An interview with Dr. Hajo Meyer
by David Zlutnick
From January 24th to February 19th Dr. Hajo Meyer traveled through twelve cities in the US as well as Toronto on a speaking tour titled “Never Again for Anyone,” discussing his own experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust and his perceptions of Zionism and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. For more information about the tour you can visit www.NeverAgainforAnyone.com.
Dr. Meyer sat down with me for a video interview before the last stop of the tour in Los Angeles. You can view an 8 minute edited selection of the video here. What follows is an edited transcription of part of the interview.
Los Angeles, February 19, 2011–
DZ: Could you start by introducing yourself, stating your name and giving a bit of background about yourself?
HM: My name is Hajo Meyer, I was born in August 1924 in Beilefeld, western Germany. And so I am 86 years old. And I had to leave Germany in January 1939 because from November 1938 on I was not allowed to go to school anymore. When in the Netherlands I made my entrance examination to the university still under the German occupation. They allowed that for Jews to be done. Even the German occupation allowed it, under a special setting of Jewish state examination. It occurred in April ’43. Then I went underground and about a year later I was caught and brought to Auschwitz and survived 10 months in Auschwitz.
Could you summarize this idea that you’ve often spoken and written about, the “ethical tradition of Judaism?”
So now we come to a very important point. In my view—I was educated in the tradition of enlightened Reform Judaism, without any relation to the prescripts of Halacha [Jewish religious law] but just to the socio-cultural heritage and the enlightened parts of Judaism…
This ethical tradition is absolutely contrary to everything which is at the basis of Zionism. Because Zionism was created by Mr. [Theodor] Herzel and others at the end of the 19th Century, and in that era it was commonplace to be colonialist, to be racist, to be super-nationalist, to adore the nation-state–so the idea of France for the French, Germany for the Germanics, and then some state for the Jews. This all formed the basis for Zionism.
Zionism and Judaism are contrary to each other. Because Judaism is universal and humane, and Zionism is exactly the opposite. It is very narrow, very nationalistic, racist, colonialist, and all this. There is no “National Judaism.” There is Zionism and there is Judaism, and they are completely different.
[Zionism] has nothing to do with Judaism. Because Judaism, as I learned it–the Reform Movement–that is highly, highly ethical. And so, you cannot connect Zionism with “highly ethical.” You can only connect the words “aggressive,” “oppressive,” “stealing,” “robbing” with Zionism. But not “highly ethical.”
Inter-human ethics is a product of evolution. So we have a center in our brain that gives us the feeling of empathy so if we see someone suffer we get the impulse, “Can I help you?” That is a very important insight that I saw in Auschwitz—that if a dominant group wants to dehumanize others, so as the Nazis wanted to dehumanize me, this dominant group must first be dehumanized in a way themselves by diminishing their empathy due to propaganda and indoctrination to enable them to be as cruel as some were. But the same holds nowadays for [Israel’s propaganda and dehumanization].
You, of course, saw first-hand how a populace can be manipulated to dehumanize another population through your own experiences of persecution. And as you just alluded to, you’ve compared the way Zionist ideology and its “us vs. them” mentality is fostered in Israel to what you witnessed in 1930s and ‘40s fascist Europe. Can you explain?
This fact has been documented by at least–I know two impressive documents. One is by Shulamit Aloni who was once Minister of Education in Israel [explaining] how hateful, how racist, how depreciating the school books in Israel talk about the Palestinians. And Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who is a pedagogue in the University of Tel Aviv, has made a big study of the school books and she’s appalled by the racism which is taught to children in Israel.
And then you get, nowadays, the rabbis–especially the Army rabbis–get evermore aggressive and tell the soldiers it’s a mitzvah, so it’s your duty to kill every Palestinian you see… They are so aggressive. They are so racist. And look, it’s so–I am appalled, I am deeply appalled how hateful, how dehumanized [they are] that they do not see any human aspect in any Palestinian anymore. It’s terrible.
You’ve spoken and written that you identify with Palestinian youth living under the Israeli occupation. In what ways do you find yourselves similar?
Well, in that they are very often held up at checkpoints, or they are not allowed to move from one place to another, or their teachers are not allowed to do that… And so very often they cannot get the education they want, and that is terrible.
