How could they not have known?

posted 3 years ago in The Lounge
Post # 2
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

They did, that’s the problem. Let me go into some detail. By The Way: I am German and also a historian. I don’t specialize in this period but I do know my general stuff.

First of all, there were plenty of people who lived close by concentration camps. The people who were deported to work camps like Dachau (in contrast to killing camps such as Auschwitz or Sobibor) didn’t just stay in the camp all day long. They were rented out and forced to work for all kinds of businesses. So people who lived in the area of the camp SAW starving and dying people walking past. They knew.

However, the Nazi propaganda machine worked incredibly well on several levels. On the one hand, some of the work camps had slogans, such as “Work will free you”, so it was easy for people who didn’t WANT to think and didn’t WANT to know, to treat them as any other work camp. Not designed to kill people by not feeding them and working them too hard but designed to punish and reform people.

The actual death camps were in areas in Poland or Belarus. The difference between work camps and death camp was that at work camps, the prisoners were made to work so hard, they eventually died, at death camps, the were transported there to be killed as soon as possible. The location of the death camps was intentional – the government did not want people in Germany to know too much about them because only the most hardened Nazis would have condoned what was happening there. BUT enough information got out and was leaked so that a considerable amount of the population knew SOMETHING was happening there. And this knowledge made them complicit in the horrible crimes of the Nazi government. And this in turn meant that hiding the facts became important because if you know you’re guilty, you don’t want to be found out.

Then there were people who were wilfully blind and stupid. My grandma was one of them. Unfortunately she passed away before I was old enough to ask questions but my mum told me about the conversations they had about this topic. My grandma basically said that yes, she was surprised when several of the nice shops closed down but she was told that the owners had moved away. She claims she never linked the closing down of shops to the Jewish faith of their owners. Sure, she was part of a generation and society in which young girls weren’t exactly encouraged to think about politics but she definitely didn’t make an effort either. These people may not have known but they could have known if they’d wanted to.

Then there were the people who knew and simply profited from the Holocaust. There are too many Jews who were forced to sell their businesses for dumping prices before they were allowed to flee or were deported. There were so many collectors whose collections ended up in the hands of Nazis. These people were happy enough with the Holocaust.

But why, oh why didn’t people do something. I have asked this question so many times. And each years my pupils ask that very same question. I think there are three main factors here: first of all, some people agreed with what the Nazis were doing (my grandparents on my father’s side, for example). Then there were those who were so young they had been brainwashed so much, they didn’t know what to think and to believe. And then there was fear. And I can honestly understand that. If you tried to fight the regime, you became a victim of it yourself. If you hid Jews or dissenters, you knew you’d be the one being taken to a concentration camp next. If you spoke out, the same thing happened. There were the righteous few who fought back and many of them paid for their incredible bravery with their lives. But who can truly be sure they would have been one of those few? I can’t, much as I wish I could. Especially, because if one person was caught, the lives of their family and friends were on the line, too. 

 

So yeah. Those are my thoughts. What I take away from this is that humanity must not forget what a group of people did and to which lows a whole society sank. It’s our job to be wary and to call out injustice before those who purvey it come into power. Because once those people can take control of the military, the police, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, it’s too damn late.

Post # 4
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

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lauralaura123 :  I cannot comment on the mentality of Americans. I have never lived in the Stated and know very few Americans.

But looking at humanity in general, it’s just so much easier to ignore injustice, if it isn’t aimed at you. Martin Niemöller, a German Protestant theologian expressed this thought in a quote now famous in Germany:

“When the Nazis took away the Communists, I was silent; I wasn’t a Communist, after all.

When the Nazis locked up the Social Democrats, I was silent; I wasn’t a Social Democrat, after all.

When they took away the Unionists, I was silent; I wasn’t a Unionist, after all.

When they took me away, there was nobody left to protest.”

 

Post # 5
Member
8027 posts
Bumble Beekeeper
  • Wedding: October 2010

I don’t think the situations are at all comparable. Less than 800 people have been detained at Guantanamo in its history. And while some of them may be innocent, some of them are/were supposedly terrorists. Many of them were captured and deemed dangerous by other countries before being handed over to the US. Whereas, millions of completely innocent victims of the holocaust were persecuted mainly for their religion, but also for political beliefs and sexual orientation etc. I don’t make any apologies for Guantánamo, it has been a shameful thing that the US has done for years. But at least in my mind, detaining possibly dangerous people (now less than 50 if I have my information correct), is different than sitting by watching my neighbors get persecuted and rounded up for death camps. 

Post # 6
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

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eeniebeans :  Without any doubt you are right that the sheer scale of injustice cannot be compared. Apart from the Stalinist purges, nothing comes even close to the Holocaust.

 

However, in the beginning of the concentration camps, only a relatively small number of people was imprisoned, many of whom were considered to be enemies of the state for political reasons, some of them most definitely were enemies of the political system. Deemed dangerous… and then treated atrociously.

And I think that’s where one can make a link to Guantanamo. People there are being detained for years without access to a lawyer, sometimes without knowing why they’re there, and without being put on trial. That may not be similar to the Holocaust, but it IS similar to Nazi behaviour in the early years. 

If those people are terrorists and there is proof, then put them on trial, give them a lawyer and be done with it. But locking up people without trial for years, in some cases with hardly any proof, that’s not proper behaviour for a proudly democratic country like the USA.

