Posts tagged Holocaust

History, Responsibility, and Justice

A French judicial committee recently declared French government responsible for deporting thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, everybody already knew that French police and government officials were all too willing to collaborate with the Nazi regime after France surrendered in 1940. But now, at last, the official courts of France declare that they were in fact responsible for deporting and arresting Jews for the ‘crime’ of being Jewish in France. One of the most forgotten and troubling aspects of French History has been the degree to which French citizens complied with the Nazi occupation. The Vichy government, under Marshal Petain, was sympathetic to the Germans after their punitive experience after the WWI Treaty of Versailles. In fact, France had been overrun with anti-Semetic sentiment for years, especially following the French loss after the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The Dreyfus Affair soon followed in which a military officer was imprisoned for being a traitor was a pivotal case in Jewish History. The birth of modern Zionism came soon after. What Dreyfus was really guilty of was not being ‘french’ enough. The fact that he was Jewish detracted from his allegiance to France. And the pattern of Jewish people getting scapegoated for social problems and was losses continued.

And now fast forward to 1940 and the French quickly lost sovereignty to German Nazi forces, the French were all to quick to comply with the deportation of Jews. In fact, often it was not even Nazi orders which sent the jews in cattle cars, it was racist Parisian cops that participated in the deportation with gusto. Between 1941 and 1944, 75,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps and were often holed up in a Parisian event center while they awaited SS trains.


I remember wondering around the Marais when I lived in Paris, sensing the gravity of these peoples murder

"165 Jewish children of this school were deported to Germany during the second World War where they were exterminated at Nazi Camps----Never Forget" (doesn't say that it was the Parisian Police who did the arresting and deporting)


 So, France now finally admits officially that they were responsible in executing French Jews. This is long overdue. However, the court also ruled that Jewish families have already been compensated enough for these crimes and no further reparations are going to be paid. I don’t know if reparations equate justice. I’m sure they help, but punishing someone with money is not equal to punishing someone with deportation and death. I am not sure that justice has to be punishment. I personally feel that admitting wrongs and recognizing the truth is more important that money. I would also even say that money trivializes what was done. It is not as if monetary reparations can make it okay what the French government did.

This brings up the idea of reparations in general. There are still groups of black americans whom wish to be compensated for the 40 acres and a mule they never got. (plus interest) I am pretty sure that their campaign efforts could be better utilized towards current problems for the black community, such as the prison system, racial profiling, and inporportionate imprisonment and execution of black men. I think history is important for truth and understanding, but I don’t think it is necessarily for righting the wrongs of the past with money. It is a pipe dream. 

Instead of individual monetary justice, I think collective truth and justice is what France needs for its healing.

Either way, it is an important step for French history to recognize their awful part in the Holocaust. And, the issue of reparations will continue because there are many groups of people who are being persecuted unjustly right now, and perhaps in the future these governments will too come clean about their involvement.


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And yet more musings on Israel, Holocaust, Zionism, and world peace

So I think that I might be loosing my sensitivity about the Holocaust.  I need to check that, because I do not want to come across as someone who doesn’t understand how truly awful the deliberate and scientific persecution of Jews (and gypsys and gays) was.

But, I keep thinking about trying to value all life equally, and that the way we (the generations since the Holocaust) think about the Holocaust is too singular. Meaning, that we need to be more angry about current genocidal practices than past ones. When I say we should move towards forgiveness, I by no means think that we should forget the Holocaust. I mean, I am a historian so I obviously think it is incredibly important to remember our shared past, which includes some of the darkest acts possible by fellow human beings. In stead of talking about the politics of how we remember the Holocaust, maybe we should learn from it. And by learning from it I don’t mean perpetuating the idea that there is evil in this world and that Jews are not safe unless they are armed with nuclear weapons. I don’t mean that Anti-Semitism in our  (global) history is too omnipresent for there ever to be an era of newfound good feelings and mutual respect among religions and ethnicities. I just am looking towards the perhaps unrealistic idea that there can be a new world order with mutual respect amongst everyone. 


The situation in the Middle East is intolerable, just as the situation in Germany and greater Europe in the 1930s and 40s. We (global community) did not do enough then. Maybe back then the answer would have been more public outcry, less appeasement and isolationism, and yes perhaps more military action against Nazi aggression. Today, I do not think that the answer is in military action. The threat of nuclear and biochemical weapons is too great, we cannot afford to use violence to solve any problems anymore. 

So what does that leave us? Diplomacy, World Courts and International Laws, and Education. I think the lesson of Vietnam can be that you cannot win over hearts and minds with nepalm. The lesson of Iraq is that preemptive war does not bring peace, and the lesson of Iran is that interventionism has blowback effects and that when there are countries that have paternalistic and imperialistic ideas on how to run the world, the people of the world suffer.

The situation in Gaza right now is a tragedy, and not just for those living there, but for Jews all over the world. The Jewish identity is being dragged into a war that MANY do not support. By doing research, one can find countless groups of Jews who organize with each other and with Muslim groups to advocate for the end of the occupation. By doing even more research one can find evidence of the contraversy over the Zionist state in Israel. It was not supported by all Jews and a incredible propaganda movement was unleashed to convert American Jews to the idea that there had to be a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

The history of the modern world has unfolded often tragically, especially for the Jewish people. But now that Jews have a degree of political and economic power, it is time to show the world what good they can do for world peace. 

May an era of forgiveness, justice, and peace be in our future.

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