Thursday, April 19, 2012

The REAL Lesson from the Holocaust

It began as a supposed struggle to defend the human rights of an
oppressed minority group. It began as an innocent demand for
self-determination. All Hitler wanted was to achieve
self-determination for the Sudeten Germans, to free them from the
oppression and mistreatment at the hands of democratic Czechoslovakia.
Never mind that the ethnic Germans living under Czechoslovak rule
were being treated infinitely better than were Germans living under
German rule. In fact, the Sudetens were arguably th ebest treated
minority in all of Europe. Never mind that Germans already had
achieved self-determination in the form of nation states – Germany and
Austria, to which Sudeten Germans could freely move. Never mind that
the ONLY reason Germany was demanding self-determination and
independence for the Sudetens was as a ploy to destroy all of
Czechoslovakia and then to carry out genocide.

The world wants us to learn the lessons from World War II? The
world sees parallels between the "suffering" of the Palestinians and
the sufferings of civilians in World War II?

Every single act of aggression in the past 100 years was carried out
in the name of human rights and the need for self-determination for
oppressed minorities.

Here is the REAL parallel, the REAL lesson:
(Published in 1999 – 13 years ago):
Palestinian Irredentism: A Warning from History
by Steven Plaut
Middle East Quarterly
June 1999, pp. 49-56
Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa.

In August 1998, according to press reports, official Israeli analysts
met with Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet ministers to discuss what was
termed the "potential strategic threat" stemming from the Arab
population resident in Israel. Among other things, the report
discussed a "worst case scenario" whereby these Israeli Arabs would
launch a separatist campaign.1 The report went on to draw explicit
comparisons between this threat and the role of Sudeten Germans in
Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.2
The report caused a minor uproar, forcing the government to apologize
later and back down from this characterization of Israel's Arab
citizens as a potential fifth column. Yet the comparison is an
intriguing one, for Israeli Arabs and Sudeten Germans do have much in
common, as recent research has established.3 The historic analogy with
the Sudetens arises with respect to debate over the real motivations
behind demands for Palestinian self-determination, demands sometimes
extended to include Israeli Arabs. Does the Sudeten story of six
decades back in fact have lessons for today?

The modern Czechoslovakian state came into existence in 19184; in the
first of many parallels with modern Israel, it was a country recreated
after centuries, having been destroyed and absorbed by others over the
years. In the Middle Ages, Bohemia and Moravia had been separate Czech
kingdoms, enjoying varying degrees of independence, generally within
the framework of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Hussite rebellion
of the fifteenth century, the Czechs regained their full independence
in a heroic armed struggle that pitted the few against the many. Their
independence was then to be crushed with finality in 1620, and the
Czech lands were absorbed by the Habsburg Empire, while much of the
Czech population was dispersed.

Modern Czech nationalism emerged in the second half of the nineteenth
century. During World War I, Czechs participated in resistance and
espionage against the Axis powers, and their leaders lobbied in
European capitals for independence. After centuries of persecution,
the Czechs reestablished their sovereignty following World War I and
linked up with their Slovakian cousins in the new state of
Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia occupied a strategically central
location; indeed, Bismarck once observed that whoever was master of
Bohemia was master of Europe.

Czechoslovakia contained a diverse and heterogeneous population, like
the Habsburg Empire from which it emerged. In particular, about 23
percent of its citizens were ethnic Germans, concentrated in the
Western section known as the Sudetenland. Most Sudeten Germans were
violently opposed to incorporation within the Czechoslovakian state.
Instead, they identified openly with larger neighboring countries and
fundamentally opposed the very existence of the new state. On October
21, 1918, German deputies from all parts of the former Austrian Empire
convened and issued a call for national "self-determination" for the
Germans of Czechoslovakia, using the term President Woodrow Wilson had
recently added to the international lexicon. In the following year,
Sudeten Germans launched a wave of violent demonstrations and
terrorism in opposition to the inclusion of their lands in the Czech
state. In addition, thousands of Sudeten Germans fled from the new
state to the neighboring countries of Germany and Austria.
In the campaign for Sudeten self-determination, its advocates ignored
the fact that the vast majority of Germanic peoples already enjoyed
self-determination in the form of Germany and Austria, two states
contiguous to the area of Czechoslovakia in dispute. Rather, the
advocates accused the Czechs of being "outsiders" who did not belong
in the region. As Slavs, the Czechs were portrayed as invaders of
Germanic Lebensraum.

