Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why the Nazi comparison sets my teeth on edge

There is a question I've asked myself for years; why are the Nazis the paradigmatic symbol of evil for our civilization?

WHAT? (outraged) Don't you know history?

Yes, very well thank you. In fact, I know history well enough to realize that the Nazis come in a rather poor third in the 20th century mass murder sweepstakes, right after the USSR and the People's Republic of China. The murder toll of the USSR is, at minimum ten times greater than the Holocaust*.

Perhaps that's not a fair comparison, the Third Reich had only 12 years to accomplish what the USSR did in 81 years and the PRC in 62. Still one has to wonder, why nobody calls someone whose politics they don't like, a "Lenin", "Stalin", or a "Mao"?

Well one reason could be that the Nazis mostly murdered Europeans. The Chinese and the Russians were more distant peoples whose history and culture we knew little about. Perhaps it's the same reason we don't call someone a "Tojo", though the Japanese killed Chinese in numbers far exceeding the European casualties of WWII.

Another could be that the Nazis made the mistake of picking on a literate people capable of telling their story to the world. We all know something about Jewish history because it is part of the history of western civilization, but how many in the West know or care about the history of the Crimean Tartars, Ukrainians or Tibetans?

And, a bit of unconscious racism/culturism might be at work as well. Perhaps we expect Asians and Russians to behave with what we think of as "oriental cruelty", but Germany was a European nation whose contributions to western civilization are considerable.

But sometimes I get the depressing impression that the most important reason may be that it's safe to beat the Nazi horse, because it's a dead one. They lost.

The USSR was until recently, and the PRC still is, a terrifying reality in the present. And they had and have numerous apologists and defenders in the West. Neo-nazis are a small group of pathetic losers nursing a neurotic need for attention, who don't really scare anyone anymore.

I hear "Hitler" and "Nazi" tossed around by people who would never say "Stalin" or "Mao" or "communist". Is it because they are afraid of these kind of people? Or worse, is it because they
admire them on some level?

And why is it that when you compare someone like Ahmedinejad to the Nazis, who admires them and simultaneously denies the Holocaust while promising that next time he'll do it right, you get accused of being "extremist"?

But probably the biggest reason that the careless use of the "Nazi/Hitler" insult sets my teeth on edge, is - I've been to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz (Oswieciem (Osh-vee-en-chiem) in Polish) is a small town about an hour from Krakow by bus, in a rather remote rural area. Today the town has essentially two industries, camp tourism and a furniture factory on the other end of the main street. It makes me wonder what it's like to grow up there.

Before the Second World War, it was an ethnically German town. When Polish army reserve forces assembled there at the invasion, townspeople were taking pot shots at them from their windows as they retreated to the east. Because it was remote, had a railhead and an army base with lots of three-story barracks, it was convenient to convert it to the largest death factory of the whole concentration camp system. Since Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in Europe (approximately 15% of the country's population) it was most efficient to transport Jews from the much smaller communities of other countries there to be murdered.

I was told before I went there that it could make you sick. It didn't. Instead what I felt was numb. Like I'd had a shot of novocaine in my emotion center.

I had pictured it differently, more like the image of Stalag something-or-other in The Great Escape. You know, wooden barracks on stilts. These were actually three-story brick buildings that looked like they'd be perfectly comfortable dorms or barracks - if they hadn't been full of starving, brutalized people. I'm told the extermination camp nearby, now almost totally gone was more like that.

The gas chambers: square buildings divided into a smaller square in one quarter of the floor where the crematoria were, and an L-shaped room around it - the murder room.

I had imagined the crematoria as larger. These were like commercial ovens in size, with a slab big enough for one corpse. This was a shock to me when I realized that the sonderkommandos had to pull out and process each body one at a time. (I also didn't see any of the fake shower heads that I'd read about. A myth, or did they just not survive the years?)

There were exhibits from every country which had citizens who died there, each country was given a building to create their own. Some of the exhibits were devoted to countering holocaust denial: blankets with lab certificates confirming that they were made of human hair, canisters with certificates showing that they contained residues of Zyklon-B crystals, photos kept of experiments in starving humans to death.

Everyone who visits the camp probably has their own memory that time will never erase. Mine was from a wall of mug shots. Two of them near each other were of young girls, whose faces I will never forget till the day I die. One is a Polish-looking girl with long blonde hair, covered with a kerchief and dressed in peasant style. She looks into the camera, afraid but not really comprehending what is happening. The other is a girl of about the same age, 14-16 I'd guess, dressed in prison stripes with her hair shaved to a buzz cut. She's looking into the camera with a terrified expression, like she knows exactly what's going on.

* And I mean murder, the deliberate killing of helpless civilians or POWs, not direct or incidental casualties of war.


