Tag Archives: Nuremberg Laws

Facing the challenges of the high school pastime of dehumanizing your peers

 

AP photograph of suicide victim Eric Mohat, 17 years of age.

 

“1 Ohio school, 4 bullied teens dead by own hand”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101008/ap_on_re_us/us_bullying_one_town

The photo above goes with the Yahoo! news link below it.  They are further evidence that somewhere in our society we’ve messed up.  As a historian, my brain creates unsettling parallels.  As a human being, my heart hurts.  I see several problems.  In the above story, the particulars of one school’s recent tragedies is laid out, but no apparent progress seems forthcoming.  In the last two years, Mentor High School in Ohio has seen four suicides and currently has two independent law suits laid against it for its neglected responsibility in two of the deaths.  The most recent young lady, Sladjana Vidovic, 16, was an immigrant from Croatia.  Before her two students, friends, ended their lives within three weeks of each other; Eric Mohat, 17, whether he was gay or not, was mocked as though he was, and his friend, Meredith Rezak, 16, a well-liked athlete had recently confided in friends that she thought was gay.  Jennifer Eyring, 16, was “developmentally delayed and had a hearing problem.”  All were harassed, sometimes physically.  All came to the same conclusion that they just couldn’t go forward.  As much as the students responsible for tormenting these victims are guilty, an even greater responsibility lies with the people in their lives who should be mentors.  Teens make mistakes–horrible ones, sometimes–adults, parents, teachers, coaches have the responsibility to correct these mistakes.

 

AP photograph of Mentor High School--less than excellent.

 

Why do teens lash out at other teens?  Whole books have been written on the subject and I am not an expert in that field.  I do, however, worry that our society reinforces the wrong things, poisonous things, that do more harm than we may wish to acknowledge.  In this post, I want to cover some ideas I have about what we can be doing (and what challenges our ability to do it).  To do this, I want to cover some things I have mentioned in the past–Sam Wineburg’s belief that history can humanize us, and the creation of the “other” or the use of dehumanizing language to undermine our obligations to each other–and a new program I read about a few years ago founded by Erin Gruwell–the Freedom Writers Foundation.

The History-Humanizes-Us Argument

One of my first concerns is the unrealized potential in many history classrooms across the country.  Sam Wineburg has pointed out the inherent value in teaching history as a subject by teaching historical method.  Question:  What do the historians we admire most all share in common?  Answer:  A deep knowledge and understanding of past peoples and experiences.  Even if that knowledge is not entirely correct, the act of engaging someone distant, foreign and strange and getting to know there culture is an important task–something every education should provide and very difficult to achieve.  Most of the history curriculum at schools and even to extant and colleges and universities emphasizes a survey format that is really about packing one’s head full of trivia, but not really learning about another culture and people that different, even strange.  Amidst that difference and strangeness there is similarity, too, but even if there is not it is irrelevant!  It is especially beside the point in this country where we are, in our founding, flawed though it might have been in its acceptance of slavery, committed to a society that lives in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, not fear.

To realize history’s humanizing qualities fully, to draw on history’s ability to, in the words of Carl Degler, “expand our conception and understanding of what it means to be human,” we need to encounter the distant past—a past less distant from us in time than in its modes of thought and social organization.  It is this past, one that initially leaves us befuddled or, worse, just plain bored, that we need most if we are to achieve the understanding that each of us is more than the handful of labels ascribed to us at birth.  The sustained encounter with this less-familiar past teaches us the limitations of our brief sojourn on the planet and allows us to take membership in the entire human race.  Paradoxically, the relevance of the past may lie precisely in what strikes us as its initial irrelevance.  ~Sam Wineburg

I think a focus on this skill-building, methodology-based approach could really help open the eyes of young people–even if it only plants a seed that take a few years to blossom.  The best teachers find ways to do this even with obstacles such as survey courses, testing-directed teaching and unimaginative adminstrations.  They challenge students to try to step out of their boxes and see things from different perspectives.  Developmentally, this is a challenge for teens, but it is good to push them to the edge of their abilities–sometimes you push and they go beyond the point they thought was their limit.