The new Czechoslovakia thus included a large element with questionable
loyalty to the state. Czechoslovakia was ruled by social democrats
committed to social reform and egalitarianism; they made attempts to
resolve this problem by winning over the hostile minority through
economic integration, tolerance, freedom, and liberal social reform.
The first Czechoslovakian president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a
powerful, strong-willed, charismatic, and progressive politician,
proposed a comprehensive program of equality for all national groups
in the new state. Indeed, he promoted the integration of the German
minority as an ultimate test of his progressive principles.

Accordingly, Czechoslovakia quickly developed in the 1920s into a
stable parliamentary democracy with protection for all the freedoms
found in modern Western states. A large number of political parties
contested elections and gained representation in the parliament.
Government coalitions of parties were formed after a great deal of
partisan horse-trading. The country passed legislative programs that
were among the most progressive in the world. Trade union activism and
power bloomed, and widespread experimentation with cooperative
agriculture took place.

A pattern of decentralization evolved, where the German minority was
permitted to operate its own schools in its own languages and control
its own local affairs. German was an official national language in the
German areas of Czechoslovakia. Sudeten Germans voted and were elected
to parliament.

Still, Sudeten Germans did have some legitimate complaints. They were
under-represented in the civil service and armed forces, partly
because of security fears. They also experienced some security-related
restrictions, particularly during periods of exterior threats and
tensions. The issue of land ownership was one of extremist political
passion for them. Land owned by Sudeten Germans was expropriated for
defense fortifications, as the Sudeten lands were alongside
Germany—whence any future military threats would come. (The Third
Reich later used these land expropriations as a justification for its
military aggression in 1938.) On the whole, the Sudeten Germans
probably enjoyed better treatment than any other national minority in

However, by 1937 the Sudeten Germans found themselves at the center of
escalating tensions. The radicalization of nationalist movements in
neighboring countries, where power was seized by revolutionary and
xenophobic leaders, led to growing international conflict.
Specifically, the pan-German ideology and imperialist ambitions of the
Third Reich inflamed the Sudeten conflict. Adolf Hitler saw
Czechoslovakia as an integral part of the German national homeland, an
area to be absorbed and integrated into the Reich. He allowed no room
at all for Czechoslovakian self-determination. On March 30, 1938,
Hitler wrote in his diary, "It is my irrevocable decision to destroy
Czechoslovakia by military means in the near future."5

As international tensions grew, Berlin complained more and more about
discrimination and mistreatment of the Sudetens. In response, Sudeten
Germans moved away from peaceful coexistence in favor of polarization
and extremism. Their patterns shifted as frustration peaked, from the
more moderate parties in the 1920s to nationalist parties with
totalitarian ideologies in the 1930s. Their growing nationalist
movement was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, and authoritarian. The
Nazi Party was formally banned in Czechoslovakia but support for the
Sudeten German Party (SdP), the Nazi surrogate party, soared; in 1935
it received 63 percent of the German vote in Czechoslovakia (a higher
percentage than what the Nazis received in Germany in 1933), and 78
percent in 1938.6 The SdP never outlined a political or social program
of nation-building beyond demanding "self-determination."

The SdP used violence to suppress other competing nationalist parties
and asserted its own position as sole spokesman for the Sudeten
Germans. It organized Sudeten refugees who had fled to Germany when
Czechoslovakia became independent and recruited them into the
Heimatbund, a paramilitary organization. This group later formed the
basis of the Sudeten German Freikorps, a terrorist organization to
which 34,000 Sudetens living in Germany were recruited. These
terrorists raided Czech border areas and carried out atrocities until
late 1938. The SdP and other Sudeten political organizations openly
identified with the Nazi Party in Germany. Even in the face of
escalating violence and provocations by the Sudeten Germans, the
Czechoslovak authorities scrupulously maintained freedom of the press.

