Oct. 28, 2015

The Uses and Abuses of the Holocaust

Recently, the Holocaust has been cited by two prominent politicians for political gains. Shamefully, both men presented historically absurd arguments. 

The first politician was Dr. Ben Carson, running for the Republican nomination for President here in the United States. Earlier this month, Dr. Carson argued on CNN that "the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed" (Time, 10/11/15.) Dr. Carson made a similar claim in his recently published book A Perfect Union that "through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance" (Time, 10/11/15.) 

Dr. Carsons claims are ridiculous on several levels. First of all, it is not logically credible that an extremely small number of German Jews would have been able to fight back against the full might of the totalitarian Nazi German state. By 1939 there were only a little over 200,000 Jews remaining in Germany out of a total German population of almost 80 million people. Many of these remaining Jews were elderly and unable to leave Germany (as many Jews had done following the Nazi seizure of power in 1933.) How exactly were these German Jews going to successfully resist the regime that overran the militaries of Poland, France, Norway, the Netherlands and other states? That simply would not have been possible. 

Also, while official discrimination had increased against German Jews throughout the 1930s, few (if any) Jews imagined that this would result in the full-scale extermination of European Jewry. This would have been unprecedented and almost impossible to imagine. Few Jews, or Germans for that matter, would have thought it possible to fully exterminate an entire people. Many Jews would also find it very difficult later on to accept that they were fated to die. Accepting this would go against human nature. 

It is true that later on, some groups of Jews in Eastern Europe did resist the Nazis after it became clear that the Nazis intended to murder each and every Jew. However, these Jewish groups were realistic about their fates. For them, it was better to stand proudly and be killed fighting the Germans than to to be led compliantly to their deaths. As Abba Kovner, a Jewish resistance leader in Lithuania said, it was "better to fall as free fighters than to live by the mercy of the murderers" (www.HolocaustResearchProject.org.) The Jews who displayed extroardinary bravery fighting the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and in other sites were ultimately defeated. Most were killed. The intent was to die proudly, knowing that they had fought back against evil. 

Dr. Carson's comments insult the memory of these brave men and women who fell. Ultimately, he reveals his own lack of knowledge of the Holocaust along with a lack of understanding of broader human nature (especially how humans react when under tyranny.) I can't help but find that Dr. Carson, in many ways an intelligent and honorable man, has a simplistic understanding of issues of critical importance, coupled with an ignorance of a crucial point in history. 

While Dr. Carson seems ignorant of history, another politician gets key facts of the Holocaust wrong in order to cynically further his career. I'll turn to this man later on.