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If we’re going to be humanizing Hitler and the Nazis, okay, let’s do that. Let’s talk about how they had friends, and families, and flirted, and didn’t stop doing all the things humans do just because they started becoming monsters. Okay, that’s nice. Let’s talk about how when it was all over, they managed to put all that death and murder, and hate, and cruelty back in a box and keep doing all those nice human things. Let’s talk about how many of them were nice to their kids and loved their families. Let’s talk about how entire nations grew up telling themselves: “not my parents. Yes my dad was a member of the party, but he didn’t know. My mom worked for a company that used slave labor, but she didn’t know. Not my aunt, not my uncle, not the people who I love and love me. They didn’t know.” Let’s talk about how “no one” knew. Let’s talk about how that is absolute bullshit. Let’s talk about the lies that people have been telling themselves for thousands of years, that they are still telling themselves, that made this possible, about the greedy parasitic Jew, and the thieving, cheating dirty G*psy. Let’s talk about how at the start of WWII, more Americans were worried about how much power Jews had than how much power Hitler had, while Jews didn’t even have the power to keep themselves alive. Let’s talk about how antisemitism and anti-Romani racism are alive and well in Europe and the Americas today. Let’s talk about how maybe, just maybe you should look at your mother’s favorite great uncle, and your grandmother who made you cookies, and your friends’ grandparents and the way they look so human, and ask yourself: “Did they really not know?”

And maybe then we can talk about all those dead human beings they “didn’t know” about.




( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Is "gypsy" considered an offensive term in English? The Czech translation is "cikán", which has been declared somewhat offensive a few years years back by the media, though I'm not entirely sure what prompted it, since the vast majority of Romani people still refer to themselves by that term. And since we're at the language lesson - can I call an African-American "black", or is that rude? I ran into this when I wanted to describe an OC in fanfic - "African-American" seemed kind of wordy, but I wasn't sure if "black" and "white" have any negative feeling behind them...

Anyway, I'm not sure what sort of posts there were about humanizing Hitler and the Nazis, so I'm kind of in the dark here, but I think it actually is important to note that they were "human" and with families and whatever... And I'm not in any way excusing Nazism or saying that being "good parents" made the Nazis any less horrible.

I mean, sure there were some psychopats and born "monsters" between them, but most of them were just ordinary people, which makes their actions that more terrifying. How can you smile and hug your kid in the evening and then go torture or murder someone the next day? How can an entire nation go crazy and decide that mass murder is a good idea, that it's right and justified or at least excusable?

I think some of them really didn't know in the beginning, and then they didn't want to know. The Jews were made to send "happy" letters from the concentration camps, so for a while the wider public really didn't know... and by the time they couldn't deny the truth, it was already too late.

There was propaganda of course, and then there was fear. If you didn't fall in line, if you spoke up, you could be next... so most people kept silent. Which is a horrible long-term strategy even if you disregard that you're condoning the mass murder, because once they're done with "them", you can be next, but short-term it makes sense. If you have to choose between protecting your family and friends or speaking up for some nameless Jew, then it's easy to be selfish... and nobody else is doing anything, so why should you?

So we have to talk about them being human, we have to remember that they were also "good parents" and "otherwise nice people really" so we don't fall into the same trap again. We have to remember the horrors of holocaust so we don't let it happen again.

I know more about communism than nazism, and the communists didn't murder nearly as many people in my country as the Nazis, but the principles remain the same. After 1948, people cheered when the so-called "american traitors" were executed; they cheered when the pilots who fought the Nazis in the Battle of Britain for our freedom were sent to concentration camps or outright murdered in political trials; even when all this became apparent, a lot of people still believed that "mistakes have been made", but the underlying cause was just.

It's simple really - in a crisis (aftermath of a war, a financial collapse, hunger, disease, poverty), the people are most vulnerable to manipulation. Then all you have to do is take an "enemy" and villify them to people. Any excuse will do - they snatch children, they're american traitors, their skin color is wrong, their language is wrong, they use black magic, their religion is "evil" etc. Everything bad is "their" fault and if we persecute them enough, life will magically become better. Some people will believe it, some will simply take advantage and some will stay silent because they're afraid or because they simply can't be bothered - and then you get holocaust and genocide.