The Freedom Writers Argument

 

"The Freedom Writers' Diary" by the students of Erin Gruwell

 

Erin Gruwell was a student-teacher when she was assigned a high school freshman English class of students everyone expected to fail.  Maybe they would have if a student had not passed a caricature of another student emphasizing racial features in a crude way.  Gruwell snapped.  She did not hesitate to compare the act to the Nazi caricatures of Jews and other undesirables.  Her English class started down a path of personal journal writing inspired by Anne Frank’s and investigated the way society’s turn on their own.  She took them on field trips and arranged to have speakers that would speak on the issue–most of what she did initially she paid out of her own pocket, because she cold not get funding.  Realistically, most teachers probably cannot do all the things she did, but she has set up a program to help educators do the most important part: in teaching her students to read and write she taught them about the historical atrocities born out of racial or religious prejudice.  It was extremely poignant in this inner city school in Los Angeles with many mixed influences on the youth, few of them positive.  Her students learned self-confidence not because she praised them but because she challenged them and they succeeded.  She cared enough to challenge them and they took that and built a strong and positive community, helping each other deal with troubled home-lives, difficult economic situations and their own demons.  In the end, a class of students that was never suppose to make it out of the ninth grade and was regarded as a criminal element graduated, a group of young people unafraid of others’ differences.

The cases in the article above are not from a “ghetto” school, they are from a suburbanite public school.  The very safety and comfort is sometimes the biggest challenge for students who do not really understand questions of hunger, suffering or danger.  When I worked at the Close Up Foundation with students from every demographic, the kids who were the most difficult to reach about citizen-involvement were often some of the ones from comfortable suburban schools.  I do not mean to say that all suburban schools or high school students are like this!!  Nor am I saying that we should deprive our children of comfort, but I am saying that we should be aware that it is often difficult for a teenager to grasp troubles that are foreign to them, or for that matter to accept people who are different from them.  It is why we–all of us!–are there to educate and, again, plant seeds that will eventually bring forth fruit: healthy, compassionate citizens.

The Society-is-letting-itself-down Argument

 

Brennan's "Semantics of Oppression"

 

But in the meanwhile, we have to acknowledge our failure as a society.  The students in the article above who were bullied to death represent the same demographics that the law fails to protect, today: the disabled, immigrants and gays.  These are our society’s failings:  The disabled, so often labeled as burdens to their caregivers and to themselves as having low-quality lives, are frequently aborted or euthanized, legally.  The range of  disabilities that are targeted is expansive.  Immigrants are being targeted by private citizens and increasingly by governments, currently more at the state level than the federal level.  Finally, the persistence of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Domestic Marriage Act, not to mention the various state same-sex marriage bans, continues to establish a second class status for gay citizens and their families.  What do these issues all have in common?  They are not all in the same party platform!  But, they all reinforce the notion, established by the government–so, in other words, our society, us!–that certain groups of people should be treated differently–not just differently, but beneath the rest of society.  In a society founded on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we cannot expect to be successful and rely on future generations if we continue to tell our children, “there is something wrong with these people and they need to be treated differently.”  Is it any wonder that our children, in this society, follow this pattern?

 

AP Photograph of Sladjana Vidovic's (remembered in the framed picture) grieving family.

 

HOPE:

Suicide hotlines:

http://suicidehotlines.com/

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/?gclid=CKnKjvqfzKQCFUNM5Qod1Wf8iw

For gay teens:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/It-Gets-Better-Project/158071744210603

http://www.glaad.org/

http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194&srcid=-2

http://ellen.warnerbros.com/2010/10/donate_to_the_anti-bullying_organizations_ellen_supports_1005.php

For disabilities rights and protection of disabled or elderly:

http://www.dredf.org/?gclid=COWzjqKgzKQCFc9L5QodIlf7iw

http://www.ada.gov/

http://www.dredf.org/?gclid=COWzjqKgzKQCFc9L5QodIlf7iw

http://www.nrlc.org/medethics/index.html

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Gateway drug to the Nazi Holocaust–the Nuremburg Laws

 

First page of the Nuremburg Laws signed by Adolf Hitler

 

As promised on Monday, this post is a follow up to my visit to the National Archives where the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 Nazi Germany are now on display.  (To see the remarkable story behind this exhibition check out the previous post.)  There are three laws that make up the Nuremburg Laws, but the one that is most important to the subsequent history is the final law seeking to establish the purity of German blood.  What follows, are two points of view regarding the context under which these laws come about.  One view, that of author and scholar Robert Gellately, focuses on a political origin, while the other view, that of scholar Henry Friedlander, focuses on the authority of the cultural elite.  These points of view are not mutually exclusive, simply different in both their emphasis and the end goal of their publications (Gellately writing about “the era of social catastrophes,” and Friedlander writing about “euthanasia to the final solution”).

The political environment.

