Khan: Coming to terms with a national shame

Good thoughtful piece, with the German approach in dealing with the Holocaust. Money quote:

“We have to understand these atrocities not as freak accidents of history, but as potentialities that can happen again,” she says. “Only then can we take responsibility for the past to work against tendencies in our society that ostracize others and make such atrocities possible.”

It’s a hard thing to reconcile: the dream of national destiny with the reality of national shame. My father struggled with it. As a Muslim in a fracturing India who lived through the trauma of partition in 1947, he has walked—literally—through fire to what he was told would be the promised land. When Pakistan was created, it was supposed to be a refuge for Muslims fleeing the communal killings on the Indian subcontinent; instead, it turned into a nightmare of corruption and state failure. As an adult, he was forced to flee again, this time to Canada, to another refuge.

To this day, my father still refuses to fully acknowledge the failure of Pakistan. He laments the corrupt leadership and the crimes committed there in the name of Islam. But Pakistan, the idea of it, still endures in his imagination. The national destiny he was promised lingers. It’s hard to let go.

For the first time in my life, I can now relate. For me, Canada has always been that place beyond the parched horizon, that shimmering oasis in a sea of global failures. Over two decades of working in some of the world’s cruelest places, Canada has always stood out for me as an example of what is possible for humanity. The national destiny of Canada, I’ve argued openly, is the hope for the world.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to reconcile that dream of a pristine, untainted Canada with the reality of the cruelties committed on its soil. I’m not naïve, of course. I’m not only now waking up to the horrors of colonialism and the crimes perpetrated against the original inhabitants of this continent. What I’m waking up to after the discovery of hundreds of dead and buried children—and the knowledge that there are thousands more waiting to be unearthed—is the attempted erasure that has occurred since those crimes were committed.

For me, this is the terrifying truth: As a child in elementary school in Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s, I was taught all the wonderful ways in which the “Indians” cooperated with European fur traders to help create what is our glorious Canada. It was, of course, mostly lies, but what is even worse is that at the same time, First Nations children were still being subjected to the cruelties of residential schools. While I was being told that Canada is unique in this world because of its multiculturalism, Indigenous culture and identity were being systematically erased.

All of this happened in my lifetime, in my country. Unmarked graves could very well have been dug while I was a child in Toronto, blissfully living the multicultural dream. And I was taught to forget.


The first time I saw a mass grave was in the spring of 2003. I was in Baghdad, not long after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The city was still smoldering from the devastation of America’s Shock and Awe campaign and the convulsion of retributive violence that followed. Admittedly, there was something poetic about the looting and the rioting: the people of Iraq were ransacking Saddam’s palaces and the countless villas belonging to his senior officials—bought with the country’s stolen oil wealth—in a burst of celebratory anarchism. Baghdad’s streets were buzzing with joy and cathartic outbursts of destruction. Statues of the dictator were being torn down; murals of his murderous sons were being graffitied over or left pock-marked by automatic gunfire.

Meanwhile, a quieter but more heart-wrenching ritual was playing out beyond the din of Baghdad’s dancing streets. Some 35 km east of the Iraqi capital, mothers were gathering daily on a patch of dusty ground in Abu Ghraib prison. Fathers and brothers were carefully picking through the earth, sometimes with their bare hands, uncovering the putrid remains of young men who had been executed in the fading hours of Baathist regime rule. These were the final executions the Baathists would carry out in their long and bloody history of executions, their victims hurriedly dumped in a shallow grave literally on the doorstep of the prison’s execution chamber, even as U.S. bombers were beginning their sorties overhead.

I met one distraught mother who told me her son had disappeared five years earlier. He went to work one morning, she said, and never came home. Since then, she had recurring dreams in which her son would appear to reassure her that he was in a better place. It had comforted her during the years he was missing, and while Saddam was still in power: searching for his remains at that time might have placed the rest of her family in danger. So instead, she wrapped herself in the belief that her son had made it into heaven, despite his body never receiving the proper Islamic funeral rites.

Watching this woman struggle with her grief while her husband clawed deeper into the earth reminded me of a passage from Michael Ondaaje’s novel, Anil’s Ghost, about a forensic pathologist investigating war crimes during Sri Lanka’s civil war:

“There was always a fear, double-edged, that it was their son in the pit, or that it was not their son—which meant there would be further searching. If it became clear that the body was a stranger, then, after weeks of waiting, the family would rise and leave. They would travel to other excavations in the western highlands. The possibility of their lost son was everywhere.”

