Orangutans, Bears and Jews



Jean Marie Montali (*)

Some time ago, I stopped buying Nutella. Because of palm oil, deforestation and orangutans which are primates from the Hominidae family. No one ever told me “Strange, you’re not an orangutan, are you?”. I also worry about polar bears, which are marine mammals from the Ursidae family, which splash around on ice packs, and for whales, those marine mammals from the Cetacea infraorder, which are harpooned day and night by the Japanese and (I think) the Norwegians, and for elephants which are mammals from Proboscidean order… Yet, no one ever told me: “That’s odd, you’re neither a whale, nor a bear, nor an elephant, are you?”.

I’ve been working on the Shoah for a long time in order to write a book which will be published in october. I am gathering stories, searching archives and looting historians. The Shoah is the extermination of Jews who belong to the human specie. As I do. As you do. I think it’s a good idea: History enlightens the future. And we need light. If we’d be enlightened, maybe Mrs. Knoll would still be alive. Obscurantism kills. Well, since I started this project, people cannot help but say: “How strange, you’re not a Jew, are you?”.

Strange indeed…

The Nazi concentration camp system was a universe entirely devoted to persecution, to confinement, to slavery and eventually, to death at industrial scale. Besides the Jews, political opponents, criminals, stateless persons, Jehovah’s witnesses, anti-socials (a mishmash category which presented the advantage of gathering anybody: from poachers to beggars, from small persistent offenders to handicapped people and, broadly speaking, the “useless”, etc.), from homosexuals to Gypsies and POWs (out of a total of 6 million Russian prisoners, about 1,5 million will survive). But 6 million Jews were exterminated. 6 Million! Men, women, children.

The Nazis’ great project, or idea, was not only to exterminate the Jews. Rather, to set a world where Jews never existed. To achieve this, not only they needed to be killed and their bodies eradicated, but all that could testify of a Jewish existence had to be destroyed or burnt: books, art works, synagogues… everything. The Jews’ past, present and future had to be annihilated, this included the assassination of kids. Amongst those children, how many would have ended up as Einstein, Mendelssohn, Freud or Spinoza? How many would have become doctors, engineers, architects, painters, craftsmen? What have the Nazis deprived humanity of? Not only the sole Jew community but humanity as a whole? The Shoah is our common heritage, of all mankind, Jews or not.

Of course, no one is asked to love the Jews, who are as different amongst themselves as can be any members of any other community.

Yet, the remembrance of these 6 million assassinated people simply must be respected. Rejecting the Shoah or diminishing its monstrosity is crap talking.

Of course, the Nazis have ended in history’s dust bins. But there’s always a fool who can lift the lid and let them crawl outside under a new name, with new slogans, new uniforms, a new chief, a new God. Whatever, as long as blood flows.

Fanaticism, wherever it’s coming from, whether political or religious, is a universal threat, a challenge to humanity, a lethal danger which must not only unite us in our differences, but also wipe out these differences. To differentiate means taking the risk creating indifference. It means preventing everyone from identifying with the victim when, in reality, everyone is threatened.

Indifference is the start of complicity.

* Journalist and essayist, former Executive director of Le Figaro Magazine.