After all, we wouldn’t want US politicians to get the idea that because nobody spoke out against detaining people who may or may not be terrorists, it might also be ok to start rounding up immigrants. Or gays. Or muslims. Or jews. 

Post # 7
Member
10454 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: August 2016

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woahthisjustgotreal2018 :  People DO speak out about Guantanamo. It’s a controversial issue in the US because there are people who think it should be closed. The Obama administration tried and failed to close it. There’s no way it’s going to happen under Trump though.

Guantanamo is absolutely a gross violation of human rights and I hope one day we can see it closed. Of course more voices would help move us toward closing it but there certainly isn’t silence on this issue.

Post # 8
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

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hikingbride :  I know. I’m sorry if it came across as me thinking there are no righteous people in the USA. I know better than that. Unfortunately the voices are too quiet and too few for politicians to heed. More public pressure would help. 

But that leads back to the problem that as long as people aren’t directly affected by injustice, many can’t be bothered to take action. We’ve got a situation here atm where a new police law is being suggested which would give police the right to imprison people for up to three months without getting a judge involved and without actual proof that this person has done anything, only based on vague fears they might be up to something. There was a protest march. 30000 people showed up in a state of 13 Million. Because too many just don’t care. (Obviously I realize there are plenty of very young or very old people, people with disabilities and people who can’t just take time off work but that still leaves millions of people who couldn’t be bothered.)

Post # 9
Member
72 posts
Worker bee

Ha smh so sad!

Post # 10
Member
1714 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: September 2018

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woahthisjustgotreal2018 :  So many excellent points in your post. Not much to add.

But really, quite a few people really did resist. And they often paid very dearly for it. Some people did small things and some bigger. They are heros and our role models for what it means to make the. right. decision. at all costs. 

Let us all think on the well known as well as the less known heros of the holocaust and thank them in our hearts for their service to humanity and righteousness in the fight against facsim. 

 

Post # 11
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

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Shesaidyes : The overwhelming majority was silent. But I agree that all those who put their lives on the line must not be forgotten. Never. At my school, we try very hard to teach the kids about those dark days. Recently we had an exhibition about the group “Weiße Rose”. A few people, barely older than the oldest of my pupils who died for their beliefs. One of the pupils sang a song that honored them. I hope the message got through.

Post # 12
Member
11376 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: June 2015

 

those who want Gitmo closed (i’m one of them) need to vote in every election. It’s Congress who stopped Obama’s ex order closing Gitmo by refusing to fund it. 

I totally agree that Gitmo “teaches” us to desensitize to torture and abandoning democratic rule of law over a certain infraction, which of course is exactly what the terrorists want.

and from that lesson, any group of people can be demonized. Around where I live (deep Trump country), I am often (casually, as a conversation starter)  told that liberals are the devil and are murdering people. See, what’s scary about that is not only do these people believe that, but it justifies horrific treatment and primes the pump for divide  – which is exactly what those who want to undermine the United States want.

but even without Gitmo. Look at what we are doing. We have elected a man who mocks the disabled, assaults women, and elevates white supremacists who hate Jewish people and black people. If that doesn’t cause a shiver to go down our spines… 

Post # 13
Member
1714 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: September 2018

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woahthisjustgotreal2018 :  I think what impresses me the most is the ongoing process of coming to terms with the past, in Germany. (Die Aufarbeitung)

I live in Germany too and I really feel  there is so much more conciousness and dedication to not forgetting and sometimes not forgiving (themselves)

It’s not perfect,  but there is disourse. There is acknowledgment. It isn’t swept under the table and it continues to be an important part of german culture.

As an african american I can safely say Germany is decades ahead of the game in terms of how to reconcile, take responsiblity for and retribute past atrocities. (Trail fo Tears, Native Reservations, the WWII Internments to just name a few…) If we as Americans cannot take responsibility for our ugly past with humility and a sense of the truth of this country’s imperfections than I don’t think we will ever see Guantanamo Bay or other horrible things as a priority. We have an over-comspensating national sense of rightousness, which doesn’t like for us to linger on our faults. We pretend we are the home of godliness, of truth, of justice and of democracy. Admitting we weren’t always pure and are yet still so far from it would be just too damn painful.

Germany had no choice. They had to (eventually) see the truth for what they did. They were condemned by the world. America? We still feel immune to censure.

 

 

*of course not all Germans feel affected by, responsible for or otherwise interested in the Holocaust. Despite this, still, in many many ways across Germany the Holocaust and those who died or suffered are remembered. It is openly discussed and often and it is intensely handled in schools, classrooms. It is on television, it is in churches. There is system and effort in keeping the discussion going. 

Post # 14
Member
1292 posts
Bumble bee

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Shesaidyes :  Yes, well stated.  We are sorely in need of truth & reconciliation in the US.

Post # 15
Member
697 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: October 2018

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Shesaidyes :  We try but looking in the current political climate I fear we are still doing too little. And if it had been up to the war generation, none of that process would exist now. They did try to sweet it under the rug but the 68 generation refused to accept that. And as a nation I do believe it has improved us. But still: racism and anti-semitism are everyday occurances. They’re not dead. So the fight isn’t over.

 

Also: Hi, fellow resident of Germany. I hope you are well and happy.

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