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“...but the numbers are unbelievable.”
March 2, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

"The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking" [NYTimes.com]
"The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945."
posted by Fizz (61 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
"By the age of 17, Mr. Greenbaum had been enslaved in five camps in five years, and was on his way to a sixth, when American soldiers freed him in 1945. 'Nobody even knows about these places,' Mr. Greenbaum said. 'Everything should be documented. That’s very important. We try to tell the youngsters so that they know, and they’ll remember.'"

God, I hope so.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:28 AM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


sites euphemistically named “care” centers

That's one part of the article that really hits me hard. The way that even language was perverted.

sigh
posted by Fizz at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2013


.
posted by chococat at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2013


Damn.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:32 AM on March 2, 2013


Yes, but it all could have been prevented if ONLY people had known what was going on. Sarcasm tag won't show...
It makes me wonder how anyone survived the death machine.
posted by etaoin at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2013


I never understand how it could be true, when people after the war said that they just didn't know what was going on. This only increases my not-understanding.
posted by Houstonian at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe now people will start believing me when I say that my grandparents had to go underground in 1930, escaping Germany completely in 1931: "But the war didn't start until 1939! There wasn't any need to hide or escape almost a decade earlier!"

Oh yes there was such a need, and these researchers have proved it.
posted by easily confused at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2013 [38 favorites]


What exactly is unbelievable? The KZ system imprisoned nearly 20 million people. Divide by 42,000, the estimated number of ghettos and camps, and you get 500 people each. Sounds about right for the logistics of that genocide.
posted by ocschwar at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2013


My organization publishes a blog by a rabbi who, each week, opens my eyes even though I'm not Jewish. This week he wrote about going to Hebrew school as a child and how his grandparents would insist on asking him whether he'd asked good questions--never whether he'd learned. Which is really a different upbringing from mine. And so very different from these Nazi-occupied countries where people apparently went out of their way to not know, though whether it was out of fear or silent agreement with the policies is still unclear after all these years.
posted by etaoin at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Now that I've reached the end of the article, I see that my comment was actually addressed in the last paragraphs.
Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”
So, his opinion is that this is just not true.
posted by Houstonian at 9:45 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Horrifying. Human beings have an incredible galling knack for denial and not seeing what's in front of them so not surprised that people could claim not to have known.
posted by arcticseal at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think some people find it weird that we were shown Holocaust footage in Hebrew school as early as 1st or 2nd grade. And I mean, we were shown videos that I would find, at 32, unbearable to watch now. But I think it really gave me an awareness early on of the lengths to which humanity can hate. I am never surprised by it, and I think that equips me to just dig in and do the work to help prevent atrocities.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:50 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Shocking. I wonder, how is it that there was not a database or list of these sites kept by the Third Reich? Does that mean that many of these camps were set up independently, or without central supervision? That's even scarier.
posted by jtajta at 9:53 AM on March 2, 2013


etaoin, is there a link to the rabbi's blog you can share?
posted by zittrain at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2013


One thing that's not clear is the makeup of the victims, and how the new numbers change the historical assumptions. Does the "6 million" number still stand? And who was being killed at these sites? Was it the usual victims, such as jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and political enemies of the party?
posted by Balok at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2013


What exactly is unbelievable? The KZ system imprisoned nearly 20 million people. Divide by 42,000, the estimated number of ghettos and camps, and you get 500 people each. Sounds about right for the logistics of that genocide.

Your estimate is still a statistic, and so somewhat abstract. The researchers here have put places and names to those estimates and have given that very large, very distant number physical context. Each one of those places represents 500 tragedies, and there are 42,500 such places.

I suppose this research was carried out, at least partially, as an effort to refute denialist's claims that the Holocaust could not taken as many victims as most historians believe because the logistics and infrastructure thought to have been employed was insufficient to the task.

42,500 is a lot of infrastructure.
posted by notyou at 9:56 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring.

Actually, if you think about it for 30 seconds, you won't need to wonder: you will already have a pretty good start on a long list.