 

"Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, The age of social catastrophe" by Robert Gellately

 

Following the conclusion of the First World War, on November 9, 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and Chancellor Prince Max of Baden resigned, leaving the returning soldiers, young Adolf Hitler among them, feeling betrayed.  In this vacuum an active socialist political movement stepped up: by noon Philipp Sheidemann of the Majority Socialists Party declared the formation of a “German Repubic,” followed within hours by Karl Liebknecht, of the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party, proclaiming a “Free Socialist Republic of Germany.”  These events would feed into the military’s myth that the “homefront let down the battlefront” during World War I and will become an “article of faith,” to Hitler, still recovering from a gas attack at the end of the war, and millions of other Germans.  The nickname, “November criminals,” will come to represent everything they hate: Marxists, Jews, Bolsheviks.  (83)

Bavaria’s monarchy in Munich was replaced by a radical Council Republic, despite its traditional and religious demeanor.  Hitler and many others tied the Jews with Communism and Bolsheviks because of prominent Russian and German Socialist and Communist leaders who were Jewish, though not necessarily religious.  They “become synonymous with Bolshevism and entangled with anti-Semitism.”  (84)  Although some of the leading left politicians would preferred Germany to follow the way of Russia–as Lenin deeply desired–the people of Germany were not overwhelmingly sympathetic:

Germany was a land of property owners, where millions had investments in stocks, bonds, and savings.  The country also had a pension and welfare system that helped integrate state and society.  Most workers were opposed to Communism, and even radical left-wingers were not anxious to emulate the Bolsheviks.  (84)

The concern, nonetheless, remained relevant as the majority of Russians had also not desired the Revolution Lenin orchestrated.  Lenin wanted to penetrate the west through Germany and Austria and sent emissaries who worked with the newly founded German Communist Party from 1918-1919, discussed the use of terror and attempted a coup. (85-87)  The presence of the Socialists caused a great deal of instability and violence; the new Bavarian government would ultimately have to lay siege to Munich to wrest it from a Leninite.  But, by this time, the socialists parties in Germany, Austria and Hungry were waning.  (89)  Yet, the damage was done and the stage had been set for Hitler.  Most Germans firmly associated the Jews with the Bolsheviks and, thus, with destabilization and international threat.  Anti-Semitic organizations achieved membership in the hundreds of thousands during this post-war period.  (91)

German economists will later blame the failing economy on international Jewry, labeling it a cancer besetting the economy, “Breaking the ‘slavery of interest’ became code for ending the economic power of the Jews.”  (91-2)  Hitler finally finds his calling in life, politics, and helps to further the interests of the German Workers’ Party, an organization well to the right of the soviets, interested in moderate government regulation on capitalism.  He makes his mark quickly, shrewdly competing with the socialists for workers in the ranks of the party by changing the name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and, in 1920, establishing the swastika on the white circle on the red background as the flag.  The red was meant to symbolize the “social idea” (and steal the attractive color from the soviets), the white nationalism and the swastika the “mission and struggle of Aryan man.”  (95-6)

After setbacks and then a sweeping rise to power, Hitler was elected Chancellor, with jobs and the economy being important campaign issues.  He initially says little pubically about the Jews, although the party boycotts and physically intimidates them, (315), but he does start his camp-system, some 160 such sites established by 1933, for torture and imprisonment (302).  Criminals, such as sex offenders, and communists are targeted–with German socialist support!  In the press, the camps are described as anti-Communist institutions to ease them into the culture, playing off the genuine fears of Communist disintegration of laws and order.  (303)

While the boycott of Jewish businesses fails to catch on, anti-Semitic policies were argued for in support of transferring Jewish professional success to Germans.  (317)  From the time of the boycott, “individual actions” were taken steadily against Jews–euphemism for violence and damage of property–without instigation from Berlin, acted entirely on local initiatives, though never without controversy.  But, despite this uneasiness with unsanctioned, but nevertheless unpunished, violence, the tenor was against the Jews and by 1935 Hitler believed he had the popular support he needed to start passing legal restrictions based on race.  And so, the Nuremburg Laws were passed forbidding the mixing of Jewish blood with German or German-related blood: banning marriages, sex and even the employ of a German woman under the age of 45 in a Jewish household.   Gellately reports on, “[a] Gestapo report for Berlin [that] said Jews were now shut out of the ‘community of the people.'”  (319)

The authority of the cultural elite.

 

"The Origins of Nazi Genocide, From euthanasia to the final solution" by Henry Friedlander

 

Origins of Nazi genocide are in the misappropriated biological theory of Darwin as applied to society:

Nazi genocide did not take place in a vacuum.  Genocide was only the most radical method of excluding groups of human beings from the German national community.  The policy of exclusion followed and drew upon more than fifty years of scientific opposition to the equality of man.  (1)

The would-be science of eugenics was advanced by German and other western scholars that “merged [eugenics] with the racist doctrine of ultra-nationalists to form a political ideology based on race.”  Scientists created constructs and scales on human intelligence, turning “popular prejudices” into scientific and academic theory, such as sexism based on brain size.  Nazi academics and doctors looked back and drew from a long tradition of academic authorities, as they so chose.  (1)

