Catholics used to say humorously—back when mutual toleration among Christian churches, or between Christian and non-Christian persuasions, was not yet an admission of religious indifference—that no faith was so close to the truth, nor so manifestly erroneous, as Anglicanism. This is how I feel about Andreas Lombard’s essay on contemporary German politics and political culture. I am inclined to praise the author for tackling many important issues. But I can’t help thinking that he should have handled them more thoroughly and more carefully.
I agree with Lombard’s assessment of our present crisis: “Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, no political question has so deeply divided Europe, and especially Germany, as that of mass migration from Africa and the Near East.” I, too, have been concerned about the demographic and geopolitical changes arising from mass migration; I expressed my concerns even before the end of the Cold War. In a 1976 article, I quoted the sociologist Alfred Sauvy, who had famously summarized demographic reality as “either your children or the children of others,” and argued that a baby bust in Europe and a baby boom in the Islamic sphere would have significant consequences.
Two decades later, in an article for Middle East Quarterly, I observed:
The prospect of the French [people]’s converting en masse to Islam and France’s turning into an Afro-Mediterranean country is not to be dismissed. Mass conversion and ethnic transition are not rare in history. The Roman Empire, one of the world’s most formidable and enduring polities, was transformed in the half-millennium between the first century B.C.E. and the fourth century C.E., as ethnic Romans were replaced by neo-Romans of many ethnic or racial stocks and various parlances, from proto-Berber North Africans and Arabs to Slavs and Germans, not to speak of Greeks and Hellenized easterners. Simultaneously, Christianity abruptly replaced the sophisticated pagan culture of Rome.
Four factors, I argued, would play a crucial role: “the high demographic rates of French Muslims, their aloofness from mainstream society, their increasing religious assertiveness, and the growing appeal of Islam to non-Muslims.”
Two more decades elapsed, and in 2016 I wrote that the danger of a clash of civilizations caused by migration could no longer be ignored. The European post-1945 human rights “logic is collapsing now—under the pressure of hard facts. Or rather the Europeans now understand that it was flawed in many ways from the very beginning, especially when it came to multiculturalism, the alleged antidote to racism.”
In sum, my own interventions on the crisis of European identity are pretty close to Lombard’s analysis.
Where do we differ? And why do we differ? For Lombard, “the imperative of remembering” the Holocaust contributes to the crisis. Remembering is thus part of the problem. For me, the very opposite is the case. Now more than ever, we need to remember Auschwitz. Contrary to Lombard, Holocaust awareness is as great a political, ethical, and theological necessity today as it was in the immediate postwar era. Remembering can strengthen Germany’s (and Europe’s) resistance and resilience in the present circumstances—provided one sees the Holocaust for what it really was.
Amnesia and amnesty are welcome in many instances. It is reported that when fifteenth-century Paris finally surrendered after a lengthy rebellion, the king’s constable sent heralds to the city to proclaim, “The King knows nothing.” Had the Allied Powers behaved in such a manner at the Paris Conference in 1919, instead of singling out “Germany and its allies” as the sole villains of World War I, there would probably not have been a Hitler in 1933 or a World War II in 1939.
But there are instances when forgiving and forgetting should not be done. The Third Reich was a criminal undertaking. Nazism operated outside anything Europe had known as public morality, outside natural law and the laws of war, outside Christian morality and Antigonian ethics—not to mention the traditional German sense of honor. It was brutal in its dealings with the countries it conquered, and with the German nation itself. And, of course, criminal in its dealings with the Jews. Neither forgiving nor forgetting can be countenanced. This was a fact seventy-five years ago, and it remains a fact today.
German patriots like Lombard are rightly concerned about their nation’s future. But before endorsing a program of downplaying the Holocaust, let them think about the precedent of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.
