Why is this Holocaust different from all other Holocausts?

My friend Patrick, who blogs at The Paragraph Farmer, tackles a very difficult question in today’s American Spectator:  Why, in a world that daily reminds us of man’s inhumanity to man, does the Holocaust still stands as the ne plus ultra of the human ability to kill?  It’s a thoughtful article, and one I urge you to read.  In addition to the points Patrick made, I want to add a few things that make the Holocaust unique amongst the atrocities man has always been capable of visiting against his fellow man.  In no particular order:

1.  Culture.  One of the things that made the Holocaust particularly horrible was the culture from which it sprang.  In the annals of Western Civilization, Germany had ascended to the highest peak:  it’s art, literature, music and science were the envy of the world.  That this culture, this culture of all cultures, could do what it did spells out something particularly horrible about the human capacity for evil.  We expect “less civilized” cultures to commit atrocities because we can then distance ourselves from those acts.  When a culture to which we compare ourselves or to which we aspire commits those same atrocities, it reminds us that none of us are safe from the evil that lurks within us.

2.  Science and method.  Consistent with it’s sophisticated culture, the Germans engaged in murder with a single minded scientific fervor that’s never been equaled.  Other cultures engage in mass slaughter in a blunt, almost animalistic way, crudely starving or executing those under their aegis (I’m thinking Communists here, both Soviet and Asian, or the machetes of the Hutus).  The Germans, however, engaged in mass death scientifically, working their way through a variety of methods until they found the most efficient way to kill the most people — and then carefully, scientifically recorded their work with detailed records, including the names of most of their victims.  They also enshrined their “scientific” progress with boastful photographs.  Those same photos reveal another side of the Holocaust, which is that the Germans reveled in killing.  While the Communists as part of their grand socialization plans managed to starve millions and millions of people in Russia, China and Cambodia, they didn’t have people gleefully skinning their victims to make lamp shades, or subjecting them to gruesome scientific experiences as part of the “fun of it all.”

3.  Geography.  Patrick makes a point about localization, namely that the German nation was one killer, and it’s easy to identify and blame one killer, while Communism, an ideology, kills all over.  This is a good point, but I think there’s a different localization point to be made, and that is the fact that Germans went beyond their locality, not in pursuit of a political ideology, a la the Communists, put in pursuit of their genocidal killing strategy.  All other mass murders have been aimed at people within the killing culture.  Hutus killed their resident Tutsis, Turks their resident Armenians, Serbs their resident Bosnians, Light skinned Muslim Sudanese their resident Christians and dark skinned Muslims, Communists of whatever nation killed “state enemies” within their own borders, and so on and so on.  Only the Nazis went on an actual hunt for their victims, trolling through country after country to gather and destroy them.  This too makes the Nazis different from any other mass murderers in world history.

4.  Deniability or the lack thereof.  Most other mass murderers engage in the “deny, deny, deny” approach to mass murder.  As I noted above, the Germans were incredibly proud of what they were doing, and carefully documented everything.  The insanity of the Holocaust deniers aside, there is too much evidence for there ever to be plausible deniability.

5.  The nature of the victims.  The Jews are the people of the Book.  They are verbal people.  In other, non-literate or less literate cultures, the stories of the horrors visited on them quickly devolve into little more than an oral myth, that has no traction.  Jews, by talking, by writing books, etc., keep the story alive.

6.  There were witnesses.  As Patrick pointed out, the hardened Patton was vomiting with the horror of what he saw.  Americans walked into those camps and came out telling the stories.  Communist victims just vanished within the maw of communist countries.  Today, in Africa, while reporters and  NGOs may venture in, there is no big war, that ends with a big discovery.  Those poor dead just dribble way, vanishing into the soil beneath them.
7.  Israel.  Unlike other survivors of mass slaughter who eventually merge into other cultures, taking their memories with them, the Jews have Israel.  Israel, of course, was a community long before the war, but it came into being as a nation in part because of the world’s response to the Holocaust.  I have long thought that Europe’s burgeoning anti-Israeli sentiment has its roots in the fact that Israel is a living reproach to Europe, and the Europeans feel better about themselves if they can denigrate Israel:  “See, the Jews are no better than we are.”  With this psychological need to make themselves feel better, it doesn’t matter to them that the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, a very complex situation indeed, is entirely different from that of Jews on the receiving end of the Nazis single-minded focus on mass race slaughter.

