Review of “Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 1933–49” — Part One of Five



“There is a yawning gulf between popular understanding of this history and current scholarship on the subject. …
This divergence has become acute since the 1990s.”

Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 1933–49
David Cesarani
London: Macmillan

A Portrait of the Author

In October 2015 Jewish historiography lost one of its more enigmatic practitioners when David Cesarani died of spinal cancer, aged 58, just a few months after initial diagnosis. I met Cesarani a handful of times at academic and social gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic during the 2009–2013 period, and I don’t think I’ve met a Hebrew before or since who embodied the physical and behavioral attributes of Jewishness quite as well as the late professor. Ignoring his caricature-like appearance, which once led a scorned David Irving to label him “Ratface,” Cesarani was every inch the diminutive chatterbox; a veritable bundle of verbal and intellectual intensity. He was possessed of a certain low charm, and was a perfect specimen of the shtetl comedian. When making wise-cracks he would stoop his head forward, rolling his shoulders like so many members of his race. Whether the traits were affected, or part of some bizarre genetic make-up, I could never quite decide. He was evidently persuasive, however, and strangely impressive to others. On several occasions I observed at close hand how collectives of enamoured students and faculty would warmly refer to him as “Caesar,” in a perfect example of the “Jewish guru” phenomenon.

Yet for all his bravado and undeniable gift for showmanship, he lectured in a slow, plodding and measured manner. He was more interesting in lectures than conversations, and I found him more comfortable speaking to groups rather than individuals. In the few brief private conversations I had with him on Jewish history and the “Holocaust” he appeared ill at ease; his sharp wit and excellent memory apparently deserting him. Perhaps it was something to do with the coldness with which I greeted his glib responses to my more searching questions. More likely, the slow and almost menacing grin that spread across his face at some of my enquiries was a sign of his awareness that he was in the presence of a “knowing” non-Jew; or in their vernacular, an “anti-Semite.” I would smile back, of course, and we would continue the conversation, verbally circling each other, saying a great deal and yet speaking very little at all. He was a capable, and oddly entertaining, verbal opponent.

David Cesarani

David Cesarani

I vividly recall my last conversation with him. At the time I’d been doing a great deal of private in-depth research on the Jewish aspects of the Jack the Ripper case and thought I’d ask the London-born Cesarani if the Jews of his district possessed any folk tales or passed-down knowledge of the infamous murders. The now-familiar serpentine grin spread across his face, his head bowing briefly before he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and looked me in the eye once more: “Oh, you want to know about that? That’s a long story. Perhaps another time.” An awkward silence prevailed before he took the chance to disappear among a crowd of chattering academics. The Fates have decreed that Cesarani and I will never have “another time,” but the interaction was typical of the wily Hebrew both privately and professionally. To describe him as slippery and difficult to pin-down would be an understatement.

Cesarani was born in London to a working-class Jewish family. Like many Jewish children of his generation, he possessed a higher than average verbal IQ, and won a scholarship to a selective high school in west London. Between high school graduation and college, Cesarani spent a gap year in Israel which involved working at a kibbutz. He would later recall from his time at the kibbutz: “We were always told that the pile of rubble at the top of the hill was a Crusader castle. It was only much later that I discovered it was an Arab village that had been ruined [by Jews] in the Six-Day war.” The incident was formative for Cesarani in terms of increasing his awareness of the Jewish capacity for deception and self-deception, particularly surrounding the themes of persecution, alleged victimhood, and the Jewish past in general. It also prefigured his life-long ambivalence towards Zionism.

Despite his uneasy relationship with the more extreme expressions of Zionism, Cesarani was unfailingly keen to support Jewish interests. He decided to pursue a degree in history at Queens’ College, Cambridge, in 1976. Subsequently graduating from Cambridge with excellent grades, he then pursued a master’s degree in Jewish history at Columbia University, New York, working under Arthur Hertzberg. As far as a young Jewish intellectual might want to learn the “tricks of the trade,” Hertzberg offered excellent prospects as a tutor. The “civil rights” agitator, immigration proponent, and Talmud-enthusiast, was perhaps one of the most insidious Jewish figures on US soil in the 1960s and 1970s. Although I interpret some of the specifics of Hertzberg’s fanatical ideological influence on Cesarani as waning professionally over time, the Londoner spoke of his former tutor in glowing terms in every conversation I had with him. It may be considered an axiom that Jewish gurus have their own Jewish gurus.

Before finally embarking on his career, Cesarani produced a passable doctorate at St Antony’s College, Oxford, that looked into aspects of the history of the interwar Anglo-Jewish community.  Thereafter, as a Jewish ethnic activist, Cesarani’s progress was steady and productive. In October 1989 he joined the Wiener Library as Director of Studies, becoming overall Director in 1991 following the retirement of leading Zionist apologist Walter Laqueur. In doing so he also followed in the footsteps of the risible Jewish “historian,” now also deceased, Robert Wistrich, a figure I have also profiled in the past.

