Identity, Politics

A family tradition

The son of a good family who stole apples from a cart did not become a thief overnight. The deed has its roots in previous generations. Perhaps his very pious grandfather hid behind the bimah of the synagogue in the name of humility, but the act contained a trace of deception (geneivas daas) because he was acting more pious than he really was. His scholarly son went a step further and “stole” chiddushei Torah from other scholars by reciting them in his own name. The grandson, in turn, became an apple thief.
–Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka
If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.
George W. Bush

Last week the BBC uncovered evidence of President George W. Bush’s grandfather Prescott Bush‘s involvement in a 1933 plot to overthrow FDR in a famous coup that would have replaced American democracy with a fascist dictatorship. The coup was the subject of the acclaimed 1973 book The Plot to Seize the White House.

Document uncovers details of a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by right-wing American businessmen.
The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression.
Mike Thomson investigates why so little is known about this biggest ever peacetime threat to American democracy.

Listen to the entire documentary here.
The BBC’s revelation is compounded by the fact that Bush and his partner E. Roland Harriman served as allies of Fritz Thyssen, the German industrialist who financed Hitler’s ascent to power and the Nazi war machine. Bush and Harriman’s bank, the Union Banking Corp., was seized under the Trading With The Enemy Act in 1942. Harriman was also a major financial contributor to the American eugenics movement, which advocated, among other things, the forced sterilization of non-white Americans.
The current president’s policies seem to be an extension of his grandfather’s thinking. Bush’s latest string of Executive Orders are so disconcertingly undemocratic and un-American that even the Right-wing is growing leery. Last week, Bush signed an order that would enable him to seize the financial assets of anti-war activists. And in his most troubling move to date, on May 9, Bush signed an order that states that in the event of another terror attack on U.S. soil, the legislative and judicial branches of government would become subservient to the executive. This move is precisely how Hitler concretized his power following the Reichstag fire.
Of course, this is not to say that Bush is a genocidal maniac, but rather that his policies pose an existential threat to American democracy.
Welcome to the new fascist era, kids.
Don’t say we never warned you.
[Update 7/29 10:15PM]

From: Daniel Sieradski
Subject: Question on Godwin’s Law
Date: July 29, 2007 3:59:52 PM EDT
To: Mike Godwin
Hi Mike,
My name is Dan Sieradski and I’m the editor-in-chief of […] I contacted you once before, I believe, with regards to a panel I had attempted to put together that explored the question “when is it okay to call someone a Nazi.”
Sadly, it never came together. Nonetheless, this issue is still pertinent, especially now with Bush’s passage of an executive order on May 9 that would make the legislative and judicial branches of government subservient to the executive in the event of another terror attack on U.S. soil. (Details here.) As you may be aware, following the Reichstag fire, this is precisely the procedure Hitler used to concretize his power.
I was just wondering if you could offer a perfunctory statement to my readers on this matter, seeing as how that, in response to making a comparison between these two policies, I have been accused of violating, well, your law.
The question is, essentially, why is it out of bounds to draw comparisons between specific policies of the Hitler and Bush regimes that achieve the exact same ends (in this case, eradicating constitutional checks and balances and enshrining the authority of the executive)?
I’ve CC’d Rabbi Dr. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, who has taken the position that it is never acceptable to draw comparisons to Hitler, and who on this subject, I also invite to offer his thoughts.
Daniel “Mobius” Sieradski


From: Mike Godwin
Subject: Re: Question on Godwin’s Law
Date: July 29, 2007 8:04:36 PM EDT
To: Daniel Sieradski
Hi, Daniel.
I get requests like yours from time to time, and my best answer has been to refrain from telling anyone whether it’s appropriate to cite or invoke Godwin’s Law (which, like any other 17-year-old, tends to operate independently from what its parent may dictate).
I will say that I crafted Godwin’s Law with an eye to keeping the memory of the Holocaust and other horrors of the Nazi era alive and in perspective — I was worried that the overuse of Nazi comparisons would trivialize a historical effort that we’d do better to remember in all its magnitude and detail.
That said, I have watched the progress of the Bush Administration with great fear and trembling, and of course I disapprove of many and perhaps most of its policies.

Alright kids — question: How can we uphold the credo of “never again” if we view the Holocaust as a singularly unique event to which there can be no parallels ever drawn? How do we learn the lessons of the Shoah if we cannot refer to history in order to identify consistencies between history and current events, particularly when such comparisons may serve as a warning signal that may help us evade another tragedy? And with regards to the politicization of the Shoah, why is it acceptable to make comparisons between Ahmadinejad and Hitler, but not between Bush and Hitler? Discuss.
See also: “Compulsions of an Anti-Anti-Semite” @ JSpot – Keith Ellison sideswiped by ADL over Bush-Reichstag reference.