Humanity isn't so good at this "never again" thing.
posted by Dimpy at 10:03 AM on March 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'm struggling enough to wrap my mind around the logistics of this... I can't even try to think beyond to the moral implications.

In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps

How? How!? I've never been to Berlin, but it's just one city, isn't it? Three thousand separate camps in one city? This is beyond my comprehension.
posted by meese at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've never been to Berlin, but it's just one city, isn't it?

Well, I've been to Berlin several times over the years, and it has always seemed to me very big and very spread out. But, yeah, I hear you: 3000? Doesn't seem quite feasible.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2013


It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring.

They may well be too busy devising their own crimes against humanity to waste any time reviling us for ours.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I never understand how it could be true, when people after the war said that they just didn't know what was going on. This only increases my not-understanding.

Look at all the horrible things going on in North America (not trying for a direct equation/comparison), such as how the projects came about via racism and the legacy that has left people to live in, how the drug trade is both encouraged and ineffectively fought, how special interest groups influence our entire financial system, etc. Most people might have a sense of some of these things, but many don't know a damn thing.
posted by juiceCake at 10:17 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man. How do you even worry about numbers in the face of that sort of horror?

The trope is 6 million Jews, I'm thinking it was probably like 25-30 million people of all stripe, from the ones that starved, to the ones that just got shot for fun, whether they were Jews, Romany, gay, etc. Not like the Nazis ever needed a reason.

But where do you go for reparations? And what does it solve in the long run?

Someone my age in Germany had nothing more to do with this than I did with slavery in the US, and while I assume we can both agree those situations were horrible, neither me or my family ever participated in a bit of it.

Yes, they deserve something, but I think most of the people who owe it to them are dead by now.
posted by timsteil at 10:20 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


3000? Doesn't seem quite feasible.

The article is not saying that there were 3,000 large-scale camps in Berlin. This number would include slave-labor factories and brothels, ghetto neighborhoods, places where euthanasia of the elderly or disabled took place, forced-abortion centers, etc. Many of these were no doubt just ordinary factories, hospitals, or even houses before the Reich perverted them. Also, they were not necessarily all functioning simultaneously or for the whole duration of the holocaust.
posted by unsub at 10:25 AM on March 2, 2013 [17 favorites]


So I guess the common consensus, or at least the common consensus among people who understand that slavery is an abomination, is that the difference between Germany and the American South is that Germany's monstrous leaders were for the most part removed (despite the presence of former nazis in the West German government), whereas the failure of Reconstruction in the American south meant that the monsters and their ideological descendants maintained total control until the 1960s, and remain powerful today.

Basically, I'm more likely to give contemporary Germans a pass for their abominable history than I am to give us Americans the same pass, because at least Germany owned up to what it had done. And, more importantly, they stopped doing it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:31 AM on March 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


I got such intense overall shivers reading the article that I had to get up and walk around for a little bit and do something else.

I think some people find it weird that we were shown Holocaust footage in Hebrew school as early as 1st or 2nd grade.

I was in the 7th grade in the late 70s, in a public school, and I believe our school system was among the first to use the curriculum created by Facing History And Ourselves. I didn't realize it at the time, but many of my classmates had relatives - parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc. - who had survived camps, been killed in camps, or escaped Germany just in time. My friend Lisa's dad had a tattoo on his arm. I know a lot of schools have the Diary of Anne Frank on the reading list for junior-high-aged kids, but the Facing History program went far beyond that in breadth and depth. A lot of my classmates already knew way more detail than one might expect, both because of family history and because of what they learned in Hebrew school.
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]



One thing that's not clear is the makeup of the victims, and how the new numbers change the historical assumptions. Does the "6 million" number still stand? And who was being killed at these sites? Was it the usual victims, such as jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and political enemies of the party?
posted by Balok


Good thinking; I read an essay years ago which said that by the end of the war, the German war effort had become so dependent on slave labor that, if it had continued for another year, ordinary Germans by the hundreds of thousands would have been sucked into the system. This makes me wonder whether that had already begun to take place.