After coming to power, but especially beginning in 1937, Hitler turned
the issue of Sudeten national rights into his main instrument for
aggression against Czechoslovakia. Self-determination served him as a
means to destroy and annex the country. Funds from Germany flowed into
the SdP coffers and Berlin conjured up imaginary Soviet airfields in
Czechoslovakia and labeled Czechoslovakia "a puppet of Soviet
imperialism." But the most important Nazi assault on Czechoslovakia
was its propaganda machine's denunciation of the supposed torture and
physical abuse of Sudeten Germans at the hands of Czechoslovakia—this
from the regime that had already built concentration camps.

By mid-1937, Hitler simultaneously pressured Prague to make
concessions on the Sudeten issue and completed a military plan for the
conquest of Czechoslovakia. The head of the SdP, Konrad Henlein, went
on a diplomatic offensive, touring western European capitals and
demanding that Sudeten rights be acknowledged. Henlein at first
attempted to convince the European governments that his ambitions were
limited to autonomy for Sudeten Germans. With time, his statements
became increasingly belligerent. On January 1, 1938, he announced that
"The Czechoslovak people must recognize that no settlement will ever
be reached with our great neighbor, Germany, until the Sudeten Germans
are satisfied." In 1938 the SdP adopted the Carlsbad Eight Points, a
manifesto that essentially called for the partitioning of
Czechoslovakia and the secession of the Sudetenland to Germany.

The internal problem of minority "rights" quickly assumed
international dimensions. Responding to Nazi protests, the Western
powers received Henlein with an official welcome of a kind usually
reserved for a head of state. In contrast, as Czech historian Radomir
Luza notes, Czechoslovakia's president Benes was treated "more
cavalierly than if he had been the chief of a tribe in Africa."
This symbolism revealed a deeper outlook as the Western states
pressured Prague to accede to Sudeten demands. In July 1936, Britain's
Foreign Minister Anthony Eden urged Czechoslovakia to grant the
Sudeten Germans full autonomy. Responding to these pressures,
Czechoslovak leaders agreed to negotiate with the SdP and proposed a
program for limited Sudeten autonomy. The SdP, acting under orders
from Hitler, peremptorily rejected the plan. (Nazi foreign minister
Joachim von Ribbentrop advised the Sudeten Nazis: "Always negotiate
and do not let the thread break; but always demand more than the
opposing side can offer.")7 London pressured Prague to sweeten the
plan and agree to a Sudeten plebiscite, though it was obvious that
such a plebiscite would lead to the partition of Czechoslovakia.

Following the Austrian Anschluss (annexation) in March 1938, Sudeten
German violence and mass demonstrations against Czechoslovakia grew,
along with support for the SdP. Henlein escalated his rhetoric,
denouncing the Prague regime as "Hussite-Bolshevik criminals," even as
threats from the Third Reich assumed a more ominous tone. Reports
arrived of German troop concentrations near the Czechoslovak frontier.
At the same time that Berlin prepared for war, it denounced the Czechs
as "the real disturbers of peace in Europe."

Prague from the beginning argued that the issue of Sudeten
self-determination was a red herring, that the real cause of crisis
was the Third Reich's aggressive intentions. The few Western voices
that agreed with this analysis were generally ignored. William Srang,
head of the Central European Department of the British Foreign Office,
warned that the German government is "using the Sudeten German
question as an instrument of policy to strengthen [its] political and
military position." The democracies insisted on seeing the Sudeten
conflict as a question of minority rights and self-determination.
Britain and Germany held talks in September 1938 and issued a joint
statement affirming the rights of the Sudeten Germans, with no mention
at all of the security needs of Czechoslovakia.
Although Czechoslovakia had always maintained that the Sudeten problem
was an internal affair and no business of the world community, in
August 1938, London demanded and Prague had to accept a British
mediator. Lord Runciman, known for his strong Nazi sympathies,
recommended to Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that all
agitation against the Nazis be forbidden inside Czechoslovakia.
Runciman then added: "Czechoslovakian rule in the Sudeten areas for
the last twenty years, though not actively oppressive ... has been
marked by tactlessness, lack of understanding, petty intolerance, and
discrimination, to a point where the resentment of the German
population was inevitably moving in the direction of revolt."
Chamberlain and French prime minister Edouard Daladier accused Prague
of ill-treating the Sudeten minority and so being responsible for
conflict. The European press routinely painted Czechoslovakia prime
minister Benes as a warmonger.

