Learning From the Germans: Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil by Susan Neiman

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
In this book Neiman compares how the Germans have remembered the Nazis and the Holocaust and Americans have remembered the Civil War and racism.

In most ways the events are impossibly different. The Nazis were in power for a brief 12 years, a tiny part of Germany's long history. The Holocaust, in Germany destroyed a community of Germans. German Jews were mostly very assimilated, roughly a third of German Jews were married to Gentile spouses, they had been equal citizens without de jure discrimination since the 19th century. Since the Nazis took power in 1933, that community was shattered: murdered, escaped or went into hiding. After 1945, many German Jews opted to go to other countries. Erich Marie Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front describes the groups of unhappy Jewish German emigres in New York, still German speaking, longing for home, but without a home to return to. The West German government organized a system of reparations, a complex, legalistic set of specific payments for specific types of losses, that seemed to depend on how good your lawyer was. Neiman describes it as Germany "protecting the brand" of being German.

Communist East Germany subsumed the racially motivated slaughter into a narrative of oppressed German workers and Soviet liberators. They preserved some of the camps in East Germany, but places like Ravensbruck or Buchenwald, horrible places, but not specifically tasked with murdering Jews. As staggering as Buchenwald's losses(56,000 male prisoners of which 11,000 were Jews), same amount of Jews were killed at Treblinka in a single, long day.
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
In contrast, American slavery extended over two hundred years, the Jim Crow period, de jure, 90 years after that, de facto into the 21st century. Its not an episode, its a condition. So what can we learn from the Germans about remembering our own troubled history? The German phrase: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit its "working through the past" does it have lessons for us?
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
The tasks seem very different. The Germans ask themselves(in the words of Thomas Laqueur), how did they give in to Nazi evil? Americans, like Lincoln at Gettysburg, have to accept that "all men are created equal" and that we have to work for a "new birth of freedom."
 

Jim Klag

Ike the moderator
Staff member
Moderator
Joined
May 12, 2019
Messages
929
Reaction score
552
One of the things we have to do is put to death forever the old tired argument that the CBF wavers were displaying their "heritage not hate." The state of Mississippi and NASCAR, to my immense amazement and gratification, went a large first step down that road over the last couple weeks. I believe we are at a tipping point in the history of this issue and the only thing that can slow the momentum is if the people in and around BLM movement go too far in their zeal. You cannot undo a couple centuries of racism in a couple months. We (those opposed to racism) need to be measured in our steps. There are people who are not racists who also don't want to destroy everything even remotely tinged by our slaveholding past. We want to bring those folks into the fold, not alienate them by lumping them in with the white supremacist types. There is a tightrope to be walked and it will be really easy to go too fast and end up with a busted butt.
 

byron ed

Member
Joined
Jun 17, 2020
Messages
32
Reaction score
24
...The state of Mississippi and NASCAR, to my immense amazement and gratification, went a large first step down that road over the last couple weeks. I believe we are at a tipping point in the history of this issue...
This is a rocking point, not quite yet a tipping point as yet. Of course we know that even at the unnamed site someone will eventually wake up as to what's happening -- that is, the increased apologist moderating and enforcement there, but don't hold your breath.
 

Kirk's Raider's

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
1,912
Reaction score
771
In this book Neiman compares how the Germans have remembered the Nazis and the Holocaust and Americans have remembered the Civil War and racism.

In most ways the events are impossibly different. The Nazis were in power for a brief 12 years, a tiny part of Germany's long history. The Holocaust, in Germany destroyed a community of Germans. German Jews were mostly very assimilated, roughly a third of German Jews were married to Gentile spouses, they had been equal citizens without de jure discrimination since the 19th century. Since the Nazis took power in 1933, that community was shattered: murdered, escaped or went into hiding. After 1945, many German Jews opted to go to other countries. Erich Marie Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front describes the groups of unhappy Jewish German emigres in New York, still German speaking, longing for home, but without a home to return to. The West German government organized a system of reparations, a complex, legalistic set of specific payments for specific types of losses, that seemed to depend on how good your lawyer was. Neiman describes it as Germany "protecting the brand" of being German.

