Sunday, March 3, 2013

The true extent of the Holocaust and of AntiSemitism

Everyone knows--aside from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a goood chunk of the under-educated population in the Middle East, and neo-Nazi types around the world--that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, that millions of people were cruelly treated and/or killed simply because of who they were, Jews, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, mentally disabled, and people who were just different in some respect that irked the Nazis. The principle sights of the Holocaust that pervade the world consciousness are death camps like Auschwitz and Jewish confinement areas like the Warsaw Ghetto. But such locations represent only a portion of the totality of Holocaust sites, as a new data released from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes clear.

This article at the New York Times summarizes the new findings:
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...

The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.
The number of camps now documented--42,500--is mind-boggling. We tend to think again of places like Auschwitz and Dachau as the epicenters of the Holocaust and understand there were many others, but more than 42,000 others? And the variety of these camps is no less astounding. To get a feel for how many there were, how they were virtually everywhere, look at this map of just SS Concentration Camps:

Again, that's just concentration camps, nowhere close to the 42,000+ total of all sites. Ghettos were primarily located outside of Germany, proper, and a map of the 1000+ of such sites blankets Poland and other Eastern European nations (such a map is on the above link). And still, both maps are not even 10% of the total number of sites.

As Dr. Dean, one of the researches responsible for cataloging all of these sites, noted to the Times:
You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps. They were everywhere.
Everywhere. Think on the implications of this statement. There is--or there was, to be fair--a kind of post-WWII amnesia on the part of many people, when it came to knowing what was going on under the Nazis. And make no mistake, this amnesia extended far beyond the borders of Germany, proper. It infected people in Allied nations as well, along with ones throughout the pan-Germanic world.

Today, as I noted above, there still exist cadres of Holocaust deniers and doubters, people who think it never actually happened or at least was not as big as the Jews (those damn Jews, again) and their "supporters" like to claim. Hopefully, this new data will help to silence some of these voices. Every little bit helps, in that regard.

But apart from the outright loonies, there are also otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people who have a weird reaction to talk about the Holocaust. They accept that it happened, that it was tragic, but then persist in going into screeds about how there "were other groups besides the Jews in the Holocaust," about how "there were lots of other tragedies in history" and then asking "why aren't you talking about those?"

Both sorts of reactions reflect basic truths, no doubt about it. There were other groups besides Jews  mistreated in the Holocaust and there have been other tragedies in history, even other attempts at genocide. But people who insist on noting these things are often--even usually--inappropriately dismissive of the Holocaust as a whole in my opinion. Why? Because first of all, in the common discourse on the Holocaust mention is made almost always of the other groups who suffered in the Holocaust, as is the case in the above piece and for the legions of researchers at the USHMM. Bellyaching about the lack of attention paid to these other groups has become an all-too-common canard. I can't help but wonder about the real reasons behind it.

Second of all, the idea that other tragedies must be mentioned any time the subject of the Holocaust is broached is the worst kind of fallacy of argument, a red herring in toto. When the subject matter is, for instance, the brutal treatment of native Americans by the U.S. Government, there aren't any people jumping up and down screaming "what about the Holocaust?" Why should there be? Ditto for discussions and articles about the Rape of Nanking, Pol Pot, or Stalin's purges. But mention the Holocaust and there's always someone ready with one of the above examples, ready to use it as a means of deflection. And again, it makes me wonder why people engage in such nonsense, why they seemingly wish to avoid talking about the Holocaust at any cost.

My wondering has an obvious answer, of course: it's deep-rooted anti-Semitism, plain and simple. People who do the things I mentioned, people who accept the reality of the Holocaust (begrudgingly, it would seem), will insist there's "not an ant-Semitic bone in their body" or the like, and I'd like to believe them, but I can think of no other reason for such constant attempts at deflection.

So while our knowledge about the true extent of the Holocaust is expanding, so is--apparently--anti-Semitism, of both an overt and covert nature. Or perhaps this knowledge expansion is simply revealing what was there all along. A common theme in Holocaust studies is "never again," and a common reaction to the reality of the event is "how could such a thing have happened in a modern culture?" I would humbly suggest that the first is by no means a certainty and that the answer to the second is painfully obvious.

Cheers, all.


  1. Yeah, reading that thread was somewhat dispiriting. One only needs to look at what is happening in Hungary today to understand why it is important to learn about what happened.

    There are several reasons why the Holocaust in many respects is unique when taken in total.
    1. Jew hatred was a basic tenet for Hitler and co. It wasn't an afterthought about getting rid of undesirables. It was a premeditated and concerted destruction even when such actions were very clearly against Germany's best interests at a time of war effort.
    2. The Nazis didn't just destroy their own Jewry, they went after Jews everywhere they conquered, and huge numbers of people either stood by or actively participated. Even people from conquered nations. The largest Jewish community in Poland was wiped out almost completely. There were 3 million Jews in Poland before WWII. Today there are three thousand. And those who survived and became refugees, found their property confiscated by the new communist government.
    3. Some people see the Holocaust as something that just sprang into being. A freak event (and to boot, many claim that anti-semitism died with the Holocaust). The problem is that the Holocaust was a result of centuries of cultivated Jew hatred that just waited to get out, and indeed got out on smaller scales during the Inquisition (with the Jewish expulsion from Spain), expulsions from Britain, pogroms in Eastern Europe etc.
    4. The sheer magnitude and methodical aspect of it. Here are the links to a map of Jewish population in Europe in '33 and a list (at the bottom of the page) from 2010 (it also needs to be remembered that large number of Jews in Germany and France today is a result of immigration). A third of world Jewry was wiped out. I read somewhere that because of the demographic concentration etc, they would have accounted for half the world Jewry today.

  2. Good stuff, Dm. Number 3 is one I think many just can't come to grips with. Plus, as I noted in the thread, the whole "lesser people" idea that informs so many other horrible incidents in history is not really the basis of anti-Semitism, then or now. The same bigotries live on, despite the Holocaust. It really is an astounding--and despicable--thing.

  3. As much as "good stuff" can be said about things like that *sigh*
    Thanks for posting in that thread.

  4. I disagree, the reason that usually well-meaning people that bring up "other groups" that were also victims of the holocaust, is because many times the holocaust is used for a justification for Israel and/or U.S. support of the state of Israel.

  5. That can be a fair point in specific situations, but not all discussions about the Holocaust are about Israel and U.S. support of the same. The NYT article I linked to above is a perfect example of what I am talking about. It's was picked up by HuffPo and the comment trail there is thousands of posts long. And its full of people interjecting stuff about other groups, both in the Holocaust and out of it, supposing that they are being ignored. Yet the article makes full mention of them; it's not limited to Jews in the least. And it has nothing to do with Israel or U.S. policy.

    So why interject these other issues? Why do they feel such a need?