Holocaust Lesson: Genocide Always in the Name of ‘Human Rights’
Every single act of genocidal aggression is couched in the language of human rights and the need for self-determination for minorities. One of the most infamous began as a supposed struggle to defend the human rights of an oppressed minority group, as an innocent demand for self-determination. All Hitler wanted was to achieve self-determination for the Sudeten Germans, to free them from 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 the best 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. Sound familiar?
The modern Czechoslovakian state came into existence in 1918; 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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. On the whole, the Sudeten Germans enjoyed better treatment than any other national minority in Europe.
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.
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 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.”)
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. 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. 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. 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. 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 territory.
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. 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.
German propaganda immediately 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 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. 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.”
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.
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 self-determination.
“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 living.
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 inevitable, as such demands have long been heard by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Arab states. Arabs of the Galilee, the Negev, the Triangle, and then those in Ramla, Haifa, and Jaffa will also demand their self-determination. A Galilee Liberation Organization is 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 destruction.
So 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 the legitimacy “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. It does not.
Such people ignore 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. This historic pattern should give pause to anyone hearing appeals about the rights to self-determination.
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. If the Arabs ever get their way and get to carry out a second Holocaust against Jews, it too will be in the name of protesting “abuses” of “human rights” and the need for self-determination for “Palestinians. But the ruse of Arab fascists and their fellow travelers is not new.
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 Arabs already have 22 states. More than any other ethnic group on earth. They deserve no more.
The West must recognize that any form of “Palestinian self-determination” will result in a major escalation of Arab aggression and terror, seeking a new genocide of Jews.
Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds a PhD in economics from Princeton. He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about the Hamas and Jewish Enablers of the War against Israel.