Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reflections on the Holocaust VI: WHY--Projection and Scape-goating

My previous post ends with a view of the Jews as the quintessential Other in Europe. Many Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, actually were outwardly different: they differed from their majority Christian neighbors in physical appearance, dress, language, religion, self-government, and dedication to learning. In addition, the pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific beliefs promoted by the Nazis painted the Jews as the devil incarnate and as parasitic insects—as a menace to be eliminated.

This quintessential otherness marked the Jews as targets for the unhealthy psychological processes of projection and scape-goating.

Projection is an unhealthy psychological process that can happen when one refuses to recognize one’s own negative traits. Instead of acknowledging these negative traits as one’s own, one may unfairly “project” these traits onto another. For example, a person may have within himself a snobbishness that he hates and refuses to recognize as his own. He may, however, see that very snobbishness magnified in his quiet and shy neighbor, who is perhaps not a snob at all.

In A History of the Holocaust, Yehuda Bauer explains how the Jews became the targets of Nazi projection. The Nazis wanted to dominate the world. They invaded and took over country after country in Europe, and then exterminated the weak, the dissidents, and the non-Aryans. Yet this domination by force is exactly what the Nazis accused the Jews of plotting: the Nazis actually believed that a council of Jewish elders was plotting to take over the world and exterminate all non-Jewish people and that this plot was revealed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document that had been exposed as a forgery in the 1920s. Bauer expresses it very well on page 91: “The Nazis, then, accused the Jews of wanting to do what they, the Nazis, were out to do themselves: control the world and annihilate their enemies. In this inverted picture of themselves, they described the Jews as the demonic force of evil that Nazism itself was.”

The Nazis even became victims of their own projections. Bauer explains how this happened during the Nazis’ plan for a permanent boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany in 1933. The boycott was to begin on April 1. On March 27, Jews in the United States held a mass rally in Madison Square Garden to protest. To the Nazis, this Jewish rally in New York City was evidence of a (non-existent) international Jewish plot to overcome the world. In fear of international Jewish reprisal, the Nazis cancelled the permanent boycott and held a token one-day boycott instead—on April 1, a Saturday, when Jewish businesses were normally closed anyway for the Sabbath. Again, Bauer expresses it eloquently on page 99: “In the Madison Square Garden rally they [the Nazis] saw the expression of that mysterious international Jew they had invented, their all-consuming fear. In calling off the permanent boycott in fear of the counterreaction of the Jews, the Nazis yielded, in effect, to the figment of their own imagination.”

So the Nazis projected onto the Jews their own desire for world domination. Thus, they could justify destroying the Jews before the Jews had a chance to destroy them. In the Nazi mind, the Jews came to symbolize everything evil, revolting, and impure.

This projection of evil onto the Jews was reflected rather oddly in the views of the average citizen. Nechama Tec, a young Jewish girl in Poland at the time of the Third Reich, encountered this in the Homar family, a Christian Polish family who had agreed to shelter Tec along with her sister and parents until the war was over. In her memoir, Dry Tears, Tec explains how puzzled she felt when the Homars expressed hatred for Jews and yet also expressed real affection for Tec herself and her family, whom the Homars knew to be Jews. On page 121, we see how the Homars explained this by assuring Tec, “You know that you are not a real Jew. You are not really Jewish.” Somehow, the Homars were able to separate their hatred for “real Jews” (an evil abstraction that did not exist in the physical world) and their affection for Tec and her family (who couldn’t possibly be real Jews since Tec, her sister, and her parents were so likable).

Anyone who becomes the object of projection can soon find himself in the role of the scape-goat. The scape-goat carries the blame for the sins of the group. The term scape-goat comes from the Bible, specifically Leviticus 16:21-22, where we find these instructions: “Aaron [the high priest] shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.”

In the Bible, the Israelites placed their sins with the attendant blame and guilt upon the head of the scape-goat and sent the goat into the wilderness, bearing away their sins. Scape-goating today is the name of an unhealthy psychological process in which a group blames and punishes a certain person or group of people for the society’s ills. The Jews were convenient scape-goats. Bauer again has an apt description of the scape-goating process on page 330: “In periods of crisis, instead of searching for the solutions of such crises within the majority culture, the majority will tend to project blame for the crisis on a minority which is both familiar and weak.”

In his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe," our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez, explains that the Jews were blamed for the ills of industrialization. The change from an agricultural to an industrial society, from the close community of rural life to the more impersonal character of urban life, was often painful. Kenez points out that the Jews—although they certainly had not created industrialization—were nonetheless the first to take advantage of the opportunities in an industrial world. The Jews were, therefore, unfairly associated with and blamed for the pains of industrialization.

I would say that the Jews were the ones taking the healthy course of action in the face of industrialization. The Jews looked closely at industrialization, took stock of how they could best adapt, and made the necessary changes so that they could thrive in an industrialized world. Others did not adapt, suffered the pains that attend those who are slow to change in a changing world, and blamed the Jews for the uncomfortable consequences of their own inertia.

