05 March 2008
Rabbi Joseph Edelheit
Director Religious and Jewish Studies
St Cloud State University
Dear Rabbi Edelheit:
I have read the transcript of your interview with The St. Cloud Times, published on 02 March.
In the interview you come across to me as a decent and civilized man. The immediate purpose of the interview appears to be that the Times wanted your reaction to the fact that someone at St. Cloud U. had scratched a swastika into the wall of the St. Cloud multicultural center, which most of us would agree is a vulgar act, at the very least.
You express real concern over the concept of the “other” in American culture. The “others” you mention include illegal immigrants, Somalis, Muslims, and Jews. You note: “I’m a Jew, and I’m constantly reminded that I’m the ‘other.’” I agree that these feelings are usually present when you are not part of a majority. For myself, my wife is Mexican, my family is Mexican, and we live in Mexico. I have some familiarity with the feelings you express.
At the same time, you identify with the vast majority of those who forward the concept of the “unique monstrosity” of the Germans, while I am part of a minority that doubts it. With regard to this great moral issue, then, I am the “other.” You suggest that the swastika, as symbol, represents those who intentionally killed 6 million Jews and 5.2 million non-Jews. It is universally understood that this “genocide” was accomplished by the Germans using weapons of mass destruction (gas chambers).
Rabbi Edelheit: have you read any of the primary revisionist arguments questioning the evidence alleging that Germans used these WMD to murder millions of innocents? That is, have you ever held a “conversation” with the “others?” I see no sign of it. You would appear to be perfectly at home among the vast majority, while the “others,” a despised minority, risk prison, career, and most everything else to shine the light of day on the charges against the Germans. With your apparent “true belief” in the unique monstrosity of the “other” I believe you risk making of yourself an intellectual and cultural “nativist,” the folk that in other parts of American society are of such concern to you.
With regard to German “gas chambers,” I recently asked Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, author of Denying the Holocaust and other works, if she could provide the name of “one person, with proof, who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” The Auschwitz gas chambers are at the heart of the Holocaust story, at the very heart of the “unique monstrosity” of the Germans. Ms. Lipstadt cannot respond to such a question because her principles do not permit it. That has caused me to pass “The Lipstadt Question” on to faculty in the history and journalism departments at Emory, U Georgia, Columbia, U Wisconsin at Milwaukee, U Kentucky, Colorado U at Boulder.
Our historians do not want to answer the question, and our journalists, on or off campus, do not want to ask it. Neither wants to risk being identified with the “other.” I agree when you say that we need “more texture, more ambiguity” in addressing controversial political and cultural issues. To that end I’m passing this letter on to folk in and around St Cloud State in search of an environment where “texture” and “ambiguity” are prized over assumption and allegation. The starting point? “Can you provide the name of one person, with proof, who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz?”
Note: This letter to Rabbi Edelheit was copied to St Cloud professors in history, journalism, Jewish studies, German, and to working journalists in the campus and off-campus press in St Cloud.