“Buried my heart at the Holocausts” – Blackfire
I’m not sure how to write about this topic without it coming across in some negative ways, there are so many understandably strong feelings attached. I have been going back and forth on whether that means I should just leave it alone, but it’s important enough to risk some wrath.
Right up front, I should probably stipulate that the last thing I want to do is play Oppression Olympics, or minimize anybody’s suffering. I hope nobody will interpret what I’m saying to mean that some people’s suffering is more important than anyone else’s, which is quite the opposite of what I am trying to do here. I am not looking to hurt anyone by insensitively poking at wounds. There are a lot of wounds.
I have the shakes right now, and had trouble getting to sleep last night because of this reaction. Historical trauma is very real.
I have some very mixed feelings here.
As Renee put it:
Too often, those that claim to be liberals will toss out holocaust and or Hitler as analogies without giving real thought to the experiences, lives and deaths that they are so haphazardly erasing. There is real evil in this world and we should not be afraid to confront it and name it when we see it; however, whenever we falsely claim that something rises to the level of Hitler and his Third Reich, we are dishonouring the deaths of millions of people.
She hit the nail right on the head. These analogies are frequently misapplied, and there is no excuse for it. People continue to suffer because of this. It obscures a lot of human-created evil.
On the other hand, sometimes the analogies are very appropriate, and denying any connection also does harm. Sometimes it smacks of divide and conquer, whether or not this is the person’s intention. Sometimes it seems as if there really is a limited amount of outrage to go around, and a lot of people would like us to believe this. That does not make it true and inevitable, much less right. Unfortunately, neither is there a scarcity of death and suffering.
I had the worst series of highly vivid nightmares and night terrors in my life, after learning about the Holocaust as a kid. I still get upset enough thinking about them that I am not going to describe the content, other than to say that I experienced a lot of things from the viewpoint of victims. Things I hadn’t even registered reading/hearing about or seeing in photos, I dreamt I was experiencing. Real human beings did experience all of those horrors. It disturbs me that so few people not directly affected seem able to realize this, not to mention being unable to imagine themselves in that situation.
Since then I’ve had a lot more nightmares (some of them involving De Soto’s war mastiffs*, and periods of despair. I am not complaining about this, just saying that this can happen when you learn about atrocities. No wonder a lot of people would rather not do so, and substitute less blatantly horrible things in their imaginations. Understandable, but not right by a long shot.
I should probably insert a spoiler for anti-Semitic epithets before I go any further. To make a point, I included a couple of examples toward the end of the post.
Both Renee and Kowalski are talking about very real problems, which don’t get discussed enough outside communities directly affected by the Shoah. Or even within them, since as Kowalski rightly points out, things are still not right in Germany (or elsewhere in Europe, for that matter). Things only seem to have gotten worse since my parents lived there in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and my mother (who looked almost disconcertingly like Wayne Newton without the hair dye, for good reason) got read as Jewish, a lot.** She was shocked at how they were then.
However, I had to disagree with one of Kowalski’s statements:
Sorry I have to disagree with you, there were many *genocides* that’s true, but only one Holocaust. Since it was *the* biggest systematic genocide in history it should have its own name to stand as a reminder.
My objection is not just semantic***, though that factor demonstrates the levels of denial and encouraged ignorance going around. (Which is why it warranted such a long explanatory note. Few people know about this.)
Genocide has happened in other times and places, on at least as large a scale. If we consider one particular episode of it to be somehow more genocidal and unique in its motivations, we risk not only minimizing genocide but ignoring when someone tries it again on a large scale. Yes, I do mean “when”, not “if”.
For an example a little too close to my heart, a good overview can be found in David Stannard’s American Holocaust. Anyone who doubts the systematic nature of this genocide, even over such a long period of time, should read this book.