Communist East Germany subsumed the racially motivated slaughter into a narrative of oppressed German workers and Soviet liberators. They preserved some of the camps in East Germany, but places like Ravensbruck or Buchenwald, horrible places, but not specifically tasked with murdering Jews. As staggering as Buchenwald's losses(56,000 male prisoners of which 11,000 were Jews), same amount of Jews were killed at Treblinka in a single, long day.
Actually many Jews emmigrated from Germany in the 1930s especially to the British Mandate of Palestine which is one of the reasons for the first Palestinian Infifada from 1936 to 1939. Members of my family fled to the US, South America and South Africa and then Southern Rhodesia.
Kirk's Raiders
 

Kirk's Raider's

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
1,912
Reaction score
771
Many German Jews including my Granduncle fled to the " The Republic of Manchuco" which is what the Japanese renamed part of Northern China. There was before a few years a substantial population of Jews in Shanghai and then Peking University had Jews make up 30 percent of it's under graduate students. Of course after WWII came the Chinese Civil War so latter days for China.
Kirk's Raiders
 
Last edited:

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
48 minutes ago
Susan Neiman is a Jewish American who was born and raised in Atlanta, but has lived for most of her life in Berlin, Germany. Currently she is the director of the Einstein Forum there.

There is a phrase in German: vergangenheitsaufarbeitung. It's translated as "working through our past, (or our history)" And what a past to work through! What Neiman describes is how Germany has come to terms with its Nazi past, how it is remembered, what restitution German society has made and what lessons it has for the United States, as we debate the legacy of slavery, the Civil War, and Jim Crow.

The first section of the book is about Germany, the next about the United States. When Neiman asks Germans what message they would have for Americans, usually they answer, "nothing" because (1) Germany in WW II and the USA during slavery and Jim Crow times are too different (2) The sense that German society and culture, even its humanity failed during the Nazi era, it took decades for Germans to acknowledge it, and has nothing to offer others.

She starts with a quote from Tzvetan Todorov: Germans should talk about the singularity of the Holocaust and Jews should talk about its universality. If a German starts on what about the Allied bombing, or the atomic bombs, or Stalin's crimes, what he's doing is trying to avoid responsibility. A German insisting on universality is denying it. A German talking about the singularity of the Holocaust is accepting responsibility.

This debating point is common here, as someone is bound to be very, very interested in black slave owners, or remarks that lots of societies(the ancient Romans!) had slavery, or tsk tsks over the treatment of the Native Americans. They are avoiding responsibility. Someone who answers a post about conditions in a Freedman's camp with a post about Andersonville is deflecting.
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
It's not that comparisons aren't useful or enlightening.

In fact, the rock that Neiman runs up against is how different the experience of the USA and Germany were. The Third Reich lasted from 1933 to 1945. Its a an episode in German history with hard borders. The community and culture of German Jews, as well as their physical presence, was eliminated. German Jews in exile, from Erich Marie Remarque to Hannah Arendt, mourned its loss. Berlin, in the 21st century has reconstituted a Jewish community, many originally from Israel, but it is a recent event.

Black people have been a constant in North America since 1619. The racist status of Blacks really has been an American constant from that time until the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of the middle 1960s, well over 300 years. The de jure legal status of Blacks was oppressive but not genocidal. But its a condition, a predicament, not an episode
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
It's not that comparisons aren't useful or enlightening.

In fact, the rock that Neiman runs up against is how different the experience of the USA and Germany were. The Third Reich lasted from 1933 to 1945. Its a an episode in German history with hard borders. The community and culture of German Jews, as well as their physical presence, was eliminated. German Jews in exile, from Erich Marie Remarque to Hannah Arendt, mourned its loss. Berlin, in the 21st century has reconstituted a Jewish community, many originally from Israel, but it is a recent event.

