By Isca Stieglitz
November 4, 2011
I am not ‘an’ academic, so my piece may not be as robustly referenced or argued, in such an academic manner, as some contributors. I have had to reference as best as I can at the end of each section and find some sources ‘post-hoc’, because my books are probably out of date e.g. I have used ‘Wiki’ for the less contentious collated data and information aspects, but of course opinion is opinion at the end of the day.
Ha Sho’ah – The Holocaust; what are you thinking about?
When deciding whether to use Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, comparisons or analogies, one has to ask ‘why?’ What is the purpose, what is the motive, what is the intended outcome? Is to add to the debate, open up the debate or is it to hurt?
I then have to ask myself, why do I find it so hurtful or offensive? Why would I not use Holocaust evoking terminology in order to describe someone, something, an entire group of people or a country? Personally, I would only use it if it was describing directly the period in history or current self-declared groups or someone in fancy dress.
Here is my answer. When I think of Nazis or the Holocaust I don’t just think of autocratic behaviour, or soldiers in Storm trooper uniforms I think of the following:
Human experimentation – the sewing together of children’s bodies for conjoined twin experiments; people with dwarfism, who after experimentation had their bodies boiled to reveal the skeletal structure for further scrutiny; gynaecological experiments; live altitude and extreme cold studies; dye injected to eyes; homosexual reorientation tests; the Roma sea water experiments, which led to them licking newly washed floors in order to get water. The list is endless and unthinkable. These images are graphic and not intended as ‘trophy-ism’ or to subjugate the memory or importance of other victims from other conflicts, they are what they are.
The likes of – Joseph Mengele, Hermann Goering, Karl and Ilse Koch, Joseph Goebbels, Franz Stangl, Paul Blobel, Josef Kramer, Irma Grese, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Friedrich Jekeln, Oskar Dirlewanger, Odilo Globocnik, Adolf Eichman, Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler.
Jews, Roma, LGBT, disabled, mentally ill, physically ill, dissidents, political prisoners, Russians, Poles…and any other non-Teuton ideal. Bearing in mind that the ‘excuse’ was, that the only reason a nation has to deal with these ‘misfits’ is because they are all a result of allowing Jewish blood to infect your nation by interbreeding! Of course.
Nails removed for lacquer, skin for leather and light shades and fat for soap (still debated, based on testimonies, which may be ‘legend’/’myth’, and conflicting evidence. Arguments and counter argument found easily on the web), hair for stuffing, gold extracted from teeth, being stripped, nakedness, cannibalism, fighting over potatoes, piles of bodies, lime powder, gas chambers, ovens….and finally The Holocaust.
The Holocaust – the ultimate conclusion for the final solution to the Jewish question. From the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, “whole” and kaustós, “burnt” – to completely consume by fire, in order to obliterate an entire gene pool from the earth, hence Genocide.
Is it any wonder that some Green Party members, including myself, are deeply upset at it being implied that we are ‘Nazi’ or ‘Nazi infiltrators’?
Is it ok for Jews to use this language then?
To be honest, anyone can say anything in private or in a mutually agreed group; that’s free speech. Holocaust survivors are often cited as using Nazi comparisons, as if that makes it ok. My answer would be, for every Jewish person or survivor who says it’s ‘ok’, there is most likely one who is deeply hurt and anguished by it.
In some circles, it has become ‘ok’ to use the word ‘nigger’ between black people predominantly influenced by the some elements of ‘rap culture’. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/24/nyregion/rap-s-embrace-of-nigger-fires...
Maybe that’s ok within a private group, but would we, (of all colours) tolerate that word in open public debate, except for direct quotation?
I remember, during my times as a more politicised feminist, that the word ‘cunt’ was used quite prolifically. To ‘own’ it, ‘demystify’ it? Maybe that’s ok in a mutually agreed private group, but would we, (of all genders) tolerate that word in open public debate, except for direct quotation?
Would it be acceptable for me to invoke ‘The Slave Trade’ imagery and vocabulary to now describe the more despotic regimes in Africa, as if to imply, ‘Who’s the slave driver now then? You have a history of being slaves, so how come you treat each other like this now?’ Maybe you would say ‘yes’ and I would categorically say ‘no’.
The point should be clear. We can all ‘think’, ‘feel’ and ‘say’ what we like in private or in mutually agreed groups, but surely the point is to come up with a mutually agreed language for public and general engagement. A common language which allows for robust criticism and praise, without using language which we know causes pain. This is particularly pertinent when discussing groups of people who are in pain and suffering as a result of conflict, whoever they are.
The richness of the English language is indisputable and there are many words available to us to engage in a debate. The Israel/Palestine debate is already fraught with anger and pain, why would we even want to inflict more on each other; especially when we know that it does cause pain, intimidation, isolation and fear?
Why Should the Holocaust (and Nazi Imagery) Be Held as Unique?
