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The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering is a book published in 2000 by Norman G. Finkelstein, that argues that the American Jew establishment exploits the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for political and financial gain, as well as to further the interests of Israelmarker. According to Finkelstein, this "Holocaust industry" has corrupted Jewish culture and the authentic memory of the Holocaust. Finkelstein's parents were both Holocaust survivors who had been inmates of concentration camps.

The book was a bestseller in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, and has been translated into 16 languages.

Finkelstein on the book

As the child of Holocaust survivors (every member of both of his parents' families having been exterminated by the Nazis), Norman Finkelstein has lived with the Holocaust all his life. However, he thinks of the Nazi holocaust as a historical event, while "The Holocaust" is its ideological representation.

His earliest memory of the historical event is his mother watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Other than that, it did not intrude on his childhood. No friend (or parent of a friend) asked any questions about what his mother and father had suffered. As he says "This was not a respectful silence. It was indifference. In this light, one cannot but be sceptical of the outpourings of anguish in later decades, after the Holocaust industry was firmly established."

In the foreword to the first paperback edition, Finkelstein notes that the first Hardback edition had been a considerable hit in several European countries and many languages, but had been panned in the US. He sees the New York Times as the main promotional vehicle of the Holocaust industry, and notes that the 1999 Index listed 273 entries for the Holocaust and just 32 entries for the whole of Africa.

Historian Omer Bartov criticized Finkelstein's notion of Holocaust profiteers as a "novel variation of 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion '". In response, Finkelstein noted that Bartov himself shortly thereafter criticized the "growing list of Holocaust profiteers", taken instead to mean The Holocaust Industry and similar works.


  • Chapter 1: Capitalizing The Holocaust - by the 1980s, Finkelstein states, the "War against the Jews" had become more important to American cultural life than the "War Between the States".
  • Chapter 2: Hoaxers, Hucksters and History - in 1967, Finkelstein claims that two concepts appeared in public discourse: The uniqueness of the Holocaust, and the concept of the Holocaust as climax of a historical irrational anti-Semitic tendency in Europe. Finkelstein asserts that these concepts became central to the "Holocaust Industry", but that neither figures in scholarship of the Nazi Holocaust.
  • Chapter 3: The Double Shakedown - in this chapter, Finkelstein claims that the number of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust recognized by relief groups increased from c. 100,000 in 1945 to nearly 1 million owing to definitional changes in who was considered to be a survivor. Because of this, Finkelstein asserts, "fraudulent" claims were made on Switzerland, , while accounts and assets in the US and Israel were ignored. Payments were made to the wrong people and real survivors lost out.
    • 100 pages of new material in the 2003 edition primarily expand Chapter 3 on the Swiss Banks lawsuit. Finkelstein set out to provide a guide to the relevant sections of the case. He feels that the presiding judge elected not to docket crucial documents, and that the Claims Resolution Tribunal could no longer be trusted. Finkelstein claims the CRT was on course to vindicate the Swiss banks before it switched tacks in order to "protect the blackmailers reputation".

Other topics

Fraudulent writings on the Holocaust

Finkelstein describes two known frauds, that of The Painted Bird (Jerzy Kosinski) and Fragments (Binjamin Wilkomirski), and how they were defended by people even after they'd been exposed. He identifies some of these people as members of the Holocaust Industry, and notes that they also support each other. Elie Wiesel supported Kosinski; Israel Gutman and Daniel Goldhagen (see below) supported Wilkomirski; Wiesel and Gutman support Goldhagen.

Holocaust Industry defends itself

Finkelstein has published heavy criticisms of several books in his career and he did the same to Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Johnah Goldhagen, which he calls "replete with gross misinterpretations of source material and internal contradictions", and says "the book is devoid of scholarly value". Independently, Ruth Bettina Birn (the world's leading authority on the archives that Goldhagen had consulted and chief historian for War Crimes with the Canadian Department of Justice) did the same - she and Finkelstein worked together on A Nation of Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth. Goldhagen refused the journal's invitation for a full rebuttal, and instead enlisted a London law firm to sue Birn and the Cambridge University Press. Protests were made to Birn's employer, calling her "a member of the perpetrator race" (she is German born), prompting an official investigation of her.(p. 66)

Armenian Genocide

Finkelstein scathingly compared the media treatment of the Holocaust and the media treatment of the Armenian Genocide, particularly by members of what he calls "The Holocaust Industry". (1 to 1.5 million Armenians died in the years between 1915 and 1917/1923 - denial includes the claim that they were the result of a Civil War within World War I, or refusal to accept there were deaths). In 2000, Finkelstein documented in this book how, in 1982 and 1995, the genocide (and even the suffering) of the Armenians was rejected by Israel, by Elie Wiesel and the US Holocaust Council. In 2001, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres went so far as to dismiss it as "allegations," and Armenian accounts of the mass slaughter as "meaningless". However, by this time historical consensus was changing, and he was "angrily compared ... to a holocaust denier" by Dr Charny, executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem.

In August 2007, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity produced a letter signed by 53 Nobel Laureates re-affirming the Genocide Scholars' conclusion that the 1915 killings of Armenians constituted genocide. However, Wiesel's organization asserted there would be no legal "basis for reparations or territorial claims", anticipating Turkish anxieties that it could prompt financial or property claims. The ADL's Abe Foxman announced: "Upon reflection, the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide".