And as for the Great Forgetting, that was fostered by the Allies for the same reasons they had wrapped themselves in the Great Obliviousness before the war began: the Nazis were seen as an essential bulwark against the Red Menace, and it was therefore necessary to ignore their crimes-- does the name Werner von Braun ring any bells, for example?
posted by jamjam at 10:34 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Basically, I'm more likely to give contemporary Germans a pass for their abominable history than I am to give us Americans the same pass, because at least Germany owned up to what it had done. And, more importantly, they stopped doing it.

Excellent, excellent point. And While I don't know the full extent of Germany's laws as far as basically saying "fuck that Nazi shit", I have a feeling were the same ones applied to the US we wouldn't have any frickin redneck militias, or idiots with the Confederate flag hiding the rifle rack in the back of their pickup windows.
posted by timsteil at 10:40 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


does the name Werner von Braun ring any bells, for example?

Gather 'round while I sing you
of Werner von Braun,
a man whose allegiance
is ruled by expendience.
You call him a Nazi -
he won't even frown:
"Nazi-schmatzi,"
says Werner von Braun.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:40 AM on March 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Shocking. I wonder, how is it that there was not a database or list of these sites kept by the Third Reich? Does that mean that many of these camps were set up independently, or without central supervision? That's even scarier.

I'm certain they had lists and a systematic order of everything. But towards the end of the war, a lot of Nazi bureaucrats destroyed evidence. It's not only that they knew it was going on, they also knew it was wrong, and would be punished. However, there are still plenty archives that historians use to learn more. Like in this study.

There is something about the Nazi regime which sets it apart from other tyrannies and terror regimes. Obviously, there was terror, and if you directly opposed the regime after 1933, you would go to camp. But a lot of the dynamics of the system seems to have been opportunism, beginning with the German election of -33. People did things they knew were morally wrong because they could and because it generated favors and even riches. And among the things they did entirely unpunished till 1945, was revel in sadistic abuse of others, like Jews, Gays, Roma, Slavs, etc. When one reads the literature of the day, this opportunism seems to be a far stronger component of the dynamics of Nazi Germany (and some occupied countries) than fear. And in that sense, it is more scary. We can all recognize a Stalin or a Pol Pot, when we see him. But can we really recognize a Hitler? The real Hitler seems ridiculous in our time, but my grandfather (a Jew) went to Germany in 1936 and saw him, and forever after remained suspicious of even things like stadium concerts. Any huge gathering of enthusiastic people. Hitler seems to have been extremely charismatic in real life.

BTW, as I see it, living Germans have no responsibility for what their grandparents and great-grandparents did. To discuss current Germany in this context is a major derail.
posted by mumimor at 10:43 AM on March 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Does anyone know how present day Germans (especially in Bavaria) are treating present day immigrants?
posted by robbyrobs at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know how present day Germans (especially in Bavaria) are treating present day immigrants?
Most Europeans, regardless of WW2 records, are not particularly nice towards immigrants. If anything, Germans are more careful than other European governments to protect immigrants from racial or religious harassment.
posted by mumimor at 10:56 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know how present day Germans (especially in Bavaria) are treating present day immigrants?

They treat us wonderfully, all things considered.

I'm not sure why you singled out Bavaria, though - it's the states north and east of here where you find the real assholes.
posted by cmonkey at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


does the name Werner von Braun ring any bells, for example?

Everything I know about Werner von Braun I learned through October Sky and his brief 15 second fictional cameo.
posted by Fizz at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2013


Zittrain, yes, here, Rabbi Irwin Huberman on Long Island. I believe he's Canadian.

http://patch.com/B-cZ5c

He usually publishes late Friday afternoon/evening. And as you'll see, he writes an intro that seems to be about something else--in this case, questions--but manages nearly every time to circle back. I just love the guy's work, perspective a couple of steps removed from mine yet packed with something useful for everyone. I rarely gush about writers but this guy really reaches me.
posted by etaoin at 11:28 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]



That's one part of the article that really hits me hard. The way that even language was perverted.


Its just collateral damage :(
posted by infini at 11:49 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]



It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring.