32 thoughts on “A family tradition

  1. Mobius, you’ve convinced me, George Bush is a fascistic, maniacal, Jew hating retarded criminal who intends to kill everyone of us he can and lock the rest up forever. And his evil spawn daughters are equally poluted, and Jews, the Republic, and those who think correctly are in grave danger so long as he or any of his heirs walk the face of the earth.
    Do you feel better now?

  2. back in the 1930’s, you scoffed at your fellow jews’ warnings the very same way. don’t be absurd you said. it could never happen in germany. and then you went up the chimney.

  3. or attacking my credibility by denouncing the comparison between bush and hitler’s policies without actually examining them and noting the consistency between them is just a way of delegitimizing criticism of bush’s policies.

  4. Mobius – nothing person here i promise – but can i ask you a question?
    Did you have direct family (gradparent /great-gradparents) who either died in, or survived the Holocaust?
    Are you a child/grand-child of a survivor?
    it related to a study that my mothers oganisation ‘Talking Matters’ has been involved with.

  5. all four of my grandparents are survivors who either escaped or were liberated from the camps and who lost their parents and siblings during the shoah. artscroll published my grandmother’s holocaust memoir, going forward. my other grandmother was interviewed by the shoah visual history foundation. my father was born in a DP camp in germany. and my mother is on the board of the american gathering of jewish holocaust survivors and their descendants, of which i am the webmaster.

  6. The great-great granchildren of the pogroms will never see the world in same way as the grandchildren of the Holocaust. Not on the right; not on the left.

  7. Its not the Hitler thing. You don’t have to be Hitler to be evil. But how past Bush is it to start rounding up muslims or arabs after the terror attack which makes the entire government subservient to him?
    History doesn’t repeat itself. Let’s judge evil bush on his evil merits.

  8. “The great-great granchildren of the pogroms will never see the world in same way as the grandchildren of the Holocaust. Not on the right; not on the left.”
    Can you ellaborate on this a bit, DK? Just curious…

  9. Mobius-
    While I am totally inline with your critique of the current Bush administration, this isn’t close to a useful comparison. Outside of the Hitler is Bush/Bush is Hitler issues, the info you present is about his grandfather and what he did in the 1930/40s. Is that to say that every German whose grandfather was a member of the Nazi party is a Nazi today? That is just not true. While some of the accusations you make seem to make sense, are they helpful?

  10. Mobius makes a great point. This is a political comparison, and his point is one of “family tradition”–that this man was raised in a family which in its not so far past had a major Nazi sympathizer, and clearly a man who espoused to fascist ideology. We live under a fascist government, Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security has repeatedly layed claim that “we function with a fascist economy.” Mobius is presenting the much-needed, rarely-heeded warning that our current ruler has changed laws so as to impede the democratic process. People should read the report titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” composed by the Project for a New American Century (available on their website) and read the document published September 2000 in retrospect of what ensued the following year and six which followed. So when Bush passes legilastion in effect giving the option to make himself dictator, their is good reason for all of us to worry. The comparison is apt in that Hitler seized dictatorial power under the guise of a “false flag,” if it happened once what is to stop it from happening again?

  11. Ephraim,

    Overall, the post-war Jewish community has exhibited a greater wariness towards U.S. white Christians than the pre-war community, as well as a preference for general activist tendencies, and perceive intolerable anti-Semitism emanating from them more frequently than the rest of us do.

    On the religious right — haredism was introduced in a way that did not exist pre-war in this country, as well as aspects of continuing to view the U.S. as the “treifa medinah.”

    On the secular right, Neo-conservatism is a global search for spreading idealism, in a way that the classic (though minority) Jewish republicans never were interested in, nor was there a belief that what was good for Israel was good for the U.S., even if they were sympathetic to Israel.

    On the Left, the social-democrats and classic liberals did not invoke “tikkun olam” as a constant refrain, or see the U.S. as the world’s policeman. These people often do, not unlike their inverse partners, the Neocons. This community seems to be most interested in social-revolution, perhaps because they view U.S. white Christians as inherently hostile to Jews, and view others as fellow victims, an interpretation of American Jewish history quite different–at least in intensity–that those who descend from the pre-War community.

    I think those of us who prefer a more moderate and cautious stand — be it Left or Right — are often browbeaten into silence, or overwhelmed by philanthropists, and an organizational Jewish community that is disproportionately influenced by post-War Jews, backing policies and speaking on the Jewish community’s behalf while wrapping their position with the memory of the Holocaust.

    Remember, there was a twenty year break between the pre-war Jewish community and he post-war Jewish community, as the doors to America closed in 1925. They are disproportinately motivated and affiliated within a Jewish activist context. They have taken over the American Jewish world in may ways.

    I have to admit — I resent it.

  12. Mobius wrote,

    “How can we uphold the credo of “never again” if we view the Holocaust as singularly unique event to which there can be no parallels ever drawn?”