In Iraq, in the spring of 2003, mothers everywhere were scouring the earth for the remains of their children. The woman at Abu Ghraib admitted she was only at the beginning of her journey toward some measure of peace after the horror of the Baathist regime. Her son was lost to her but she knew her journey would not end until he was found. “If we don’t find him here,” she told me, “we’ll dig up all of Iraq until we do.”


I met a carpet salesman once in Afghanistan, from a family of Sufi intellectuals, who lost his brother and father to the convulsions of political violence that preceded the Soviet invasion in 1979. Like thousands of other disappeared, their bodies were never returned and were likely buried in a mass grave somewhere in one of the valleys surrounding Kabul. Noorali in his carpet shop on Chicken Street in the city centre would sip sweet green tea and wax poetic about those days. “Graveyards are remembrance,” he told me once, “mass graves are erasure.”

That line has stuck with me as I’ve walked around other mass graves since, in Syria and Pakistan and Iraq. What’s striking is not its inherent truth but its implied failure. Mass graves are an attempt at erasure. In telling me the story of his father and brother decades later, Noorali was still resisting. The mother in Abu Ghraib, who had only begun her quest to find her son’s remains, was also resisting. In trying to erase their crimes, the diggers of mass graves had instead created a kind of permanent absence, a black hole pulling the living permanently into its orbit.

In her 2008 book, To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing, the anthropologist Sarah E. Wagner describes how survivors of the genocide in Bosnia returned home and how the empty spaces left by the missing became permanent fixtures in the lives of the living.

“Their absence has seeped into the vernacular of the city,” Wagner writes. “Repeatedly I heard the phrase ‘nije došao‘ (He didn’t come) as an explanation of where sons, husbands, friends, and former neighbors were. Didn’t come home? Didn’t come back? Didn’t survive? I could not quite grasp the oblique reference of place implicit in this simple phrase.”

Later, she realizes that what was being alluded to was not a physical place but a journey, a passage from darkness into the light, from the horrors of the war back to peace. The missing were not merely lost to the world, they were lost to the process of return, to the journey to healing. “They did not come”, and in their absence that journey would remain incomplete.


Death has its own logic and the rituals associated with it reflect how intimately death is woven into the fabric of our lives. My wife is fascinated by the relationship between the living and the dead. The bookshelf in our home office is peppered with some rather morbid titles, like Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying and Thomas W. Laqueur’s The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains. As a cultural anthropologist specializing in Afghanistan, she recently became interested in the transfer of human remains and how Afghans deal with missing loved ones—the war dead, refugees who have died in a distant land. From her point of view, the phrase ‘He didn’t come’ is an expression of a disconnect, of a severing of the living world and the spirit world. In the absence of the body there can be no funeral rites; and in the absence of funeral rites, the dead are lost to the living.

As a German, and successor to the national shame of the Holocaust, my wife has a visceral relationship with missing bodies and what it means to the survivors of mass erasure. The German experience of the Holocaust remains a kind of living memory; there is no escaping it, even three generations later. Germans are taught from a young age about what their ancestors attempted. There is no glossing over of facts, and the horror of that shared history is reinforced year after year during a person’s education.

As a result, the national shame of the Holocaust has been internalized by Germans. Some, of course, resist, arguing it is better for society to “move on”. My wife disagrees. The repeated exposure to the Holocaust has helped her develop a nuanced understanding of what Germans did. “We have to understand these atrocities not as freak accidents of history, but as potentialities that can happen again,” she says. “Only then can we take responsibility for the past to work against tendencies in our society that ostracize others and make such atrocities possible.”

The crimes we are willing to commit in the name of national destiny beget our national shame. We need to learn from the Germans and turn our faces to the horrors committed by our ancestors. We must do as the Germans do: relentlessly teach our own children about that history, to teach them that national shame is not something to bury away and forget. It is the only path to our redemption.

Source: Coming to terms with a national shame

More education on genocide needed in Canada

Hard to argue against this but one wonders, with all the demands on curriculum, how educators will find time for meaningful treatment and the extent this complements or replaces existing Holocaust-based material which also had a broader perspective:

The tragic massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, is one more horrific incident that confirms mass murder has spread to even the most peaceful of nations. Like a fire, massacres are fuelled by hate and ignorance, and are now broadcast through social media, with dozens of hate crimes reported daily around the world.

