Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't mess with our Holocaust

Everyone knows (including the disingenuous deniers) that the Holocaust happened, and that approximately six million Jews perished in it. But fewer people seem to be aware, or to care, that many other people died in it as well--there was, according to the Nizkor website, a total of twelve million victims. These included, besides the Jews, Poles and other Slavic people, people with disabilities, assorted political opponents of the Nazis, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Roma, the latter being the victims of the Nazis' other attempted genocide.

And then there were the homosexuals. The ones who wore the pink triangles in the death camps, after being offered a choice of castration or imprisonment. The ones subjected to hideous medical experiments. The ones deemed illegal under the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Nazi penal code--a provision that stayed in force in West Germany until 1969. The ones, some of whom, after liberation, were forced to serve out their prison sentences for homsexuality under the Allied Military Government of Germany.

Homosexuals, too, were Holocaust victims. Yes, the Nazi policy was never one of blanket extermination in their case. Yes, far fewer of them perished in the camps than did Jews. But surely we cannot make our moral judgements solely on the basis of numbers.

Hence a modest monument to the gay victims of the Holocaust has just been erected in Berlin. But it's being protested--by Israel Gutman of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. "A sense of proportion must be maintained," says Gutman.

This cavalier comment is strikingly similar to the downplaying of the attempted genocide of the Roma by those who want to define the killing of Jews by the Nazis as unique. The Roma were not even permitted to take part in the official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

We know that Hitler attempted to exterminate the Jews. We know that nearly six million of them died as a result. But does this mean that the millions of other victims of the barbaric Nazi regime are to be forgotten, and those who remember, shushed into silence? Do the horrible deaths of non-Jews at the hands of the Nazi exterminators count for so little that even a small monument to some of them can occasion the wrath of official Holocaust scholars bent on excluding all but Jews from the list of victims?


No comments: