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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Hatred That Will Not Die : Television: PBS' 'The Longest Hatred' effectively and eloquently demonstrates that anti-Semitism fills a uniquely bloody niche in history.

April 21, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Gays oppressed by straights know the feeling of being hated.

So do African-Americans, victimized by terrorism and economic repression by whites. So do Africans who have been brutalized by white-imposed apartheid.

And so do victims of black-on-black butchery in Africa.

And American Indians, inhumanely mistreated by their conquerors.

And Armenians, who were slaughtered by Turks and now are threatened in Nagorno-Karabakh.

And casualties of ethnic massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Serb-targeted Muslims in besieged Srebrenica, where--in TV-captured scenes recalling the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising being commemorated this week--trapped defenders recently used short-wave radios to plead for help from the outside.

Because history is streaked with an Auschwitz of horrors, the agony list is almost endless.

The point, as noted tonight by Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi in a 2 1/2-hour special on PBS, is that measuring one pain against another is impossible. After all, the 7 million non-Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust are no less dead than the 6 million Jewish victims. And just as Jews for generations have been subjected to Arab terror, so, too, have Palestinians suffered at the hands of their Israeli occupiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday January 31, 2000 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 6 inches; 204 words Type of Material: Correction ^H
Holocaust story--A Jan. 7, 2000 article examined the movement to question the extermination of European Jews during World War II.
The article cited a 1993 Roper poll that suggested that 22% of Americans thought it possible the Holocaust did not happen. A year later, Roper asked the question a different way because of complaints that the original question was confusing. The result: 1% said it was possible and 8% said they did not know.
The article said academics at respected institutions have supported revisionists. Specifically, they are Arthur Butz, an electrical engineering professor at Northwestern University, which has disavowed his book, "The Hoax of the Holocaust," and Robert Faurisson, a former literature professor at the University of Lyons, which has disavowed his views.
The article also said claims that Jewish Holocaust victims' remains were made into lampshades have been dismissed as myth. In fact, a lampshade made from human skin was introduced into a criminal trial and submitted to a U.S. congressional committee.
And some readers may have read the fact that historians have revised the estimated death toll at Auschwitz from 3 million to 1.1 million to imply that the overall number of Jews who died during the Holocaust therefore is lower. In fact, many historians now believe that the number of Jews who died is closer to 5.1 million than 6 million--the most commonly accepted figure--for reasons generally unrelated to Auschwitz.

Yet as "The Longest Hatred" so effectively and eloquently demonstrates, anti-Semitism fills a uniquely bloody niche in history as humankind's deepest-rooted, most-persistent--and, some would say, most destructive--bigotry, one that crested with genocidal Nazism.

Executive producer Zvi Dor-Ner and producer/director Rex Bloomstein get the credit for this important program that airs at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 and at 8 p.m. on KPBS-TV Channel 15 and KVCR-TV Channel 24. Ever so skillfully, they transform an ugly topic into a fascinating documentary.

Presented in three parts, "The Longest Hatred" quotes early Gospel from St. Paul in tracing the tightly knotted genesis of Christianity and anti-Jewish prejudice. "No other religion in the world," says Florida State University religion professor Richard Rubenstein, "makes the accusation that Christianity makes against the Jews, that they are literally murderers of God."

Titled "From the Cross to the Swastika," this first section is the program's best, using striking visuals and other arresting techniques to explain how Jews acquired the "universal cosmic quality of evil."

Fast forward now to the 20th Century, where Hitler is described as a sort of Germanic "messianic Christ figure" whose Nazi movement sought scientific justification for its repression of Jews in the twisted doctrines of earlier bigots. Although Hitler's "final solution" for Jews was uniquely racist, notes historian John S. Conway, "the soil of anti-Semitism had been fertilized by Christians of earlier centuries." We're told, for example, that it wasn't Hitler but a Pope, in 1215, who first made Jews wear special yellow badges.

Connecting extreme nationalism to hatred of Jews, the program goes on to note the resurgence of Nazism among xenophobic German youths since the fall of the Berlin Wall, their drive for a Fourth Reich nourished by Hitler-era propaganda and stereotypes. Then it's on to Austria, where criticism of Kurt Waldheim--the accused former Nazi elected premier in 1986--has created a backlash against Jews. And on to Poland, where only 10,000 Jews remain, proving, according to the narration written by Bloomstein and Robert Wistrich, "that you don't need Jews to have anti-Semitism."

The program claims, for example, that anti-Jewish tactics were employed in the election campaign of Polish President Lech Walesa, who, ironically, was joined in Warsaw this week by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore in ceremonies honoring the Jewish ghetto's courageous but doomed uprising 50 years ago.

"The Longest Hatred" also covers traditional anti-Jewish policies in old Russia and the Soviet Union, where, UCLA professor Hans Rogger says, Stalin had plans to expel the entire Jewish population to Siberia when he died.

The program's third section chronicles the Islamic world's rantings against "the Jewish infidel," with the charges by Muslim fundamentalists that the Nazi Holocaust is a Jewish fabrication disturbingly paralleling a recent Roper poll that found one in three Americans also questioning whether this mass extermination of Jews ever happened.

"The Longest Hatred" evenhandedly gives voice to both sides in the Arab-Israeli territorial conflict. Palestinian English professor Ashrawi mentions, for example, that racism and stereotyping are "not endemic to one group or another," saying that she, too, has been depicted in the West as a long-nosed stereotype. And, as the program notes, Arabs are a Semitic people, too--making anti-Semitism , as it applies only to Jews, a misleading term.

In terms of gaining parity in the marketplace of sympathy, however, Palestinians are at a distinct public-relations disadvantage. "There's no way to convince the world that Palestinian suffering matches Jewish suffering," says one Palestinian. "It's just unfortunate that our adversary, our conqueror, our victimizer, just happens to be Jewish."

The awesome power of symbols bears him out. At one point in the program, the camera pans weeded-over railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz, a conveyance of death for the multitudes. Watching these ominous pictures, you can almost hear history echoing and the trains grinding along with their doomed transports.

The resonance of evil.

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