  • At 2:12 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    I think it goes back to the political climate at the times when nazis and communists were ostensibly the Enemy. The nazis were the Bad Guys in WWII, when nationalism was high, and there were constant reminders of whom we were fighting and why. The Cold War, on the other hand, was waged in much more cynical environment, with abundant distrust of the government (and the continued popularity of socialism) leading to a perverse sort of sympathy for communism. That the nazis were bad guys was just about the last thing that there was widespread agreement of in America, except perhaps that racism is bad (which would have served only to further demonize the genocidal nazis and glorify the ostensibly egalitarian communists).

  • At 1:55 PM, Blogger Gilmoure said…

    Reading Band of Brothers, the thing that has stuck with me is the comment by one of the young guys rolling in to Germany; It was just like the U.S. After months of country roads and villages, they were on paved roads again, staying buildings with modern plumbing and meeting people who seemed to have the same work ideals as the U.S. I think the horror of Nazism is that it could be us. It's one thing for these weird countries like Russia and China to be murderous; they're different, but for a place like the U.S. going down such a path, it's very scary.

    And they had great publicity before their fall. Sorta' like Mr. T in Rocky.

  • At 11:08 AM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    I'm actually watching "The World At War" right now on dvd. If you've never seen it, I can't recommend it highly enough. They did one episode on the Holocaust. It was somewhat intense. The scene that struck me most was of a soldier (American I assume), nose covered with a rag, using a bulldozer to push bodies into a pit.

    As for why Bush is Hitler rather than Stalin or Mao, it's pretty self-evident. The people that make those statements are the whacked out, far far leftists. Hitler was a Fascist, while his brothers-in-genocide were communists. The former is "conservative", the latter "liberal". Republican=Bad, Communist=Good.

    Of course, if one actually reads a history book, then it becomes clear that Nazi is short for National SOCIALIST. But that fact can be safely ignored, since most people today are never taught such heresy.

    Ever seen pictures taken at some of these anti-whatever rallies? Doesn't matter whether it's the War on Terror, Global Warming, or whatever. There always seem to be some people holding banners portraying their heroes, those environmental icons Stalin, Che, Mao, and Kim. Usually right next to the Bush with a swastika gang.

    And for the record: Don't ever ask them to justify their claims. The best you'll ever get is an admission that Bush hasn't been gassing Jews, followed by the "fact" that he murders millions of innocent Arabs. And that's on a really good day.

    Finally, I would mention that the showers thing was the story told at the time. I thought that there were shower-heads in the rooms, but that could be a misunderstanding. Some victims knew better, others didn't.

  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    Hmmm, I hope this doesn't turn into a double post, since my earlier comment hasn't appeared.

    I think we're overlooking the obvious here. The morons that equate Bush to Hitler are the ones on the distant left. In their minds, comparing Bush to Mao, Castro or Stalin would insult the latter, who were of course brilliant leaders of the Communists. Men that knew what was wrong with the world and were not averse to killing those that tried to interfere.

    Hitler just killed people because he was racist, mean, corrupt, a nationalist, etc. Just like Bush.

    And for the record, never try to discuss this with one of these folks. The best you can get is an admission that Bush doesn't slaughter Jews (and we all know why that is, of course), followed by a list of those against whom he is committing genocide.

    In the end, remember these equations: Conservative=Evil/ Leftist=Good. And whenever you are in doubt, refer back to them.

  • At 7:37 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 7:42 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Sorry guys, ever since someone named "Alex" whose data is in cyrillic started spamming this blog I've had to turn on comment moderation so posts don't appear until I get to my email account and approve them.

    Re the Nazi party, or National Socialism German Workers Party, to give it its full name, I had a conversation with a Marxist who objected to my characterization of Nazism as "Left".

    "Why do you say Left?" Because that's what they were considered by both their enemies and themselves at the time. They are part of the non-Marxist Left.

    I mentioned that my wife had learned this in school in Poland during the last years of communism there. He immediately made up a reason about why this might have been so that confirmed him in his own opinion - without ever having been to Poland or any communist country for that matter.

    In other words, "Don't confuse me with facts."

    And BTW, "Right" in Europe generally refers to positions that include royalist and ethnic nationalist, which is where it does intersect with Nazism.

  • At 9:21 AM, Blogger Shawn said…

    I've often wondered about this as well. I am disgusted by college students wearing Che or Mao t-shirts.

    I wonder if part of the reason that Nazis are viewed as worse/more evil is the systematic, methodical plan of killing executed by the Nazis. The Soviets and Chinese had camps and mass executions, but did not appear to have plans to kill off entire races of people. They killed their perceived enemies and those beyond 'rehabilitation' or 'reeducation'. The Nazis also had no qualms about killing children and actively went after them, while for the most the Soviets and Chinese did not.

    Considerations of intentions and goals may be trumping body counts here.


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