During the negotiations over the mounting crisis, Prague had to accede
under Western pressure to one German demand after another. It agreed
on making the Carlsbad Eight Points the basis for negotiations. The
SdP, under orders from Berlin not to reach a real agreement, met each
new unilateral concession by Prague with new demands. Hitler told Karl
Hermann Frank on August 6 that he had decided to go to war with the
Czechs, even while continuing to negotiate "peace."8 German strategy
called for the negotiations to fail, so that the Reich would have an
excuse to intervene militarily. Henlein was instructed that, in the
unlikely event of Prague's complete capitulation to the Carlsbad
program, to add new demands that would infringe on Czechoslovakia's
ability to formulate its own foreign policy—thereby compromising its
own sovereignty.

As tensions mounted along the borders in the summer of 1938,
Czechoslovakia went on military alert. The Czechoslovak military being
based mainly on a system of emergency reserve mobilization, the
Western states exerted pressure on Prague not to mobilize, so as not
to provoke Berlin. Prague persisted anyway and was denounced by some
in the West for war-mongering.
In late summer 1938, Prague agreed essentially to the whole of the
Carlsbad program. On September 13, before the SdP could formally
respond to this capitulation, an intifada-like revolt broke out in the
Sudetenland. Organized by the SdP, the rioters attacked Jews, Czechs,
and democrats, and fired on many Czechoslovak policemen. As the SdP
leadership fled to Germany, the Czechoslovak army restored order and
established martial law. But London and Paris then increased pressure
on Prague. On September 19, they proposed to transfer to Germany all
parts of Czechoslovakia in which the population was more than half
German; in exchange, they offered Czechoslovakia an international
guarantee for its new boundaries after partition. In fact, no such
formal guarantee was ever received. Earlier, the same two powers had
pledged to defend Czechoslovakia sovereignty over its entire

On September 29-30, 1938, the leaders of Europe met in Munich and
sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia by agreeing to transfer the
Sudetenland to Germany. No Czechoslovak representatives were present.
They apportioned parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany and other parts of
the country were awarded to Poland and Hungary. (See Map 1 above for
the areas given to Germany.) On October 1, the German Wehrmacht
entered the Sudetenland, where most Czechoslovak fortifications
happened to be located with almost no opposition. They then rapidly
expanded the areas under their control. (See Map 2 above.)

The Germans immediately instituted their program of Gleichschaltung,
suppressing the Czech and Slovak languages, confiscating Czechoslovak
property, and forcing at bayonet point the three quarters of a million
Czechoslovaks remaining in the ceded territories to emigrate. At the
same time, German propaganda clamored about the alleged denial of
national and human rights of those Germans still living within the
rump Czechoslovakian state, demanding recognition of their rights to
self-determination. On March 12, 1939, German demonstrations took
place in all the remaining Czechoslovak cities with a German
population. On March 15, the German army completed the destruction of
Czechoslovakia by seizing military control of all the remaining parts
of the country. On March 16, 1939, the German army occupied Prague,
and the rump Czech state ceased to exist. In October 1939 Hitler
arranged for Slovak and Ruthene minorities within Czechoslovakia to
declare themselves autonomous zones, independent of Prague, and then
in November had Prague cede 4,600 square miles of territory to
Hungary. Thus were the Sudeten people at last liberated and granted
their national rights of self-determination. In all these events, not
a single country had lifted a finger to save Czechoslovakia.

