THE DIVIDED STATES OF THE HOLOCAUST: A HISTORY OF DENIAL
In a recent conference Anna Blech added fuel to the fire of a cowardly and accepted American attitude towards the Holocaust during World War II, which borders on an equivocal denial. In the past, much has been made of Roosevelt’s attitude regarding the opportunity to bomb the roads leading to the concentration and extermination camps. The testimony of righteous gentile Jan Karski and his interview with a mindful and receptive Roosevelt are common knowledge. There has been a constant fascination with this historical time since and director and historian Lanzmann recently reiterated the need to avoid condemning Roosevelt’s attitude, regarded as complex, denouncing Haenel’s novel on Roosevelt.
Anna Blech’s speech on October 23rd, 2013, “Downplaying the Holocaust, Arthur Hays Sulzberger and the New York Times” at TEDx New York is instructive and clear to say the least, not only with regard to the New York Times but also the Roosevelt government. Her talk is based on a meticulous study of New York Times articles during World War II.
Historian Laurel Leff counts 1186 articles on the Holocaust published by the New York Times between 1939 and 1945. On July 2nd, 1942, the New York Times revealed the existence of concentrations camps and gas chambers and referred directly to the extermination of the Jews. For the most part, these articles were mixed together with articles of less import and relegated to the back pages. Though the New York Times did publish precise figures on the Holocaust from 1942, the massacre of the Jews never appeared on the front page, which was often dedicated to consumer goods and the joys of ownership. While there was a will to inform, it was undermined by the placement of articles. In addition, owner of the New York Times during World War II, Arthur Sulzberger, who was also Jewish, sought to keep a benevolent neutrality that bordered on denial: “It is decency and justice that are being persecuted – not a race, a nationality or a faith”. Pope Pius XII put it best in the Christmas of 1942.
Historian Deborah Lipps maintains that the New York Times aligned itself with the Roosevelt Administration, whose strategy involved covering up the massacres in a bid to protect itself from a flood of aid applications. Let us not forget the masterly American argument to justify not bombing the railroads leading to death: it would divert important resources away from the war effort. Anna Blech reminds us that aside from the war there was nothing the United States could do – there is not only political error but also moral error that shows very little concern for transparency or the duty to remember. But international politics have not been bothered much about morals for a long time. We are reminded of the urgent need to deepen our knowledge of the Holocaust in order to avoid repeating common preconceptions, which is why my work on A Philosophy of the Holocaust is warranted in France, the United States, or elsewhere.