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Saturday, June 23, 2018

When the Nazis became "The Nazis" (Updated)

That question occurs to me reading historian Deborah Lipstadt's argument against comparing family separation and the detention of children and families to Nazis and concentration camps. She argues that the analogy is historically inaccurate, rhetorically self-defeating, and unnecessary, because "something can be horrific without being a genocide or a Holocaust."

One problem with both Nazi comparisons and criticisms of Nazi comparisons is that they assume a singularity to what the Nazis did and were. But, as one Holocaust scholar argues, the Nazi campaign against the Jews did not begin with murder or even intend towards murder. Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 seeking to strip Jews of civil rights rights, to "degrade, segregate, and diminish" Jews--precisely how Lipstadt describes the purpose of apartheid. The plan was to keep new Jews from entering Germany and expel those present. The turn to mass murder did not begin until 1941, when officials realized they had both the need and the means.* There were concentration camps for political and other prisoners (including Jews) from the beginning of the regime and conditions in the camps were poor. But gas chambers were not installed at the camps until 1941 and construction of "death camps" designed only for murder began the same year.

[*] Some scholars argue that the Nazi turn to murder grew from a conflict between two Nazi goals--conquering nations and creating a Greater Reich and getting rid of the Jews within the Reich. Millions of Jews lived in the areas Germany invaded, so as German territory grew, so did the number of Jews in German territory.

In other words, the Nazis had between five and eight years of harassing, intimidating, isolating, and dispossessing Jews, marked with dehumanizing metaphors and language, but without resort to genocide. That is, between five and eight years of pursuing discriminatory policies that are not, in degree or kind, so different from what many other regimes (South Africa, Jim Crow South) have pursued. So focused, the analogy between German policies and some aspects of U.S. treatment of  immigrants is not entirely inaccurate.

Lipstadt's assumption is that "The Nazis" is shorthand for what Nazi Germany became from 1941-45, not what they started out as or the discriminatory policies they implemented from the beginning. And that is probably true. The power of the analogy comes from what made the Nazis different--the ultimate horrors everyone knows.

[Update: Andrea Pitzer has written a book called One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, tracing their origins (and name) to Cuba during the revolt against Spanish rule and their acceptance through the early days of Nazi rule. In this interview and this op-ed, she explains how the term and its implications changed under the Nazis and argues how and why the term applies to the current situation in the U.S.]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 23, 2018 at 11:05 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Whenever child protective services removes parents from their children (400,000 and counting), it is no different than the German holocaust. Child protective services was invented by the Nazis to make sure children weren't brought up by their parents, but were brought up by the State. Americans, on the other hand, believe in homeschooling to keep children and parents united.

Posted by: Elie Wiesel | Jun 25, 2018 2:11:46 AM

"So focused, the analogy between [vague] German policies and some [vague] aspects of U.S. treatment of immigrants is not entirely inaccurate."

If we're going to do this, can't we at least list specific policies that are analogous rather than these vague "German" and vague "aspects of U.S." policies? So which policies are roughly analogous?

*** NB: I see you did not use "Nazi" here. Is it because even in your apologia for hyperbolic language you still don't equate pre-1941 "German" policies with actual "Nazi" policies?

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Jun 23, 2018 7:21:26 PM

Interesting post and article related .It's good to preach for accuracy , especially of such of that kind , but , preaching is one thing , reaching it , is bit another . So , some few more accurate ones :

First , as asserted by Wasserman here , the Nazis indeed , didn't contemplate and executed their plans for extermination of the Jews , from the start , but gradually . Yet , the main reason for it ,was rather , that perception , that in fact , it is possible to do it . One start so with back mind , then , haven doesn't fall , and gradually , you start without any delay or inhibition , to realize and carry out , and fulfill your fantasy. If it is possible , unstoppable , why not then ??

Second , Murder , is not the utmost horrific thing to do . There are things , more horrific than murdering a person or a group. For many times , dehumanization is worse than murder . No one would endure horrible tortures , but staying alive and keep on breathing . Not once , it is better to die , over living and suffering heavy infliction . Not so recommended at home !!

Third , Genocide , doesn't have to do necessarily with directly murdering . There are several modalities for committing genocide . Here I quote from the " Rome statute " for example , defining what is the genocide ( article 6 ) here :

Article 6


For the purpose of this Statute, "genocide" means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

End of quotation :

Yet , that is not to say yet , that we face genocide , by that separation of families , yet , one should always keep in mind ( as asserted so well in the post ) :

It does start so , and later , god forbidden ….


Posted by: El roam | Jun 23, 2018 1:13:22 PM

You write "So focused, the analogy between German policies and some aspects of U.S. treatment of immigrants is not entirely inaccurate." As I have noted in some recent tweets, I was one of the children who escaped Vienna after the Nazis arrived in 1938. But the Kindertransport separation from my parents that entailed, the not knowing where they were, and the terror that the experience evoked, I see mirrored in the youngsters separated at the U.S. border. Sufficiently so as to be entirely comfortable with drawing the analogy.

Posted by: Peter D. Lederer | Jun 23, 2018 11:56:18 AM

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