Lest the Israelis and Jews forget
Germany and the world have done their best to preserve the concentration camps as reminders of human evil, but the Jews themselves are turning the same evil on Palestinians
I have never reported on the Arab world, so I really know very little about the geopolitics of that area. But I grew up on stories of the holocaust — my first introduction to Nazi atrocities on the Jews, in my early teens, was Leon Uris’ Exodus. It chilled me to the bone and thereafter, I read up voraciously on the subject, including Adolf Hitler's own Mein Kampf, and always had sympathy for the Jewish people, many of who still continue to live in India.
When the Chabad House in Mumbai, owned by the Israeli consulate, was attacked by Pakistani terrorists on 26/11, killing its residents, the animosity of the Islamic world towards Jews was brought home to me, recalling to mind a conversation I had with an Israeli diplomat — after the Six Day War fought against a coalition of Arab nations, Israel felt very vulnerable, surrounded as it was by Muslim bastions, and felt the need to be doubly aggressive and pro-active at times to survive in their midst.
That was an understandable position, and I continued to have sympathy for Israel and the Jews — until last week. What they have been doing to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is beyond all humanity, and I recalled a visit to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, two of the innumerable concentration camps set up by the Nazis to exterminate Jews.
The concentration camps have been preserved as museums and I could almost smell the terror and pain of the Jews as I looked at their tin cups, spoons and plates, blood-stained bandages, bunks and other items from the time. The worst of these was the platform in the centre of the torture chamber used by Nazi soldiers. They liked to photograph the agony and misery of their victims and the walls were plastered with all these grotesque pictures.
But the most chilling item in that room was the torture platform itself — white with the kind of basic square tiles found in British and Indian bathrooms in the 1940s and up to the 1960s before fancier tiles began to make their appearance. And what looked like dirt or grout between the tiles was actually dried-up blood from torture victims, retained even half a century later.
With goosebumps all over my body, I marched into the curator’s office to ask what Germany meant by preserving all these gross items and why they hadn't razed the concentration camps to the ground. He just looked at me, undisturbed, and said gently, “Lest we forget.”
As I seemed not to understand, he explained, “Those Nazis were human beings like the Jews. Some of them also had pretensions to being gentlemen. They read Goethe and Nietzsche, quoted poetry and philosophy, were great connoisseurs of art, collecting Rembrandt and Monet, wore the best of clothes, drank the finest wines, ate the best caviar, and danced with much grace, were charming to women of their choice.
"But that was at nights — after they had spent the day putting other human beings through the most excruciating torture, piling the bodies of the dead on to carts and leaving them in the forest next to the camp so they would be eaten by animals. Even animals do not do this to their own kind. Hence we preserve these camps so that younger generations will not forget the utter evil and bestiality that some human beings are capable of in the guise of gentlemen and under the pretext of nationalism.”
That was a salutary lesson to me, and parallels between the picture of the Nazis that the curator painted and the Hindutva brigade in India became more and more apparent to me since 2014. Admittedly, there has been more of a fightback and pushback by non-Hindutva espousing Indians against the Modi regime, so they have not got anywhere near the Nazi record for dehumanising bestiality.
But it is now clearer to me that while Germany and the world have done their best to preserve the concentration camps as reminders of human evil, the Jews themselves seem to have forgotten what happened to them and are turning the same evil on the Palestinians that Hitler did on them.
Historically, all the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — have had problems with each others’ existence, and right from the Crusades to later centuries, their history has been soaked in blood. But we are living in more civilised times, even more so than during the Nazi era.
So the bombing of hospitals and the killing of children on the Gaza Strip, the starving of Palestine, the denial of water and electricity to them, all comes as a reminder of what the Buchenwald curator told me — these men who pretend to be civilised are little more than beasts under their fine clothing and sophisticated accents, with no consideration for fellow humans.
Speaking of clothing, I wonder at those making fools of themselves by accusing Indians of a pro-Muslim bias just because some of us are challenging them for their bestiality. On a recent television show, an Israeli diplomat accused the anchor of deliberately wearing the Hamas colours of red, green and black and said, “That is why I am wearing blue and white, because blue and white always win.”
The anchor was startled because she was wearing her grandmother’s 70-year-old saree, bought long before Hamas was even an idea. She told him so. Embarrassed, he still had the gall to tell her, “Save it for another occasion, then." And she put him down by saying politely and very firmly, “I will not allow you to dictate what I wear and what I say.”
But a bigger embarrassment awaited the Israeli ambassador to India, who targeted Indian fact checker Mohammad Zubair for exposing the Israeli lie that the child their bombs had killed was actually just a doll and he had more detailed videos of the baby being prepared for its funeral than the Israelis would release.
Embarrassed by the claims that Hamas had beheaded Israeli children, for which Israelis have produced no evidence so far, the ambassador probably thought he could target Zubair — already in the firing line of Hindutva bigots — and garner much sympathy from the Modi regime. But in one of the finest instances of poetic justice, three days later, Zubair had won an international award for freedom of expression given out by the Index on Censorship, a non-government group that campaigns for and defends free expression globally.
They seem to revel in meting out collective punishment to a community they hate, only because they are Muslim. Just as Hitler hated them only because they were Jews. They should know Hamas is not Palestine. But if they believe Hindutvavadis in India are their friends, here is what Vinayak Damodar Savarkar said about the Jews.
As president of Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar was very critical of the Congress, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru, when the latter turned down an invitation from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to meet him, General Franco of Spain and Hitler in Europe. Pandit Nehru had said he could not be in the same room with people who had no consideration for Jews and other human beings.
“Surely Hitler knows better than Pandit Nehru does what suits Germany best," Savarkar reportedly said. "The very fact that Germany or Italy (under Mussolini) has recovered so wonderfully from World War I and grown powerful as never before at the touch of the Nazi or Fascist magic wand is enough to prove that those political ‘isms’ were the most congenial tonics their health demanded.”
But it was not just Savarkar, even RSS chief MS Golwalkar then supported the Nazis, Hitler and his annihilation of Jews. A month after Kristallnacht, RSS journals lauded "the great anti-Jewish pogrom known as the Night of Broken Glass" and rooted for Hitler’s anti-Semitism as the best solution for Germany — and for India when it came to Muslims.
So today, Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi might have their hatred for Muslims in common. But at least Israelis must remember that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.