The origins of the Wiener Library, Cesarani’s new home, go back to 1920s Germany. In 1919 Alfred Wiener, a German Jew, grew increasingly concerned at the rise of anti-Semitism following the end of the First World War. Wiener began working with the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (whose name was meant to suggest that Jews were simply a community of religious faith) to combat anti-Semitism through a vast number of propaganda efforts. From 1925 he perceived a greater threat from the NSDAP than any other anti-Semitic group or party, and under his influence an archive was started to collect information about the National Socialists, which subsequently formed the basis of Jewish campaigns to undermine their activities. Wiener and his family fled Germany in 1933 and settled in Amsterdam. Later that year he set up the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) at the request of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association.  The JCIO essentially continued the work of the earlier archive — disseminating pro-Jewish propaganda and conducting espionage and surveillance activities on activists known to be fighting Jewish influence. The “archive” and the base of operations arrived in Britain in 1939. Increasingly the JCIO was referred to as “Wiener’s Library” and eventually this led to its renaming. Still active today, the “Library” has always played a key role in shaping ways of seeing the Jewish past and present. In short, it remains an organ of propaganda, and Cesarani was one of its chiefs.

Under Cesarani’s leadership “the Library” became more tightly focused on the cultural trope known as “the Holocaust” than it had been under its predecessors. In 1992 he was instrumental in pushing the British government to introduce a War Crimes Act, absurdly enabling British courts to try individuals for offences allegedly committed in Germany during the Third Reich. Shortly afterwards he was at the heart of the British government’s introduction of “Holocaust education” into the national school curriculum.  He left the Library briefly in October 1995 to take up the David Alliance Chair in Modern Jewish Studies at Manchester University, returning in the summer of 1996.

He arrived back at “the Library” during an important spike in Jewish propagandist activity. Since the 1980 initiation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum project, Jewish groups in Europe had been agitating for similar establishments in all European capitals. The process was given added pop-culture impetus by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Schindler’s List, a masterwork in the demonization of the German people and the elevation of Jews to a status of supernatural and cherubic innocence. With new streams of Hollywood-influenced non-Jewish supporters, the agitation for Holocaust “memorials” gained pace rapidly. From 1996 to 2000 Cesarani was at the heart of co-ordinating and directing such efforts in Britain, eventually taking the lead role in establishing a permanent Holocaust exhibition in London’s Imperial War Museum, as well as the fixture of a Holocaust Memorial Day in the British national calendar. His mission accomplished, when the exhibition opened in 2000 Cesarani left “the Library” for the last time, taking up a position at the University of London. Once there, he began his familiar work of steering the institution towards an emphasis on “the Holocaust.”

Aside from his efforts in advancing the cruder manifestations of the Holocaust industry, as an enemy of White identity, Cesarani had his moments, but was generally ineffective. The cause closest to his heart was imposing limits on free speech, and he was a constant (if lazy and inept) contributor to any debate on the subject. He was particularly exercised by the phenomenon known among the enemies of free speech as “Holocaust denial.” After witnessing the success of Austrian Nationalists in 2008, Cesarani took to print and television to warn anyone who would listen that “Holocaust education” was “bouncing off” a seemingly impervious far right, particularly the younger generation. He was equally mortified by the apparent truism that even in “liberal democracies” there were those who evidenced “pleasure, not to say envy, at the naughtiness, taboo-breaking, and defiance of conventional wisdom” displayed by anti-establishment “neo-Nazis.” Arguing for the introduction of criminal laws and prison sentences for those who advocated “far right views,” Cesarani explained that “the fractional loss of liberty entailed in penalizing the expression of neo-Nazi views or Holocaust denial seems a small price to pay compared to what can follow if the far right is shielded all the way into power.”

Predictably, Cesarani was also a keen advocate of harsh restrictions on internet freedoms, and saw the legal entanglements experienced by David Irving as a good benchmark to work towards. Cesarani claimed that in the age of the internet “the classic arguments for freedom of speech drawn from Voltaire and Mill are redundant. … Amid [the internet’s] anarchy, all that decent people can do is agree to reasonable limits on what can be said and set down legal markers in an attempt to preserve a democratic, civilized and tolerant society. The sentence on David Irving shows where the line is drawn.”

Following the infamous Lipstadt trial, the punishment meted out to Irving by the courts and a coterie of establishment historians, including Cesarani, may have served to finally quiet a growing movement of “Holocaust deniers,” but it hardly stood on firm foundations. Cesarani would later confess to Die Zeit that even with an apparently all-star (and very handsomely paid) array of world-class Shoah “experts,” “there were indeed some scary moments. When Robert Jan Van Pelt testified, we were all mildly shocked that even such an outstanding expert as he was not in a position to establish clarity on such things as the disposal of murdered Jews.”