    We should drop the credo “never again.” We have already had Pol Pot, and the ethnic cleansing of the Mandaeans has occurred under our watch in Iraq, as well as the cleansing of whites in Zimbabwe. Additionally, our own Holocaustian leaders who insist this is their motto refuse to recognize the genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Turks. So let’s drop it, as this proved over overly ambitious, and politically unfeasible.

    We could do, “Never for Jews again unless a nuke is detonated in Israel or New York,” but again, why bother? The situation has changed, and so have the threats.

    Not everything is in our control. Why not accept that?

  13. The Ellison comparison was not to the Holocaust but to the seizure of power by the Nazi Party. This is not the same historical event. I grew up in Israel, and we were taught that the Holocaust is that portion of European history that involved the murder of Jews on a wholesale (not retail) basis.
    I think the silencing of people by the right wing Jewish shoah police is a form of McCarthyism. Shut up already, unless someone makes an explicitly false, offensive in intent, or blatantly anti-Semitic comment.
    And also, why not pressure Israel to recognize the Armenian genocide and stop locking up Darfurian refugees….

  14. Thanks for clarifying.
    I don’t know if i agree with the extent that you paint pre-war Jewish Americans as non ideological and not moved to activism or global-scale change (they were largely responsible for the American labor movement, for one), but it was activism of a very different sort. I wouldn’t call it moderate, and i wouldn’t call it not-Jewish, but it wasn’t mired in the same kind of reactionary identity politics as we see post-war.

  15. Ephraim,
    Jews by and large worked in labor during this period, and were directly affected by these labor movement issues.

  16. Mobius – i think that’s it. Thank you for sharing, you list it off like its something to be proud of.
    It is obvious to me, i’m not culturally Jewish, because i don’t share the Holocaust as part of my Jewishness.
    None of my imidiate family are survivors or died – as my dad is Safardi and my mom’s parents and grandparents (mostly) came to England at the turn of the C20th.
    This means that although – i went to Jewish/Zionist schools and learnt from a VERY early age (I think we went to Yad Va Shem aged 10 years old!!!) all of the atrosities that took place in the War to the Jews, I had NO personal exposure to the emotional and pschological fallout.
    I have never really experienced any kind of real anti-semitism, apart from the occational drive by – “JEW” with a Nazi salute, but however ruffled my feathers got, it’s just not the same, i just don’t feel the same way Mobius or other feel about being Jewish, about Nazis, about perceived Anti-Semitism and the like.
    It’s almost as though I’m part of a different religion, one that doesn’t identify with the Holocaust at all.
    I don’t see it’s relevants to my personal Jewish Identity, or my relationship with God, Torah and Judaism.
    That’s not to say I don’t have my own personal messed up issues with the whole lot of it, but it’s got nothing to do with the millions of people who died in europe some 70 years ago.
    ANd that’s why i’ve got such a thing with you Mobius, not cos i’ve ot anything against you per say – i don’t you – as you’ve mentioned, but i do find the whole ‘Jewish’/anti-semitic/nazi/ victimized zine, just a tad borring.
    but that just means i’m an anti-semitic goy!

  17. About the “never again” issue – there is a (famous, I discovered) southern folk tale about a kid named Epaminondas. Epaminondas kept on solving today’s problem with the techniques designed specifically for yesterday’s problem. our “never again” policy is just like that. We keep looking around for 1930s Germany, forgetting it doesn’t have to be the Holocaust to be evil, or that measures which might have prevented the 1940s holocaust may be just those which promote the 2040s holocaust (e.g. putting all the Jews in one place, making Judaism nothing but a struggle for the survival of the Jewish ethnos, add your own ideas here).
    Thus – Bush is evil. his executive orders, passed when he thought nobody was looking becuase of the democratic campaign, will no doubt be used someday, and maybe even by the next guy or gal in the white house.

  18. Yeah, most of the jews involved in the labor movement did work in labor, but for many of them involvement wasn’t limited to improving their own working conditions and letting it be. Many pre-war american jews (i only know from the left, admitedly) were deeply ideological and deeply internationalist in their visions and articulated these ideologies from their experiences and identities as jews. It just didn’t come with the kind of all encompasing paranoia and xenophobia as post-war ideology. The very reason they could be internationalists was through a belief that humanity was pretty much good and that solidarity with non-jews was not only possible but the only viable option.
    I think your distinction holds, by and large (though some of the most vociferous Holocaustians are children and grandchildren of the pre-war community – something that never quite made sense to me), but it’s not as simple as saying these folks are activists and these other folks aren’t. It’s a matter of what kind of activism and how.