There is a chilling similarity to the underlying motives behind these global violent acts. Ignorance of “the other,” be it a racial or religious minority group, is often cited, leading to an unfounded fear of being “invaded” and overtaken by foreign cultures and values. Fear then devolves into a conviction that the foreign invader must be eliminated. This is justified by dehumanizing the community, labelling it as criminal and evil, or plotting a “white genocide.”

While we must denounce this senseless violence, we must do more than react. Ignorance and fear must be prevented through education of the next generation, before racist beliefs take root and destroy lives. As the founder of the Foundation for Genocide Education—made up of representatives from the Jewish, Rwandan, Armenian, and First Nations communities—I’m convinced that by teaching high school students about the consequences of hate, fear, and discrimination, future atrocities can be avoided. Our mission is to ensure that the study of all recognized genocides, and the steps leading to genocide, are made a permanent part of the high school curriculum across Canada.

My organization is not alone in recognizing the value of learning about genocide. In 2018, UNESCO published a policy guide on the importance of teaching genocide, specifically the Holocaust, as a means to prevent future atrocities, while helping the next generation to become responsible citizens who value human dignity. This is a step in the right direction, but the challenge remains translating theory into practice.

Shockingly, our foundation’s experience demonstrates that many Canadian students graduate high schools with little to no knowledge about past or present genocides.  Some don’t even know the definition of the word.

Teachers across the country have told us that they lack the resources, time, and confidence to effectively educate their classes about this sensitive subject. Eight countries to date have made the study of genocide compulsory as part of their high school curriculums, but no Canadian province has yet done so.

How can we expect our children to recognize the dangers of intolerance and racism without proper education? How can they identify and react to online racist propaganda if they are unaware of how the media has been used historically by extremist groups to spread hate and violence?

The foundation is now partnering with Quebec’s education ministry to create a comprehensive, universal guide on teaching genocide. Once test-piloted by teachers this September, the guide will be available in every high school in Quebec by 2020. Introduced with accompanying training workshops and educational videos, it will serve to significantly build on the basic concepts of genocide already in place in the curriculum. Teachers need to be supported with the knowledge, resources, and skills required to teach about genocide and human rights, and this guide accomplishes that.

With this and next month’s commemoration days of the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan genocides, it’s an opportune time to reinforce the message of the devastating impact of unchecked hate. To hear the stories of survivors of the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, and the Holocaust, is to truly understand the chilling effects of racist propaganda that leads to dehumanization and, ultimately, genocide.

As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I know all too well that we cannot afford to be complacent. My parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics and barns in Poland. My mother saw her own mother killed by machine gun in the squalid ghetto where Jews were forced to live before being deported to concentration camps such as Auschwitz. My family’s story is tragically not unique, and today’s students will undoubtedly benefit more from learning about these accounts than from the messages that are communicated by crazed white nationalist manifestos and live-streamed shooting of innocent victims.

By studying the consequences of unchecked hate, students will be equipped with the critical thinking skills to better understand racism and intolerance. We must not let another year go by without passing on this essential knowledge to our youth, the leaders of tomorrow.

Source: More education on genocide needed in Canada

Jordan Peterson’s Hitler And Holocaust Obsessions – The Forward

Interesting and I find nuanced profile of Peterson. But equally true, fairly or unfairly, one is judged by the company one keeps and one’s supporters:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.”

Part of why people on the far right like Peterson is because he is not afraid to talk about the Jews, and he has a lot of people to talk to. Peterson is on a 50-city tour of North America and Europe to promote his best-selling new book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers. He has answered questions about global Jewish influence several times, in person and online. In an April blog post, he attributed that alleged influence to Jewish intelligence —an old anti-Semitic dog whistle.

Yet Peterson rarely speaks about anti-Semitism itself, even though he says he’s been obsessed with the Holocaust since he was a teenager and lectures on it frequently. Critics say this omission may encourage anti-Semitism among Peterson’s followers, who range from avowed neo-Nazis communities like the Daily Stormer to frustrated young men looking for a scapegoat. In an interview, Peterson told the Forward he feels that he is battling anti-Semitism through his work.

“Part of your responsibility when you have a platform like that, especially when you present yourself as an academic, is to make sure that you’re giving those audiences the full truth,” said Jared Holt, a researcher for People for the American Way who studies far-right media. If Peterson were to be more forthcoming about the importance of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, it “might allow some of his viewers to think about course correcting,” Holt added.

