Livingstone’s claims so lack any historical accuracy that one is loath to refute them. (Would we ask a scientist to refute claims that the earth is flat?) He has spun this historical fantasy on the back of the Ha’avara agreement, made between the Nazis and German Zionists in August 1933. German Jews were prevented by Nazi regulations from taking their savings out of Germany. Under the agreement, the Palestinian Jewish community bought German agricultural equipment with some of the blocked funds. Jews who came to Palestine from Germany were able to claw back a portion of their funds upon arrival. This agreement generated controversy among Jews and some Nazis. The former were trying to organize a boycott of German goods, which this agreement contravened. The latter disliked anything that helped Jews. To call it collaboration or to say it proves Hitler was a Zionist, though, stretches those terms beyond any meaning.
Livingstone’s attempt to rewrite history has a contemporary political purpose. He is trying to draw a direct line between Nazism and Zionism by equating the two, to claim that today’s supporters of Israel are heirs to the Nazis. Israel becomes more than a place to compensate Jews for their suffering. It becomes a place that flourished thanks to their suffering.
But Livingstone was not alone in his revisionism. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right French National Front, who stands a chance of winning the presidency in the forthcoming elections, contended that France bore no responsibility for the Val d’Hiv roundup of 13,000 Jews in the summer of 1942. The Jews were held for days in searing heat and horrific conditions—little food, water, or facilities—until they were deported. Most ended up in Auschwitz, where they were gassed.
For over two decades French leaders from across the political spectrum have acknowledged that this roundup was instigated by French authorities, conducted by French police, and supervised by French officials. In 1995, French President Jacques Chirac unequivocally declared: “France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum—France, on that day, committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.” To their credit every French president since Chirac has reaffirmed responsibility for this blot on France’s history.
In contrast, Le Pen attacked the fact that French children are taught of their nation’s complicity. “I want them to be proud to be French again.”
In making this claim she echoed her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, the former party leader and a man with a long record of anti-Semitism, who has resurfaced in recent weeks with his oft-repeated statement that the Holocaust and gas chambers were just “details in history.” His assertion that the mechanisms designed and built solely for mass murder are unimportant raises the question: Why then do we hear so much about them?