It's the silent support that is so dangerous. I don't think many people can imagine themselves actively killing/hurting someone, but how many of us would stay silent in fear, or let ourselves be manipulated into actually supporting something monstrous? How many of us simply wouldn't care?

We can't let anything like this ever happen again.

I don't think I can wish you a "happy rememberance day" - unless it's happy because you and your people are still here. Is there an appropriate saying? As I see Yom HaShoah was yesterday... I hope you had a good day.
Apr. 17th, 2015 08:15 pm (UTC)
G*psy is widely considered a slur within the Rromani community, along with a host of other exonyms. "Cikán" I think is one of the words that comes from a Byzantine Greek term meaning "untouchable" so that, and the history of racism, is probably why it's coming to be viewed as a slur. A lot of English speaking Rromani will use the word G*psy in desperation, because not a lot of non-Rromani know the word Rromani. Also, "black" is acceptable, but "blacks" is not. It is an adjective, not a noun.

On tumblr lately, there has been a fair bit of Nazi apologia, in the form of posts saying things like maybe this all could have been prevented if Hitler had been able to get into art school, none of this would have happened, or look, he held hands with children and loved dogs, he was just an ordinary person who got carried away, or about how Germany suffered the most under his rule and most Germans didn't know, or much more commonly, how the citizens in the countries he conquered didn't know and couldn't be held responsible, because they were conquered, and Hitler was horrible to them too, with the subtext being they don't have to examine their antisemitism.

And most Germans didn't know about the sheer scale of the slaughter, though the signs were there. Most people are pretty good at self deception. But a lot of people not only knew but participated, and did their little bit to help keep the murder machine running. A lot of people really want to forget that, because it says ugly things about people who they love and want to think about as good people.

What little pretense was kept up in Germany was absent in conquered Eastern Europe, where antisemitism was if anything even more rampant. Yes, Hitler was horrible to Slavs, but many Slavic people were only too happy to turn over their Jewish neighbors in exchange for their property. Many more killed their Jewish neighbors in mobs before and after the Nazis invaded. Very few lifted a finger while millions were murdered in full view. After the camps were liberated, many of those Jews tried to return home, only to be killed by their Slavic neighbors, who had been really hoping Hitler had actually managed to take care of "the Jewish problem"

So yes, lots and lots of ordinary people were able to look away, or even do their part in this and still be people. And I agree, we need to talk about this. This is in fact the only kind of humanizing of the Nazis I want so see. I want to see the acknowledgement that kissing your children goodnight doesn't mean you aren't a mass murderer, or that just because a dictator says some things that you might agree with doesn't mean he isn't slaughtering millions of people.

What instead I'm seeing a lot of is sympathizing of the Nazis, and trying to diminish their crimes, because they didn't know, or they had bad childhoods, or whatever. And yes, every person who does evil does it for a reason. That doesn't make it excusable, or mean they deserve to be pitied.

And I think a lot of this is done to take the focus off all of the people who died. Many people would rather see themselves in the powerful than the powerless and dying, even when the powerful have done the unspeakable. Me, I have little choice, because these people died for something I share.

Honestly, when I see the posts about how Hitler and the high ranking Nazis had all kinds of psychological issues, I see the same logic that abuse apologists use. Most abusers, most bullies, most dictators, most people who commit genocide have deep seated fears, pains, and insecurities that they are trying to erase by hurting and blaming others. But to view that as somehow worthy of sympathy is to deny humanity for the victims, which is after all what the Nazis wanted in the first place.

There really isn't an appropriate greeting for Yom Hashoah. It definitely was not happy. My family emigrated to the states in the 1800, but I made the mistake of looking their family by name and place of birth. I found them. As best I can tell, all of them died in Buchenwald. If any escaped, there is no record. I never met them. They died long before I was born. My Jewish family is from Germany, so I always knew there was very little chance any of them made it out. But I had to go look.
Apr. 17th, 2015 09:33 pm (UTC)
Wow, Hitler going to an art school could have stopped the war? Now that is a new one. Ugh.

What countries exactly are considered Eastern Europe?