Other forms of Holocaust denial

Finkelstein explains that to suggest that Wiesel has profited from the Holocaust Industry, or even to question him, amounts to Holocaust Denial, according to Elie Wiesel. Questioning a survivor's testimony, denouncing the role of Jewish collaborators, suggesting that Germans suffered during the bombing of Dresden or that any state except Germany committed crimes in World War II are all evidence of Holocaust denial according to Deborah Lipstadt and the most "insidious" forms of Holocaust denial are "immoral equivalencies", denying the uniqueness of The Holocaust. Finkelstein examines the intriguing implications of applying this standard to another member of the "Holocaust Industry", Daniel Goldhagen, who argued that Serbian actions in Kosovo "are, in their essence, different from those of Nazi Germany only in scale".

Holocaust deniers in real life

Deborah Lipstadt claims there is widespread Holocaust denial, but in "Denying the Holocaust" her prime example is Arthur Butz, author of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. The chapter on him is entitled "Entering the Mainstream" - but Finkelstein considers that, were it not for the likes of Lipstadt, no one would ever have heard of Arthur Butz. Holocaust deniers have as much influence in the US as the flat-earth society (p. 69). Finkelstein believes there to be only one "truly mainstream" holocaust denier. This is Bernard Lewis, convicted in France of denying the Armenian genocide. Since Lewis is pro-Israel "this instance ... raises no hackles in the United States."

Reviews and critiques

The critical response has been varied. In addition to prominent supporters, such as Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, the esteemed Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is on record as praising Finkelstein's book:
I would now say in retrospect that he was actually conservative, moderate and that his conclusions are trustworthy.
He is a well-trained political scientist, has the ability to do the research, did it carefully, and has come up with the right results.
I am by no means the only one who, in the coming months or years, will totally agree with Finkelstein's breakthrough."

Others have argued that The Holocaust Industry is an unscholarly work that promotes antisemitic stereotypes. For example, according to Israeli journalist Yair Sheleg, in August 2000, German historian Hans Mommsen called it "a most trivial book, which appeals to easily aroused anti-Semitic prejudices." [1738]

Omer Bartov, Professor of History and European History at Brown University reviewing the first edition of the book wrote:

I find so striking about The Holocaust Industry is that it is almost an exact copy of the arguments it seeks to expose.
It is filled with precisely the kind of shrill hyperbole that Finkelstein rightly deplores in much of the current media hype over the Holocaust; it is brimming with the same indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics and dubious contextualizations; and it oozes with the same smug sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

Here he [Finkelstein] combines an old-hat 1960s view of Israel as the outpost of American Imperialism with a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which warned of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Now, however, the Jewish conspiracy is intended to "shake down" (his favorite phrase) such innocent entities as Swiss banks, German corporations and East European owners of looted Jewish property, all in order to consolidate Jewish power and influence without giving the real survivors of the genocide anything but empty rhetoric.

This book is, in a word, an ideological fanatic's view of other people's opportunism, by a writer so reckless and ruthless in his attacks that he is prepared to defend his own enemies, the bastions of Western capitalism, and to warn that "The Holocaust" will stir up an anti-Semitism whose significance he otherwise discounts. Like any conspiracy theory, it contains several grains of truth; and like any such theory, it is both irrational and insidious. Finkelstein can now be said to have founded a Holocaust industry of his own."

Finkelstein was to later blame Bartov's review for the poor US sales of the book.

University of Chicago Professor Peter Novick, whose work Finkelstein described as providing the "initial stimulus" for The Holocaust Industry [1739], asserted in the July 28, 2000 Jewish Chronicle (London) that the book is replete with "false accusations", "egregious misrepresentations", "absurd claims" and "repeated mis-statements" ("A charge into darkness that sheds no light"). Finkelstein replied to the "hysterical" allegations by Novick on his homepage.

Hasia Diner has accused Peter Novick and Finkelstein of being "harsh critics of American Jewry from the left," and challenges the notion reflected in their books that American Jews did not begin to commemorate the Holocaust until post 1967.

Andrew Ross reviewing the book for Salon magazine wrote:

On the issue of reparations, he barely acknowledges the wrongs committed by the Swiss and German institutions — the burying of Jewish bank accounts, the use of slave labor — that gave rise to the recent reparations drive.
The fear that the reparations will not wind up in the hands of those who need and deserve them most is a legitimate concern.
But the idea that survivors have been routinely swindled by Jewish institutions is a gross distortion.
The chief reason why survivors have so far seen nothing of the $1.25 billion Swiss settlement, reached in 1998, is that U.S. courts have yet to rule on a method of distribution.
On other reparations and compensation settlements, the Claims Conference, a particular bete noire of Finkelstein, says that it distributed approximately $220 million to individual survivors in 1999 alone."

Finkelstein responded to his critics in the foreword to the second edition:

Mainstream critics allege that I conjured a "conspiracy theory" while those on the Left ridicule the book as a defense of "the banks".
None, so far as I can tell, question my actual findings."

Publishing history

Publishing history of The Holocaust Industry:
  • 2000; First published, by Verso Books (London) 150 p. Hardcover, ISBN 1-85984-773-0 (Blue star of David on cover)
  • 2001; First paperback edition, Verso. ISBN 1-85984-323-9 (Yellow star of David on cover)
  • 2003; 2 edition, expanded; 286 p., paperback, Verso. ISBN 1-85984-488-X (Red star of David on cover)

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