8.  Guilt.  Past genocides mostly took place at times when, sadly, the world hadn’t yet developed the moral capacity to care.  For example, the killing and marginalization of the Native Americans occurred during a time when the whole Western World didn’t have much of a problem with taking land from indigenous people or “killing them before they kill us.”  Likewise, slavery, that other famous form of Western, and especially American, oppression, had been a fixture in the world since time immemorial.  Indeed, there is still slavery all over the Muslim world.  Also, Americans engaged in that mass act of self-sacrifice known as the Civil War in part to purge themselves of slavery.  In this they differed from the Nazis who did not use War to purify themselves of a moral evil but, instead, used war to embrace that evil.  And the sad fact is that the morally developed Western World knew what was going on:  It knew in 1933 when Hitler started enacting the race laws.  It knew in 1938 with Kristallnacht.  It knew when panicked Jews began banging on Western doors begging for escape.  It knew when reports started circulating (only to be quashed by the Times), that in all countries the Nazis entered, Jews were being slaughtered in situ, or being rounded up and transported to death camps.  The world knew and it closed its eyes and plugged its ears.  There are still people living who knew what was going on or who should have known, and who did nothing.  They are a reminder to us of the power of passivity, not for good but for evil.

9.  Jews a perpetual victims.  This is a point Patrick made in his article, but I think it deserves repeating here.  The Holocaust hits us in the face because, at the time, it seemed to be the culmination of centuries of persecution.  Even as Western Christians finally seemed to be shaking off the yoke of anti-Semitism, the Russians began engaging in it wholeheartedly, not so much as a religious imperative but more as a cultural imperative.  That too seemed to be dying away (thanks, in significant part, to the safety valve of America), only to have the Holocaust come along, bringing anti-Semitism to a ferocious height no one in the past could have imagined.  That should have been the end of it all, but it isn’t.  The Arab world, which enthusiastically supported Hitler, is making the same noises again that Hitler did then, is killing people because they are Jews, and is talking about annihilation, just as Hitler talked and then attempted.  The Holocaust won’t go away because very evil people keep making sure it sticks around.

Those are my nine ideas about the Holocaust’s preeminence, despite the fact that both the 20th and (so far) the 21st Century have seen other, and even bigger, acts of mass slaughter.  If you have anything to add, please do so.  I know that you, my readers, will keep any comments on this sensitive subject polite and thoughtful.


14 Responses

  1. Book,
    All of your points are valid and very well explained. Perhaps 7 and 8 are of lesser significance as time passes since Germany’s genocidal Nazis dominated Europe?

    For me, the reason the German Nazis will always stand out is a combination of your themes. Most genocidal events are localized to within one country or region, and tend to be internal, and seem spasmatic to me. A monstrous spasm. In the Nazi case, a highly sophisticated philosophy of murderous superiority was developed over a period of decades through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That a highly civilized society could systematically develop such a philosophy – a set of coherent, “civilized” memes – seems inexplicable to us. We simply find it nearly impossible to believe that a civilized society could express that. It’s a warning to us all that genocidal memes can develop ANYWHERE, at any time, in any country.