With his rise to the chancellorship, Hitler and his cadre of scientists began with sterilization, in 1933 and serving “as the model for all eugenic legislation” throughout Nazi control.  It forced sterilization on individuals with any of a variety of mental and physical disabilities.  The later Marriage Health Law, passed in the same year as the Nuremberg Laws,

mandated screening the entire population to prevent marriages of persons considered carriers of hereditary degeneracy, particularly those covered by the sterilization law.  (23)

As race hygiene had always linked disability to criminal activity, criminal traits believed to be hereditary were also targeted in 1933, often with the sympathy of law-abiding citizens.  (23)  A book compiling all the Nazi laws written against Jews fills a four-hundred-page tome.  While the first is written in 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,

the centerpiece of the anti-Jewish legislation was enacted in September 1935 as the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, together known as the Nuremberg racial laws.  (24)

This same law will be extended to include “other racially alien blood,” especially “Negroes and Gypsies.”  And, Jews will be eliminated from eligibility, though they are not originally, from German citizenship because German blood is a prerequisite.  (25)  Not only that, Jewish patients would be banned from hospital care under the same pretense.  (268)

Conclusion.

The Nuremberg Laws will be on display at the National Archives for most of October, positioned opposite the Magna Carta and after the arc of the Hall of the Charters of Freedom.  I recommend the trip if it is possible.  The documents are profound not because of the words on the pages, nor even the signatures that passed them into law, but because they represented the next step, the one that set the legal course for the Holocaust.

For more information about the documents and how they came to be at the National Archives, or to see what they said exactly, refer to the previous post which has many useful links.

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Teaser … Nuremberg Laws come to the National Archives, DC

In the above video, you see how the Nuremburg Laws, signed in 1935 by Adolf Hitler, come to be on display at the National Archives, from October 6-18. I am running this as a tease for my upcoming blog post which will follow my visit to the National Archives to see this exhibit on opening day.

These laws were an important step to the eventual horror of the Holocaust. As Patton had the originals, facsimiles were used during the actual Nuremburg War Crime Trials, but they were the opening volley ushering in the evidence of Nazi horrors: medical experimentation, work camps and death camps.

Third page of the Nuremburg Laws signed by Adolf Hitler

Today the laws are referred to as the Nuremburg Laws, but in pre-war Germany the above section was entitled, “Gesetz zum Schutze der deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre” or, in English, “law for the safeguard of German blood and honor.”  In the above excerpt, Jews are forbidden from marrying citizens of German or German-related blood (and, any out-of-state marriages will be regarded as void in Germany),  from having sexual intercourse with the same, from employing German women under the age of 45 years in the household and from raising the Reich- and national flag.  Jews are protected by the state, however, should they wish to display Jewish colors.  These laws are the gateway drug for the Nazi Holocaust.

If you click on this sentence, you can read the rest of the law in a .PDF of an English translation (it is provided by the National Archives, but the site does not explain how old this translation is or why it was drawn up).

The National Archives has a couple of other related events running at the same time the laws are displayed.  A description follows, here:

FILM:  Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today
Wednesday, October 6, at 7 PM, William G. McGowan Theater

The Charles Guggenheim Center for the Documentary Film welcomes producer Sandra Schulberg, who will introduce the first complete 35mm picture and sound restoration of the U.S. Government’s 1948 film about the first Nuremberg trial—the International Military Tribunal. Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today shows how the four allied prosecution teams—from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union—built their case against the top Nazi leaders. The original film was written and directed by Stuart Schulberg, and edited by Joseph Zigman, under Pare Lorentz, chief of Film/Theatre/Music at the U.S. War Department. It was completed by Schulberg in 1948, under Eric Pommer, chief of the Motion Picture Branch of U.S. Military Government in Berlin. Please note—viewer discretion is advised.(78 minutes)

BOOK TALK AND SIGNING:  The Monuments Men
Wednesday, October 20, at 7 PM, William G. McGowan Theater

Beyond the familiar history lessons of World War II is an untold story of a Nazi plot to seize the world’s greatest cultural treasures—a plot thwarted by one tiny band of soldiers, detailed in The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The National Archives Experience, in partnership with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, welcomes author Robert Edsel, who will discuss a story that remains relevant as irreplaceable historical artifacts are still missing, and restoration, search, and discovery continue. A book signing will follow the program, and the book is available at a discount from the Archives Shop (202-357-5271) before and during the event.

The typical format is somewhat reversed this week as the shorter blog post is running today, while the lengthier, more in depth post will run at the end of the week.  So, check back to see a lengthier discussion and commentary on this law.  Follow me on Twitter, ETFranz, for updates about the visit to the National Archives and this exhibit!

For more information about the exhibit, please, visit the National Archives website: http://www.archives.gov/ (currently the first entry under “News and Events”).

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