Robert Jan Van Pelt: Another very wealthy Holocaust “expert.”

Robert Jan Van Pelt: Another very wealthy Holocaust “expert.”

For much of his own career, and very surprisingly for a self-styled “Holocaust expert,” Cesarani avoided such difficult questions as vanishing mountains of corpses by simply avoiding writing anything about “the Holocaust.” His sole production touching directly upon the years 1933–1945 was an anodyne biography of Adolf Eichmann. The merits of this work were limited to its overwhelming reliance on, and exploration of, a forgotten Israeli cache of Eichmann material, gathered prior to and during the German’s 1961 show trial and later placed on floppy disc. The subject matter of the biography was one of the most frequent talking points between Cesarani and me, and the Londoner freely admitted to me (as I believe he has to others) that his own discovery of the cache had come about purely by accident rather than detective effort. Research methodology and originality were never his strong points.

As for the tome itself, its greatest weakness was that it avoided detailed discussion of the crimes Eichmann was alleged to be directly complicit in. Cesarani weakly argued in the Introduction that this would “obscure the man himself,” and offered that it would be better to focus on “the personal, social, political and ideological dynamics that account for the direction his life took.” The result was a remarkably bloodless book that nevertheless made pretentions to analyze the misdeeds of a supposed mass murderer.

As an already seasoned observer of Jewish myth-making, to me it was just another example of Jewish intellectuals publicizing a singular event known as “the Holocaust” without ever actually researching it, providing tangible evidence for it, or even daring to write about its alleged specifics.

Cesarani’s other monographs fell even further from the Holocaust tree. These included an incredibly biased book on Britain’s fight with Jewish terrorists in post-1945 Palestine and a mediocre and unoriginal biography of Benjamin Disraeli. Perhaps most indicative of Cesarani’s slippery style, however, was his biography of Arthur Koestler. After he published Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind in 1998, he became embroiled in a bitter feud with Michael Scammell, a fellow academic and Koestler’s official biographer, and Julian Barnes, the novelist and friend of Koestler. At the heart of the feud was the nature of Cesarani’s use of the Koestler archive — he had been permitted access only for specific materials and not for the production of a biography. Accused of being an intellectual pick-pocket, Cesarani rejected the charge, insisting in a masterful employment of Talmudic logic that his book was a biography of Koestler’s Jewishness and therefore not, strictly speaking, a biography.

The Koestler fiasco illustrated not just Cesarani’s willingness to play fast and loose with how he treated the sources and materials of others, but also his welcoming of controversy if he perceived personal gain. The controversy boosted sales, but they were already high because of controversial aspects of the book’s contents. The London Jew had sprinkled the pilfered findings from the official archive with a number of candid interviews with people who had interacted with his subject. The interviews revealed tales of rape, abuse, and egomania bordering on insanity. The portrayal of Koestler, the famed “anti-Fascist,” that emerged from Cesarani’s book was that of a sadistic, violent, sexual pervert who revelled in humiliating his victims.

As I look at the bookshelves in my study, I see the Koestler and Eichmann biographies sitting side by side, revealing in their position and content more than a little irony. Simply by following the source material more or less to its inevitable conclusion, Cesarani found himself as the biographer who emphasized the normality and health of one of the most maligned and notorious German SS officers, and also the biographer who emphasized the degeneracy, perversion and neuroses of one of the twentieth century’s most famous and celebrated Jewish intellectuals.

Whether or not this was ever Cesarani’s intention is now beside the point. I personally heard him on a few occasions making honest statements about Jewish political activism that would have attracted the wrath of the ADL had he been one of us. Despite his unrelenting Jewish activism, even in private conversation Cesarani was liable to make frank admissions and concessions to truth if enough factual weight could be brought to bear on the matter.

However, these were always tactical retreat with the goal of damage limitation — calculated concessions that would enable him to regroup and reposition his argument in a manner once more favorable to Jewish interests. Rare as it was, this habit of repositioning was a feature of his career. Aware that the tide of scholarship on Jewish aspects of World War II has been shifting rapidly for around a decade now, I was therefore intrigued about what he might finally have to say on “the Holocaust” if he ever came to write a monograph on the subject. This leads us neatly to Final Solution, Cesarani’s final book.

It is probably worth stressing, before we begin in earnest, that I am not a “Holocaust denier” in the traditional understanding of the term. To wit, I am not preoccupied with quantities of coke, the mechanics of cremation, or the residual properties of prussic acid. I belong to a younger generation of European-descended people who weren’t born before, during, or immediately after World War Two. Like many members of the movement from my generation, while I can clearly see the disastrous effects of “Holocaust education” on young people (and the whole of Germany in particular), I never felt the same urgency to dispel propaganda, specific narratives, or accusations that older movement members seemed desperate to over-turn.