This is an interesting bit of history, because I never really considered pre-war Czechoslovakia antisemitic - probably based on our first president Masaryk, who was well known for his support of jewish people (in the late 19th century, he became famous for defending a Jew named Hilsner in a murder trial of a young girl - he was most likely innocent, but at the time that didn't earn Masaryk many friends). So I did some research and it turns out that the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia was somewhat antisemitic, while in the Czech part the antisemitism was supposedly much weaker than before the war and weaker than in most of Europe, though there has never been a serious study of this. I guess some of it was Masaryk's influence - even though we tend to idolize the guy a bit, there is no doubt that he was a remarkable person.

If people really want to talk about how the war could have been prevented, then maybe they shouldn't have signed the "Munich treaty", which effectively ripped Czechoslovakia apart and later gave Hitler the weapons he needed to attack the rest of Europe. We will never be able to tell if Czechoslovakia would have been able to sustain Hitler's attack, but we wanted to fight - the army was ready and eager to defend the boarders, until they were forbidden to do so by the travesty of a "treaty". On one hand, thanks to being annexed by Germany, Czechoslovakia was mostly spared of the fights and most non-Jewish people survived... but maybe if we had fought, the war never would have broken out and Hitler could have been stopped right there, or it would have taken him longer to get the kind of power that he then unleashed on Europe. But that's all pure speculation nowadays. If there is one wisdom to take from it, it's that trying to appease a power-hungry dictator by backstabbing your alies is usually a bad move - sooner or later he will want more and then you'll have no ally and an enemy on your doorstep.

Still, you made me wonder how much antisemitism there was in Czechoslovakia in between the wars...

From what I know, there were people who stole the Jewish property and helped the system, but they were mostly considered collaborants and traitors by the other Czechs... who mostly remained quiet, except for those who left the country to fight either with the Brits or the Russians. Whoever opposed the system was persecuted... the university students who demonstrated against the Nazis in 1939 were sent to concentration camps or outright murdered; two innocent villages were burned to ground as a retaliation for the assasination of Heydrich, and those are just the best known cases.

I want to say that we were innocent in the Jewish persecution, but that wouldn't be true. And it troubles me - like I said before, my great-grandfather was half-jewish, and he ended up in Theresinstadt for helping his jewish friends; though he was one of the lucky ones and survived the war. At least I can say that nowadays, antisemitism is very rare here - yes, you will still find an odd "neonazi" or two, but they're by far a minority.

So we let the Nazis take over our country, and after the war we let the communists take over and ruin this place for forty years. It was a crappy situation all around but we still let it happend, and we have to live with this knowledge and move on somehow.
Apr. 17th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)

Actually one of my most favorite Czech movies is "Musíme si pomáhat" ("We have to help each other", for some reason translated to English as "Divided we fall".) It's a movie about the Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and it's unexpectedly tame for a holocaust movie - not a single concentration camp shot, but you can still feel the evil and the everpresent fear even if it all happens in cheerful light streets. Basically a young Czech couple who are keeping their heads down and just trying to get by, until an escaped Jewish boy they used to know shows up at their place and they hide him in their appartment. I guess what I love the most about this movie is how ordinary all these people are - the Nazis, the couple, the Jew, their Czech collaborant "friend", their neighbors in the streets. The couple are no Hollywood heroes, but they do it because it's "the decent thing to do"; and it's a movie about redemption and humanity, in all its ugliness and glory. Though I'm not sure if you'd want to watch it given the topic, not to mention the svastika flags hanging all around.

I'm sorry you weren't able to find any of your family in Europe.
Apr. 17th, 2015 10:57 pm (UTC)
The Czech Republic is actually the site of one of Judaism's most famous folk tales about resisting antisemitism, The Golem of Prague. In this story, a famous rabbi and Jewish mystic created a clay being to protect the Jews of Prague from pogroms. Given its location and that folk tale, I figured a low level of antisemitism was unlikely, so I looked it up. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, in the middle ages and Renaissance, it was bad, but things began to improve a bit under the later of the Hapsburg rulers. However, the Ghetto of Prague kept being burned, and blood libel pogroms were not that uncommon even under those later Hapsburg rulers. In the late 1800s, both German and Czech independence movements scapegoated Jews, culminating in several pogroms, and a Jewish man being put on trial for a blood libel murder accusation in 1899. The Jewish man was convicted, but pardoned after he was proven innocent. This blood libel conviction again led to more pogroms. After independence, things quieted down a little, until the Nazis came in. This is pretty typical for central Europe, but the country conquered by the Nazis that I know the most about as far as raging antisemitism goes is Poland. Oh G-d Poland. 60% of Poles still believe in an international Jewish conspiracy. On a side note, 50% of Czech soldiers in exile during WWII were Jewish.