Here's a start: Lack of universal healthcare, folks living homeless in the most prosperous nations on earth, big PHARMA in general.
posted by philip-random at 11:58 AM on March 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wage labor.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Traveling by public transportation to Dachau, a bus from the Dachau city train station to the concentration camp takes ten minutes. All the horror, ten minutes away from home. On hot, humid days, you could even smell it in the air. Of course they knew.

Does anyone know how present day Germans (especially in Bavaria) are treating present day immigrants?

It varies, and it depends on where you live and with whom you are dealing.

There is a stereotype of poor, uneducated, violent and just generally antisocial immigrants, especially about those coming from non-EU countries. If you draw attention to yourself in a way that could be construed like this in front of the wrong people, they will not be kind to you. Though most likely not to your face.

I'm not sure why you singled out Bavaria, though - it's the states north and east of here where you find the real assholes.

It's true that the most obviously violent anti-immigrant groups are in the old DDR and North of Germany, but racist and xenophobic ideas are still popular among many average Germans. A few years ago a book condemning immigration into Germany, especially from the Muslim world was a huge national best seller, which reflected what many people think but were afraid of saying out loud.

Also interesting is the debate on the kind of treatment asylum seekers in Germany have been receiving, with a relatively large popular movement last year to demand better living conditions while their pleas are processed. It has not been easy to find many German supporters for this, on the contrary, the fear of "overforeigning" (Überfremdung) leads some, like Minister Friedrich to demand even more spartan living conditions as a way to discourage asylum pleas.

Granted, immigration is an economic as well as a racial problem, and the relationship between Germany and its immigrants is very complex and probably deserves its own thread. But the current immigration laws were introduced as a way to mitigate the emerging xenophobia of the 1990s.

Apparently, of all the German states, asylum seekers in Bavaria have to endure the worst material conditions (though right now I can't find a link to an article that supports it).

That said, there are more than enough Germans with a conscience who will vocally question this state of affairs! And who will treat their foreigners with dignity and respect.
posted by ipsative at 12:07 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


A lot of the slave labour is still getting pensions from the German government. It's a little bit of money, enough to cover old person prescriptions if you're a medically subsidized Canadian. It's not even a secret that there was so many of these people. For example, Eastern Europeans of no particular additional sub category, were shipped in by the boxcar load. You didn't just get conquered, you got filed and rounded up and moved around, not so much for your eventual death, though of course that was assumed part of the plan, but the use of your labour.

I know my father's mother's parents met in a refugee camp after the war, via the Ukraine. My great grandfather is known only to have come from somewhere in Eastern Europe, ended up apprenticed to some German speaking Jewish shoe makers. When he was gathered up he escaped the Jewish death camp system by dint of having a foreskin and the excuse that his "Yiddish" accent in his German had an understandable source. We haven't the foggiest idea what he was, whether he was just a rootless young man who took up a trade and lost his adoptive family, or whether he was, for example, mixed. From the context I know that my great grandmother was forced labour of some kind too. They never formally married, just hooked up and told immigration that they were married when they came to Canada.

I know about the female forced labour perspective from my ex's tiny Polish grandmother. It wasn't until the German government started cracking down on pension fraud that the details of her stories came out- she shared a few stories initially, like almost staying in Germany until she saw her fiance's SS tattoo, her hatred for the Communists, who also were happily shipping people off, and so forth. But when she started getting bureaucratic letters from Germany asking her to prove her experience she started having understandable panic attacks.

Part of her little packet of proof involved getting her daughter to type up what happened: she and a bunch of other girls were rounded up. The men doing the rounding up raped some of them, but she hid in the back of the train car. She ended up in a German munitions factory, where her knack for languages go her a menial job in the kitchen instead of the more dangerous factory lines. The war ended, everyone back in Poland (a large, pre-birth control use family) appeared to be dead, she came to Canada on a whim, almost picking Brazil.

Of course the Germans knew. They knew like my mother's father and his fellow lower class, no education Canadians knew that you had to volunteer to choose your service- it wasn't all courage, it was knowing that you would eventually be called up and buy a rather grisly kind of lottery ticket.