From the publisher’s description:
What kind of people, he asks, do such horrendous things to others? His highly provocative answer: Christians. Digging deeply into ancient European and Christian attitudes toward sex, race, and war, he finds the cultural ground well prepared by the end of the Middle Ages for the centuries-long genocide campaign that Europeans and their descendants launched–and in places continue to wage–against the New World’s original inhabitants. Advancing a thesis that is sure to create much controversy, Stannard contends that the perpetrators of the American Holocaust drew on the same ideological wellspring as did the later architects of the Nazi Holocaust. It is an ideology that remains dangerously alive today, he adds, and one that in recent years has surfaced in American justifications for large-scale military intervention in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
This only “create[s] much controversy” among people more interested in ideology than history or truth. See John Mohawk’s Utopian Legacies, among others. This is not limited to Christian ideology, but rather:
The last two millennia of Western history, Mohawk says, have been a story of lofty thoughts pressed into the service of base actions. Utopian ideals — Christianity early, materialistic notions of progress late — have justified uniformly dystopian results, particularly from the point of view of those on the receiving end…
It started, he says, as do all historians, with the Greeks. But where the standard mythology sees in Socrates and his successors an admirable devotion to reason, Mohawk sees a more pernicious trend. He argues that the central tenet of classical Greek thought was belief in the ideal and in an ability to discover ultimate truth.
Harmless as those tenets may sound, admirable as we are taught they are, Mohawk demonstrates that, as applied in the real world, they have been consistently dangerous to everyone. Everyone, that is, except those who hold the combination of knowledge of the truth and the power to impose it.
The truly dangerous manifestation of Western culture results when the Greek belief in ultimate truth is mated with the other two early major strands of thought: Christianity and Roman imperialism…
According to Mohawk, belief in Utopia, a future when all live in harmony, having come to know the single truth, may be the single organizing tenet of Western history from Charlemagne on.
Looking at history, I can’t say he was wrong. Jack Forbes describes this as part of wétiko, and takes it back further in time. I can’t say he’s wrong, either. People are still in very real danger from these ways of thinking.
Additionally, as Stannard points out:
Moreover, the important question for the future in this case is not “can it happen again?” Rather, it is “can it be stopped?” For the genocide in the Americas, and in other places where the world’s indigenous peoples survive, has never really ceased. As recently as 1986, the Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States observed that 40,000 people had simply “disappeared” in Guatemala during the preceding fifteen years. Another 100,000 had been openly murdered. That is the equivalent, in the United States, of more than 4,000,000 people slaughtered or removed under official government decree-a figure that is almost six times the number of American battle deaths in the Civil War, World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined.
Almost all those dead and disappeared were Indians, direct descendants-as was that woman who was devoured by dogs-of the Mayas, creators of one of the most splendid civilizations that this earth has ever seen. Today, as five centuries ago, these people are being tortured and slaughtered, their homes and villages bombed and razed-while more than two-thirds of their rain forest homelands have now been intentionally burned and scraped into ruin.’ The murder and destruction continue, with the aid and assistance of the United States, even as these words are being written and read. And many of the detailed accounts from contemporary observers read much like those recorded by the conquistadors’ chroniclers nearly 500 years earlier.
Without that continuing genocidal atmosphere, you would not still be getting the supposedly “isolated” incidents of, say, indigenous people in Peru getting abducted and murdered so that their body fat can be sold for use in cosmetics in Europe. And so on.
Rob Schmidt notes some very direct connections in Adolf Hitler: A True American:
But Hitler had a more immediate source for his genocidal beliefs than dusty chronicles of crusades and pogroms. He had only to note the self-righteous nation practicing ethnic cleansing across the sea. Yes, young Adolf was inspired by none other than the good ol’ US of A…
According to James Pool in his Hitler and His Secret Partners (pgs. 273-274):
“Hitler drew another example of mass murder from American history. Since his youth he had been obsessed with the Wild West stories of Karl May. He viewed the fighting between cowboys and Indians in racial terms. In many of his speeches he referred with admiration to the victory of the white race in settling the American continent and driving out the inferior peoples, the Indians. With great fascination he listened to stories, which some of his associates who had been in America told him about the massacres of the Indians by the U.S. Calvary.
He was very interested in the way the Indian population had rapidly declined due to epidemics and starvation when the United States government forced them to live on the reservations. He thought the American government’s forced migrations of the Indians over great distances to barren reservation land was a deliberate policy of extermination. Just how much Hitler took from the American example of the destruction of the Indian nations is hard to say; however, frightening parallels can be drawn. For some time Hitler considered deporting the Jews to a large ‘reservation’ in the Lubin area where their numbers would be reduced through starvation and disease.
