Tuesday, January 27, 2015

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Genocide: the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

The Holocaust: (from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, "whole" and kaustós, "burnt"), also known as the Shoah (Hebrew: השואה, HaShoah, "the catastrophe")

“Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We'll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God” -Last words of Adolf Eichmann,  one of the major architects of the Holocaust

The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights. 
   We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history. We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world. And we must do our utmost so that all peoples may enjoy the protection and rights for which the United Nations stands.
   Message by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for the second observance of the Holocaust Victims Memorial Day on 19 January 2008.”

   Turkey. The country, not the bird. World War I, and after. Approximately from 1913 to 1923. A planned, systematic slaughter of the Christian Greek population from its historic homeland in Asia Minor, an area bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the west. Between 750,000 to 900,000 deaths committed by the Turkish Empire against the Greek population within that empire, including massacres, forced deportations involving death marches (a forced march of captives with the explicit intent to kill, brutalize, weaken and/or demoralize as many of the captives as possible along the way) summary expulsions, arbitrary executions, and the destruction of Christian Greek Orthodox cultural, historical, and religious monuments.
    Turkey. The country, not the bird. 1915. The Turkish government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland within the country. The genocide was carried out in two distinct phases: the wholesale murdering of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor, followed by the expulsion of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Approximately one and a half million people dead. 
   In high school I once had an Armenian girlfriend. Michelle Meridian. Beautiful, dark complexioned girl with huge... eyes. Her family had come to the United States after being expelled from the Turkish Empire during World War I.
   She dumped me for some skinny guy who had a car.
   Young attractive girls are opportunists not burdened with thoughts of pity and remorse.  
   Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, the country proclaimed independence, which was followed by the Bosnian War, the opposing factions being the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina, exacerbated by the tensions between the three primary ethnic groups, the Bosniaks (48%), Serbs (37.1%), and the Croats (14.3%), tensions that had been held in check by the strict, socialist controlled leadership of Yugoslavia. 
   July 1995. A small mountain salt mining town in eastern Bosnia, Srebrenica.  8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys, were murdered by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (also referred to as the Bosnian Serb Army) under the command of General Ratko Mladić. General Mladić would earn the moniker "Butcher of Bosnia." In 2004  the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague, ruled that the massacre of Srebrenica's male inhabitants constituted genocide, a crime under international law. Mladić disappeared, but was eventually found and arrested on May 26th, 2011 in Lazarevo, in the Banat region in northern Serbia. Mladić was extradited to The Hague on May 31st, 2011, and his trial formally opened in The Hague on May 16th, 2012. The outcome of his trial is still pending due to procedural errors of the prosecution.
   Iraq. March 16th, 1988. In the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War, in the Kurdish city of Halabja in Southern Kurdistan, Iraqi forces led by Ali Hassan al-Majid,  "Chemical Ali," cousin of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, dropped bombs from Iraqi MiG and Mirage aircraft containing poison gas. The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people and injured 7,000 to 10,000 more, mostly civilians. Thousands more would die years after the attack due to complications, diseases, and birth defects. 
   When the Reagan administration learned of the use of poison gas on the Kurds it sought to obscure the situation by falsely claiming that somehow Iran, the very country Iraq was at war with, had participated in the attack as well, and opposed any sanctions against Iraq.     
   A Senate sponsored bill, The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, was drafted to punish Iraq for it’s use of chemical weapons, but was defeated after intense lobbying of Congress by the Reagan-Bush White House, which supported Saddam over the  Ayatollah Khomeini (ironically, it was Iran that helped Reagan win the 1980 Presidential election by Reagan’s frustrating President Carter’s efforts to end the Iran-hostage crisis until the election, a strategy that probably was not appreciated by the hostages themselves).
   After the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American forces Al-Majid was captured and  charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. He was found guilty and executed on January 25th, 2010.
   His cousin Saddam was captured as well, and brought to trail on charges related to a 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him. Saddam was sentenced to death and executed on December 30th, 2006. 