Peterson, 55, used to be an ordinary academic at the University of Toronto. His first and only other book, published in 1999, was a 600-page tome chiefly about Jungian psychology. He taught at Harvard in the 1980s before moving to Toronto; back then, his “audience” was his students. Now, he posts lectures on everything from Palestine to parenting, the Book of Genesis to psychobiology, on YouTube. Supporters gave him $70,000 through the website Patreon in April 2017, compared with $700 in April 2016. “12 Rules For Life” has sold over 700,000 copies since its publication in January, the Washington Post reported.

Peterson didn’t reach these heights because of his discourses on Jewish topics. His primary preoccupation is healing broken masculinity, and his main following is the young men with whom such a focus resonates. Peterson is nowhere near as toxic as various other internet cultures, like the “incels” who blame women — and sometimes murder them — because they’re not having sex. Yet behind the father figure role he affects lie darker preoccupations with Hitler, Marxists and the “radical left” on college campuses. That’s where his teachings can provide fodder for conspiracy theorists and bigots.

Peterson opposes Jew hatred, he says, and claims that leftist members of the media tried to hurt him by linking him to white supremacists. He has accused white supremacists of having a “pathology of racial pride,” and written that “identity politics” –- the idea that drives white nationalism — is “misguided.”

Peterson told the Forward he felt he had to answer the question of Jewish influence in order to undermine the far right’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Other scholars don’t think that’s a sound strategy.

He has addressed the subject several times in public and online, most recently in a blog post published on his website, when he talked about Jewish IQ. It’s higher than average, he said, and that’s true also for people in power. Therefore Jews are accurately represented among the cultural and financial elite of the world. Peterson didn’t mention anti-Semitism directly in this lecture, but he was thinking about it, he said.

“You can assume that they [Jews] are intelligent and have a culture of learning, or you can think that there’s some kind of cabal,” Peterson told the Forward. “So if I’m gonna hit the hornets nest, I might as well hit it on the side that takes the wind out of the sails of far-righters and their idiot anti-Semitism.”

Peterson’s willingness to answer questions about “Jewish success” and his interest in IQ literature is “suspicious” said Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of history at Emory University and author of “Denying the Holocaust,” who won a libel case in Britain against prominent Holocaust denier David Irving.

Lipstadt said that Peterson’s statements on Jewish intelligence reminded her of Kevin MacDonald, a professor of psychology who the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.” MacDonald has written several books criticizing Jewish intellectual culture. (Peterson links to a critique of one of MacDonald’s books at the end of his blog post on Jewish intelligence.) Lipstadt said that MacDonald’s academic language obscures the anti-Semitism behind his opinions. She worries the same is true of Peterson.

“It’s not [Holocaust] denial, but when people start asking questions like that, I begin to get leery,” Lipstadt said. “The question is, is he a self-help guru who find the Holocaust a convenient way of attracting attention, or is there serious thought going on here?”

Likewise, Lipstadt wonders why Peterson rarely mentions anti-Semitism in his work on the Holocaust. Peterson more often attributes the cause of the Holocaust to human nature.

“Anyone who really diminishes the importance of anti-Semitism — who says, ‘Oh it was an afterthought, a cover’ — I think has got it wrong,” she said.

Peterson says he has been preoccupied with the Holocaust since he was a teenager. He once told an audience that he wrote an essay about Auschwitz at age 13. In “Maps of Meaning,” his 1999 book, he writes that he based his career on trying to understand what drove fascist regimes like the Nazis. “I could not make sense of the human propensity for belief-inspired violence,” he wrote.

Peterson thinks that peer pressure is nearly always stronger than one’s inner moral compass. Anyone has it within them to be Hitler if given enough power, he claims.

“If you think that you wouldn’t be tempted by having 20 million people worship you, then you don’t know yourself at all,” Peterson told the Forward.

He also believes almost anyone would have become a Nazi if they were a German living under Hitler — that “everyone participated” in the Holocaust.

“His audience is without a doubt a large chunk of people in the ‘alt-right,’ and that’s the kind of signaling that would appeal to them,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “If you play fast and loose with the issue, you’re going to be seen as a possible ally in Holocaust denial.”

Peterson admits he has a dim view of human nature. But he has a much rosier picture of humanity’s potential to learn from its mistakes. He believes that sufficient Holocaust education is the key to preventing genocide. In fact, he says, the reason genocides continue to happen is that Holocaust education is not good enough. People don’t understand that it was a feature, not a bug, of human behavior.

“It hasn’t been transformed into deep and practical psychological knowledge,” Peterson added. “You can tell by the rise of publicly accepted anti-Semitism in the last five-to-10 years. Whatever we understood of that education, it wasn’t enough.”