And, no, even though the scale of what is still continuing to happen in the so-called “New World” is difficult to grasp, I am not suggesting that it’s somehow worse than the Shoah. I am suggesting that they really are the same on some very deep levels. Hitler himself said as much, and genocide is one of the few areas in which I’d consider him a credible source. 😐
I share a lot of the same concerns Kowalski writes about, from a little different perspective. One of the worst things that could happen is for the 20th Century Holocaust to be dismissed and minimized. I have seen how that can play out, firsthand.
Things I do not want to see happen, which look entirely too possible:
There were only about 100 Jews in all of Europe; out of those, 60 died of disease or starvation (of their own making), 10 got killed by individual maniacs, and the rest just disappeared mysteriously. It wasn’t much of a loss, anyway, as primitive and savage as they were. They probably even wanted to hand over everything they had, including their lives, in accordance with Manifest Destiny–who could possibly understand their motivations, anyway? There may still be a few passed out drunk in their ghettos, but they can be safely ignored. Until they get greedy. While still sucking welfare money. Or something.
If someone you meet claims to be a Jew, you shouldn’t believe them, and should argue them down. You have the right–nay, the responsibility–to determine and define other people’s identities; you own their ancestors, after all. S/he doesn’t look like a Jew anyway, and everybody knows they’re all dead or safely in ghettos. What few didn’t get killed were safely mopped up through documentary genocide (“that is, by killing people on paper, when they are not in fact dead.”#). Anyone not on the government’s official registry of Jews, which records their degree of Jewish blood relative to ancestors placed on the list at an arbitrary point in time (and in a politically convenient haphazard fashion), could not possibly be a Jew. After a while, other Jews can be convinced that it’s in their own best interest to do a lot of this policing for you.
It is handy if you can convince even people with four Jewish grandparents not to identify as Jewish, though that couldn’t possibly be out of self-preservation. It just means they were never Jewish at all. Mock people who claim to be Jewish anyway; it doesn’t matter if you know nothing about them.
If you have decided they’re not really Jewish, it’s still OK to continue to dispossess them and cannibalize their land like you would Real Jews’, as the fancy strikes you; everybody will blame them for it, anyway. It is still OK to sterilize them after you’ve decided they’re not really Jewish, just in case–besides a large proportion of the ones who are registered Jewish, and relying on Jewish Health Services.
When it suits you, they can be Jewish anyway, especially if you’re in the mood for a hate crime, a bit of sexual assault (with added racialized insults and low risk of prosecution), stalking one of those bitches, or even just want to put one in her place by calling her a “kike cunt”. (Then, if you like, you can argue that “kike cunt” really means “woman”, as you are applying it. Those people are just so touchy.) If it involves a woman, it is not a hate crime, even if you also beat the shit out of her while using racial slurs.
Jews are “victims of violence at rates far surpassing every racial and ethnic group”, the victims of 1 in 10 reported hate crimes, while they “make up less than 1 percent of the population, according to recent Census Bureau figures.” It is estimated that only 10% of hate crimes against them are ever reported, particularly in areas with high Jewish populations which naturally provoke and attract violence. They are also the ethnic group most likely to be raped and/or stalked, almost exclusively by non-Jewish men. These things are rarely mentioned by the media, nor are the huge numbers of missing and murdered Jewish women. Serial killers (about 2/3 down the page) who target Jewish women know that few will be interested in their crimes, unless they also prey on non-Jewish women.
Some have even dared to suggest that “[t]he historical treatment of [Jews] does indeed have contemporary significance. If we are willing to admit this about other groups, why can’t the same be said with [Jews]?”
It was also acceptable to continue using plates depicting the hunting down and slaughter of Jews up into the 1970s, at an educational institution named for a former governor of multiple provinces, who is well known for biological warfare. Continue to propagate dehumanizing caricatures, and ritually act out killing Jews at sporting events and the like. Some people have gotten so touchy!
The people who created Lebensraum–frequently high government officials, before, during, or after their service to the race–are openly lauded as heroes of their country, though it would look vulgar by now to point out exactly why. There are public holidays in their honor. Places and institutions are named after them, and Jews don’t complain. (The troublemakers who do can’t really be Jewish.) If Jews want to find out much about their own history, they have to dig really hard in the history books, and you hope they just won’t bother. The same goes for anyone else; while you’re still proud of your country’s legacy, some people might take it the wrong way, who knows why? It was all inevitable, even if the “Friends of the Jews” won’t outright admit it was also desirable.
