Booker Prize winner Yann Martel says ‘Jews don’t own the Holocaust’ – Telegraph.
The Life of Pi writer, whose latest novel is about the Holocaust, claimed that he should be able to write about the period in history even though he is not Jewish. Is it only a modern phenomena, that when many people dare to even mention the Holocaust, they do so with only the Jews and their horrific suffering at the hands of the Nazis in mind? Why is it that some become offended to the point apoplexy while others will still deny it happened at all? Nearly half of the Jews in Europe were murdered between 1933 and 1943. Another quarter is thought to have fled since 1937. It is generally estimated that between five and six million of the Jews in occupied Europe were killed in the various camps. It surely cannot have escaped living memory that the Jewish people, however persecuted they have been, were not alone in those camps. The Holocaust began with Hitler’s rise to power in January of 1933 and ended on VE Day (May 8, 1945). During this time,millions of other groups, as well as the Jews,caught the negative attention of Nazi Germany. For written histories to be unbiased and objective, credible and reputable historians know that to judge the past by the standards and morays of the present is the completely the wrong approach. An outsider’s view often makes the difference in both the delivery of events and the quality of the writing. Style, in no way makes up for a lack of substance. Do we need really need another dry history about events that are now so well established in that genre? How would a work of fiction damage that knowledge? It would be wrong to suggest the suffering of the Jewish creed should be in any way down-played from what it was but nor are they entitled to all of the offence and sympathy.
‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Edmund Burke
Before we go on we must establish the fact that Hitler, along with the Nazis and a large proportion of the German population were Christian. The Nazi’s particularly favoured the Lutheran branch of Protestantism, in that the individual has the right to reach God through Scripture with responsibility to God alone the leaders they did esteem were recognizably Protestant. The average Christian German in 1930, would have heard a sermon that would have embraced German nationalism, although not to the Nazi extent of nationalism, would have been antagonistic to Jews to some degree, and would have certainly been stridently anti-communist, which the Nazis obviously used as their major political platform on their way to power. Even prior to 1933, the Nazis had demonstrated their ability to implement oppressive social policies and were aided by the ‘1926 Bavarian Law for the Combating of Gypsies, Travellers and the Work-shy’, using the police as a tool to target them. The unemployed were drafted into militarised groups to keep them off the streets and after 1933 this action was intensified and centralised with backing from so-called ‘racial scientists’ such as Dr Ernst Rudin. His work provided the Nazi Party with justification for their sterilisation programmes. Panels of Demographers and statisticians were used to oversee surveys of criminal and medical records while doctors, researchers and psychologists sat on Hereditary Health Courts. Criminal biologists conducted investigations into what were labelled ‘criminal types’ to trace their genealogies and build up data banks. These proceedings were far from regarded as barbaric or unscientific because it was, at the time, modern enough to be of interest to police and lawmakers in other countries and it was only the outbreak of war, in 1939, which prevented Sir Norman Kendal from taking up an invitation to tour the concentration camp at Dachau to study contemporary policing methods.
“The tragedy of the Holocaust wasn’t exclusively Jewish. It was non-Jews who did it. It was an act of two groups, so it’s not just for Jews to be expert on the Holocaust.”
The accuracy of this statement is questionable but I agree with it at least in part. Nazi justice was based on the Fuhrerprinzip and the view that it must reflect his will and serve the regime’s goal of building a healthy racial community. This meant that particular groups were no longer protected by the law. As well as jews, 200,000 gypsies, unnumbered homosexuals, at least 200,000 physically and mentally handicapped, and many, many others were executed in euthanasia programmes. Some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others) were targeted as they were perceived as racially inferior. Other groups were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds, among themCommunists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses (because they were unwilling to accept the authority of the state, because of their international connections, and because they were strongly opposed to both war on behalf of a temporal authority and organized government in matters of conscience), and ‘asocials’ (unemployed men etc). Between two and three million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or died of starvation, disease, neglect, or maltreatment.
In the past historians have argued that Nazis publicly posed as Christians to score political points, but privately deplored the religion. However, Steigman-Gall has reached a very different conclusion by looking at the diaries, private writings and communications of the most influential Nazis, including Hitler. Far from deploring Christianity, many important Nazis felt that their racist policies were inspired by Protestant Christianity.
