely because they were so atypical and so far removed from the Jewish experience, the upheaval that was visited upon them by the Third Reich serves to demonstrate what set the genocide against the Jews apart from atrocities like the slaughter of Armenians in 1915, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge purges or Rwanda’s tribal carnage.

All the above were episodes of grisly mass murder, but they were, first and foremost, the product of sporadic unleashed barbarism, rather than of methodical and meticulous premeditation, kick-started by systematically executed designs to deprive its victims of their dignity. World War II’s great bloodletting was ushered in years earlier via preliminary bureaucratic strictures. It was hardly a sudden spurt of violent passion. It wasn’t an unpredictable war crime. It wasn’t vengeance on a belligerent adversary. Neither the Jews in general nor the Wittgensteins in particular were by any stretch of the imagination Germany’s foes.

Yet the Wittgensteins, practicing Christians for three generations, were reduced post-Anschluss to frantic attempts – chronicled grippingly in Alexander Waugh’s The House of Wittgenstein – to secure for themselves at least the dubious mischling (half-breed) status in the hope that they would be therefore entitled to reduced oppression.

For that status only two Jewish grandparents were tolerated. The Wittgensteins’ maternal grandmother was incontrovertibly of non-Jewish extraction but not so their three other grandparents. The only way out was to assert that their paternal grandfather, Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (born Hirsch Moses Meyer), was sired in an illicit affair his mother supposedly had with a scoundrel German aristocrat. Better a German bastard than a respectable Jew.

The desperate Wittgensteins had to appeal to the Reich Agency for Genealogical Research, which raked in profits from processing thousands of “Aryanization” requests from distraught quasi-Jews. Waugh calls it “a symptom of craziness... that in June 1938 the future security of one man, his daughters, siblings, his nephews, nieces and cousins all hung in the balance, all dependent upon who had slept with whom way back in January 1802.”

In the end the Wittgensteins were pronounced volljuden (full Jews). The absurdity was compounded in the case of Paul’s two little daughters by the same Catholic mother. The offspring of an extramarital relationship between a Jew and an Aryan born after July 31, 1936 was automatically classified a full Jew. That applied to Paul’s younger child Johanna, born in 1937. Her sister Elizabeth, however, less than two years older, was listed a half-breed.

As volljuden, the Wittgensteins were ripe for robbery. Paul was hounded in intricate plots to surrender the fortune he had secreted in Switzerland or harm would come to his two fatuous elderly sisters who stayed in Vienna and became hostages. The Nazis pursued Paul all the way to his ultimate refuge in New York.

THE CONVOLUTED details constitute a thriller in themselves but more than all else they show how painstakingly the road to Auschwitz was paved, how the final solution targeted all Jews trapped in the Nazi net, steadily stripping them first of their self-respect, accomplishments, livelihood, possessions and then of the breath of life itself.

This was done to no other group – not even to gypsies, some of whom were persecuted but others left alone. It was haphazard. Much depended on way of life, even on place of residence. But ancestry wasn’t an instant irreversible death sentence. Only with Jews it was.

Only presumed Jews could be marked for annihilation because of “tainted” lineage. Only with suspected Jews could a toddler’s birth date offer a potential stay of execution or mandate execution for the crime of having been born. In the end, reprieve was denied even to those initially considered fortunate enough to achieve half-breed status or boast the more advantageous birthday.

For Jews their life’s choices were irrelevant. Even social climbers who betrayed the Jewish collective, who turned their backs on Jewish heritage and haughtily despised fellow Jews, weren’t spared thereby. Nothing could save anyone deemed too Jewish to live.

Most appalling of all, this wasn’t merely officialdom’s ruthless edict. The population cheered. Waugh describes the gloating attendant to discoveries that certain socialites were, alas, halb-juden. That was the true measure of the horror – there was nothing an individual could do about undesirable ancestors. Jewish impurities in the family tree destined one for destruction. That was decisive for any Jew, even for the last hidden baby and even for the Wittgensteins, who strove their mightiest to deny that mortifying Jewish connection.

There are no equivalents for this, not that the producers of Cousins would be swayed by any of the above. Historic accuracy hardly concerns hate-mongers or lesser Holocaust-banalizers. Truth is strictly verboten where today’s symptom of craziness is endemic.

The writer was The Jerusalem Post’s long-time political correspondent (as well as for years of the now-defunct Davar). She headed the Post’s Tel Aviv bureau, wrote daily analyses of the political scene as well as in-depth features. See her personal blog at http://www.sarahhonig.com

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