25 April 2006

Genocide

Today is Yom Ha'Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I presume that you've heard of the Holocaust already. Let me offer you a thing about the Holocaust you may not know, and a few other things about genocide worthy of reflection.

First is that you may know the figure of 6 million dead in the Holocaust. That's actually a misleading figure. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews plus, in the same processes of concentration camps and mass executions, at least 4 million other folks they didn't like. That includes: Poles, Russians, and other Slavs ... Roma ("Gypsies") ... communists and other political dissidents ... Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons, and other religious minorities, as well as antifascist Christian clergy ... lesbians and gay men ... and on and on. About ten million total, maybe more depending on how you count.

Second, there's this observation about the Nazi concentration camps from Hannah Arendt, writing in The Origins of Totalitarianism. (Chapter 12, Part III)

Torture, to be sure, is an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus; it is used every day to make people talk. This type of torture, since it pursues a definite, rational aim, has certain limitations: either the prisoner talks within a certain time, or he is killed. To this rationally conducted torture another, irrational, sadistic type was added in the first Nazi concentration camps and in the cellars of the Gestapo. Carried on for the most part by the SA, it pursued no aims and was not systematic, but depended on the initiative of largely abnormal elements. The mortality rate was so high that only a few concentration-camp inmates of 1933 survived these first years. This type of torture seemed to be not so much a calculated political institution as a concession of the regime to its criminal and abnormal elements, who were thus rewarded for services rendered. Behind the blind bestiality of the SA, there often lay a deep hatred and resentment against all those who were socially, intellectually, or physically better off than themselves, and who now, as if in fulfillment of their wildest dreams, were in their power. This resentment, which never died out entirely in the camps, strikes us as a last remnant of humanly understandable feeling.

The real horror began, however, when the SS took over the administration of the camps. The old spontaneous bestiality gave way to an absolutely cold and systematic destruction of human bodies, calculated to destroy human dignity; death was avoided or postponed indefinitely. The camps were no longer amusement parks for beasts in human form, that is, for men who really belonged in mental institutions and prisons; the reverse became true: they were turned into "drill grounds," on which perfectly normal men were trained to be full-fledged members of the SS.

That quote comes from a brilliant Arthur Silber essay cycle on torture as a tool of state violence in which he plumbs the unwholesome depths of our current American madness on the subject.

Third, via Dionysus Devotee, a poignaint reminder about the Armenian genocide. According to legend, Hitler exhorted his commanders on the Eastern Front to ruthlessness by asking, "Who remembers the Armenians?" If you don't, you ought to follow the link and find out.

Fourth, if that isn't bad enough for you, I have an old post about Rwanda and Iraq for you which I think really is worth your time if you didn't read it the first time around.

1 comment:

qibitum said...

I have to stop reading your blog before bedtime.