cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (jewish)
Cimorene ([personal profile] cimorene) wrote2013-10-24 05:14 pm
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National Forgetting and World War II at the Atlantic (trigger warning: Holocaust)

Yesterday I read The Selective Amnesia of Post-War Europe by Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, in which he reflects on Postwar by historian Tony Judt; the second pull quote was the one that shook me up the most:

In the same poll of November 1946, one German in three agreed with the proposition that ‘Jews should not have the same rights as those belonging to the Aryan race’. This is not especially surprising, given that respondents had just emerged from twelve years under an authoritarian government committed to this view. What does surprise is a poll taken six years later in which a slightly higher percentage of West Germans—37 percent—affirmed that it was better for Germany to have no Jews on its territory. But then in that same year (1952) 25 percent of West Germans admitted to having a ‘good opinion’ of Hitler.


The article was obviously excellent. The information it contained was shocking and disturbing, as reading about anything connected to the Holocaust, or by extension Nazism, tends to be.

One effect has been a resurgence of my Jewish anger, which usually is not activated very much in Finland, with the deeply staggering exception of that time I found out that the public schools teach all the children who don't specifically opt out a version of Bible mythology which can be based on a textbook in which an entire chapter is dedicated to blaming ~the Jews~ for Jesus's death and painting Pilate as a good guy.

... And then I told this story to our friend who is a doctor of theology with a specialization in pop culture and a background in feminism, and also an active member of the state Church, because I wanted to know why the Church was okay with racism masquerading as doctrine in its tax-funded child education arm. And she said that's perfectly in line with the Church's official doctrine, that's how it was taught to her as well, and while it's not strictly accurate to what we know about history or to contemporary biblical scholarship, it does follow the text of John, it's just that some of the nuance was lost but that isn't a big deal, and well, they're just following the text. ... No I'm still not (EVER GOING TO BE) over that. (Please, before you say something, if applicable, think to yourself: SHOULD THE ETHNICITY OF MY AUDIENCE IN ANY WAY IMPACT WHAT I SAY? And adjust accordingly. Ie: 'Should I, as a citizen of a country that was however unwillingly allied with Germany during the second world war, say this to a descendant of Polish jews who emigrated as recently as 3 generations ago, leaving behind all extended family and any possibility of tracing it to be obliterated shortly thereafter?')

And of course, anger about anti-Semitism also awakens even more helpless anger that people are using the tragedy of the Holocaust as an excuse for the atrocities being currently committed in Israel. A couple of weeks ago I was at the Turku Art Museum and saw Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour's scifi short film Nation Estate, which was an incredibly powerful commentary on the situation in Palestine. (I looked pretty hard, but I don't think the film can be seen online in its entirety, even though it's only 9 minutes long. There is a trailer though.) It's a humorous dystopian film, but the emotions it provoked were intense and the reflections deep and depressing.

Even more depressing was the fact that the film was developed as her shortlist entry for a photography prize given by a Swiss museum, which abruptly withdrew funding when it found out the film's political subject matter and asked her to sign a document falsely claiming that she withdrew from the contest voluntarily. That was 2 years ago and she obviously got the funding elsewhere and finished the film, so that's something.

What seemed like the core of Coates's article to me was this paragraph:

National forgetting is always a selective endeavor. Italy had no more intention of dismissing its Roman heritage as "the past," than Americans have of dismissing George Washington as "the past." "The past" is whatever contributes to a society's moral debts. "Heritage" is everything else.


This resonates not just with Coates's introductory mention of the Civil War, but also with the yearly events of Columbus Day, in which a fictitious version of this greedy mass-murderer is celebrated for no particular reason while basically every historical detail of the actual disaster that was his presence on this continent is dismissed (or more often, denied). (Coates talks about "forgetting" the Civil War, but of course, it is also celebrated in much the same fictionalized manner throughout most of the South.) Maybe Hitler will get the Columbus/Andrew Jackson treatment after another century.

Read about history or even current events to drastically cut back whatever faith in humanity you had been storing up. Keep reading about it, or spend a while contemplating it, in order to take a brief submerging dip in a black well of despair.

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