by Marc Masurovsky
The binary—Holocaust and plunder—is a taboo.
The official binary—Holocaust OR plunder—has been the prevailing dogma characterizing the conceptualization, development and implementation of Holocaust historiography, education, and remembrance, in particular in the United States and Europe. Even flagship institutions like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, the Shoah Memorial in Paris, France and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, eschew the discussion on plunder thus provoking and perpetuating a revisionist approach to Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust studies.
The conventional approach, at least in the United States, has been to discuss the Third Reich, the Holocaust and the Second World War, without referring to the economic and cultural crimes that preceded, accompanied, and followed crimes against individuals, including the infliction of physical harm and, in many instances, death.
During and immediately following the Second World War, British and American policies were geared towards the physical defeat of the Third Reich and its allies, the neutralization of its economic infrastructure, which was heavily blamed for sustaining, fueling and amplifying the Reich’s predatory, expansionist, and, yes, exterminationist policies. The framers and executors of Reich policies carried out ferocious campaigns against individuals belonging to specific groups, Jews, Roma, political opponents, homosexuals, the handicapped, and others viewed as not worthy, sub-human, and disposable.
And yet, starting with the first months of the National Socialist regime, economic assets, including real estate, businesses, financial assets, and cultural objects, were targeted for seizure, expropriation, forced sale, and incorporation into the Reich’s economic machine. Anti-Jewish and other forms of discriminatory policies went hand in hand with economic deprivation and confiscations of victims’ assets.
The Allies were well aware of this and wanted to prevent at all cost the overt and covert recycling of victims’ assets by those who either confiscated them or profited from their access on the open market. For that reason, they targeted representatives of industry, finance, government, trade, as well as the institutions in which they worked, together with all sorts of brokers and resellers used as fences and cut-outs to exfiltrate victims’ belongings out of the Reich and its occupied territories into neutral zones.
In other words, the postwar recovery and reorientation of economic, commercial, financial and cultural assets was as important to the Allied powers as the neutralization and punishment of those who fought against them and who engineered and implemented criminal acts against their victims.
The planners of the International Military Tribunal at Nurenberg established crimes of plunder as crimes against humanity. Few defendants were charged for such crimes because priorities were reordered and focus given on the planning and carrying out of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, a genocidal policy. Part of the genocide against the Jews involved the mass removal of Jewish wealth in all its forms and the profiteering that resulted therefrom on a European scale with ramifications worldwide.
Why is it that in the twenty-first century, most, if not all, academic and museological programs dedicated to retelling and teaching the history of the events that we construe as the Holocaust fail to include any reference, mention, or citation of economic crimes committed against Jews and the forcible removal of their property?
Nazi war on culture
The National Socialist movement’s mantra was to tear down the corrupt, “Jewish” culture that poisoned Germany under the Weimar Republic, cleanse the civil society of all its pernicious influences, restore German greatness through a reordering from top to bottom, bottom to top, a “refonte” of the cultural landscape.
For twelve years, Nazi bureaucrats and their Fascist allies in neighboring countries waged an incessant war, a Kulturkampf, against the cultural sphere, and, through expansionism, exported that cultural conflict into the territories the Reich occupied.
That obsession with eradicating negative cultural influences suffused the Nazi discourse, comingling culture and anti-Jewish policies. The inevitable result was the marginalization of the Reich’s cultural enemies, which included the Jews, through job discrimination, eviction, expropriation, pauperization, seizures and confiscations. The consequences are well-known: millions of cultural objects were forced onto the open market without the consent of the owners and sold at whatever prices to a domestic and international clientele for twelve years.
The restitution of these objects is a direct result of Allied policies framed during and after WWII, to restore justice and cancel out the nefarious effects of the Nazi Kulturkampf.
When we hear leaders of Holocaust education proudly state that “they do not do culture,” one’s neck hairs should rightfully bristle.
It’s time to give up these idiotic stereotypes and prejudices against teaching the Holocaust and economic crimes, side by side.
How much courage does it take to pronounce in a single sentence the words Holocaust, Aryanization, forced sales, and restitution?