I have really lost my taste for Holocaust anything. Mind, after about the age of ten, when I ad an unhealthy fixation, I never really had a taste for Holocaust fiction. And I tend to really dislike movies about gentiles who hide a Jewish person, because they all tend to have some similar features I dislike, but it's not something I really feel like going into right now.
Apr. 18th, 2015 07:23 am (UTC)
Oh, the situation was definitely bad until after the WW1. The 1899 murder trial is the Hilsner affair I mentioned above. The Jews weren't alone in being persecuted, though they definitely took the brunt of it; there were several massive "waves" when non-catholic Christians had to leave the Czech countries and go into exile - but I guess they were accepted in the protestant countries, while the Jews really had nowhere to go. So back then, it was bad, and it's disconcerting to realize how proudly we consider the famous Czech Jews (writers etc.) "our" people, when the stories about the pogroms are barely touched upon in historical lessons. That may have been excusable when our independence was still very fragile and new (you want your fledging reborn nation to be proud and not become fixed on their old fuck-ups), but in 2018 it will be a hundred years since "Czechoslovakia" was formed, so we should give up the fairytales we've been telling each other and seriously reflect.

Still, I think after WW1, things have calmed down a lot since we finally had our own country after some 500 years under the Habsburg rule. Also with the "beloved hero" Tomáš Masaryk leading the country, I don't think any wider antisemitism would have stood. But it's hard to say.

Now what is a problem nowadays is the anti-Romani prejudice. It's not just a question of race but also a social-economical problem - the vast majority of Romani people are from the bottom class of society, with barely any education, often one or both of the parents in the families unemployed. Then there are the ghettos which are a serious problem - if you're not Romani, you should absolutely avoid these places or you risk getting hurt by the gangs.

So for various reasons, there is this "us" versus "them" mentality, on both sides. And it absolutely has to change, but it won't happen until the social-economical situation changes. We desperately need Romani role models; people who would come from this society, talk about their experiences and be proud of their background. We need Romani children to become more educated - too many teenagers never even complete their Leaving Exam and drop out of school at fifteen, but those few who get out of the ghettos and actually do go to universities and such all seem to tell the same story about how their families now consider them "traitors" and they had to choose between an education/career and their origins.

At this stage, it's white people telling how to fix things and Romani people telling how to fix things, but there isn't any form of dialouge. And for all the wonderful proclamations made by "human rights supporters", I don't see this changing anytime soon :(
Apr. 18th, 2015 02:26 pm (UTC)
The "Jews (or any marginalized people) are ours when they succeed, or are moral, but when they do something wrong, they're not, they're just Jews" is really really common. in 1922, Einstein said something to that effect, "If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew."

I can't really claim America is any better in the fairy tales department. Look at what we say about Manifest Destiny and Slavery. The myths the powerful tell to make it look like they are always right and always righteous I think are a commonality across all people and all times.

As for anti Rromani racism, the problem is that poverty and lack of education is itself caused by and a form of structural racism. You can see the same thing in the US with anti-black racism and racism against Latin@s. And in Europe, Rromani people often have to choose between getting an education, if its even open to them in different countries, and leaving parts of their culture behind to assimilate enough to be accepted, or keeping their culture and family, but remaining in poverty. Unfortunately fixing racism is about remaking institutions and shaping white attitudes, not Rromani ones. No one can fix the racism against their own group. But if white leaders aren't listening to what the Rromani community says it needs then they're not going to get anywhere.
Apr. 18th, 2015 04:13 pm (UTC)
Well I wouldn't go that far - that the problem is only in the institutions and "white attitudes". Even the more educated Romani people themselves admit that the problem is on both sides. As long as the majority of Romani remain apathetic with the excuse of the society being "racist" anyway, then there is only so much you can do.

Not that the system isn't flawed.