Holocaust education is not a silver bullet, according to Sander Gilman, a professor of history at Emory University who has written extensively about anti-Semitism. Teaching about Nazism and the Holocaust is extremely important, Gilman said. But it doesn’t explain – and can’t prevent – modern anti-Semitism.

“If you have a fantasy that that is going to be a kind of vaccination against hate, that’s wonderfully naïve,” Gilman said. “The rise of anti-Semitism today has to do with situations today.”

Joe Flanders, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University who was mentored by Peterson as an undergraduate, says that Peterson is “bizarrely preoccupied” by the Holocaust, along with the Cold War. But he pushed back against the possibility that Peterson’s views were evidence of any anti-Semitic feeling.

“He’s interested in how it’s possible for something so evil to manifest in the world,” Flanders said. “It’s an expression of the darkest part of humanity, which we don’t have access to now in the news cycle we consume these days.”

Peterson has repeatedly said that instead of being suspicious of Jews, the world should be grateful that there are so many Jewish geniuses.

“They’re a resource you don’t want to squander,” he said.

via Jordan Peterson’s Hitler And Holocaust Obsessions – The Forward

‘Never Again’: Fighting Hate in a Changing Germany With Tours of Nazi Camps – The New York Times

Having visited Dachau, I can attest to the power of such visits:

It was not the execution wall or the electric fence or even the description of the smell of human flesh burning day and night that made the teenagers stop cold.

It was the bunk beds.

In their wooden ordinariness, they spoke to the 10th graders visiting the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen as no history book had. “This is how they lived,” whispered Damian, 15, his eyes taking in the tightly packed rows of ladderless three-level bunks.

When Jakob Hetzelein, a history teacher in a working-class district of northeastern Berlin, decided to take his students to Sachsenhausen, a short suburban train ride from the German capital, he was not sure how it would go down.

His lessons on Nazi Germany had met muted enthusiasm. In a mock election in class, several students had supported the nativist Alternative for Germany party. One boy was recently caught scribbling a swastika on a friend’s jacket. Another does Hitler impressions when he thinks Mr. Hetzelein is not looking. Left index finger under his nose, right arm extended.

And then there are Mahmoud and Ferdous, recent refugees from Egypt and Afghanistan, where anti-Israel sentiment routinely blends into anti-Semitism and sometimes Holocaust denial.

Mr. Hetzelein, 31, who used to teach in a vocational school where nine in 10 students had Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, knows about casual anti-Semitism. “Jew” is a popular insult on some soccer fields in Berlin.

“It has become harder to teach history,” he said.

Teaching history is a pillar of national identity in postwar Germany. That is why Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator with Palestinian heritage, recently came up with an idea that is radical even by the standards of a country that has dissected the horrors of its past like no other: make visits to Nazi concentration camps mandatory — for everyone.

“This is about who we are as a country,” she said in a recent conversation in Berlin. “We need to make our history relevant for everyone: Germans who no longer feel a connection to the past and immigrants who feel excluded from the present.”

Ms. Chebli’s proposal comes at a time when Germany is grappling with the creeping rise of two kinds of anti-Semitism and as the Jewish community, now numbering about 200,000, is once again nervous.

Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by the arrival of Alternative for Germany, the first far-right party to break into Parliament since World War II. And there are concerns that the recent absorption of more than a million immigrants, many from the Middle East and many Muslim, has inadvertently created incubators of a different kind of anti-Semitism — one hiding behind the injustices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but often reverting to hateful old stereotypes, too.

It was the sight of Arab immigrants, including Palestinian-Germans like herself, burning an Israeli flag underneath the Brandenburg Gate in December while chanting “Death to Israel” that moved Ms. Chebli to speak up.

Since then, other disturbing stories have emerged in the German news media: an Afghan boy greeting his teacher with “Heil Hitler” and proclaiming that he, too, was Aryan. A group of Syrian refugees calling the Holocaust “a Jewish conspiracy,” explaining that they had learned that in school back home.

The reaction in Berlin, where there are strict legal prohibitions of Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, has been swift. The government announced that it was appointing its first-ever anti-Semitism coordinator. Some in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party have urged the immediate deportation of anti-Semitic Muslims.

Günter Morsch, the director of the Sachsenhausen memorial, says he does not think that is helpful. “We cannot allow this debate to create another form of racism,” he said. “What about the Germans who are anti-Semitic?”