The situation was not all that different from today’s. French public opinion realized at an early date—in the early 1980s—that mass migration from the Arab and sub-Saharan Islamic sphere should be curbed or stopped. The wily socialist president, François Mitterrand, recognized an opportunity. He arranged for an obscure far-right and anti-Semitic agitator with neo-Nazi connections, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to take on the issue of immigration in the public debate. Overnight, the National Front became a political force—one that Mitterrand and his allies used to cripple the classic conservative right. In 1986, a conservative prime minister, Jacques Chirac, proposed legislation to limit immigration and protect national identity. Mitterrand’s socialists swung into action, accusing him of paving the way to Le Pen and fascism. The accusation irrevocably weakened him.
In this episode of cynical power politics, France’s last chance to gain control over her future was lost. Jean-Marie Le Pen was succeeded by his daughter, Marine Le Pen. She has turned the National Front, rechristened as the National Rally, into an even stronger democratic populist party and has repudiated racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Meanwhile, conservative, socialist, or centrist presidents such as Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande, and now Emmanuel Macron have admitted that immigration and Islamicization might lead to a “partition” of France. But nothing has helped. The stigma of fascism has stayed with the very concept of national identity ever since Jean-Marie Le Pen’s rise to prominence, and it has hindered effective immigration and assimilation policies.
The lesson is clear: The left will not forget. On the contrary, it will insist upon remembering—in its own dogmatic and oversimplified way—so that it can use the crimes of Nazism as political weapons. As a matter of political fact, the Holocaust must be dealt with by anyone who seeks to preserve European identity, and it must be dealt with forthrightly.
Beyond political pragmatism, I see other reasons to disagree with Lombard’s approach. He writes, “The Holocaust was a singular crime. But to assert its metaphysical singularity, as the German consensus now does, contradicts the God of the Bible.” Further: “If Auschwitz is unique, then it cannot be repeated, in which case it should not loom over us as a danger.” This is sophistry, and I worry that Lombard is tempted to downplay the singularity of the Holocaust, downgrading it from an absolute evil to—so to say—regular evil. He does not go quite so far, but the fact that he plays with such a view is troubling.
The Holocaust was Absolute Evil. No mass murder of such scope and intensity had ever occurred before. No other mass murder was planned so long in advance. No other mass murder was perpetrated with such cold obstinacy, and given priority over all other concerns, including military victory. Never was a mass murder organized in such an industrial, orderly, methodical fashion. Never was evil pursued so much for evil’s sake. Never was murder fraught with so much sadism—not just physical sadism, but intellectual sadism.
What was the driving force? Contemporaries of the Holocaust who, in one way or another, were able to think seriously about it mention the devil, or the demonic, das Dämonische. To be sure, the devil may not be restricted to the person of Adolf Hitler, as Lombard remarks, but Adolf Hitler was certainly one of the devil’s most perfect manifestations. And what is the devil’s purpose? To make war against God. The Third Reich was a war against the biblical God, and thus necessarily against the Jews, who, depending on one’s view, wrote the Bible and invented God—or on whom God has bestowed his Book.
Andreas Hillgruber, the most prominent historian in post–World War II Germany, titled one of his last books Two Kinds of Ruin (1986) in order to draw a parallel between “the fall of the German Reich” and “the end of European Jewry.” At a very early stage in his career, Hillgruber had argued that Hitler’s foreign policy and strategy were “normal,” that is to say, shaped by rational national-interest considerations. A close examination of the primary sources gradually convinced him that, on the contrary, Hitler’s war aims were irrational and mainly focused on the complete obliteration of the Jewish people.
The Western Allies were wise enough in 1945 to take a twofold approach to the defeated German nation. On the one hand, they exposed the Third Reich’s crimes and tried its most prominent surviving leaders. On the other hand, the Allies gave Germany an opportunity to revive, by its own agency, its pre-Nazi Christian and ethical identity, and thus to elaborate a new, post-Nazi identity.
