Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
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The depths of humanity
A comment by Matthew Feldman
Surveying the terrain of Holocaust studies, one might be reminded of Mars: well-charted by specialists, but still little understood by everyone else. As this website makes clear, use of the term ‘everyone else’ excludes those Martians lurking amongst us – particularly online! – Holocaust Deniers and so-called Revisionists. For it is in reminding us that Nazi genocide took place in historically verifiable ways, ways that are documented here, on the web, for all those who care to know more about the Holocaust, that the work of H.E.A.R.T is so important and impressive. But this website, constructed by the Holocaust Education and Research Team, does more than that.
The difficult subject matter you are about to explore is both an exhaustive account of the unprecedented crimes perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies, in addition to an excellent narrative of the profound impact it had on humanity and millions of humans alike.
Before going on, though, it might be worth thinking a moment longer about that analogy to the extraterrestrial. For so often – and for such good reason when you think of babies sent directly to gas chambers at Birkenau, for example – we are inclined to see National Socialism and perpetrators of the Holocaust as inhumane, as acting in ways almost literally inhuman; or at least, as representing a kind of murderous hatred totally foreign to us today. Perhaps this thought is comforting, especially when confronted with the images to follow here.
But is such a picture accurate? Consider the now-infamous deskbound bureaucrat, a new type of mass-murderer exemplified by Adolf Eichmann, one of the unassuming statisticians and managers of Germany’s war effort whose trade was death. Although Eichmann coordinated the dispossession and extermination of Europe’s Jews, when he was finally put on trial in Israel in 1961, he was in no way representative of what the public had expected. Instead of the grizzly monster one had come to expect, Eichmann was normal, even banal, leading Hannah Arendt to coin the phrase the ‘banality of evil’. And in her earlier Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt cast technocrats like Eichmann as, in many ways, the pinnacle of a long-developing ‘modern’ European society:
When the European mob discovered what a ‘lovely virtue’ a white skin could be in Africa, when the English conqueror in India became an administrator who no longer believed in the universal validity of law, but was convinced of his own innate capacity to rule and dominate, … the stage seemed to be set for all possible horrors. Lying under anybody’s nose were many of the elements which, gathered together, could created a totalitarian government on the basis of racism. ‘administrative massacres’ were proposed by Indian bureaucrats, while African officials declared that ‘no ethical considerations such as rights of man will be allowed to stand in the way’ of the white rule. (Cited in Enzo Traverso, The Origins of Nazi Violence, p.51)
Echoing this startling thought in a different medium, the poem and singer Leonard Cohen’s “All there is to know about Adolph Eichmann” reminds us that all features of this genocidaire, as with so many others, are ‘Medium’. Yet then again, as the final verse asks:
People like Eichmann were human, and indeed, were not all that different from us. Not in the still-recent past, and still less today.
It is here that H.E.A.R.T.’s message of ‘Never Again!’ takes the place of more philosophical, sometimes complacent, notions of a kind of radical difference in the perpetrators – or even toward seemingly passive victims. By detailing the events of the Holocaust, from Jewish resistance and selected reminiscences by survivors, and from the pseudo-scientific ‘euthanasia campaign’ to postwar trials of Nazi criminals like Eichmann, H.E.A.R.T.’s website offers substantial aid in approaching the enormity of the Holocaust.
It also brings us closer, through images and narrative, toward a more realistic – if frightening – view of the Holocaust: ideologically-driven genocide on an industrial scale happened within living memory, and may yet not prove unique to humanity. By knowing more about how this to-date incomparable tragedy occurred through accurate forums like this one, surely the brilliant team at the Holocaust Education and Research Team are right in reminding us that we all have a duty not only to remembering the Holocaust, but to preventing all forms of genocide too.
Dr Matthew Feldman
Senior Lecturer in History
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Copyright Matthew Feldman 2008 H.E.A.R.T