Nine in 10 anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in Berlin are committed by German citizens. And for all the seeming contradictions, there is a common denominator between Muslims who espouse anti-Semitic views and those on the far-right (who also hate Muslims), Mr. Morsch said.

“Anti-Semitism correlates more closely with educational background than with ethnic background,” he said, citing empirical studies.

Ms. Chebli says that visiting a concentration camp is no panacea, but that it can help. She visited one as a young woman. The experience changed her, she said.

“It is a powerful way of keeping memory alive and giving meaning to our mantra of ‘never again,’ ” Ms. Chebli said. “But we need to get back to the essence of what this is about: It’s about standing up for human rights and the rights of minorities — all minorities.”

Muslims, too

During their visit to Sachsenhausen, the teenagers huddled around their guide in the vast triangular courtyard of the camp, its perimeter still dotted with watchtowers.

Sachsenhausen was no death camp, although tens of thousands of inmates are believed to have died here; those were built by the Nazis outside Germany. But it was the nerve center of two dozen major concentration camps run by the Nazis.

From an inconspicuous office building in one corner of the camp, civil servants decided what kind of medical experiments would be conducted, how many executions would take place and how much cyclone B gas would be delivered to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. “Desk perpetrators,” the guide, Mariana Aegerter, calls them.

“Does anyone here know who was imprisoned here?” she asked the class.

Nelson, a boy with shoulder-length hair, tentatively raised his hand. “Jews?”

There were Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen. But unlike in the death camps, they were a minority. Of more than 200,000 inmates over the years, some 40,000 were Jewish. Many died here.

The Nazi regime targeted many, Ms. Aegerter explained, like communists, clerics, homosexuals, Roma and the disabled. But also those considered “antisocial”: The homeless, the jobless, those on social welfare, and boys with long hair — Ms. Aegerter’s eyes lingered on Nelson — or with too many girlfriends, or with a weakness for American music, like Jazz or swing.

By the time Sachsenhausen was liberated, she said, nine in 10 prisoners were foreigners, coming from 45 countries. There were Muslims, too.

“Muslims, too?” Ferdous said later. “I did not know that.”

Building bridges

Ms. Aegerter, a young historian, says her central aim during tours of the camp is to bring to life what is an empty space, to make students visualize life there, and ultimately to create a bridge between the visitor and the prisoner, between the present and the past.

“Our most powerful tool,” she said, “is identification.”

Recently, a young Syrian had asked a fellow guide, “Why do you turn your torture chambers into a museum?”

To make sure we will never have torture chambers again, he had replied.

The boy had thought this over for a while. “We have torture chambers in Syria,” he eventually said. “Maybe, when the war is over, we should turn them into a museum, too.”

It is not always easy. Once, a Palestinian schoolgirl asked Ms. Aegerter, “Don’t you think that what the Jews are doing with the Palestinians today is the same as what the Nazis did with the Jews?”

No, she had explained, but that did not mean one had to approve of everything the state of Israel was doing. The girl seemed unconvinced.

Ms. Chebli comes across this all the time, she said. “I have Palestinians tell me: I had to leave my country because of the Holocaust and you want me to worry about anti-Semitism?”

She recounted the lukewarm reaction of one young man to her concerns about growing anti-Semitism. Born and raised in Germany, he does not see himself as German because, he says, Germans do not see him as German.

“Of course, anti-Semitism is important,” he had told her, “but what about the racism I experience every day?”

To win over young Muslims for the fight against anti-Semitism, Ms. Chebli said, Germany has to fight Islamophobia, too.

“It’s much easier for me to persuade a young Muslim of the relevance of the Holocaust if I acknowledge their own experience of discrimination and create that link,” Ms. Chebli said.

Sometimes, creating a link with young Germans is just as tricky, Ms. Aegerter points out.

Now 34, she grew up in the eastern state of Brandenburg in the 1990s. Swastikas were a common sight in her town: Scrawled on the inside of toilet cubicles. Graffitied onto walls. A boy in her class had tattooed one on his shin. It was only after she and some friends had complained that the boy had been asked to wear long trousers during sports lessons.

These days, Ms. Aegerter has teachers on the phone who share their concerns about far-right tendencies among their students.

One teacher told her before a class visit that he had planned the trip specifically because he worried about three boys drifting into neo-Nazi territory. But on the day, all three called in sick.

“Sadly, that is no exception,” Ms. Aegerter said.

In some cases, she said, it is the parents telling teachers they do not want their children to visit a concentration camp.