Black people have been a constant in North America since 1619. The racist status of Blacks really has been an American constant from that time until the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of the middle 1960s, well over 300 years. The de jure legal status of Blacks was oppressive but not genocidal. But its a condition, a predicament, not an episode
 

Joshism

Active Member
Joined
Sep 8, 2019
Messages
124
Reaction score
188
I believe we are at a tipping point in the history of this issue and the only thing that can slow the momentum is if the people in and around BLM movement go too far in their zeal.
I think the social sanction of mob destruction of statues and other vandalism is exactly that. Calls to "defund the police" (a poor choice of words for what most of those folks claim they want) don't help either.

I'm in favor of reviewing and in many cases moving or removing Confederate monuments and statues. I'm in favor of police reform. And I'm very much disgusted by much of the behavior from the anti-statue pro-reform crowd. And opposing them is an even more disgusting pro-statue pro-police crowd.

I feel like I'm treading water in a pool that instead of a shallow end and a deep end there are two deep ends.

The de jure legal status of Blacks was oppressive but not genocidal.
That's a crucial difference.

As bad as slavery was, it was pretty much never the intention of American slaveowners to work their slaves to death. Under Jim Crow, the goal was keeping blacks powerless and subservient, but killing was only a punishment for those considered criminal or otherwise dangerous. American white supremacists who want to exterminate non-whites seem to be a largely modern creation.

In contrast, Germany's endgoal was a Europe free of Jews and certain other minority groups. Enslaved Jews not killed outright were being deliberately worked to death.

Both systems were brutally oppressive for racist reasons, but only one was pursing extermination.

Germans also had to face their actions in their lifetime. Reparations could be given to survivors and their immediate families. No slaveowners lived long enough to see the Civil Rights movement. Reparations today couldn't be given to anyone directly affected by slavery and relatively few who personally experienced legalized segregation.

Germany also made a concerted effort at postwar denazification. Germany has been dominated by centrist or left-leaning politics since resuming postwar independence. The South was dominated by conservative politics before and after the war, and still is 155 years later. America has a huge, national conservative party.

The ideals advocated by the Nazis are largely politically dead in Germany. In America, we're still arguing over race and states rights. The largest third party in the country (Libertarians) basically has to be pro-Confederate because their belief system defines Lincoln as a tyrant, regardless of Southern motivation.

The postwar USA has entangled itself in the Confederacy and will be hard pressed to cut its way out.
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
I think the social sanction of mob destruction of statues and other vandalism is exactly that. Calls to "defund the police" (a poor choice of words for what most of those folks claim they want) don't help either.

I'm in favor of reviewing and in many cases moving or removing Confederate monuments and statues. I'm in favor of police reform. And I'm very much disgusted by much of the behavior from the anti-statue pro-reform crowd. And opposing them is an even more disgusting pro-statue pro-police crowd.

I feel like I'm treading water in a pool that instead of a shallow end and a deep end there are two deep ends.



That's a crucial difference.

As bad as slavery was, it was pretty much never the intention of American slaveowners to work their slaves to death. Under Jim Crow, the goal was keeping blacks powerless and subservient, but killing was only a punishment for those considered criminal or otherwise dangerous. American white supremacists who want to exterminate non-whites seem to be a largely modern creation.

In contrast, Germany's endgoal was a Europe free of Jews and certain other minority groups. Enslaved Jews not killed outright were being deliberately worked to death.

Both systems were brutally oppressive for racist reasons, but only one was pursing extermination.

Germans also had to face their actions in their lifetime. Reparations could be given to survivors and their immediate families. No slaveowners lived long enough to see the Civil Rights movement. Reparations today couldn't be given to anyone directly affected by slavery and relatively few who personally experienced legalized segregation.

Germany also made a concerted effort at postwar denazification. Germany has been dominated by centrist or left-leaning politics since resuming postwar independence. The South was dominated by conservative politics before and after the war, and still is 155 years later. America has a huge, national conservative party.

The ideals advocated by the Nazis are largely politically dead in Germany. In America, we're still arguing over race and states rights. The largest third party in the country (Libertarians) basically has to be pro-Confederate because their belief system defines Lincoln as a tyrant, regardless of Southern motivation.