The reasons for the divergence are fairly clear. My generation grew up with news of large-scale ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and Cambodia, with video games and movies in which extreme violence is part of the fun, and in a nihilistic culture that prided itself on iconoclasm. We grew up respecting little and doubting much; we were encouraged to mindlessly rebel. While our cultural disintegration was designed to turn us away from our own roots, it had unwanted side-effects in those of us still clinging to a sense of ethnocentrism. With life itself appearing like one large atrocity, specific claims were little more than “much of a muchness” to many of my peers. Efforts to inform my generation that mass killings had taken place in this or that corner of an East European forest (and four decades before their birth) lacked the power to shock or injure than it might otherwise have done. Our idealism stolen, we had already been indoctrinated to believe that our world was sick and violent. Our cities and news stations awash with gang violence and riots, how could we then express care or surprise at tales of this or that mass shooting? In a world in which crimes against nature are part of our everyday existence, how could the notion of a “crime against humanity” appear anything less than absurd? It is difficult to touch a nerve when that nerve has been desensitized, and I was among the generation that Cesarani had complained “Holocaust education” had bounced off.

In fact, “the Holocaust” as a cultural trope hadn’t entirely bounced off us. We interacted with it, but we found it lacking. Our heart strings weren’t tugged. The reason that we, unlike our predecessors, didn’t need to “deny” the Holocaust was because we didn’t care enough about it. We had been taught to treat with smirking disdain so much in our society — why not one of its most cherished idols? We were taught by MTV and its ilk that offensive humor was “cool” — but it wasn’t so easy to manage what we chose to direct this offensive humor towards. “The Holocaust” is dying as a cultural trope not because of scientific refutation or historical research, but because of the passing of time, the process of historicization, the rapid shrinking of the population of “survivor” propagandists and a culture of apathy that Jews themselves helped to create.

Faced with Jewish exaggeration, we exaggerated our response to it. And this response is becoming dominant. When Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence “chatbot” recently made its appearance online, intended to reflect trends in contemporary internet discourse, it very quickly announced that “Hitler was right” and called for a race war. The Guardian reported after the incident that the “bedrock“ of modern “anti-Semitism” was “offensive humor, irony and moral relativism.” Some of the key weapons of the Left have been hijacked.

Epitomizing these trends are two important alt-right productions founded by young activists, The Daily Stormer (founded by 31-year-old Andrew Anglin) and Mike Enoch’s The Right Stuff. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show now finds a rejoinder in The Right Stuff’s mocking “Daily Shoah” podcast. Stretching even further is Anglin’s over-the-top, provocative-to-the-max Daily Stormer, which features intentionally extreme, tongue-in-cheek headlines penned by young writers employing monikers like “Grandpa Lampshade.” Breaking taboos left and right, this large and growing group of young people, born in the dying embers of a great race, have poured scorn and irreverence on a succession of Leftist sacred cows, in the process claiming a place for themselves as members of the true counter-culture.

My own style and approach to these matters is obviously much different, since I prefer the footnote to the punchline, but the underlying ethos (total apathy towards the idea of a Jewish monopoly on suffering) remains the same. The “Holocaust,” understood in stripped-down terms as the fact that Jews endured mass casualties during a war in which mass casualties were the norm, was to me always merely a label for an aspect of World War II — a war waged by Germany’s own admission against the same Judaeo-Bolshevism that had a blade at Europe’s throat. But World War II was more than a result of Germany’s expansionist war aims, or its ideological trajectory. In fact, World War II was a series of overlapping conflicts, one of them unleashing decades, if not centuries, of suppressed inter-ethnic tensions in which Jews were frequently active and violent participants. Mass casualties in such a conflict would be inevitable, and the number of deaths on all sides was indeed significant. But honest, full, and unbiased accounts of why this inter-ethnic catastrophe occurred remain absent from the mainstream, and extremely rare in scholarship.

There is nothing mysterious to me about ethnic conflict, past or present. Indeed, the only question is why it should ever have been portrayed as mysterious or of cosmic moral significance in the first place. On top of this, when approaching “the Holocaust” one has to contend with the infamous Jewish habit of exaggeration, and the labelling of the National Socialist regime as uniquely and supernaturally evil. I have waited some time for a treatment of National Socialism’s interaction with European Jewry that dispels with myth and unsophisticated slurs. Imperfect, punctuated by Cesarani’s trademark contradictions, and “borrowing” heavily from the work of young Eastern European scholars unburdened by Jewish supervision, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews, 19331949 is a slight tactical retreat in this direction. And it is to the content of the late David Cesarani’s last monograph that we now turn our attention.

Go to Part 2.

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