  19. That article is CRAP – I’ve lived in the UK for almost 30 years – i look Jewish I wear a ‘Jewish’ Garb on Shabbos, and i can tell you the only people interested in Anti-Semitism are Jews.
    It is a pathetic, self-sustaining circle of victimization that the Jewish community nationwide perpetuates, via it’s eductational programmes, CST, Media/Press etc… We create a nation of victims tell them that everyone hates them and wants to kill them, tell them that they are really MUCH better than non-Jewish Goys, in many ways.
    And wonder why Anti-semitism exists?
    For more than we are all ready to accept Anti-Semitism is self inflicted – self-perpetuated.

  20. Here’s a question:
    Is there a way to call someone a facist without calling them a Nazi? There were many places in the world that were facist – and not all of them embraced anti-Semitism – (Spain for example and to a lesser extent Italy).
    We need to be able to call facist policies and people by what they are, without invoking the Shoah. The Shoah didn’t require a facist system in order to happen – it could have happened under any number of governance systems.
    As I take it Mobius called GWB a facist, not a Nazi, even if the parallel he drew was to a facist who happened to be a Nazi.
    (I’m still mulling over the degree to which I agree with Mobius’ point, but it’s legitimate for discussion in my books).

  21. I think that perhaps part of the problem with these types of words, is that inevitably they do close up discussion and exploration. And in that process, in a sense, Bush and his cronies actually get a pass precisely because those conversations end. One can loathe the policies of this current administration, and see them as an affront to democratic principles while seeing inherent and complete differences with the policies of Nazi Germany (or the Soviet Union, Maoist China, Fascist Italy, etc…). Perhaps more aptly we only need to look within our own history and look at the detainment of the Japanese during WWII, or the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War for parallels? Would anyone compare FDR or Lincoln to Hitler?

  22. Max, do you think its a coincidence the first “authority” cited in the article is Israeli, and that he works for an organization dependant on antisemitism to exist? of course he’d say there was antisemitism – these Sassoon people would make antisemitism crawl out of the ground if they had to (just like the Jewish agency invents Jews in russia and peru when they run out of real ones)!

  23. Maybe it’s not just me, but i also have a problem going to opticians and dentists – who sell you glasses and pull teeth out because THEY said you need it!
    Something that Satra said kind makes sense to me now – that the Jews NEED AntiSemitism to be JEWS!
    Well it seems true for these Jews at least.

  24. Defining ourselves in contradistinction is not a way to have a long lasting and healthy Jewish identity
    The Lubavitcher Rebbe, explains that the first to statements of the 10 commandments represent two levels of Jewish identity.
    The first – I AM the Lord…
    The Second – YOU SHALL NOT …
    the Rebbe explains that the Jewish people did not have the ability to actually hear or understand the first commandment
    the I AM – i.e. Independent Self Definition
    and the Second – defining ourselves in contradistinction to other peoples
    He says that when Moshiach Comes the Jewish People will be able to reach the first level – to define ourselves as ourselves, in and of ourselves, because we are who we are etc…
    The whole of Judaism is just based on the second commandment – don’t be like them…
    it’s not the true Torah that God gave – but the one they could hear – because of their inherent slave mentality

  25. The problem is the denial, both the one implied in making the Third Reich into something “sacrosanct and alien” to human nature, and the denial that similar events can and does occur again and again.
    As long as we choose to put Hitler and his henchmen, his politics and his methods above or beneath human reality – we are indeed doomed to repeat history, doomed to keep denying.
    Some honesty, some courage and some will to see things for what they are, rather than what we wish them to be, goes a long way. But as long as the historical, sociological and philosophical analysis of history in relation to our own times are forbidden through a silent consensus – much similar to that of survivors of the Holocaust, or other human trauma, those that speak up are like voices in the wilderness.

  26. It seems to me that the worst tyrants and worst atrocities can be and should be discussed on their own merits. No one needs to call Stalin “The Russian Hitler” or the Khmer Rouge “Cambodian Nazis.” It’s absurd and is not only disrespectful of the the memory of the Holocaust but to the memory of those other hellish historical events. The only reason to refer to, say, The Rape of Nanking, as a “Forgotten Holocaust” is to just introduce this history to a public that might not be aware that it happened– just to give an idea of the scale of Japanese atrocities in China– but once it enters into the larger public awareness, the word “Holocaust” will likely be dropped from discussions.
    I’m inclined to agree that the Bush administration, in terms of aims and tactics, represents a fascistic wing of the Republican party– but what it shares with Naziism is only what Naziism shares with other Fascist movements (see Umberto Eco’s essay “Eternal Fascism”). Bush is no more anti-Semitic than other fundamentalist Christians, and while I believe him to be responsible for war crimes as recognized by both U.S. and international law, none of these crimes rises to the level of genocide (which is defined by very specific criteria.)
    Nazi-comparisons rarely serve any purpose but demonization and disinformation– just look at all the anti-Israeli propaganda that uses such false comparison or falsely claims that Israel is engaged in genocide in the West Bank.

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