Jewish American historian Norman Finkelstein argues in his explosive
new book, "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of
Jewish Suffering" that Holocaust remembrance has been exploited by the
In his book he contends that a greater threat to the memory of the
Holocaust than Holocaust deniers is what he calls 'The Holocaust
He accuses those who exploit the Holocaust of telling lies and of naked
greed. He argues that the ruthless industrialisation of the Holocaust has
encouraged the rebirth of anti-semitism in Europe and the United States
The son of survivors of the Warsaw ghetto and concentration camps, he
says, "I do care about the memory of my family's persecution. The current
campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name
of "needy Holocaust victims" has shrunk the moral stature of their
martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino."
We put a selection of your questions to Norman Finkelstein who
answered them in a live video forum.
here to watch the forum
Ian Sullory, UK: Why, what made you do it why have you decided
to make these claims?
Norman Finkelstein: I think I would say that my motivation was
personal. My parents had fairly recently passed away in 1995 and I felt
that it was time to settle accounts of the Holocaust Industry, in my view,
both as a perversion and falsification of my parents' experience.
Secondly, as a corruption of my parents' experience by turning it into a
shakedown industry, ruthlessly extorting huge sums of money from European
countries in the name of what they call the "Holocaust Victims". When they
actually manage to get the monies, the victims never see any of it.
Alex Laidlaw, UK: Why are you attacking Holocaust survivors for
wanting compensation for what the Nazis did? The Nazis stole untold
millions of people's money. They have every right to demand compensation.
Instead of attacking the "Holocaust Industry" as you call it, why don't
you attack the German industrialists that made a very big profit from
exploiting the Jews?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that both are fair questions.
Firstly, I am absolutely for the victims of Nazi persecution receiving
compensation; it's never been an issue for me. Secondly, it's impossible
to assign dollar value to the kinds of suffering the Jews and other groups
endured under the Nazi regime. However, one has to be honest about these
things and the record of the German Government as compared to other
governments in the world, regarding compensation, has been relatively
good. They have paid out roughly 50-60 billion Dollars in compensation.
Compared to the Americans, we have to say that the German record is good.
Jamil Farah, France: : I attended the TARI conference in Boston
earlier this year and was very impressed by your contribution. I would
like to know if you consider the state of Israel an important actor in the
Norman Finkelstein: If we're going to establish the principal
that property wrongly expropriated should be returned, we have to ask why
Israel is not applying the same standards. Why aren't they applying the
same standards that we insist on for Swiss banks, the German
industrialists and the Eastern European governments?
Adrian, undergraduate at Cambridge, and son of Holocaust survivor:
Is it at all possible that your comments have been made in the pursuit
of fame and fortune, or perhaps some sort of rebellion against your
parents? In addition what makes you an authority on the number of
survivors, which have been verified by numerous academics of greater
calibre than yourself? So far you have only damaged the cause for
Norman Finkelstein: First of all, it's impossible for anybody to
be the best judge of his or her motives. I would say, at the risk of
sounding immodest, I think that I have a reasonably decent track record of
trying as best I can, to preserve the historical record of many issues -
the Israel/ Palestine conflict, the question of the Nazi Holocaust - at
considerable personal sacrifice. There are easier ways to gain fame and
fortune in this world. As for my expertise, I freely admit I don't claim
to be an expert on this topic. What I do in the book is exactly what your
questioner would want me to do - I cite the authoritative figures.
David T, UK: What is worrying is that an internet search for
"Norman Finkelstein" shows that you are quoted with approval by
organisations and individuals as diverse as Odin's Lounge, David Irving,
and by the National Journal whose website boasts: "Why are anti-Semites
"dangerous"? - Answer: ... "because they are in the right" Does it worry
you that you have become a totem for the extremist racist right?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that problem arises but I would want
to add two points. Firstly, I have enlisted the support of authenticates
of Nazi persecution who are grateful to me for bringing this issue to the
public domain. Secondly, if you search my web site, you'll find
contributions from a large number of mainstream figures who have very
generously reviewed my last few books.
Adam McIntosh, United States: I deeply appreciate your efforts
to restore the Holocaust to its rightful, but still horrific, place in
history. What was the starting point in your intellectual journey that
eventually brought you to the idea of the "Holocaust Industry"?
Norman Finkelstein: I think the starting point is a very simple
one. My parents looked on with growing repugnance at the way the
experience they passed through was being depicted in the mainstream media
and in Holocaust scholarship. In fact when they referred to the Holocaust,
it was as if it was another event - a spectacle. It was that scepticism
and disgust with the way the matter was being depicted, that finally
inspired me to sit down and settle the accounts of this nonsense.
Pepita Diamand-Levy, United Kingdom: I agree that people should
not profit from the suffering of others. Have you considered giving your
book's proceeds to Peace Now, the UNHCR or the United Negro College Fund?
Norman Finkelstein: I very much doubt this. I work for a very
small publisher, I received a $5,000 advance, and given that I'm
self-employed about a third to half of this will go to taxes. I have a
very marginal income - it's not as if I'm raking in huge profits from my
parents' misery and suffering.
Kenneth Little, United Kingdom: Do you believe that too much
emphasis is put upon making people feel guilty when the Holocaust is
discussed? I was born twelve years after the camps were liberated. Can I
be responsible for events that took place when I was not even alive? Do
you believe that my real responsibility is not to be guilty but to work
towards a society where bigotry and prejudice are marginalised?
Norman Finkelstein: You can't be responsible and I wouldn't hold
you responsible. I really do make a major effort to reach out to German
young people for whom I have a very high regard. On the other hand, I
think we should be sensitive to the crimes committed in the name of our
Nader Hashemi, Canada: Unlike in North America your new book has
been reviewed widely in the European press and generated a storm of mostly
hostile letters. What are some of the biggest distortions and
misrepresentations of your thesis that you would like to correct?
Norman Finkelstein: I am not averse to scholarly attacks. I try
my best to preserve the integrity of historical records and if I've made
an error, I want to exchange error for truth. In England, the critical
remarks have been along the lines that the book is shrill, strident and a
rant. You can't engage in a scholarly discussion with that kind of
Bill from Paris in France: I have heard that American law firms
are sending people to Europe to find Holocaust survivors or their family
members to sign them up for class action suits which these US law firms
are running. A report yesterday mentioned the $5 billion suit against a
long list of German firms. How much are these law firms keeping for
themselves as payment for these cash settlements? The usual 35%?
Norman Finkelstein: Some of these law firms will be sending
their teams to Mars and Venus looking for Holocaust survivors - the whole
thing has become a grotesque joke. These people are grave robbers.
B. Lewis, UK Should your main contribution not be to show that
the Holocaust did take place, and highlight the need for people to be
conscious of racism in whatever form it may take and oppose it by all
Norman Finkelstein: I totally agree and I think that a rational
discussion of the Nazi Holocaust, in my view, would lead us to conclude
that we have to be sensitive to, be careful of and fight against all forms
of racism. The problem is the way the Nazi Holocaust is depicted by the
Holocaust Industry. They claim that the Nazi Holocaust was unique and
nothing can compare to it.
Babs, USA: Isn't it possible that your basic tenet of
victimisation to justify breast-beating and Jewish racism will
fractionalise the Jewish communities?
Norman Finkelstein: I think that there is a problem in the
United States. It's clearly a problem arising among those who are not
Jewish becoming sick and tired of hearing of the Holocaust. I feel that
it's time for the Jewish community to open their hearts to the rest of
humanity - there are other people suffering out there.