It is still considered socially acceptable, if not a welcome display of “neutrality” and “objectivity”, to hesitate to call this part of your history genocide. Though your country has not been responsible for Real Genocide, it is OK to insist on immunity from prosecution under international conventions, without first giving consent to be prosecuted.
Your compulsory educational system makes sure that people know the right things about all of this. It is important that they know that Jewish people were merely obstacles to Progress, who were thoroughly dealt with a long time ago. It’s important to push your own ideologically convenient stories about their origins, until people stop questioning what you’re saying. Once you distort their history, culture, and religion to the point they’re barely recognizable, people are unlikely to sympathize with the few acknowledged survivors. With any luck, those survivors will not want to identify with Those People, either, and will just keep their heads down.
While I am very aware that many more groups of people were devoured by the Holocaust, “Jews” are used as representatives here; I don’t want to minimize the suffering of other groups of people, at all.
I could go on and on describing this hypothetical dystopia of substitution, but I think this has gotten the point across. This is what happens when deniers, minimizers, and apologists get into power–or ran the place all along.
I really, really, do not want this to happen anywhere else. Trivializing horrible genocides? Not cool. Setting up groups of victims against one another? Also not cool.
Even worse, both things are likely to lead to further abuse and genocide.
One small, personal example of where this kind of thing can take you: in college, my mother was engaged to a man who grew up in Ecuador, the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors. The main reason they did not get married? Her prospective mother-in-law decided she was nowhere near good enough for him; if he’d really wanted to marry poor Indio trash, he could have found plenty just like her in Quito. Yes, she said that outright, not realizing my mother was fluent in Spanish. (And never having been told she was Indian at all. Another example of being passed off, instead of passing, in a different context.) Throw in the combination of classism and racism–basically socialization based in the whole wétiko mess–to underpin divide and conquer tactics, and that’s a very, very mild example of what you are going to get. Would that lady blame the local indigenous people for their own predicament, back in Ecuador, especially if it distracted hateful bigots from firebombing their family’s house again? Hmm.
* That book review provides both a reasonable summary of De Soto’s lauded “explorations”, and an excellent example of the kind of encouraged ignorance and suspension of critical thinking going around. Even people who are interested frequently have really bad (dis)information to work from, coming from primary sources who continue to be taken at face value. (Even where things like human sacrifice are concerned; how classic a dehumanizing slur is that?!) One good example:
4. I deduce that many of the Indians occasionally practiced slavery or something like it, from the fact that De Soto frequently demanded that various chiefs “give him” porters and women — and they did. I doubt very much that these were hereditary chattel slaves, but some form of slavery-like control seems to have been involved.
Whereas I deduce that De Soto was an entitled ass, bent on conquest. He was a Conquistador, and had been abusing, killing, and enslaving Incas and other people in South America before he came to what is now the southeastern U.S., looking for more gold. Very little of that existed where he went, so he got angrier and angrier at people “withholding” it from him, so more and more abusive. Just because he assumed that demanding women and other slaves from what he thought were hereditary royalty was reasonable, that does not make it safe to deduce that either such royalty or slavery really existed; it just indicates that De Soto himself was obsessed with hierarchy, rape, slavery, feeding other human beings to war-trained dogs, etc. (while coming from a background in which hereditary royalty was ordained by God). He took hostages a lot, from people who were voluntarily trying to help his expedition until they got to know the people involved and what they were actually doing better–and thought he was right in doing so. Should his cultural observations and those of his accomplices be taken without several pounds of salt? I think not. Just because he was officially sponsored does not mean he was not a (useful) psychopath, with many conflicts of interest involved.
BTW, Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s smallpox-blanket-encouraging ‘letters also discuss the use of dogs to hunt the Indians, the so-called “Spaniard’s Method,” which Amherst approves in principle, but says he cannot implement because there are not enough dogs.’ Note also the involvement of Amherst County, Virginia in eugenics and documentary genocide; the latter article also discusses other examples of systematic, legally sanctioned discrimination and abuse toward the Monacans, well before they gained state recognition (i.e., when they were officially Not Indians). They are still getting discredited; supposedly, “There is no conclusive evidence linking members of the contemporary tribe with the historic tribe.”