And I think that fact of my life [the initial denial of the right to education] has been a very important one, because it made me very–if you are not allowed to get an education you do your utter best to go against the forces which made you stop education, and so you search for education. And I learned to get an education by myself for years and eventually had a very high education and was very successful professionally. But it gave me also the idea that preventing people–young people who are eager to learn–from getting an education is a form of genocide. Because if you cannot realize your own ambitions because your access to education is made impossible then you cannot develop your personality, and that is a form of slow-motion genocide. And that’s where my great sympathy and my connection to the Palestinian youth comes from, because I suffered. I think they suffer from exactly that. They very, very often–more often than not–cannot get the education they want and I think that is absolutely murderous.
Besides that, I mean look, I was a refugee and many of them come from refugee homes and are refugees. So we have very much in common, yes.
What were your thoughts of the 1948 War and the founding of the Israeli State at the time?
At that time I still believed more or less the propaganda lies from the Israeli side. I mean, the real eye-opener, how it happened for me–I’m afraid it was quite late–especially about the ‘48 war, was Ilan Pappé’s work, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
Before that–Look, they have such a strong propaganda machine that it takes you a hell of a lot of study and knowledge and travel to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to see what the reality is. So it took me quite awhile. I mean I started to get critical with Begin and Sharon, and Sabra and Shatila, etc. and then my eyes started to open. So it took me quite awhile.
So it sounds like for several decade you were believing—
I was believing their stories, their lies, yes.
How do you see the holocaust being represented–or misrepresented–in the Zionist narrative?
The Zionists have not any right whatsoever to use the Holocaust for any purpose because they consider people like me–they talked about us as “useless human material.” So, first of all I’m not useless. And secondly, I am human, but I am not material. So I feel deeply, deeply–I could feel if I did not despise these people who use such words so much, I could feel offended…
And like Netanyahu did the other day in the General Assembly of the United Nations, he used the number on my arm–or the number on our arms–to defend a coming attack on Iran. They have nothing to do with each other…
[Zionists] have given up everything that has to do with humanity, with empathy, for one thing: the state. The “blood and soil,” just like the Nazis. I learned in school about blood and soil, and that’s exactly their idea, too.
Critics of Israel are often accused of anti-Semitism, and Jewish critics are often labeled as “self-hating Jews.” You’ve had these accusations leveled against you. What is your response?
The journalist who reports from Berlin for the Jerusalem Post, I think it’s Mr. [Weinthal], he has a spotlight on me. So I have the honor of being quoted as an anti-Semite or whatever in the Jerusalem Post, and I cannot get higher honors than to be one of the people like Jimmy Carter, or Noam Chomsky, or Norman Finkelstein, and former [Dutch] Prime Minister Dries van Agt. So I’m very proud to be an anti-Semite.
Because formerly an anti-Semite was somebody who hated Jews because they were Jews and due to their Jewish nature and their race… Nowadays an anti-Semite is somebody who is hated by a certain type of Zionist. Like one of the important Nazi leaders, Göring, said, “I determine who is a Jew.” And so the Zionists determine who is an anti-Semite. And as I say, I’m proud to be one of those.
There is a famous image of Israeli Air Force bombers flying over Auschwitz. Have you seen this photograph?
I haven’t seen it but I’ve read about it quite recently.
What feelings does it envoke in you?
Well, this belongs to the misuse of the fate which the Nazis had reserved for us… I’ll tell you one thing, in many Israeli schools before they finish school, the kids are taken to Auschwitz. And Idith Zertal, who is an Israeli-Jewish historian, wrote a book called [Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood]. And she writes there about this visit to Auschwitz and she says these young people are taken to Auschwitz in order to instill in them love for their country. And also, to take away the good feelings they might get when they have to perform the tasks this state will ask from them, sooner or later, when they are soldiers of the occupation.
And finally, do you see any hope of salvaging the tradition of ethical Judaism in the future?
Look David, to be quite honest, I wonder if there is much future for Judaism. Because one of my great fears… The Israelis—the Zionists—if they have the slightest chance to go down as a country they will take the whole world with them. They don’t give a damn about the world. The only thing they give a damn about is this Zionist state, Israel, and nothing else. And they don’t care if the Jews go down, because they have nothing to do with these Jews who live elsewhere and don’t want to come to their blessed and paradisaical country called Israel.
David Zlutnick is a documentary filmmaker living and working in San Francisco. His latest project is called Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine (2010), a feature documentary that studies Israeli militarism, examines the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, and explores the work of Israelis and Palestinians organizing against militarism and occupation. You can view his work at www.UpheavalProductions.com.