WWII often gets sanitized into a story: wicked Nazis, confused, sheep like Germans, hapless neighbours, liberating Allies, rape-y Russians, holocaust victims. Nothing out of place, just "Phew, glad we sorted that out then!"

I feel like we don't talk about it because you're not supposed to ask your grandfather "When you flew bombing runs, did you ever think about the civilians you fire bombed?" or your grandmother "How did it feel to hide at the back of a boxcar watching women just your age be sexually assaulted? Do you have survivor guilt?" or worse "Back when you were a teen, did the Jews really have it coming?" Nobody wants an answer to that.
posted by Phalene at 12:24 PM on March 2, 2013 [18 favorites]


The article is not saying that there were 3,000 large-scale camps in Berlin. This number would include slave-labor factories and brothels, ghetto neighborhoods, places where euthanasia of the elderly or disabled took place, forced-abortion centers, etc. Many of these were no doubt just ordinary factories, hospitals, or even houses before the Reich perverted them. Also, they were not necessarily all functioning simultaneously or for the whole duration of the holocaust.

Presumably it's also counting things like police stations, jails and SS centers which were used to house and detain Jews and other unwanted folk, presumably on their way to larger camps. 3000 seemed very high to me as well, but considering the extreme bureaucratic sophistication of the Nazi system as well as its massive size, it's certainly not a ridiculous number.
posted by gkhan at 12:33 PM on March 2, 2013


Maybe now people will start believing me when I say that my grandparents had to go underground in 1930, escaping Germany completely in 1931: "But the war didn't start until 1939! There wasn't any need to hide or escape almost a decade earlier!"

My SO's great-grandmother was a German Jew; she saw what was happening in the early 1930s, and decided that she must get her family out and succeeded in saving the lives of herself, her husband and her two children. Sadly, many of their cousins didn't believe her; some got out in 1939 (one very miraculously - a local policeman helped him), but many others died.

It's hard for us to say what we would have thought at the time. The frog in the boiling water analogy rings very true - sometimes people don't see how bad something is getting until it's very, very bad or too late. I really don't know what I would have seen in the early 30s in Germany; my SO says that, having learned from his own family history, he feels extra sensitive to that kind of erosion of rights and build up of intolerance - and if we ever saw it where we are, we'd be on the first train out of town.
posted by jb at 12:42 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, so I feel embarrassed about being glib and trollish with the "wage labor" thing - it's an abomination, but not as brutal as the holocaust or American slavery. The moral abomination that our grandchildren will ask "how did they not notice?!" about is the use of superexploited labor in agriculture.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring.

Aimless shopping, owning frequent flier miles, a car, an air conditioner, having a driver's license, buying helium filled balloons and throwing away food and cell phones come to mind. Not to mention the prison industrial complex.
posted by y2karl at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned this book before in other WWII-era German threads, but I can't recommend In the Garden of Beasts enough. One of the things that it opened my eyes to was that the degeneration of Germany was widely recognized, at least in the intellectual classes of American society — in particular, in the diplomatic corps — but was also widely ignored for reasons that we'd today file under "Realpolitik".

In addition to tolerating Fascism as a counterweight to Communism, the German state was deeply in debt, and Americans (particularly, commercial banks) held huge amounts of German paper. The banks, then as now, exercised a significant amount of political power, and thus pushed for appeasement with the NSDAP in order to prevent any halt to interest payments.

Exactly how and whether history would have been any different without that particular vested interest in keeping the Nazis on friendly terms for as long as possible, it seems difficult to say. But it's certainly nothing that I had ever considered before, and the role of the banking system in the run-up to the war is something that has been almost entirely expunged from the modern historical narrative, at least as it's commonly taught in the US.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


though whether it was out of fear or silent agreement with the policies is still unclear after all these years.