   North and South America. October 12th, 1492. Spanish sponsored, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights and lands on the island of Guanahani, in what is now called the  Bahamas. Guanahani is what the natives called the island. Columbus called it San Salvador. 
   We’ve thoroughly discussed Christopher here, here, and here
   He was the second European to “discover” the Americas, after the Norse explorer Leif Erikson, (if one could be said to discover a land that had been inhabited by an indigenous and established population for thousands of years), but Columbus would make a significantly greater impact on the land and it’s people.
   With him he brought  smallpox, influenza, bubonic plague and pneumonic plagues that infected and killed the native population which had no natural immunity to these diseases. But worse than that, he brought with him European ignorance, greed, and cruelty, and aided by a superior technology, Columbus, and those that followed him, would decimate the land. 
   It is almost impossible to estimate the size of the population in the Americas before Columbus arrived as taking a census was not required back then as it is today in the United States. Only small bits of information survive today that we may use to guess, really what it was. The expert opinion places the number between 37 and 54 million indigenous people. It is also estimated that 90 percent of the total population died due to infectious disease brought to them by the Europeans by the end of the 17th century.
   And then there is the grave matter of intentional aggression and enslavement of the population by the Europeans. Columbus himself in the Caribbean, enslaved and murdered huge numbers of the indigenous people in his never ending thirst for gold and other riches. He was not a nice man, and we should not be celebrating the anniversary of his arrival, but accept it as part of a history that we alive today have benefited from to the great detriment of others. 
   "In July 1529 the queen of Spain signed a charter allowing Pizarro to conquer the Incas. Pizarro was named governor and captain of all conquests in Peru, or New Castile, as the Spanish now called the land."
   With just 168 men, 1 cannon and 27 horses, Francisco Pizarro and his brothers were able to conquer and control the entire Inca Empire, with the help of smallpox, technological superiority, wit, ruthlessness, and the help of thousands of native allies who wished to displace the Inca leadership (for those who are interested in this particular subject I recommend the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” by the American physiologist, biophysicist, ornithologist, environmentalist, historian, ecologist, geographer, evolutionary biologist and anthropologist, Jared Diamond).
   Hernán Cortés did pretty much the same to the Aztecs in Mexico. 
   A few hundred years later in North America, the fledgling United States of America began to expand west from it’s eastern colonies. The reduction of the North American Indian population from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900 represents a "vast genocide . . . , the most sustained on record," says Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. David E. Stannard, a historian at the University of Hawaii, gives his opinion that native Americans had undergone the "worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people." Authors Lenore A. Stiffarm and Phil Lane, Jr., believe "there can be no more monumental example of sustained genocide—certainly none involving a 'race' of people as broad and complex as this—anywhere in the annals of human history." 
   But you and I benefit from this outright theft of land, life, and liberty from the Indians (the term “Native American,” is offensive to a large percentage of indigenous people as they were here long before Europeans came and named the continent “America”), so we don’t usually acknowledge this genocide as a genocide, but rather a natural expansion that European settlers were entitled to for some reason. 
   Similarly, our culture often refers to General George Custer’s Last Stand as a “massacre (implying that the Indians committed an atrocity towards us (of European ancestry) so whatever we do to them in retaliation is perfect fine, acceptable, and well deserved),” rather than a lost battle between Indians who were defending their homeland and a military whose leader unwisely failed to utilize readily available batteries of Gatling guns in a fight in which he had vastly underestimated the number of his opponents.   
   On and on.
   Of course when discussing genocide one must consider the Germans, who are responsible for the largest, most deliberate, systematic, efficient, and successful genocidal campaign in modern history. The Holocaust, or “The Catastrophe” in Hebrew.   
   In Europe during World War II approximately six million Jewish people were killed by the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler, two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.
   For those of you too young, or not interested enough in history to know about World War II, like my lovely ex-case manager Erin, and have heard the name Adolf Hitler used as a personification of evil, besides actually starting the war, the Holocaust is the reason why.
    Besides the Jews, Gypsies, Poles, communists, homosexuals, Soviet POWs, film critics, and the mentally and physically disabled were exterminated as well, making a total of approximately 11 million murdered, 1 million of those Jewish children.
