Should the Holocaust and Apartheid be bracketed together?

by Maskil on February 13, 2008

In a letter to the editor of the SA Jewish Report, Don Krausz (Chairman, Association of Holocaust Survivors in Johannesburg) said that “We view the Holocaust and Apartheid as two of the worst examples of racial persecution of our time.”

With all due respect to Mr Krausz and his sombre credentials, I just wonder whether it is appropriate to bracket these two historic events or systems together under the simple heading of “racial persecution”. While this is not intended to be an exercise in “my persecution was greater than yours”, let’s not forget the basics around these two terms.

The Holocaust was an event unique in the annals of history, in terms of its sheer scale, its systematic and scientific nature and (lest we forget) its persistence and success; somewhere in the order of 90% of those Jews who fell within the grasp of Nazi Germany perished (an inverted decimation), and European Jewry quite simply ceased to exist in less than half a decade.

Apartheid also had its roots in theories of race carried to insane extremes. It was a harsh system of economic, political and social discrimination against all those deemed to be Non-Whites, carried out over several decades. It deprived Black African, Coloured and Indian or Asian South Africans of culture, education, liberty, property, opportunity, dignity and almost all other values and social goods. It was an unspeakable system. What it did not do, for the most part, was deprive its victims of their lives. It was not Genocide, unless we want to rob that term of all its meaning in an exercise in political correctness. There was never a systematic effort to exterminate the Non-White population of SA.

So, ghastly as the system may have been, I’m certain that most Holocaust victims and survivors would have chosen to Live under Apartheid (even at its height) than Die in the Holocaust. On the other hand, few of the victims of Apartheid would have knowingly or willingly traded places with victims of the Holocaust.

So, without wanting to labour the point, we have seen too many efforts (whether well or ill-intentioned) to blur the uniqueness of the Holocaust by inappropriate comparisons with other horrific events. Let’s not be guilty of it ourselves.

Similarly, we see increasing efforts to tar Israel with the brush of Apartheid. While these efforts may partially succeed in deligitimising Israel, they are actually more successful at blunting the unique meaning of that system and its impact on the victims.

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