When students do come, it can be transformative, said Mr. Morsch, who has been director of the memorial for 25 years.

“It would be naïve to expect a two-hour tour to turn neo-Nazis into anti-fascists,” Mr. Morsch said. “But give us a little time, and we can achieve a lot.”

He recalled a recent group of students from a vocational school that had a persistent problem with neo-Nazi graffiti. They spent several weeks in Sachsenhausen renovating one part of the memorial — but also working in small groups, dissecting drawings and letters of prisoners and creating their own exhibition.

“After they spend some time with us, the problem went away,” Mr. Morsch said.

Mr. Morsch still believes that camp visits should remain voluntary. He fears an obligation to come would take away from the learning experience.

Mr. Hetzelein disagrees. Whether schools or the law make the call, students rarely get a say. He grew up in Bavaria, the only German state where visiting a Nazi memorial is already required.

As a high school student, he went to Dachau, near Munich. Years later, he saw Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in what is Poland today.

The cast-iron gates, the barbed wire and the sheer scale of it still haunt him. “It’s not enough to read books about it,” he said, “you need to feel it.”

A week after visiting Sachsenhausen, Mr. Hetzelein asked his students whether they thought their children should one day be made to visit a camp.

Of 22 students, 21 agreed. Among them: Ferdous, Damian and Nelson.

via ‘Never Again’: Fighting Hate in a Changing Germany With Tours of Nazi Camps – The New York Times

When Hitler’s Henchman Called the Shots in Hollywood


When Germany, Japan, and Italy formed the Axis alliance in November 1937, four months after Japan invaded China, the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo partnership appeared poised to take on the rest of the world.

With the Reich on the move, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels tightened his command over his government’s image at home and abroad. In April 1937, he transferred control of all German film companies to the government and appointed himself as overseer of all productions. Henceforth, the content of domestic films would “fulfill with distinction the National Socialist idea.” As Fritz Wiedemann, now vice president of the Reich Film Chamber, boasted, “There is no such thing as public taste; we can shape that as we will. We have determined political taste; we can do the same with artistic taste.”

Goebbels wanted to keep the United States neutral for as long as possible. That meant stopping Hollywood from producing films intended to sway American public opinion against the Hitler regime. The propaganda chief knew there were many kinds of battles to be fought during the course of war, and he considered the battle to control the mind among the greatest. Goebbels understood a basic truth about the power of cinema: Movies matter the most about the things that people know the least. Many Americans got their first glimpse of what a Nazi rally or storm trooper looked like by watching movies or newsreels. Whether they thought of these people and their ideas as good or bad might well be determined by what they saw and heard on the screen.

By shaping the content of American films, Goebbels hoped to shape the ways in which Americans thought about Hitler and his policies.

With movies being seen by 88 million Americans a week in 1937, and by 150 million people throughout the world, Goebbels feared that a powerful anti-Nazi campaign by Hollywood studios could prove disastrous to German ambitions. Consequently, the propaganda minister turned to Georg Gyssling, German general consul in Los Angeles, for help in manipulating the American psyche. Gyssling cajoled, threatened, and did everything in his power to ensure that the Jewish-dominated studios followed Production Code Administration (PCA) regulations and made no film attacking Hitler or his government.

By 1937 the motion picture business reigned as the nation’s fourth largest industry, with over $2 billion in capital investments. Lavishly paid movie industry leaders accounted for 40 of the 63 Americans earning more than $200,000 in 1937. Topping the list was Louis B. Mayer at $1.3 million, making him the highest paid employee in America. The MGM head earned more in salary that year than the entire U.S. Senate combined. As the number of American films shown in Germany steadily dropped from 61 in 1933–34 to 36 in 1936–37, the moguls were forced to deal with Gyssling if they wanted to protect their studios’ bottom lines and their own high salaries.

During his first three years as consul, Gyssling repeatedly used the threat of imposing Article 15, which refused permits for any film deemed “detrimental to German prestige,” to hammer the moguls into compliance. As German military aggression increased after the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Gyssling became even more aggressive with Hollywood, intimidating individual actors and studio employees. When he heard that Malvina Pictures was preparing to release I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany in July 1936, Gyssling contacted the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association and demanded they stop the filming. Based on a true story, the movie recounts the harrowing experience of American journalist Isobel Steele, who was arrested and imprisoned by Nazi authorities on charges of espionage in August 1934. Steele spent four months in solitary confinement at Berlin’s infamous Moabit prison and was deported only after the intervention of the U.S. State Department. Upon her return home, the celebrated journalist wrote numerous stories describing her experiences in Nazi Germany.

via When Hitler’s Henchman Called the Shots in Hollywood

Indifference Kills: Roger Cohen

Good and strong reminder:

There is no direct analogy between the situation of millions of refugees today and the Jews who were deported from Milan’s Platform 21 (as the memorial is also known). The refugees are fleeing war — not, in general, targeted annihilation. They are victims of weak states, not an all-powerful one. Their plight often reflects the crisis of a religion, Islam — its uneasy adaptation to modernity — not the depredations of a single murderous ideology.