    The perpetrators are driven by hate, as were the Nazis, but the expression of the hate seems like a spasm that would ebb relatively quickly, ie, a few years at most. For the Nazis, where the killing and the hate was entirely based on ideology, this doesn’t seem to be the case. They stopped killing only because they were thoroughly defeated. It is clear to me that the entire world would have become a Nazi charnel house, everywhere they held dominion. The best a non-desirable might hope for is to be worked in a slave camp until, within months at most, each died. I am certain that all of black Africa would have rather quickly become depopulated by a vast killing machine. The Nazis simply didn’t have time to get around to that. The Slavs across western Asia would probably have been the next to be worked to death.

    For me it wasn’t Germany’s heights in art that keeps their genocide distinctive; it was their advanced, efficient… MODERN… civilization itself that makes it stand out.

  2. I’m an atheist, but from time to time I do wonder:

    Isn’t it odd that over and over, throughout history, the most evil people have concentrated their efforts on destroying the Chosen People of God?

  3. I believe that, until the rise of Communism and Nazism, pundits everywhere could legitimately argue that religion was an inducement to war and the evils that humans do to one another.

    However, the horror shows inflicted by the secular ideologies of Communism and Nazism (same thugs, different gang colors) provided incontrovertible proof to the contrary – they showed that evil is a transcendent force that resides in all of humanity. They completely changed the assumptions underlying any equation that seeks to explain the human condition.

    The horrors inflicted by the Nazis on the Jews weren’t about Germans and Jews – they were about humanity! Each and every one of us has it within us to be an angel or a devil.

  4. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Holocaust, Hutus, German, Jews, Nazis, Hitler    Sphere: Related Content | Trackback URL […]

  5. Why is this Holocaust different from all other Holocausts?

    America helped to stop this Holocaust. Being given a victory on a silver platter means that people can be proud of it, regardless of their contribution. All the other holocausts are shameful episodes in which people know that they failed in, if only because they weren’t born back then or around there. So they tend to ignore that which they cannot change. American power allows them to feel pride, if only viscerally through others.

  6. Coming from the other side of the questions – I think an additional thought would be that so many people simply refuse to acknowledge how great an evil that communism actually was. To actually accept the number of deaths by Stalin, etc, would require them to actually examine their beliefs.

  7. As I expected, so far so good — excellent and interesting comments from everyone who has dropped by on this one.

  8. Good point, Pompiea – consider how many on the Democrat/Left today refuse to acknowledge their complicity in what happened to the South Vietnamese and Cambodians following their betrayal in 1975. Also, look at the veneration of Che, today. The more things change…

  9. I think Pompiea’s point ties in nicely with Ymarsakar’s, which is about the victor’s willingness to talk about the Holocaust. Although we theoretically won the Cold War, too many Americans still believe Communism would be a good thing if it were just done right. These people cannot acknowledge that there was a deathly wrong way to do it. This distinguishes them from the American victors in WWII, who can fairly freely talk about the Holocaust and keep the memory alive — an important memory for all the other reasons Patrick and I listed.

  10. A few other thoughts:
    The Holocaust was based on the supposed conquest of super-humans over sub-humans.

    It was theft of an unprededented scale with warehouses devoted solely to looted property. Even the human body was used- human ashes to throw on paths, hair to stuff pillows, gold fillings to melt down.

    The magnitude of the hate, the level of the savagery and the insanity of the world created. Where a psycopath like Mengele could build a “zoo” specifically used to torture children in pseudo-experiments.

    Tha nature of the victims. The German Jews were assimilated, and intellectuals. Among the refugees were brilliant minds like Einstein and Neils Bohr. One can only imagine what brilliance was lost. But among the other victims were the devout. Nazis claimed they hated the Jews for bringing morality to the world.

    The first victims were those a sane society protects; women and children- “useless eaters”.

    The fact that the 1000 year Reich collapsed and their intended doomed victims proved that they are the eternal people once again.

    The warning that no society should get too confident in its superiority. The “superior” Germans proved themselves to be among the most degraded and immoral people that ever lived (with notable exceptions).

    Goodness punished with death, cruelty honored and rewarded.