   Antisemitism, like racism in general, isn’t hard to find in this world. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, the “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” guy, put it this way: "The whole problem of the Jews exists only in nation states, for here their energy and higher intelligence, their accumulated capital of spirit and will, gathered from generation to generation through a long schooling in suffering, must become so preponderant as to arouse mass envy and hatred. In almost all contemporary nations, therefore – in direct proportion to the degree to which they act up nationalistially – the literaral obscenity of leading the Jews to slaughter as scapegoats of every conceivable public and internal misfortune is spreading." 
   Germany had a long history of  antisemitism. The Völkisch Movement arose in the country in the second half of the 19th century. The word völkisch has no direct translation into English, but can be equated, sort of, to “ethnic.”  The movement promoted a pseudoscientific, biologically based racism that distinguished Jews as a race rather than a religion, a race that was attempting to subdue the Aryan ( of European and Western Asian heritage)  race and gain world domination.    One can gain a lot of power and raise a lot of money by scaring people. George W Bush took the United States to war in Iraq for no good discernible reason by scaring people. Remember the mushroom cloud argument?
    Völkisch leader Hermann Ahlwardt called Jews "predators" and "cholera bacilli" who should be "exterminated" for the good of the German people in 1895, setting the stage for Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s.
   Hitler used hatred of the Jews as a wedge issue to help him gain power, much the same way as the republicans in the United States use abortion, gay rights, immigration, and yes, racism, as wedge issues to gain power and raise funds today. Once Hitler had the power, he needed to keep acting out in a practical manner ways to use that power to placate those who had given it to him (just like the first bill taken up in the House of Representatives in this new Congress being abortion legislation rather than a jobs or immigration bill that the republicans had run on. They passed a weakened bill (due to a rebellion within their own ranks by republican Congress women who deemed the original bill to be too extreme) even though they knew it would not pass through the Senate, or even if it did, President Obama would surely veto it. They did this for no other reason than to placate their base). So he came up with what is known as “The Final Solution,” which was Nazi Germany's plan to systematically exterminate the Jewish population in Nazi occupied Europe through genocide.
   Applied, it went like this: 
   Inspired by the Herero and Namaqua Genocide of German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia) that was waged between 1904 and 1907 during the Herero Wars, the Final Solution was implemented in stages. First the new German government passed laws to suppress and exclude Jews from society. To alienate them and set them apart. Concentration camps were built  when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and after Germany invaded western Poland in September of 1939, ghettos (small parts of towns or cities used  to confine and segregate Jews, and sometimes Gypsies) were established. In July of 1933, the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, a eugenics law which called for the compulsory sterilization of the "inferior," which led to over 200 Hereditary Health Courts under whose rulings over 400,000 people were sterilized against their will. In 1935, Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws, which: prohibited  Aryans from having sexual relations or marriages with Jews, and stripped German Jews of their citizenship and deprived them of all civil rights. Jewish lawyers were disbarred, and in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of their offices and courtrooms and beaten. Jewish intelligentsia in general was suppressed, prompting a mass exodus of individuals such as the philosopher Walter Benjamin, and the novelist Lion Feuchtwanger who went to Switzerland, and then France (unfortunately after France declared war on Germany in 1939, the French interned him for a short time, and when the Germans invaded France the next year he was captured and imprisoned again. He eventually escaped and was able to leave the country by dressing as a woman). The German scientist and Figure-outer of how stuff in the universe works, Albert Einstein was visiting the United States when Hitler came to power in 1933, and he decided to stay, never returning to his home country. 
   And then things started to get nasty. In occupied Poland the first organized murders of Jews by the Germans occurred during what is known as  Operation Tannenberg. First, utilizing list of individual prepared before the war started, about 2,000 activists of Polish minority organizations in Germany were arrested and murdered in August of 1939. The second part of the operation began September 1st 1939, ending the next month in October after at least 20,000 had died in about 760 mass executions carried out by special task units designed specifically for such work.  