Still, there are echoes, not least in that word, indifference.

The indifference of Hungary, with its self-appointed little exercise in bigotry: the defense of Europe as Christian Club. The indifference of Britain, where the prime minister speaks of “swarms,” the foreign secretary of “desperate migrants marauding,” and the home secretary of threats “to a cohesive society.” The indifference of a Europe that cannot rouse itself to establish adequate legal routes to refugee status that would stem trafficking that has left about 3,000 people dead this year in the Mediterranean.

Then there is the indifference of an America that seems to have forgotten its role as haven for refugees of every stripe. The indifference of a world unready to acknowledge that more than 4 million Syrian refugees absorbed by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon need a massive program of economic and educational aid over the next decade to confront the crisis. “It’s a trend and not a blip,” David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, told me.

If the counter-indifference gesture of Milan’s Holocaust memorial were repeated myriad times across a European Union of more than half a billion people, the impact would be dramatic. One quarter of Lebanon’s population is now composed of Syrian refugees; the numbers reaching the E.U. constitute less than 0.5 percent of its population.

Another echo, for Jews, lies in their own situation in Europe a little over a century ago. They were often marginalized. As Rabbi Julia Neuberger pointed out in a recent sermon at the West London Synagogue, around 150,000 Jews, often fleeing pogroms, arrived in Britain between 1881 and 1914. An anti-immigrant group called the British Brothers’ League declared then that Britain could not become “the dumping ground for the scum of Europe.”

Sound familiar?

Yesterday’s “scum” often proves to be the invigorating lifeblood of renewal. Churchill opposed the Aliens’ Act of 1905, designed to control Jewish immigration, on the grounds that “free entry and asylum” were practices from which Britain “has so greatly gained.”

Europe is awash in small-mindedness, prejudice and amnesia. On Syria, the United States is not far behind.

Jarach, whose Jewish family arrived in Milan in the late 19th century, is assisted by Adhil Rabhi, a Moroccan immigrant. They showed me around the memorial, explained how each boxcar was filled with Jews and then shunted to an elevator that took them up to the platform.

Nobody saw the Jews. Nobody wanted to see them. Indifference kills. As Syria demonstrates.

Muslim Scholar, Looking to ‘Speak the Truth,’ Teaches the Holocaust and Islam –

Always encouraging to read about people like this, who look beyond their particular community and background, and look for the universal:

… Dr. Afridi said, some Muslims called her a “Jew lover.” More troubling to her are the persistent rumors in Muslim circles that her scholarly work is being secretly funded by Jews.

Raked by those hostile crosswinds, Dr. Afridi keeps her address and the names of her family members confidential. Nothing, however, had led to self-censorship in her role as a public intellectual, she said.

“I have the empirical, existential understanding of my subject matter,” she said. “And I have the belief that if you speak for another, it means more than if you speak for yourself, for your own people. And when there’s so much daily tension between Muslims and Jews, it’s momentous for us to do this work, whether it’s me with the Shoah, or it’s a Jewish scholar speaking out about the Muslims in Bosnia or about Palestinian suffering. We are commanded by God to speak the truth.”

….For her course on “Religion and the Holocaust,” she faces one set of challenges — teaching about that terrible time in history to young people who often barely know it, and discussing Christian anti-Semitism’s role in the Shoah with students who are predominantly Christian. In her role as author, lecturer and director of a genocide center, she encounters Jews and Muslims, some supportive and others antagonistic, yet all, in her view, reachable.

“If a Muslim asks me why I’m not teaching about the Nakba, then I’ll say we already know about it, and what we need to learn about is the Holocaust,” she said. “And if a Jew tells me, ‘Muslims are Nazis,’ I’ll say, ‘Can we have lunch?’ These are the people we have to engage.”

Muslim Scholar, Looking to ‘Speak the Truth,’ Teaches the Holocaust and Islam –