    This was the product of European enlightenment in the 20th century. We are no better than cavemen. Worse because we can rationalize evil.

    It demonstrates the height of goodness some people can soar to- rescuers for example, and the depths we can sink to as well.

    Some are actively evil and most are indifferent. They are passively evil.

    Collective psychosis is possible. Governments go insane.

    Evil must be fought to be defeated.

  11. my reply got caught in the filters, Book.

  12. Lulu has a point about the Germans. Hitler after all, started off against the Jews, it wasn’t as if it was simply something convenient like what the Saudis are doing. Hitler started spreading the belief that the Aryan giants become downsized and small because of polluted Jewish pig and ape blood. One of his inner circle handled that portion of the movement more though. Also, there was a lot of occult business going on in the Nazis. Occulty as in superstitution and weird attempts to conduct magic. If it wasn’t for the fact that Hitler achieved political power, they would still be a cult probably.

    Also what is unique about this Holocaust is because Americans documented it and cared enough to do so. Europe claims they care, but they were slaughtering each other for centuries and they always got over it in favor of new slaughter fields. America, thus, differed from the Europeans in that America actually cared and did something about it, thus ensuring that the documentation of the Holocaust would not be disappeared. That would happen, you know, because there is plenty of documentation, videos, and what not concerning insurgents, terrorists, and Saddam’s thugs executing people out of hand. But the world acts like it doesn’t exist for it might as well not exist for people just don’t care enough to reproduce the documentation. Regardless of German efficiency and record keeping, it was the American interest and use of power that elevated this Holocaust above all others. People could now remember and they could remember because new holocausts were prevented by American power. American power after all, ended war on the Western European part of the continent.

    Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, etc were always at each other’s throat, so therefore there was a strict pragmatic interest in not dwelling on previous atrocities and holocauses, because there would always be a new slaughter coming in the future. America’s interference prevented this and thus Europeans had time to look back upon the past and feel… whatever they felt. Course they also felt resentment against Americans and believed America to be the war monger, rather than… the Europeans which America stopped war amongst.

    Germany’s efficiency explains why barbarism is often bad and never good. It also explains why civilizations can be either very good or very very bad. It takes a civilization’s resources to do damage, after all. Barbarians can’t do as much damage as a state nor do they have as much of the population. Giving an order and having a person 500 miles away obey, that is a mark of civilization. German efficiency simply developed this towards the logical conclusion for their goals and ideology.

    The Germans were simply blaming the Jews cause that is what people who have been shamed and are facing economic destitution and destruction, are going to ultimately turn towards as a last resort. Hitler gave people back their pride, by telling people that it wasn’t their fault, that it was someone else’s fault. That’s always easier, you know, than working together to create something constructive. Look at the Ayrab dictators and the Islamic Jihad. They would rather blame another, than fix their own problems.

    As a topic for analysis, what this essentially means is that if you gave Arabs the same power and resources, they would emulate the Germans, if they could. But they can’t.

  13. Also, the Arabs can’t emulate the Nazis for two primary reasons. One, they are never going to be as efficient and military as the Germans were. Even now, their social standards require that you be punctual. Missing an appointment by a few minutes is a social faux pau. The German bureacracy actually works and on time, unlike bureacracy. The thing is though, the German bureacracy is worse when it works than when it doesn’t, because it allows bureacrats control over people’s lives in a sort of Alles in Ordnung. Anyways, the other primary reason for why the Arabs won’t be able to emulate the Nazis standard is because of America. American power prevents potential economic disasters that can take a whole continent down in flames. American power prevents piracy and trade disruptions on the high seas. American power ensures security and prevents one nation from invading their neighbors. Thus, American power prevents what fed Nazism and what Nazism inevitably did to acquire the power to do what else they did. With such barriers in place, even Hitler’s movement would have been stillborn, or at least caught in a CAIR/ACLU loop.

  14. Love the article!

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