Holocaust expert Israel Charny’s new book makes uncomfortable reading, as he asks us to examine ‘a truth we haven’t faced fully enough’
Confronted on a warm, soft Jerusalem evening by one of Israel’s venerable Holocaust scholars – and a psychologist to boot – a visitor to Israel Charny’s retirement home should perhaps keep a certain silence, especially if the new arrival is a journalist.
Charny, author of the monumental Encyclopedia of Genocide – and much hated by the Turks who are outraged by his conviction that the 1915 Armenian genocide was a reality – speaks with the low, rather pondering voice of a US east coast academic. Not unlike the great Noam Chomsky, I note injudiciously. The American linguist and philosopher is a hero of mine, but a rather less prestigious figure in Charny’s eyes. “God forbid!” announces the 87-year-old head of Israel’s Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem. “You don’t know this – but I lived at the Chomsky house, as an undergraduate.”
He flourishes his most recent book, The Genocide Contagion, which asked readers to reflect on their own reaction to a future genocide in their own lives. It makes uncomfortable reading.
In today’s world, Charny says – slowly, carefully and with little forgiveness of us humanoids – he can see no “concerted political or culture-wide consciousness to take care of people”. On the contrary, “what I see is another replay of a truth that we haven’t faced fully enough. And this is that the human species – with all of its beauty – is a horrible, uncaring, destructive species that has delighted and excelled in the taking of human life for centuries. And there is no real addressing of this issue in our evolution that I know of.”