In 1938, in the midst of negotiations over the settlement of the
Sudeten conflict, Czechoslovakia's president, Eduard Benes had warned
the West: "Do not believe it [is] a question of self-determination.
From the beginning, it has been a battle for the existence of the
state." Several years later, after Sudeten self-determination had been
granted and Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist as a country,
Benes—then in exile—observed that "such a concept of
self-determination is a priori a denial of the right of
self-determination of ten million Czechoslovakians and precludes the
very existence of a Czechoslovakian state."

The Czech historian Luza observes that "The Sudeten German problem was
not a cause of the conflict but its pretext. The true reason,
according to the Germans themselves, was a refusal of the
Czechoslovakian state to become a German vassal" (emphasis in
original). Years later in January 1942, Hitler confirmed this
observation: "To put it briefly, the Czechoslovakians are a foreign
body in the midst of the German community. There is no room both for
them and for us. One of us must give way."

There are, of course, many differences between the Sudeten story and
the Middle East conflict, the most important being the absence of a
Hitler in the latter. This said, a large number of parallels between
Sudeten and Palestinian self-determination are worth noting.

We know that the ultimate goal of Sudeten "self-determination" was not
some corner of the country but the whole of it, including its capital
Prague; likewise, Arafat announces several times each day that his
goal is Jerusalem. In both cases, the campaign against the
"oppression" of a minority group in fact served as an instrument for
aggression against the state in which they lived. Since 1948, those
who would destroy Israel have steadily insisted that they were acting
out of moral high-mindedness and compassion for their Palestinian
brethren, simply trying to help the latter achieve self-determination,
though their goal is far more aggressive than that.
The campaign for Palestinian self-determination, like its Sudeten
forerunner, has not the slightest connection with concern over the
human rights and civic treatment of Palestinians. Those who
exaggerated discrimination and oppression against the minority showed
little interest in their plight in neighboring German and Arab
countries. The Arabs' assault on Israel has been based on a
determination to drive Israel out of their Lebensraum. As such, theirs
is another example of the twentieth-century tendency to disguise naked
aggression in the self-righteous cloak of promoting

"Palestinian self-determination" serves as the banner for Arab
aggression against Israel. In both cases, the minority group whose
"oppression" formed the rationalization for aggression in fact enjoyed
toleration and democratic rights that were completely absent in the
neighboring countries where its ethnic brethren formed majorities.
Refusal of the neighboring states to accept the presence of an "alien
population and state" within their Lebensraum led to war. Both the
victims of aggression were social democracies and states with
extensive "progressive socialist" structures and high standards of

And the future? If the Oslo process results in Palestinian statehood,
will this end the Middle East conflict or mark an intermediate stage
of transition to a new form? Will the Palestinian state discover the
plight of oppressed and mistreated Arabs remaining in the rump Israel,
much as Germany demanded further concessions for Czech Germans in the
rump partitioned Czechoslovakia? That seems likely, as such demands
have long been heard by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
and Arab states. Will Arabs of the Galilee, the Negev, the Triangle,
and then those in Ramla, Haifa, and Jaffa demand their
self-determination? Is a Galilee Liberation Organization yet to be
heard from?

The world chose to ignore the evidence that demands for Sudeten
self-determination were a Nazi device to disguise military aggression
aimed at destroying the self-determination of another nation; might
something similar happen in the Middle East? It remains to be seen
whether Palestinians will be permitted to fulfill their role, assigned
to them by the Arab states, of the Sudetens of the Middle East.