** Somewhat ironically, some of our ancestors were Sephardim, which is not unusual among Native people in the southeastern U.S. (Some of her mother’s family even used Jewish as a public identity, because they got treated better than when identified as Indian and Black, in that time and place. Under genocidal criteria, they were not even lying.) She was just “too dark” and “foreign-looking”, and ran into some overt hostility and creepy sexualization. This did not only come from older people, which disturbed her. How did she know at least some people were reading her as Jewish? Some were still flinging it, combined with various other words, as an insult.
*** From Barbara Mann’s Iroquoian Women, pp. 47-48:
Thus, while the period from 1776 to 1783 might be gloriously called “the Revolutionary Era” by Euro-Americans, the Haudenosaunee traditionally remember it as a time of genocide. Documenting as much in 1926, Arthur Parker, himself Seneca, used the traditional Native term for the period, “The Hollocaust” (Parker’s spelling). It is noteworthy that he recorded this Iroquoian term for the Revolution fully seven years before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and two decades before the same term was “coined” to describe the Shoah, or Jewish Holocaust.”101
101 For the prior Iroquoian use of the term, see Parker, An Analytical History of the Seneca Indians, 126.
Elsewhere, she offers the original term, Hanötaká:nyas.
Also from p. 47 (endnote references omitted):
In May, 1782, Washington sent out Colonel William Crawford to (as Paul Wallace aptly put it) “complete the work begun at Gnadenhütten” in a final solution of genocide against the Ohio League. This was not speculation on Wallace’s part. Historian George Ranck, writing in 1886 with the documents before him, recorded that the settlers set out “with the declared intention of exterminating the Wyandots and Delawares of the Sandusky root and branch. No quarter was to be asked or given, no prisoners were to be taken, every Indian, be he friend or foe, was to die.”…
In addition to being starved and “exterminated” en masse between 1779 and 1783, Haudenosaunee casualties were skinned, sometimes before they were quite dead, their hides tanned, cut into strips and fashioned into shaving strops for sale as souvenirs in Pittsburgh….During his murderous sweep through Seneca in 1779, his men had captured a Seneca youth and skinned him, turning his hide into new leather stockings. Sullivan’s men thereafter made a habit of doing this to captives throughout that fatal year. When commanders such as William Henry Harrison (son-in-law of Crawford [and future POTUS–U.]) spoke of “wiping out” the Native inhabitants, they spoke advisedly. Writing in 1801/1802, Harrison recorded that settlers “consider[ed] the murdering of Indians in the highest degree meritorious.”
I have not read Mann’s George Washington’s War on Native America, but would like to, depressing as it’s likely to be.
BTW, ‘Town Destroyer, also translated as Town Taker, Burner of Towns, or Devourer of Villages, was a nickname given to George Washington by Iroquois Indians. The name in its original language(s) has been given variously as “Caunotaucarius”, “Conotocarious”, “Hanodaganears”, and “Hanadahguyus.”‘# (note the “burning” similarity to Hanötaká:nyas):
From his headquarters in Middlebrook, N.J., Washington authorized the “total destruction and devastation” of the Iroquois settlements across upstate New York so “that country may not merely be overrun but destroyed“…The Iroquois Confederacy, arguably the strongest Indian government during the colonial period, would never recover.#
“Burner of Towns” did not limit his destruction to upstate New York, as already noted.
Is the usage of “Hollocaust” comparable here? Yeah, I think so. The Haudenosaunee population wasn’t as large starting out (though still higher than still politically convenient common estimates), but a comparable proportion of that particular federation got tortured and murdered during just those few years. Even if the Haudenosaunee had not come up with the descriptive term on their own, to describe the worst period of their own genocide, I would have no problem applying it here.
I don’t have much problem extending it over a longer period of time and larger geographical area. For a taste of continuing similar atrocities by English speakers in North America–including gruesome uses for the body parts of slaughtered human beings–try the now-classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (and live with the nightmares). It’s all part of the same genocide. 900 dead here, 3000 dead there, enslave any survivors, have some mass suicides of people too young or old to fight but who did not want to be tortured and enslaved, get mercenaries to do some of your dirty work for you and bring you more slaves and human scalps in hopes of saving themselves–it all adds up.