If this is any indication there must have been a lot of complicity among common German people:

Nazi Board Game ‘Out With The Jews!’
In the 1930s in Germany, anti-semitism was all-pervasive, and part of that can be attributed to pop culture. A commercially successful board game for example called “Juden Raus” (Out With The Jews) became a pasttime of German families.
[...]
It is documented that it was a considerable commercial success and that many, many copies, possibly up to a million copies, of it sold at the time.
[...]
It’s called “Juden Raus” or “Jews out” and it is a bright yellow board. The board is in the form a town and you walk through the streets. You roll dice, you walk through the streets and you are hoping to land on circles which represent Jewish businesses or law firms or whatever, and the little wooden figures that you play with represent the Germans and the Jews are represented by small yellow cones, cardboard cones, with grotesque caricatures of Jewish faces painted on them. If the wooden figure lands on the Jewish circle, it “arrests” the Jew. The wooden figure goes back to his home base, puts the Jew into something called the “sammlung punktz” or the “collection point” and then goes back into the town to try to hunt down another one.
It's disappointing that the massively influential Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany did so little to help Jewish people and resist the Nazis.

The German Churches and the Nazi State
With time, anti-Nazi sentiment grew in both Protestant and Catholic church circles, as the Nazi regime exerted greater pressure on them. In turn, the Nazi regime saw a potential for dissent in church criticism of state measures. When a protest statement was read from the pulpits of Confessing churches in March 1935, for example, Nazi authorities reacted forcefully by briefly arresting over 700 pastors. After the 1937 papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ("With burning concern") was read from Catholic pulpits, the Gestapo confiscated copies from diocesan offices throughout the country.

The general tactic by the leadership of both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany was caution with respect to protest and compromise with the Nazi state leadership where possible. There was criticism within both churches of Nazi racialized ideology and notions of "Aryanism," and movements emerged in both churches to defend church members who were considered "non-Aryan" under Nazi racial laws (e.g., Jews who had converted). Yet throughout this period there was virtually no public opposition to antisemitism or any readiness by church leaders to publicly oppose the regime on the issues of antisemitism and state-sanctioned violence against the Jews. There were individual Catholics and Protestants who spoke out on behalf of Jews, and small groups within both churches that became involved in rescue and resistance activities (for example, the White Rose and Herman Maas).
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:40 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Back in the early-mid 90's I was working at one of the three big talent agencies, and we were given the option of volunteering at the Shoah Foundation, which was just getting off the ground. Over a period of several weeks, we interviewed various Holocaust survivors living in the Los Angeles county area.

Now, I grew up and traveled in Europe, and of course, heard WWII stories - and also read quite a bit - so I thought I was prepared for what was to come.

Many survivors were actually somewhat reluctant to tell their stories. Often, this was the first time they recounted what happened to them - stories their own families may not have known.

What really got to me, was the anonymous nature of the horrors they witnessed. Victims with no name, living merely in the memories of old people who happened to witness their tragedy. So very frequently, in the course of telling a story, you'd get glimpses of those nameless and seemingly countless victims. Paraphrasing - "We were making our way to the other side of town where there were potatoes for sale, and we hid our empty bags under out clothes - we turned a corner and just ahead there was a young Jewish woman pleading with a German soldier; he pulled out a pistol and shot her and she fell to the ground, we quickly turned back so he wouldn't now pay attention to us and we took the longer route - but when we got there, the potatoes were already sold and we had to go back with nothing... it was the fifth day when we had nothing to eat." And there, in passing you just saw a nameless young Jewish woman murdered by a soldier. She lived a life and it was taken from her and nobody knows about it, except for this old woman who glimpsed that moment of death as she was passing by. When that old woman dies, so will the last fleeting connection of that life with this world.

This was a daily occurrence all over WWII Nazi occupied Europe, happening thousands of times over and over and over again. This was a very common pattern - a lone German soldier or officer casually executing someone right there in the street. The insane Nazi ideology worked in perverse ways to encourage this. For example, German soldiers were not supposed to have any sexual contact with Jews. Of course, being in positions of absolute power, the German soldier would pick a young Jewish woman to rape for the night. In the morning, they leave, and now the soldier wants no evidence of this forbidden encounter - so he murders her in cold blood, right there, in the street. If very lucky she manages to walk away with her life. Naturally she knows what is going to happen. Imagine being kidnapped for the night, and knowing what will happen in the morning. This was a something that people saw often: the woman walking away, tensely, her shoulders stiff with fear, the soldier standing as she walks - will he pull his pistol and shoot her in the back? More often then not, a shot would ring out. A young girl pleading with the soldier who calmly pulls out his pistol and shoots her - so common, it's hardly worth remarking upon. I recently watched an interview with a Polish director, who recounted witnessing just such an event when he was a child in occupied Krakow, his first encounter with death, at the age of five.

