In a new book excerpted in The CJN, historian Michael R. Marrus argues that the Holocaust cannot teach us any formulaic lessons. The Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at the University of Toronto suggests instead that the lessons of the Holocaust are constantly in flux, and open to interpretation and reinterpretation. “I contest the idea that there exist some formulae that constitute lessons of the Holocaust – or even worse, the lessons of the Holocaust,” he writes in Lessons of the Holocaust. “In a nutshell, the problem with such lessons is that, unfortunately, history does not speak to the present with so clear an admonitory voice.”
Perhaps not, but the events of the last few days might suggest otherwise.
Over the weekend, the United States lifted sanctions against Iran, after concluding that the Islamic Republic had complied with the terms of a nuclear deal reached last July. Overseas assets frozen for years – as much as $100 billion worth – will now be available to Tehran. The European Union also cancelled its oil embargo of Iran.
How Iran plans to spend this windfall is a matter of great speculation. Perhaps, as many who support the nuclear deal hope, it will focus on modernization and purchasing the goods that the Iranian people have gone without for many years. Or maybe, the deal’s detractors argue, the money will finance more weapons and fighters to be used against Iran’s enemies, to fund Syria’s brutal civil war and bankroll terror organizations in the region. Israel and Jews around the world are praying for the former, while planning for the latter.
Elsewhere, in recent days, a terrorist inspired by Islamic State (ISIS) used a machete to attack a Jewish teacher in the French city of Marseille, just two months after another Jewish teacher was stabbed by ISIS supporters north of the city. In response, one local Jewish leader suggested that Marseille’s Jewish men should stop wearing kippot in public. And while other leaders, including the French president, were quick to reject that idea and lend their support to the embattled Jewish community, this latest incident again casts doubt on the future of French Jews, a record 8,000 of whom immigrated to Israel in 2015.
Then, late Sunday night in Israel, a Palestinian terrorist murdered Dafna Meir in her West Bank home. Meir, a nurse and premarital counsellor, fought her attacker, saving the lives of three children who were in the house at the time. She “was a happy woman, joyful, optimistic, driven, responsible, loving,” one of her neighbours said. “She was always looking for how to help,” a friend added.
Seventy years after the end of the Shoah, the danger facing the Jewish People may not be the same as that of 1930s Germany. But as the events of last week show, the threat is real, and so is the fear that there are insane, powerful entities out there who will not stop until Israel and the Jewish People are destroyed. That’s why the most important lesson of the Holocaust, one that can be distilled down to two simple worlds, is as applicable today as ever before. Never again.