Another Tack: Stolen Arab art

In the netherworld Goebbels must have been rubbing his hands in glee. His Big Lie yet thrives.

In 1996 Christie's held a unique two-day auction in Vienna of art and artifacts confiscated from numerous Jewish homes the Nazis ransacked. The diversity was mind-boggling - from old master drawings and modernist paintings (deemed "degenerate" by the fuehrer) all the way to fine china, silver, furniture and assorted antiques that once graced their owners' parlors. Many of these owners perished in the Holocaust. Survivors and heirs who sought restitution were often stymied by officious authorities, which passed and rescinded regulations, set and canceled deadlines. Meanwhile "heirless" items were stored at the 14th-century Mauerbach monastery, north of Vienna. In 1984 ARTnews revived international interest in Austria's cache of unclaimed holdings via a ground-breaking expose, "Legacy of Shame: Nazi Loot in Austria." After many more convolutions of the plot during the next dozen years, the Mauerbach hoard was finally put on sale to benefit survivors. Its wealth and variety made a bit of a stir at the time. But how did the world media handle the story? The BBC (or CNN - hard to recall nearly a decade later whether it was Tweedledee or Tweedledum) put together a discussion panel in which it was deemed obligatory to include a "Palestinian Arab" representative. What did an Arab have to do with a plundered Tiepolo chalk-sketch of a girl's face? Why was Arab input essential in discussing the fate of Viennese Jewish art collectors? The knee-jerk assumption must have been that any remote likelihood of commiseration with any Jews - not necessarily connected in any way to any facet of the Mideastern strife - by nature offends Arabs, who therefore deserve the right of rebuttal. The unuttered subtext was that Arabs harbor grievance against all Jews, and that talk of any Jewish suffering or injustice to Jews is anathema to Arabs. Avowed Arab anti-Zionism is nothing but a visceral deep-seated, all-encompassing hatred for all Jews in all contexts. Arabs have a vested stake in thwarting any seeming sympathy to any Jews. No surprise then that even so-called moderate Arab states - those who expediently sometimes semi-camouflage anti-Jewish reflexes - couldn't overcome the temptation to drop flies into the ointment of the UN's belated, half-hearted and self-serving resolution instituting January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked for the first time today. WERE IT not for the hot water in which the UN finds itself following charges of rampant corruption (especially in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal), this resolution wouldn't have been adopted. It's no more than duplicitous hand-cleansing that'll now empower those who turned the 2001 Durban Conference against Racism into a Jew- and Israel-bashing fest, to update their agenda of equating Jews to their tormentors and of vilifying Israelis as Nazis. Doubtlessly future Holocaust Remembrance Days will commemorate the Jewish state's "crimes" against Arab Nazi torchbearers who still squander their national energies on continuing what their idol Hitler, alas, couldn't. Let there be no mistake, the Arabs adored Hitler and were unequivocally, enthusiastically and actively on the Axis side. Their revered leader Haj Amin el-Husseini spent WWII in Berlin as Hitler's personal guest and head of a pan-Arab government-in-exile. The Third Reich generously funded him. He recruited Muslim volunteers from Bosnia and Kosovo to the Axis forces, broadcast venomous anti-Jewish tirades in Arabic, visited Auschwitz, blueprinted its replica near Nablus, hobnobbed with Hitler, Himmler and Eichmann, foiled the exchange of 10,000 Jewish children and sealed Hungarian Jewry's fate. His association with Nazi Germany predates his wartime services to it. His bloody uprising in 1936-39 was financed by Hitler and actively abetted by German Templers resident here since the 19th century. Already in 1937 Goebbels noted that "in Palestine they hoist Nazi flags and deck their homes with swastikas and portraits of Hitler." Indeed Arabs latched onto Nazi ideology with relish. Fascist parties proliferated - from Syria's Nationalist Socialists headed by Anton Saada to Ahmed Hussein's Young Egypt. During the war Mufti disciples hoarded arms, trained to assist Rommel's invading Afrika Korps, sheltered German paratroopers, engaged in espionage, disseminated German propaganda and greeted each other with Nazi salutes and loud "Heil Hitlers." Even postwar they continued to name newborns after Hitler and Eichmann (like PLO luminary Salim el-Mahri, a.k.a. Abu-Hitler, chief of Arafat's Force-17). THE LINK between Arab enmity to the Jewish state and the Nazi "final solution to the Jewish problem" remains inextricable. Yet while objectives haven't altered, oratory took a brazen turn. The trend now is to claim that Arabs are actually Nazism's true victims, that the Christian world, whining about the Jews, attempted to expiate its guilt at the expense of peace-loving Arabs by dumping a foreign Jewish entity in their midst. That was the gist of what Arab UN representatives, those who chose to opine about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, imparted. That's why they found it irresistible to diminish the Holocaust's enormity by likening it to Kosovo and Bosnia. That's why the Egyptian ambassador lectured that "no one can claim a monopoly on suffering." We're uncompetitive. We'd rather not have suffered any more than the Bosnians and Kosovars. But his sanctimony was lapped up by demonizers, intellectual dilettantes and the gullible, just as were the protests of the de-rigueur Arab panel-member commenting on the Mauberbach stash. Said panelist complained piteously that "the world only focuses on what was supposedly taken from Jews. How about innumerable priceless fine-art treasures the Jews stole from Arab homes in Palestine?" The co-panelists nodded compassionately. In the netherworld Goebbels must have been rubbing his hands in glee. His Big Lie yet thrives.