People were shot for zero reason, or some insane reason too. Perhaps the German officer quarreled with another German officer who happened to like the drawings of a Jewish artist in the small town they were stationed at. So next time the angry German officer sees the Jewish artist walking along the street, he crosses it, and shoots him dead, to spite the other officer. This time, the victim had a name - a famous Polish writer and artist, called the Polish Kafka - Bruno Schulz.

But mostly, those killed had no names, and no living witnesses today. And when we stop re-telling and documenting, those few whose murder was witnessed, shall pass from history forever.
posted by VikingSword at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2013 [45 favorites]


> "It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring."

In the United States, I believe that there are approximately 750,000 individuals incarcerated for victimless "crimes" such as personal drug use.

A significant number are forced into involuntary servitude - effectively slave labor.

Although only about 15% of illegal drug users are black, the prison population serving time for illegal drug use is around 50% black.

For example.
posted by kyrademon at 3:00 PM on March 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


The Holocaust didn't always require building new infrastructure. Example: Rivesaltes in the south of France.

Built by the French before the war. Used as an internment camp for Spanish Republicans, among others.

After Third Republic France turned into Vichy France, the existing camp (which was already holding groups of people who the Nazis would otherwise have been interested in rounding up) played a role in the Holocaust.

After the Germans left in 1944, German and Italian POWs were held there. It was used for various internment and other functions right up to 2007.

I think one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that it wasn't something we can separate off and say "it was different". Often it happened in places that were otherwise unremarkable: regular prisons, jail cells, and so on. It didn't necessarily happen in places that were special or exotic or temporary, it often happened in places that are disturbingly normal.
posted by gimonca at 3:19 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


"It makes you wonder what in-your-face, you-can't-not-know-about-them crimes against humanity future generations will revile us for ignoring."


Climate change. We're setting up to create another holocaust.
posted by orme at 4:31 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Timothy Snyder calls them the Bloodlands: the places where totalitarianism enables killing at industrial scales.

Today's bloodlands include North Korea.
posted by rdc at 4:45 PM on March 2, 2013


Holograms of Holocaust survivors let crucial stories live on: As the aging Holocaust survivor population dwindles, USC scientists scurry to create life-size 3D holograms that can answer viewer questions through Siri-like voice-recognition technology.
posted by homunculus at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2013


Crying at my desk at home at these numbers and comments. As an academic and an intellectually curious person and a sociologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about how weird it must be to live in constant uncertainty. And as a firefighter sometimes you know that things could go badly. Sometimes you get the strong feeling that they will. (Always been wrong so far, knock wood.) But when you get right down to it, I don't know, and I hope I never, ever, ever know, what it's like to know I'm going to, not just my own abuse and death, but to my death at the hands of a system designed to kill everyone like me. I feel like my heart just can't handle that these things happened and, in lesser forms, are still happening.
posted by WidgetAlley at 6:33 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know how present day Germans (especially in Bavaria) are treating present day immigrants?

Roughly about the same way that Americans treat Mexicans. Except that the guest workers are legal there.
posted by readyfreddy at 6:47 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Hey guys, it would be better not to scatter the thread into a hundred separate derails about other horrible things (the "future generations" musing). I understand it's an interesting question, but one that can easily entirely overwhelm and drown out the original topic.]
posted by taz at 11:02 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that it wasn't something we can separate off and say "it was different".