Because it is. The Holocaust is a uniquely painful European experience and should be held as such. The only way I’ve seen Nazism being dealt in serious ways is through books, plays, films and comedy etc.; you may remember Mel Brooks sailed close to the wind in his film “The Producers”. Again, intent and motive is fairly clear: to take the sting out of ‘Nazi’ via mockery or to educate.
However, I believe that all similar experiences should also be held as unique:
The Native Americans 1830 and possibly the Anazazi before them.
Tribal Peoples of the Amazon
The Armenians 1915
The Ukrainians 1930s
Hiroshima & Nagasaki 1945
Congo – to present
Cambodia (Kampuchea) 1975
Baha’is in Iran
Balkans –Bosnian Moslems 1990’s
Pigmy tribes of Southern Africa- pre- & post-Apartheid
And on…and on…thousands or millions in each case
I believe that it is a mistake to homogenise these events. We can have our ‘World Genocide Day’ and for sure we can find similarities in the universal human nature aspect of these atrocities, but each group deserves to be remembered uniquely and each country, region or people will remember there ‘fallen’ in their own, very personal, way. I fear that if we do not find ‘uniqueness’ in deliberately orchestrated atrocities, then the victims also become homogenised.
To find ‘uniqueness’ can help ameliorate the sadly all too common conflict in the world.
It is also important not to exaggerate and embellish events beyond what they actually are, if not, I believe this also diminishes the true meaning of words and events and ultimately the victims.
‘History is full of horrors. This is not a contest to win some awful prize’. Barbara Rogasky 1991, from her book ‘Smoke and Ashes’ – also more on ‘uniqueness’ of deliberately orchestrated atrocities.
Zionism and Racism / The Law of Return
This is far too big a subject to address here. However, again this word is bandied around as some casually acceptable insult. ‘Racist Zionist’, ‘smash the Zionists’, ‘eradicate this Zionist entity’, ‘Zios’ ‘Zionism = Nazism’, ‘Zionism-The New Holocaust’; and on and on. If you believe that the State of Israel, as a Zionist endeavour, is an entirely racist entity then you are, of course, entitled to that opinion. Likewise, Jews who don’t subscribe to the default position of the EUMC anti-semitism document don’t have to.
All I will say is ‘I am a Zionist’, but I certainly don’t recognise myself as being a Nazi or Racist who needs to be smashed and I do subscribe to my right to self-determination if I so wish.
With 14 odd branches of Zionism, this alone should indicate that Zionists are not a homogenous group of racists or homogenous group of anything.
Likewise, ‘The Law of Return’ is not a cut and dried issue, (it is not the only means of procuring citizenship and will no doubt be modified as situations change) and the notion of ‘jewishness’ or a ‘Jewish state’ is often not fully understood; there are many countries across the globe who employ similar rules, regulations, preferential treatment of entry, (inc. Germany, Serbia, Greece, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Chile, Poland, Finland et al), and ‘christian-ness, moslem-ness, hindu-ness’ in how a their country’s calendar is run – I might write about all this another day.
‘The Zionist Idea’ (1981) Arthur Hertzberg.
By allowing ‘Nazi’ imagery to become a standard level of discourse for critical purposes we are prone to becoming desensitised. As we have seen, next it’s cartoons of gas chambers, Auschwitz and then Holocaust denial. Using direct replacement, “The Palestinian Question”, of course only serves to invoke the next stage “A Solution”, implying mass orchestrated and deliberate murder. Bearing in mind this kind of imagery has been bandied around since before 1967, and indeed 1948; so is not just as a result of the current I/P situation.
Whether intended or not, the outcome will be the feeding of blatant anti-semitism; it is already happening. I do wonder about the minds of people who think it is ‘ok’ to have and display a ‘Holocaust Cartoon Competition’; this is not for educative purposes or satire. Think about it…Holocaust-Cartoon-Competition. Insert the following in the space where ‘Holocaust’ sits and think negative-making-fun images: Slavery…Ethnic Cleansing…Wounded Knee…Nakba…Pol Pot…what does any of this do to enhance debate? It doesn’t, it hurts and it is racist.
Nazi and Holocaust language is also the language of the KKK, White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
EUMC on Anti-Semitism
No document is perfect and most such things tend to continue to evolve. Overall, it has to be read ‘entire’, as each part tends to elaborate on a preceding part.
The document also offers a ‘default’ position, which can be accepted or rejected by each person as they see fit. Like many documents which offer guidelines, law or support, I can choose for it to support me or not. If I decide ‘not’, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people who are glad of it.
What this document does indicate is how to conduct discourse, without resorting to Nazi/Holocaust metaphor and analogy.
My only question would be:
What is it that cannot be said as a genuine robust criticism of Israeli Government Policy because of this document, whilst offering a default position on the use of language in that discourse?
So, we come full circle, and I would ask the same questions:
When deciding whether to use Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, comparisons or analogies, one has to ask ‘why?’
What is the purpose, what is the motive, what is the intended outcome?
If someone is deeply hurt, angered, fearful or intimidated by the use of Nazi/Holocaust imagery in this comparative way, especially knowing where it can lead; is it ok?
I would say ‘No’.