Posted originally in Hebrew
Concentration Camps is a lean entry in the rich Hebrew Wikipedia, currently containing 358 words, of which 256 are dedicated to the Nazi camps. This is not by accident. The WWII German crimes are told in Hebrew in such way that would not weaken their related Zionist arguments, and they are therefore disconnected of the broader context of their contemporary nationalist racist statal oppression methods, undertaken mostly by white, ‘ethnically-European-Christian’ societies (or their extensions), who often advocate human progress, liberty and/or equality. There is no great wonder, of course, that the murderous European imperial-colonial context of the Holocaust is neglected from the Hebrew discourse, and that the only focus is on Nazism, considering that contemporary Hebrew is a Zionist language. Yet, at the same time, and for other reasons, this context is missing in other places too, for reasons that might have to do with the legitimacy maintenance and construction of the Self as liberal European countries after the WWII. Anyway, it is important to understand this absence and give presence to the forgettery, for without bravely identifying the causes for these horrible crimes, and without appreciating the true magnitude of the challenge, it would be difficult do prevent them from repeting.
Let us begin by studying that concentration camps were neither invented in Germany in the 1930, nor were originally devised for oppressing Jews. The term appeared in British internment camps in South Africa, around the year 1900. (Their termination is much to the credit of a ‘snowflake,’ white leftist woman activist, whom the High Commissioner in South Africa regarded as a ‘Boer sympathiser’ and a ‘trouble maker,’ while enjoying full backing of the British right-wing government). Almost simultaneously, internment camps appeared in the systematic genocide in what-is-now Namibia by the German Imperial Army. This reminds us that the Germans did not start their systematic genocides with the Jews, but merely ‘improved’ their methods. Moreover, although not being called that, such camps were already practiced during the preceding century, when tens of thousands of native-Americans were incarcerated in camps, having been marched to them at gun point, in ‘death marches.’ Additionally, from the 19th Century onward, internment camps were also in operation during wars (by the Spanish, US and French armies).
Moreover, the German internment camps were also not the last appearance of disastrous mass populations’ incarceration by governments. In Israel, interestingly, the internment camps in which the British have incarcerated tens of thousands of holocaust survivors (who were caught ‘illegally entering’ Palestine in overpopulated boats; including my own grandparents), have a semantically differentiated unique term (literally : Arrest Camps, which connotes detention camps rather than concentration/internment, although they are the same thing). The thing is, that this was part of the political landscape that followed WWII, the most murderous war in human history. Indeed, a little earlier, and in much bigger numbers, the US has also incarcerated, on its own soil, entire families, hundreds of thousands of its own ‘equal-rights’ citizens, including women and children, of Japanese, German or Italian background, during WWII (and the Germans also in WWI), to which they were forcibly migrated with army trucks and trains (see photos below).
(Parenthetically, China, Korea and Yugoslavia have also operated such camps later; the extant of similarities to the original forms of Guantanamo or Saharonim Camps, as well as immigrants detention centres elsewhere, is also debatable, yet irrelevant for this post).
American ‘Japanese’ citizens deported to internment camps during WWII
Like concentration camps, Ghettos were also not the brainchild of the Holocaust. The term comes from voluntarily-isolated Jewish ethnic enclaves; but even in the sense of a prohibition of an ethnic minority to exit a dedicated poverty area, the Germans were neither the first nor the last to enforce it (examples include cases from South Africa, and Israel). The Nazis were also not the inventors of death marches (see above); of population extermination by chemicals or starvation; of expulsions and ethnic cleansing (in fact, the biggest ethnic cleansing in modern history was of Germans after WWII; and similar policies were common in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East generally around the 1940s and 1950s), or of the consequent appropriation of goods and property (ditto); of forced labour or labour camps (or much worse, of slavery); of medical experiments and torture; and surely not of the popular hatred of minorities and of anyone ‘not-normal,’ which was ripe with blood-labels and pogroms (which are evident in Israel today too). Even the ‘Nazi’ race theory did not start in Germany or in the 20th century, and the Jews were neither its first nor its main victims.
Indeed, during WWII, Germany was ‘leading’ in magnitude and efficiency of crimes against humanity, which were not directly part of the war effort. But Germany was not exactly alone in its intentional murders of innocent people, as all parties got accustomed to the killing civilians, and have intentionally targeted enemy civilians in epic proportions (destroying entire cities in Britain, Germany and Japan; or murdering dozens of innocent people as collective punishment of Polish or French underground assisations of German officers). Notably, the Allies have also conducted large scale war crimes, some of which had adverse implications on the ability to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. For example, because the American Navy ignored – rather than took hostage – drowning enemy soldiers, Nazi admirals were not brought to justice for the same crime after the war, thanks to the intervention of their American counterparts, against whom they just fought.