This. Japanese occupation of Asia, Napoleon's armies in Spain, any number of atrocities in the Thirty Years War, English armies in France during the Hundred Years War - the list of similars is endless, if you have the stomach and care to look. It was the modern efficiency, proximity, good record keeping, photography, and Germans' being a little too close to our First World White selves that makes the Holocaust as chilling to, well, First World White Folk, as it does. Sort of behavior one expects of primitive savages, not fellow white folk.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:20 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was the modern efficiency, proximity, good record keeping, photography, and IBM.

ftfy as a primitive savage.
posted by infini at 7:35 AM on March 3, 2013


I once met a 20th century history professor who believed that the Arminian Genocide was the first in history - that something had changed because of the First World War to make genocide possible. A week later, I'm listening to the "History of Rome" podcast, and hearing about the massacre of all Latin-speaking people (in modern south-east Europe) after a successful uprising against the Romans. It happened in about 80 BC if I recall correctly (please correct or add).

Genocide is, sadly, something humans have spent a long time practicing.
posted by jb at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2013


My visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in May 1994 was a life-changer. I highly recommend this to everyone who posted here. Advance reservations, and careful advance planning are needed, and you won't regret it after you've been there.

You will learn that it was impossible to not know about the existence of the camps, because the stench of human body odor reached out for miles around every camp. It is a nauseating odor when achieved on that scale. If you read war memoirs of Americans who were there in the units that found camps, this is always made abundantly clear. All statements of 'we didn't know' are 100% lies. Eyewitness accounts confirm that by smell alone, camps advertised themselves across great distances. Please, go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and spend at least two consecutive days there. It is a graduate-level course in twentieth century history.

As a second-generation German-American, I am grateful to the Museum for helping me to understand Germany and Germans.

I went there on two consecutive days. There is no way any thinking person can take in their exhibits and collections in only one day. Also, be sure to view the film of Gerda and Kurt Klein, and others, at the end of the exhibit.

Subsequently, I attended in March 1995 'A Ceremony Thanking the Liberators' at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. Another life-changing experience. Gerda and Kurt Klein were speakers at that ceremony also.

A deep-enough study of human history reveals genocide as a recurring event, as jb wrote (above). In just China alone, it would be difficult to count the numerous genocide events connected to organized warfare. And let us not forget Josef Stalin, who is personally responsible for having at least 20 million citizens murdered in the Soviet Union. That's not even counting his slave-labor camps. . .

Then there are the Native Americans . . .

If only the human species could face its own history and take real steps to change into something better.
posted by Galadhwen at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are ways in which the Holocaust was similar to other genocides and ways in which it was unique. It's important to consider the differences as well as the similarities. For example, one very important fact about the Holocaust was that it was a rolling program of genocide: it was gradually applied to other countries as the Nazis extended their control over Europe. This didn't just mean that there was no place of refuge; it meant that local institutions were adapted and incorporated into the machinery of death. How this happened, and how it could happen, are things which we can't learn by treating the Holocaust as one genocide amongst many. Similarly, studying the Holocaust alone wouldn't be sufficient to understand things like the genocide in Cambodia, or King Leopold II's exploitation of the Congo.

Coming back to the subject of the FPP, I'm frankly surprised by the numbers they found, but this is because the topic was taboo for a very long time. People obviously didn't want to talk about the slave laborers on local farms or on local roads, or the corps of ragged children (with armed guards) clearing bomb rubble. This stuff was everywhere, but it's easier to think of genocide as something that took place a long way away, mostly in Poland, by people who were clearly part of the extermination process. But it really was everywhere, and nobody could seriously fail to connect the few dozen slave laborers starving to death in a local barn or church with the fact that Jews all over Europe had been rounded up.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:31 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


It happened in about 80 BC if I recall correctly (please correct or add). Genocide is, sadly, something humans have spent a long time practicing.

Probably a reference to Mithridates.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:08 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, genocide has always been with us as Lawrence H. Keely's War Before Civilization recounts. We have been very bloody for a long, long time. He cites one author who very liberally estimated that during the 20th Century around 100 million people died in war and then notes that had the killings been done at the casualty rate of tribal society warfare, the number would be 2 billion.
posted by y2karl at 3:47 AM on March 16, 2013


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