Until today, If you looked up the word “Holocaust” on The Cassie Times, you only found the following posts, in reverse date order. I wrote these articles based on discoveries I made in the news, as they related to me or my views of current events.
March 3, 2013: Can’t happen here…
March 8, 2016: So much hate…
July 25, 2016: My take on Machiavelli’s The Prince, and a little history…
November 18, 2016: I just don’t have time right now…
May 11, 2017: Aftermath (Part 3): People will NOT SEE this coming…
November 2, 2017: A possible view of the future, thanks to the past…
This all-too brief list represents a lot of writing specifically about Hitler’s Holocaust and how I relate to it. I’ve written thousands of words about World War II and about fascism in general and a lot of other related things, but apparently these are the only posts I tagged specifically with the word “Holocaust.”
With a Jewish heritage that includes ancestors from Austria, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and England (eventually), there is simply no way I can express the following without acknowledging the horror that took my family history and shredded it. As a third generation American Jew, this is stated fact, not subject to question based on whether I’m observing the rules of my heritage. Genetic testing isn’t necessary. I know where my families came from in Europe and I know how they got here based on history.
I’ve written more about fascism and Nazi Germany than most other instances of genocide because I have a direct connection to this fragment of human history, but it would be the height of ignorance to assume that my family’s story is the most important or the only one that should be told. It’s merely the one with which I am most familiar.
I just spent the last two hours down the rabbit hole on my OWN blog, realizing I never actually posted the following video. That’s about to change. If you’ve never seen it, take the time right now. Or wait until you read all the way to the bottom. Either way, at the end you’ll have some perspective for what comes next.
The Fallen of World War II
Now about that perspective: The relative importance of Hitler’s role in history as a genocidal maniac vs any other dictator is, at its core, an ethnocentric and highly personal issue, regardless of your cultural heritage.
This post started with the following quote, in Meme form, which Facebook is circulating at the moment (probably because it’s an image and nobody’s tagged it as offensive…yet). The text is as follows:
“The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine. Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler.
If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson. I often meet people in the West who insist that the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history, without question.
Yes, it was horrific. But I often wonder, with African atrocities like in the Congo, how horrific were they? The thing Africans don’t have that Jewish people do have is documentation. The Nazis kept meticulous records, took pictures, made films. And that’s really what it comes down to. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and be rightly horrified.
But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess. When Portugal and Belgium were plundering Angola and the Congo, they weren’t counting the black people they slaughtered. How many black people died harvesting rubber in the Congo? In the gold and diamond mines of the Transvaal? So in Europe and America, yes, Hitler is the Greatest Madman in History. In Africa he’s just another strongman from the history books.”
― Trevor Noah, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood“
The text above comes from Trevor Noah’s autobiographical novel, which I haven’t read yet but clearly should. In searching for the specific text, I came across the following article, which is also worth reading for perspective: A Point of View: A Dancer Named Hitler Performing at a Jewish School? What Could Go Wrong?!
So let’s get into it.
We have records of the Holocaust in large part because Hitler was a sociopathic serial killer at the helm of a massive military industrial complex. He didn’t act alone. He had help. Enablers at every level, who worked darn hard to erase anyone who disagreed with him. And like a lot of serial killers, Hitler was obsessed with tracking the people he murdered.
Propaganda aside, there’s such a wealth of graphic data, photographic evidence, firsthand accounts and so on because serial killers like to keep mementos of their victims, you know, for posterity. Because the technology was available, we have newsreels and photographic evidence to show us the evil he did. Now imagine what that would look like if we’d had photographers at the other genocidal events in human history, I imagine we’d have a different view and would count the Holocaust as merely one of far, far too many.
If you want a taste of what that was actually like, feel free to read NeuroTribes. There’s a charming section that talks about the seminal anatomical textbook and where it derived. The source for that section of the book, almost certainly, is here: Cleansing the Fatherland and it’s horrifying in its “matter of fact” descriptions of the sources of those images.
In fact, I invite you to dip a toe in that water. Go visit Wikipedia’s page on the subject. I imagine there’s a major doctoral project in compiling all the dead and maimed and displaced at the hands of genocidal cultures, but as a friend astutely mentioned, there is no moment in history you can point to that doesn’t have one group trying to exterminate another somewhere on earth, every single day. When you can wipe out a culture by murdering 200, is it any less catastrophic than murdering millions? Look at that page and the 594 footnotes that go with it and try to get some sense of scale here.
Whataboutism can so easily shut down conversations because it instantly makes one group of people more important than another, invalidating the experiences and perspectives of others as somehow less relevant in comparison. Using Hitler as a benchmark is an easy target for all sorts of righteous indignation: Given available evidence, no other dictator *in recent memory* has done the damage he did while in power, as far as we know. Except…and this is important…if you’re NOT part of the target group.
You can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a fascist regime here in the US if you’ve never experienced what it’s like elsewhere. No, really. If you’ve never had anyone in your families who told you what it was like, how it felt to live under such oppression, be thankful. You’re one of the lucky ones. But just because YOU didn’t experience it, doesn’t mean NOBODY did.
Why is it that such a simple concept is so impossible to grasp? And yet, that lack of empathy drives everything that’s presently wrong in our society.
It’s why some white people have trouble understanding why Black Lives Matter, why some men don’t understand the MeToo movement or try to minimize its effects, why some gun owners who can’t conceive of a reason to restrict access to weapons, why TERF women don’t understand people who are trans. Why LGBTQ communities, marginalized people of color, those who are Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, who are Latinx or liberals—whatever sort of label you want to assign—are in danger of dying or are ALREADY DEAD.
We can’t allow our country to slide any further toward fascism.
Survivors of WWII are watching current events. They tell us that they’ve seen this before. When some people react with skepticism because they simply can’t imagine the Holocaust here, I tell them they’re missing the big picture. And I guarantee you, the ones who say these things are NOT People of Color. They’re not. That’s privilege talking.
We let a fascist dictator take over the country even though we have AMPLE historical record of where it leads. That’s failure to learn from history and apply the knowledge appropriately. And now we have to pay for that misguided failure with what will certainly be blood before it’s over.
People are already dying all over the country, in prisons, in concentration camps, at the hands of corrupt cops who mete out summary justice, and we’re not paying enough attention as a whole because we failed history.
This isn’t intended to be a pissing contest to prove my ancestors are more important than yours are for having died under one dictator or another. It’s about STOPPING the violence before it gets worse. Because we already know where this leads and we fail our children if we can’t stop it this time.