   In the General Government area of central Poland, Jews were forced into ghettos,  where they were put to work under the Reich Labor Office. Once there many thousands died from maltreatment, disease, starvation, and exhaustion. This is where the Nazis learned that forced labor could be used as a form of extermination. The expression Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("destruction through work") was frequently used, as it is today. 
   But the Nazis were just getting warmed up. 
   After Germany occupied Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, antisemitic measures were introduced into these countries as well. Jews were removed from economic and cultural life and were subject to various restrictive laws, but physical deportation did not occur in most places before 1942. 
   I’ve recently been re-reading “The Diary of a Young Girl,” written by 13 year old Anne Frank (picture above), whose quality of prose, to me, is absolutely mind boggling. As I read it I find it difficult to believe it was written by a 13 year old. When I was 13 I was lucky if I could figure out how to work my television’s remote control. I’ve read many professional writers who can’t write as well as she did. But she didn’t think too much of herself, and it seemed she was criticized by her family as being too precocious. Anyway, she was living with her family in German occupied Netherlands when she turned 13 and experienced many of the indignities we’ve been discussing. Several months later she and her sister were invited to a Nazi work camp in Germany, all expenses paid. Rather than accept that offer the family went into hiding in the sealed-off upper rooms of the annex at the back of her father’s company building in Amsterdam. The rooms were concealed behind a hidden bookcase. Her’s and another family lived there for twenty five months, until they were betrayed in 1944. Anne was first sent to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp that Steven Spielberg depicted so well in “Schindler's List,” where she escaped immediate termination in the gas chambers by having turned 15 three months previously. She was eventually relocated to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she succumbed to typhus.    
   That makes me very sad. 
   I’d be angry too, but I have no where, or no one to direct that anger toward. 
   Here’s a link to the 1959 film “The Diary of Anne Frank,” starring Millie Perkins as Anne, with Shelley Winters, Diane Baker, and Ed Wynn, if you’re so inclined.
   Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen. Buchenwald. Dachau. Treblinka. It is estimated that the Germans established approximately 15,000 camps and subcamps in the occupied countries, mostly in eastern Europe. When one thinks of the Holocaust, one thinks of the concentration/extermination camps, the gas chambers, and the ovens.
     Lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann was charged with facilitating and managing the logistics of the mass deportations of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps. He was good at it. 
   True to their designation the extermination camps weren't used for punishing crime or containing political prisoners. They were designed specifically and purposefully to kill Jews, and others the Nazis deemed unworthy to live (delivered there in mass by the Holocaust trains, in which many prisoners did not survive the journey),  primarily by gassing,  but also by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions. The designers did not expect the majority of prisoners taken to the Belzec, Sobibór or Treblinka camps to survive more than a few hours beyond arrival.
   Some camps tattooed prisoners with identification numbers on arrival. Those that were fit for work were dispatched for 12 to 14-hour shifts. Extermination through labor was just one of the ways systematic extermination was implemented. Camp inmates would literally be worked to death, or worked to physical exhaustion, and then they would be gassed or shot. By the spring of 1944, up to 8,000 people were being gassed every day at Auschwitz. 
   Deceived into believing they were to be deloused, prisoners were routed into the gas chambers    (a chamber room, usually outfitted to appear as a large shower room, with (non-working) water nozzles, tile walls, etc.). The guards hurried them to undress and enter the "shower room" as quickly as possible, and assisted the aged and the very young in undressing. Suddenly the guards would leave and the door was sealed. Pellets of Zyklon B (a cyanide-based pesticide invented in Germany in the early 1920s) were dropped through special holes in the roof. 
   Auschwitz Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss was required by Nazi regulations to supervise the preparations, the gassing (through a peephole), and the looting of the corpses afterwards. He reported that the victims "showed no signs of convulsion." Camp physicians attributed that to the "paralyzing effect on the lungs" of the Zyklon-B gas, which killed before the victim began suffering convulsions.