Children who had been educated in a way, or taught values, incompatible with Hitler Youth, were deemed to have been ‘neglected’ and could be placed in foster homes; in 1938 a family was broken up because a father had refused to enrol his children in Hitler Youth. According to the courts this was deemed an ‘abuse of his right of custody of his children’. In a free democracy, citizenry are able to chose who they support and with which degree of fervour but in Hitler’s Germany, anything less than enthusiasm could be deemed as potentially subversive and met with a spell in a concentration camp. The Nazi brand of National Socialism had overwhelmed the natural desire for stability, consistency and independence and Germany became a dual-state. Those who were considered mentally, physically or racially diseased persons were killed off and though the traditional family unit was supported it was also subjected to even further scrutiny. Mixed marriages were expressly forbidden and reproduction was controlled with dire sanctions against dissenters. Fear of denunciation and surveillance of the family was enough to ensure compliance though the population of Germany who benefited from the regime cooperated. Neither freedom of conscience, nor individual judgement, were recognised but this was not a regime where people were tricked into adherence and nor was it arrived at through censorship or manipulation. The notions and positive images of a unified and healthy nation were far from unpopular.
‘Nazi occupation was a process of levelling down entire populations, which creates a psychological atmosphere for compelling authorities, the powers that will be, to accept very far reaching reforms’Ludwik Rajchman
If anything should be a warning against political apathy and complacency, it is the emergence and rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933. The right wing theorist had, by the 1920s, developed his analysis of the ‘state of exception’ and called for emergency powers to defend the constitution rather than institute a dictatorship and promoted the idea of granting presidential protection of the constitution. As if in response, between 1930 and1933, Weimar moved toward a system of emergency government. The Nazi Party and the Communists Party became the 2nd and 3rd largest parties making a majority coalition impossible. This gave credence to Scmidtt’s theory. The degree-laws in article 48 were essential to prevent the government being turned over to the two parties dedicated to the overthrow of democracy. The Nazi Party fervently opposed liberal jurisprudence and the Weimar constitution and they made no secret of their aim for it’s destruction. They used the law and the police as tools of oppression and concentration camps in the 1930s already housed between 25,000 and 50,000 prisoners before the out-break of war. In 1939 several thousand death sentences were passed by the courts compared with 29 in Italy and a handful in Japan. We must remember that the majority of the German population that failed to vote for Adolph Hitler also failed to resist him. The Third Reich was therefore not built on repression alone and nor was that it’s sole function. Nazism came to power with a massive electoral backing and was run by a large party whose leader had been given unquestioned powers. People just accepted the new state of affairs and allowed it to become a part of normal life; particularly the bankers, middle-classes, and nationalist conservatives; many of whom hung on to the idea that the suspension of the constitution was only a temporary measure.
“after the non-Nazi political parties were suppressed, Hitler dealt with his political rivals in the party. Roehm, the Chief of Staff of the S.A., was Hitler’s chief political rival…On June 30, 1934, many S.A. leaders were killed as well as many others whom Hitler regarded as his political enemies such as Gregor Strasser and General Von Schleicher. Probably about two hundred died in all. Hitler had achieved party solidarity.”
So we see that while we are told again and again that the Jews were made a scapegoat to appease the masses, they were not alone in the camps. The Nazi party was driven to achieve an agenda that meant that any and all who did not meet the standards that Hitler so fervently believed were superior, were simply enslaved or disposed of or both. Why should one group of people be apportioned the entirety of our grief at the expense of others? Those who would deny the reality of the holocaust are deluded and need not be granted credence, but nor should we allow ourselves to forget that there were hundreds of thousands who died also in abject misery and not all were Jewish. What happened was horrific but pain, suffering and remembrance are not a monopoly. Rather than worry about offending a demographic with a work of fiction that happens to be based around real events -because that is in essence what the issue over this book is- any more than we should offended when yet another film is based around a great novel. We waste time arguing about which demographic has suffered more loss and compare battle scars. This pointless arguing is distracting us from what is really important. I say when we should simply remember and mourn the human loss and sheer waste of life and ensure that it can never happen again but we should not let it run our lives.
‘The atheist, agnostic, or secularist should not be cowed by exaggerated sensitivity to people’s religious beliefs…Those who advocate a piece of folly like the theory of and ‘intelligent creator’ should be held accountable for their folly; they have no right to be offended for being called fools until they establish that they are not in fact fools’ – S. T. Joshi (1958)
- Dark Continent by Mark Mazower (ISBN 9780140241594)
- The Quotable Atheist by Jack Huberman (ISBN 9781560259695)