Furthermore, even the height of all crimes, the systematic killing of ‘inferior’ peoples on behalf of progress, was also not conceived in Germany, although Germany is where it has reached its record, and, as far as Europe is concerned, more or less its end, too. The systematic killing in extermination camps was designed and ran according to contemporary industry’s managerial concepts, based on technology, efficiency and production lines (and also included private sector companies). The proportions of these murder factories, that killed almost entirely Jews (perhaps as a first stage), is unparalleled. However, it was not a crime that appeared from thin air. Rather its was the climax of violent European domination process. The killing methods, (the minority of which, by the way, were developed in the USSR), were originally designed to ‘euthanise’ individuals with physical and mental disabilities (who were called ‘life unworthy of life‘), and have evolved and ‘improved’ during the War. They were applied to the killing of Jews (and the Others) only when Jews (and others) were already locked up in ghettos and camps which were ‘simply’ difficult to maintain during the demanding war; but also because German commanders complained that the mass-killing with machine guns causes psychological damage to their soldiers. (This, in itself, is also challenging to the mainstream narrative, from two aspects: First, if the Nazis were inhumane monsters, as the narrative holds, how come they had problems of guilt? Second, there is the possibility that the surfacing of this concern to higher commandwas an attempt to halt or question the killing).
Either way, a common denominator of the above-mentioned oppression and killing methods is that the most prominent crimes were conducted by what can be termed ‘ethnically white-European’ countries/societies, and were aimed at those who were considered non-white (and Jews were, and often still are, not considered white). This is in part due to the fact that these societies had the required technological and political means to carry it out. In fact, ‘blacks’ (a generalising term in itself) and native peoples – and not (only) Jews – were those who faced the biggest burden of historical hate and violence, including hundreds of years of slavery, terrible violence and killings. The cruelty and indifference to torture and murder evolved gradually in all the ‘white’ empires, and the Jews were only part, even if significant, of the victims, somewhat because they were there, in the wrong place and in the wrong time. Even in the Holocaust, ‘only’ about half of the victims were Jews.
There must in no-way be any dispute about the facts of hate, and systematic murdering of millions of Jews by the Nazis (and their collaborators), alongside the extermination of ‘Others’ that white-Europe did not tolerate (e.g. Slavs, Romani, gays, Communists; and in Croatia, also Serbs, Croatians and Muslim-Bosnian populations). These killings were often outstanding in their creative cruelty, and were executed to the cheering support of the rest of the population (which are also not unfamiliar in contemporary Israel). There must also be not doubt that Jews were subjected – especially in the ‘Christian world‘ – to violent racism, which saw murderous manifestations. However, it would be erroneous to explain the Nazi crimes and racism, or the Jewish genocide, as an exceptional event, discontinued from historical human cruelty, and decontextualised of the development and use of the monstrous means in that period (and generally). It is also wrong to detach these from accompanying the imperial projects of Europe and its extensions, often in the name of progress, enlightenment, and even peace (e.g. the Atom bombs).
To fully comprehend the Holocaust, and especially if we, as Israeli-Jews, or as humans, want to prevent it from happening again, we must dare to part from two assumptions that constitute the appropriation of the Holocaust for the Zionist ethos, where the historical importance of facts that do not serve its agenda is being deminished. The first nationalised assumption that we must challenge, is that the key or sole reason for these crimes is the inter-generational unexplained hatred of Jews, which is also exceptionalised from any other form of racism, to mythical proportions. Blacks and indigenous people have suffered more, or most, when they met the ‘christian’ whites. Had the Jews were not those who lived in Europe, and particularly in the time of modern-efficiency-worshiping, and when the specific transportation and technological means were available, it is very plausible that the hatred and crimes would have been directed at other groups, as is perhaps somewhat demonstrable today. The second problematic assumption is that this horrible methods of oppression have appeared out of nowhere, have no history, as if an exception that is outside the realm of human behavior. This is not the case (with the exception of extermination camps, which were also part of context processes, described above).
The Nazi race laws were learnt from the American slavery laws
As Rummel (1994: 30) has demonstrated in his book Death by Government:
In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this [20th] century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners. The dead even could conceivably be near 360,000,000 people.
(These number exclude the events in Zaire, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Yugoslavia, the effects of international sanctions on civilians, and other state-led killings that took place after Rummel has collected his data, or that are unknown; and also exclude other statal crimes that do not necessarily lead to death: torture, imprisonment, persecution, home demolitions, starvation, threats, etc.). In comparison, Rummel counts 170 civilians that were killed by non-state terror organisations, which really gives us proportion as to where to put the emphasis to prevent harm of innocent people.