   After the killings, the guards, and those prisoners who worked for them (these duties would not save these prisoners from the gas chambers themselves, and often they were aware of that. What they gained with their cooperation, was a little extra food possibly, and a little extra time), removed the corpses from the chambers and extracted any gold teeth. Initially, the victims' corpses were buried in mass graves, but later were cremated in the ovens, which, at least at Auschwitz, needed to keep operating 24/7 in order to keep pace with the industrialized killing (where it is estimated that approximately 1,100,000 Jews, and others, lost their lives in that camp alone).
   What I’ve described above is of course only a small portion of the Holocaust, and the events surrounding it. Multiple the above by several thousand and one might get close to the magnitude of the true horror perpetrated on humans by other humans, for no sane reason.
   As the war drew to a close with the advance of American troops to the west of Germany, and Soviet troops advancing from the east, some of the camps were soon discovered, even after German troops had been ordered to dismantle them, and destroy evidence that they had existed, and what their purpose was. 
   The first major camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the Soviets on July 23rd, 1944. Chełmno was liberated also by the Soviets on January 20th, 1945. Auschwitz January 27th.
   Buchenwald by Americans on  April 11th; Bergen-Belsen by the British on April 15th; Dachau by Americans on April 29th; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on the 5th of May; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on  May 8th. 
   Colonel William W. Quinn of the US 7th Army said of Dachau: "There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind."
   At the end of the Second World War, Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Americans and spent time in several camps for SS officers using forged papers that identified him as "Otto Eckmann." He escaped from a work detail in the city of Cham, Germany, when he thought his real identity may have been discovered.. In 1948 Eichmann obtained a landing permit for Argentina and false identification under the name of "Ricardo Klement" through an organization directed by Bishop Alois Hudal, an Austrian cleric then residing in Italy with known Nazi sympathies. Departing via ship from Genoa on June 17th, 1950, he arrived in Buenos Aires on July 14th. There he had a ten year reprieve until he was captured by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service. Following a widely publicized trial in Israel, he was found guilty of war crimes and hanged on May 31st, 1962.
   Some people claim the Holocaust never happened. Holocaust deniers attempt to rewrite history by minimizing, denying or simply ignoring essential facts. Sort of like climate change deniers, except those denying the Holocaust are not seeking a financial reward for their efforts. Holocaust deniers  generally deny the Holocaust occurred because they themselves are antisemitic. Most Holocaust denial claims imply, or openly state, that the Holocaust is a hoax arising out of a deliberate Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other people, or groups of people. For this reason, Holocaust denial is considered to be an antisemitic
   Denial includes any of the following claims: that the German Nazi government's Final Solution policy aimed only at deporting Jews from Germany, and included no program to exterminate Jews, or anybody else; that Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas chambers to mass murder Jews; and that the actual number of Jews killed was significantly (typically an order of magnitude) lower than the historically accepted figure of 5 to 6 million.
   In 1945, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower thought that this might happen in the future, and took steps to document as thoroughly as possible what it was that he found in the death camps.
   “The same day I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never been able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain however, that I have never at any time experienced an equal sense of shock.
   I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that "the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda". Some members of the visiting party were unable to go through with the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton's headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and the British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.”
    On  November 1st, 2005,  United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 was passed which designated January 27th to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.   
   Why the 27th?
   70 years ago today,  Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by Soviet troops.
   Resolution 60/7 urges every member nation to remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust, while encouraging the development of educational programs about the Holocaust in an effort to prevent future acts of genocide. 
   The resolution denies any denials of the Holocaust. The resolution also condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief. It also calls for actively preserving the Holocaust sites that served as Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps and prisons, as well as for establishing a U.N. program of outreach and mobilization of society for Holocaust remembrance and education.
   It is at times difficult to keep pertinent events that have occurred in the distant past, or even when that past isn’t all that distant, relevant and unambiguously clear in the minds of a modern citizenry.    
   Yet it is important... vital some would say, to remember one of the greatest examples of man’s inhumanity towards other men. Of man’s inhumanity toward women, and children, for life. 
   Least we let it happen in the future again and again.

Addendum: 4-17-15: Turkey still in denial

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