A part of this tragedy is how early the segregation starts. I just read a statistic today that Romani children who attend kindergarten for two or more years are 30 % more likely to get a job than kids who attend for a year or less. Unfortunately, sending your kids to kindergarten is not a priority for many Romani people - a) because the majority will always be white, that with only 3% Romani living in the country, so you're essentially sending your child into a potentially "unfriendly" environment, and b) because kindergarten costs money - not much, it's perfectly affordable if you have a job, but if both parents are on social support, then it can be a problem.

So then you have kids who start primary school, but they're incapable of even the simplest things - they can't tie their shoelaces, they barely speak the language, they don't know numbers and can't read the basic letters, some don't even know the basic hygiene, some are disruptive of the lessons just to stick it up to the establishment. And if you have one kid like that in your class, then you can work with him, but if there is more of them, it becomes a problem. So if you have a class of thirty kids with four Romani children from socially poor background, they might fall behind pretty fast. And then they get send to "special schools" for kids with light mental disabilities, which effectively destroys their chances for a high school education and they're pretty much screwed for the rest of their lives. (This is by the way one of the "wonderful" legacies of communism - but to explain how that ideology screwed up this country would be a long tirade. Gah.)

So this is obviously not okay, and there has been a lot of debate about the "special schools". Over the past ten years, the amount of children sent there has dropped by 40%, so we are getting somewhere... slowly. Also the number of university students have rised - according to "Romea", which is the closest thing to an official Romani organization in Czechia, the number of Romani university students have gone from two(!) to over three hundred during the past few years (which is still only 0.1 % of all the Romani people in Czechia...). There have been government programs created just for this; special scholarships for Romani students which have met with partial success. Also most Czech universities are free (you only pay for your schoolbooks), so that should make it easier for people from poor background to get education... but it's still easier said and done, and if your parents don't have a certain level of education, you're that less likely to obtain it yourself, no matter if you're white or Romani.

The biggest issue though is the poverty.

Of course everyone gets a social support, but there is a frightening percent of people who are in debts that they have no way of paying... they owe money to the mafia, they rent flats from loan sharks (who are often Romani themselves) and barely scrape to get by. This of course leads to the very high crime rate between Romani people – if they can’t get a job due to the lack of even the most basic education, they understandably turn to less legal means; theft, robbery, prostitution. There have been some new laws passed that should make it that harder for the loan-sharks to extort people like this, but again it will take time.
Apr. 18th, 2015 04:14 pm (UTC)
There have been some "integration programs" in the past (e.g. the stipends for Romani students etc.), but they had only had limited success. At last, the Ministry of Social security and Romea agreed to work together, and they’re somewhat hopeful this latest program might really make a difference (the anti-loan shark laws are said to be the one of the crucial points).

Still, with 300,000 Romani living in a ten million country, you can’t pull them all out of poverty by some magical law – they have to make their own effort too.

Which is where education comes up again – if you want a better future for your kid, you really need to send him(her) to school, and before you send him to the primary school, it’s up to the parents to make sure the kid knows the basics. Colors, Czech language, counting to ten; getting dressed by himself, maybe a bit of the alphabet. And if the kid doesn’t know this stuff, then you can’t come accusing the teacher of racism – you come to them politely and work with them to get the kid back on track.

The Romani have to meet us somewhere. There is some prejudice and that sucks, but they have to make an effort too and not just decide that they’re screwed either way. And what really doesn’t help is when some groups cry “racism” whenever things don’t go their way.

The “us” and “them” mentality is a big issue, but in this case it’s more than reciprocated from the Romani’s side.

There is some progress… in some of the cities with bad ghettos, small groups of Romani have come forward to work as intermediates between the Romani and the police, acting as a sort of civil guard. Romea is the most visible Romani group when it comes to interactions with the majority, but other, smaller organizations are also beginning to form. We still don’t have many public Romani role models (there was the guy who won the “Superstar” singing contest, and the most famous Czech singer is supposedly half-Romani… and that’s it, I think), but hopefully that will change… just yesterday, the newspaper posted an article about a policeman in Britain with Czech Romani origins who is being awarded the Order of the British Empire for his work with the immigrants. So maybe we are actually making progress… maybe all we need is continue trying to work together and give it time.
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