Western powers have chosen to blind themselves to the misuse of the
campaign for self-determination, and to the ambition by aggressor
states to use "self-determination" to liquidate the target state. The
powers bewail the sufferings of the minority group while ignoring the
fact that the campaign on behalf of their "rights" are serving to
delegitimize and weaken the democratic states being targeted for

Looking to the future, will Great Britain (with its Ulster, Scotch,
and Welsh problems), France (with the Corsicans and Bretons), Belgium
(with the Flemish and Walloons), Spain (with the Basques and
Catalonians), and Canada (with the Quebecois) have any doubts? No,
they are all likely to agree on one thing: the Palestinians are
morally and politically entitled to "self-determination," no matter
how this jeopardizes Israel's security or even, as in the Czechoslovak
case, its very existence. Self-determination for the "oppressed"
minority is assumed to provide an instant, just, and sublime solution
to a conflict. Westerners (and the rest of the world, too) dismiss
challenges to Palestinian self-determination with the same unthinking
and indignant self-righteousness as their grandfathers did in the
1930s with regard to Sudeten self-determination.

But what moral basis is there for such self-determination?
Palestinians always identify themselves as Arabs. That being the case,
why are over twenty sovereign Arab states, in a territory larger than
that of the United States, not sufficient? And if Palestinians are not
Arabs, why do Arab leaders never demand, at least not audibly,
self-determination for those Palestinians not under Israeli
control—such as in Jordan and Lebanon, or in the pre-1967 West Bank?

It has become a matter of near-universal consensus in recent years
that Palestinian self-determination stands at the heart of the
Arab-Israeli conflict. In this view, the lack of such Palestinian
self-determination drives the conflicts and the realization of such
self-determination is the only formula that will lead to Middle
Eastern harmony.

But this outlook ignores the fact that for a century nearly every form
of aggression, irredentism, and xenophobia has wrapped itself in the
banner of self-determination. Twentieth-century aggressors feel a need
to present themselves as defenders of the downtrodden and friends of
those souls seeking self-determination. Other examples of aggressors
claiming to be fighting for self-determination for minorities or for
oppressed peoples include Spain's invasion of Mexico (to protect
tribes from the Aztecs); Japan's invasion of Manchuria, China,
Indochina, and Burma; and Russia's occupation of Eastern Europe. More
recent examples include Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia; Russia in
Afghanistan; Iraq's aggression against Iran and against Kuwait; and
the Serb invasions of its several neighbors, including Bosnia and
Kosovo. If Iran invades Afghanistan, it, too, will rely on
self-determination as a fig leaf for aggression. This historic pattern
should give pause to anyone hearing appeals about the rights to

For decades, Palestinian self-determination has being utilized to
threaten Israeli self-determination. The PLO has often repeated that
Oslo is part of the "plan of stages" by which all of Palestine,
including all of Israel, will be liberated in stages. The Arab states
have been even less reticent about promoting the ultimate goal of
dismantling Israel.

Westerners seem unable to imagine that any form of self-determination
is morally or politically objectionable or ethically deniable;
therefore, they tend to receive the self-determination argument with
understanding and approval. Ever since Woodrow Wilson devised the
term, Westerners have tended to give "self-determination" the benefit
of every doubt, even though many of the most horrific conflicts on the
planet have been fought in the name of just this "self-determination."

The West must recognize that any form of Palestinian self-governance
and "self-determination" must be preconditioned on the complete
preservation and protection of Israeli self-determination.

1 A Gallup poll (Ma'ariv, Oct. 4, 1998), shows 62 percent of Israelis
think it likely that Israeli Arabs (within the Green Line) could
launch their own intifada; 31 percent think it not likely.
2 Ma'ariv, Aug. 16, 1998.
3 Most notably by Arie Stav, Czechoslovakia 1938—Israel Today (Ariel,
West Bank: Ariel Center for Policy Research, 1997).
4 General references include Rudamir Luza, The Transfer of the Sudeten
Germans: A Study of Czech-German Relations (New York: New York
University Press, 1964); Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, The Meaning of Czech
History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974);
Robert M. Smelser, The Sudeten Problem, 1933-1938 (Middleton, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1975).
5 Quoted in Josef Korbel, Twentieth Century Czechoslovakia, (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 123.
6 Ibid., p. 119.
7 Quoted in Smelser, The Sudeten Problem, p. 233.
8 Smelser, The Sudeten Problem, pp. 233-34.

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