In My Own Write: Those who should know better

"IT’S THERE, in our daily discourse – Jews calling other Jews ‘Nazis.’"

holocaust 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
holocaust 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The origin of kapo is unclear,” says Wikipedia.
“Some think it is an abbreviated form of the word Kameradschaftspolizei (roughly, “comrade police force”), or comes from the Italian word for “head,” capo.”
At any rate, “a kapo was a prisoner who worked inside German Nazi concentration camps during WWII in certain lower administrative positions.
The official Nazi word was Funktionshäftling, or “prisoner functionary,” but the Nazis commonly referred to them as kapos.
“Kapos received more privileges than normal prisoners, toward whom they were often brutal.
They were often convicts who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence or parole.”
I knew the word, of course. I heard it first from my mother, on the rare occasions when she talked about her experience in Auschwitz. What moved me to search for a more precise definition of it was hearing a friend raging about a superior at work who behaved in obstructionist and nasty ways toward other employees and with whom she had recently had a showdown.
“He’s just a kapo,” she said.
I commented to this friend, who works in the media, that she had coincidentally used the term just as I was about to write about the phenomenon of Holocaust terminology being used by Jews to describe other Jews in totally other – and by definition, immeasurably more benign – contexts.
Didn’t she feel her use of this terminology trivialized the Shoah? She smiled a bit shamefacedly. “Don’t judge people in their moment of anger,” she said.
THAT’S just it, though. It is during moments of anger that we swiftly, instinctively search for an apt word or descriptive phrase to express our outrage against those who have evoked that anger.
But when we find ourselves reaching for the words and phrases of an epoch which, out of respect for historical accuracy and our dead, we cannot compare to anything – however maddening – we here in Israel face, we need to clamp our lips firmly shut.
The behavior of my friend’s workplace superior, infuriating as it undoubtedly was, perhaps even ill-intentioned, cannot be likened to the way the worst of those German-appointed prisoner functionaries treated those in their power.
‘IT’S THERE, in our daily discourse – Jews calling other Jews ‘Nazis,’” a thoughtful journalist colleague told me recently. “Politicians are careful to avoid using the word. But among non-politicians, it comes out whenever people feel strongly about an issue.
“You hear those on the Left accusing, for example, Avigdor Lieberman of being “a fascist...
you could almost say a Nazi”; while on the Right, it’s the forces sent to evacuate illegal outposts that get compared to ‘Nazis riding horses into town.’ “I’ve even caught myself doing it,” he confessed, “if only in jest.”
FEW who followed the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 will forget the heart-rending television footage of Jewish settlements being evacuated – the weeping and pleading of residents with the IDF soldiers who had come to remove them from their homes; the numb disbelief of those who had believed a last-minute miracle would descend to stop it happening, and didn’t; the impassioned cursing of and yelling at the generally stoical, often deeply affected Jewish soldiers ordered there to carry out an unenviable task.
Despite violent confrontation between settlers and soldiers in a few settlements, the nation’s sympathies were overwhelmingly with those thousands of Jews who had been encouraged by governments of both Right and Left to build their homes in Gush Katif and were then, after making those settlements bloom, forced to leave through no fault of their own.
But at the same time, there was an unconscionable exploitation of Holocaust imagery by settlers that should never have been allowed, described by Sam Ser in an August 25, 2005 feature article titled “A shocking show of hands”: “It started with the orange Stars of David that Gaza Strip settlers wore this spring to protest the prospect of being evicted from their homes. It worsened with the announcement by Elei Sinai residents that they would greet soldiers in striped concentration camp-style uniforms. Then a group of teens started protesting restrictions on entry to the Gaza Strip by scrawling their ID numbers on their forearms with black markers, like the tattoos of Holocaust victims...
“But the final straw came in Atzmona, when a settler couple paraded their eight children in front of television cameras, hands raised and wailing, marching from their home. It was an obvious reenactment of the famous photograph of Jews being deported – at rifle-point – from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.
“’Absolutely disgusting,’ said Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem bureau chief.”
TODAY, it is haredim from the extremist, non- Zionist Eda Haredit group who seem bent on noisily grabbing headlines via destructive demonstrations and the hurling of Holocaust terminology at police.
“Yesterday,” wrote Ben Hartman on June 17, “hundreds of haredim took to the streets of the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Ajami [in Jaffa], throwing rocks and bottles and setting trash cans alight to protest a construction project they say will disturb Jewish remains...
“The rioters repeatedly yelled ‘Nazis!’ ‘Hitler’ and ‘Eichmann’ at police officers...” five of whom were wounded trying to control them.
Mainstream haredi figures have refrained from such obscene comparisons – including during last Thursday’s passionate but peaceful massive show of haredi support for hassidic parents from Emmanuel jailed for contempt of court following their discriminatory practices at the local Beit Ya’acov girls school.
They haven’t followed the lead of Slonim Admor (Grand Rabbi) Rabbi Shmuel Barazovsky, who lamented to his hassidim a week ago: “To take women, mothers and small children, to [force them to] leave their families and be arrested – I think something of the sort hasn’t happened in any civilized country since the war in Germany ended.”
Whether the Slonim hassidic parents were discriminating against a group of girls at the school because they were Sephardim, or acting out of excessive religious fervor; and whether the court behaved wisely or foolishly in sending those parents to jail is beside the point. Neither side’s actions can remotely be compared to those of the Nazis in WWII, and it was the height of shame for any Jewish leader to do so.
FORMER Shas chairman Aryeh Deri has been trying to help solve the Emmanuel crisis. Interviewed on television last Thursday night, he was asked by Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levy: “Don’t you think the haredim’s calls of ‘Nazi’ and comparisons with Nazi Germany are a bit... exaggerated?” Answered Deri: “I think a law should be passed making it a crime to call anyone a Nazi.”
I’d guess many viewers agreed with him. And to those claiming such a law would shackle free speech, I would counter that it would be an acceptable price to pay for helping to prevent trivialization of the Holocaust.
As renowned historian Bernard Lewis wrote in Semites and Anti-Semites (1986): “If the Israelis were no better than the Nazis, then it follows that the Nazis were no worse than the Israelis.”
‘I SEE I shall have to weigh my words carefully when I talk to you,” said my media colleague wryly, after calming down following her run-in with that nasty superior.
“Nothing wrong with that,” I retorted. “We all need to.”