This is why the Holocaust was different

One of the constant refrains of anti-Semites around the world is that the Holocaust was not unique, that others than the Jews were targeted for extinction or mass murder or genocide.

And yet, the more you read about the ruthless, mechanical efficiency of the Holocaust, the more you realize that there was no other quite like it. The Nazis did their best to erase an entire people from the memory of the world.

From 1943 to 1944, nearly 800 Jewish men and women worked — ate, slept, lived — among these objects. Some saw their own possessions or those of family members pass before their eyes, and at that moment understood that they, too, had been slated for internment or deportation.

The contents of each apartment were divided into two groups. Damaged objects or personal ones, like papers or family photos, were burned almost daily in a bonfire at the Quai de la Gare. The other items were sorted and classified by category, rather than source. A saucepan taken from one family would be added to a stack of other saucepans rather than kept in the original set. Stripped of their provenance, items lost their identity. Belongings became goods.

We are still finding caches of items looted from Jews during the Holocaust, and we are still finding disgusting human beings who think that they are the owners of the looted items–and states willing to allow other states to keep the looted items no matter how wrong that is.

The Munich man from whom German authorities confiscated an art trove they believe includes Nazi-looted works broke his silence, saying he isn’t willing to return any of the art to previous owners, including pieces taken from Jews.

“I will not speak with them, and I won’t freely give anything back, no, no,” Cornelius Gurlitt, 80, said to German weekly Der Spiegel of reports that government officials are working to negotiate settlements for many of the works. “When I’m dead they can do with them what they want.”

It’s not his to keep, nor is it his place to negotiate a settlement. Those are stolen artworks, many of them stolen from Jews who were then murdered in the Holocaust. If Germany doesn’t restore every last piece of art, they will be continuing the robbery that was detailed in the piece above.

But the systematic looting and redistribution of everyday goods of little value and often in poor condition suggest a motivation that goes well beyond economic calculation in a time of hardship. Indeed, several Nazi services, including those of Hermann Göring, regularly questioned the financial rationale of Möbel Aktion. If the project endured nonetheless it’s because one of its fundamental objectives was to destroy all trace of the Jews’ very existence.

That was the point of the Holocaust. Hitler failed. His heirs should know better than to allow this piece of trash to keep anything that does not belong to him.

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