The postwar USA has entangled itself in the Confederacy and will be hard pressed to cut its way out.
If the defense of a system is: it isn't as bad as the Holocaust, then its got some work to do.
 

jgoodguy

Webmaster
Staff member
Administrator
Joined
May 12, 2019
Messages
4,047
Reaction score
1,931
think the social sanction of mob destruction of statues and other vandalism is exactly that. Calls to "defund the police" (a poor choice of words for what most of those folks claim they want) don't help either.

I'm in favor of reviewing and in many cases moving or removing Confederate monuments and statues. I'm in favor of police reform. And I'm very much disgusted by much of the behavior from the anti-statue pro-reform crowd. And opposing them is an even more disgusting pro-statue pro-police crowd.

I feel like I'm treading water in a pool that instead of a shallow end and a deep end there are two deep ends.
IMHO without a plan and an authority to execute that plan, the whole thing slides into illegitimate anarchy. OTOH there will be a whole lot less CSA left.
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
First German lesson: NEVER use a euphemisms or relativizations . The old place has a name USE it.

My brother didn't pass away he died.
Neiman notes in a discussion when she was on a committee for Einstein Year in 2005. The brochures didn't say Einstein was Jewish or a Jew, but used the work around: "fellow-citizen-of-Jewish-heritage" Neiman, tells the committee that not only was "Jew" not an insult to Jews, but that Einstein himself had mocked the circumlocution.

But they didn't change the brochure. Neiman writes: "I suppose that buried deep in some dreams are memories of sinister mobs shouting "Ju-dah! Ju-dah!" So some euphemisms.
 

Matt McKeon

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 25, 2019
Messages
345
Reaction score
571
She discusses the various monuments and attempts to memorialize the Holocaust and resistance to the Nazi regime. Some are more successful than others. I'm sure many of you have heard of the "stumbling stones" cobblestones marked with the name and date of deportation of residents placed in German cities.

She makes an interesting point: There is a plaque on Rosenstrasse in Berlin. In 1943, a mob of hundreds of women jammed the street to prevent the deportation of their Jewish husbands. Amazingly, the protest was successful, the men were released, as Goebbels and his SS goons backed away from machinegunning a crowd of German women in the middle of the capital.

Its a happy ending, but not a comforting memorial, because of the unspoken question: If these women could do this, why couldn't you? Could you have stopped, delayed, minimized the death toll?

She compared it to the common Sophie Scholl memorials, named for the young kindergarten teacher beheaded by the Nazis for distributing anti-war leaflets, or the memorials to the July 20 plotters. They are comforting, in a weird way because (1) Hey some Germans resisted! Yah for us! and (2) they were killed, so resistance was hopeless. Pride and an excuse for inaction.

It reminds me a little of the recent movie "Harriet." Her rebellion doesn't end in tragedy. She outfoxes the slavers again and again, wins again and again, then she wins some more, and instead of martyrdom, the last scene is her in the midst of family with an endtitle telling us, oh, by the way, she's going to find love and get married.
 

5fish

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2019
Messages
2,115
Reaction score
1,652
They are comforting, in a weird way because (1) Hey some Germans resisted! Yah for us! and (2) they were killed, so resistance was hopeless. Pride and an excuse for inaction.
Some other resisters... youngest killed... it a good story about him leaving Hitlers' Youth , his church joining the Nazi party, and so on...


Snip...

Finally, the trial arrived. Hübener, who was just 17 years old, was tried as an adult. Rather than argue for his release, the boy instead confronted the judges about the Nazi regime and the war. When a judge asked him if he really thought Germany would lose the war, he asked, “Don’t you?” His friends later told family members that they thought Hübener was purposely baiting the judges so they’d give the other boys less severe sentences.

That’s exactly what happened. His friends were sentenced to imprisonment in labor camps, but Helmuth Hübener was convicted of conspiracy to commit high treason and treasonous furthering of the enemy’s causes and sentenced to death by beheading. Because his crime was considered so serious, Hübener’s sentence gave the Nazis legal justification for both his execution as a minor and the torture he had already withstood

In October 27, 1942, guards told Hübener that Adolf Hitler had personally refused to commute his death sentence. Hours later, he was beheaded—the youngest person ever executed by the Third Reich.
 
Top