What made such a bargain feasible was simply that many Germans of all stripes had resisted Nazi rule out of ethical or religious convictions: political exiles like Thomas Mann, intellectual dissidents like Ernst Jünger, the White Rose students in Munich, the military resistance networks that coalesced around Claus von Stauffenberg, Protestant ministers like Hermann Maas and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Catholic prelates like Michael von Faulhaber, August von Galen, Josef Frings, and Konrad von Preysing. Stauffenberg is reported to have said a few days before the aborted July Coup in 1944 that even if the coup failed, it would show that there were at least a few righteous men in Germany, so that Germany, by biblical logic, would be spared the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. My own father, whose first wife and son had been murdered in 1942 in Auschwitz, and who spent three years in Auschwitz and Ebensee, would have taken as a joke any suggestion of “forgiveness” for the Nazis. But he also told me: “I will not forget that anti-Nazi Gentile Germans died in front of me in the camp.”
Germany became a stable democracy, and it learned to be admirably honest about the past by preserving evidence of combat and destruction even on such beautifully rehabilitated buildings or monuments as the Reichstag in Berlin, and by insisting upon remembering the Holocaust as a tragic part of its own history. For all that, there is a kernel of truth in Lombard’s assertion that “the German political and cultural establishment” has developed “a vanity of guilt.” Such a vanity can be charmingly innocent. The new E.U. Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, once lectured the Japanese for not acknowledging their country’s World War II crimes as handsomely as Germany does. It can also be problematic, as when the memory of the Holocaust is grossly misused to promote utopian agendas, including the mass admission of millions of migrants.
What turned immigration into a burning issue, not just in Germany but throughout Europe, was Chancellor Merkel’s sudden and unexpected decision in 2015 to take in one million “asylum seekers” from war-torn areas in the Middle East. For a brief moment, German public opinion was ecstatic. As Douglas Murray wrote in The Strange Death of Europe, a feeling emerged that Germany was doing for Muslim migrants what other nations had declined to do for the persecuted Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It felt like atonement, and with it arose the hope that some of the guilt associated with the Holocaust could be set aside.
Delusions quickly dissipated. It became obvious that most of the migrants were not persecuted Christians or Yazidis, but Muslims; that many of them did not come from war-torn nations such as Iraq and Syria, but from a lot of other places, including North Africa and the Sahel countries; that single young men outnumbered women, elderly people, children, or whole families; that many were not fleeing danger, but seizing an opportunity to enter Europe’s richest country; and that most of them retained their original culture’s most controversial tenets, from negative views of women to anti-Semitism.
Widespread harassment of women by migrants on New Year’s Eve 2015 was a turning point; verbal and physical attacks on Yazidi refugees, as well as on German Jews and Israeli visitors, added to the confusion, and then the revulsion. These events caused the decline of Merkel’s Christian Democratic party in recent elections, the near collapse of the Social Democratic party, the rise of the Greens, and of course the rise of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a party explicitly focused on national identity.
Germany is not alone. Demographic and cultural change brought about by mass migration is roiling the continent. We must have the freedom to talk frankly about this crisis, or it will worsen and explode in unimaginable ways. Lombard is correct: Gaining that freedom requires overcoming our political class’s cynical use of “antifascism” to maintain its monopoly.
But you don’t abolish money altogether because some counterfeit is around. It does not make sense to discard or revise the “Holocaust paradigm” because it has been misused and distorted. What is needed is a more accurate remembrance. Germans (and others, too) need to remember that the Holocaust did not target “human beings”; it targeted Jews. And it targeted Jews not for being different or exotic, but for being an essential foundation of European Christian and humanistic civilization.
This must be remembered—along with another indisputable fact, which is that the Holocaust failed in its aim. Hitler did not destroy Judaism. On the contrary, after 1945 Jews have flourished, with the State of Israel being but one instance of renewal. If Germans are honest about the past, then they can, perhaps, recognize that the foundation of our shared civilization endures—Judaism endures—and this means that Europe can recover its Christian and humanistic identity. Such a recovery is necessary if we are to make anything good out of the terrible mess left by two generations of misbegotten immigration and cultural policies adopted by those who claim to lead us.
Michel Gurfinkiel is the former editor in chief of Valeurs actuelles.