To wind up this series of reflections on the WHY of the Holocaust, I would say that the Holocaust was the product of craziness run amok. The Jews were seen as the killers of Jesus Christ and as the murderers of children so that their blood could be used to make matzoh—thus, the Jews were the devil incarnate. The Jews were believed to possess an inferior language and inferior racial traits—thus, the Jews were non-human parasites. From this followed the obsession with racial purity and the fear of possessing the slightest taint of non-Aryan blood. The Nazis’ will to dominate the world and to exterminate all others was projected onto the Jews—and there followed the need to get rid of “them” before they get rid of “us.” All of this culminated in an escalating and all-consuming paranoia that led to the ghetto, to forced emigration, to pograms—and finally to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

This is mass craziness. Unfortunately, it is not unique. Similar craziness had happened before, as seen in the Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, and it has happened since, as seen in the attempt at ethnic cleansing during the War in Bosnia of the 1990s. I don’t know how to prevent such craziness from happening, but seeing it for what it is does constitute a first step. I don't know when we will take the next step—prevention.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Reflections on the Holocaust V: WHY--Pseudo-Scientific Beliefs

To the centuries-old pseudo-religious beliefs in Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ and in the blood libel, the Nazis added quite a bit of modern pseudo-scientific nonsense of their own. Perhaps this pseudo-science appeared all the more respectable because Germany was the center of true science in the first half of the 20th Century. In his memoir Survival at Auschwitz, Primo Levi, an Italian, explains that he knew German (a great advantage in the concentration camp, which was run by German Nazi officers) because of his university degree in chemistry. In Italy, Levi had had to study chemistry in German, the language of science.

Side by side with legitimate science, however, there existed a number of pseudo-scientific beliefs, all promoted by men calling themselves scientists of one kind or another. Yehuda Bauer lists several of these on pages 42 and 43 of A History of the Holocaust. Christian Lassen “proved” that Yiddish was an inferior language. Houston Stewart Chamberlain held that each race carried its own benevolent spirit (Aryan) or malevolent spirit (non-Aryan). Eugen During and Paul de Lagarde taught that a person’s blood held indelible characteristics of pure race (Aryan) or impure race (non-Aryan).

None of this was based on the results of true scientific inquiry, experiment, and observation, but rather on reading into nature what the pseudo-scientists’ own prejudices had conditioned them to see. This type of pseudo-science was also prevalent in the United States, where pseudo-scientists “proved” that black African-Americans were inferior to white Caucasians.

On page 43 of A History of the Holocaust, Bauer quotes Paul de Lagarde equating the Jews with a repulsive image, that of the insect, the parasite. Speaking of the Jews, Paul de Lagarde says, “With trichinae and bacilli one does not negotiate, nor are trichinae and bacilli to be educated: they are exterminated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”

Bauer further points out on page 90 that these pseudo-scientific beliefs led to a crazy classification of peoples. At the top were the fully human peoples—Aryans of Germanic blood. Aryans of Germanic blood included the Germans themselves as well as the English and the Scandinavians, who were considered worthy to be allies of Germany. Next in line were the sub-human peoples—Aryan peoples whose blood was not Germanic. These were the Latin peoples and the Slavic peoples, who were to be ruled by and to become servants of the Germans. At the bottom came the non-humans—the non-Aryans, namely the Jews. The Jews—equated with the devil himself and with parasitic insects—were to be exterminated for the good of the rest of the world.

The Jews, thus, became the quintessential Other. Our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez, points out in his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe,” that the Jews were in fact visibly different from other Europeans, especially in Eastern Europe. They were different in their religion, their language, their physical characteristics, their dress, their occupation, their self-government, and their dedication to learning. Kenez says, “After the expulsion of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula [in the late 15th Century], the Jews were the only non-Christian Other in Europe.” Second, as we have seen, the Jews were believed to be different in crazy and fantastical ways: they were believed to be the devil incarnate, something non-human.

As the quintessential Other, the Jews were prime targets for the unhealthy psychological processes of projection and scape-goating. This will be the subject of my next post.

Reflections on the Holocaust IV: WHY--Pseudo-Religious Belief #2

Besides capitalizing on the ancient belief that the Jews of all time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, the Nazis capitalized on an equally crazy centuries-old belief that Jews kidnapped and murdered Christian children to obtain their blood for use in making matzoh. This crazy belief is called the blood libel.

The blood libel was not just crazy talk among uneducated people. Courts of law actually tried cases in which Jewish individuals were accused of killing particular Christian children to use their blood in matzoh! An example of this occurred in the early 1900s in Russia with the Beilis Trial, described to us by our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez. A Jewish Ukrainian factory superintendent named Menahem Mendel Beilis was tried in court for killing a Christian boy in order to use his blood in making matzoh. Beilis was found not guilty; the boy had been killed by a criminal gang who were at enmity with his family. However, Professor Kenez explained, the records state that, while this one individual Beilis had been found not guilty of this one particular crime, it was nonetheless well-known that Jews do indeed murder Christian children to use their blood in matzoh. One must go back to the witch trials of the Inquisition, where women were tried in law courts for the crime of killing their neighbors’ cattle by casting an evil spell, to find comparable nonsense.

With courts of law seriously trying blood libel cases, it is sadly not amazing that Nechama Tec, an eleven-year-old Jewish girl in Poland during World War II, encountered this belief among her neighborhood friends. Tec was passing as a Christian in a distant Polish town during the war; a Christian family had agreed that she could live with them as their orphaned niece. On page 144 of her memoir Dry Tears, Tec tells of her distress at hearing a neighborhood friend express belief in the blood libel. Tec asked her friend this very sensible question: “Have you seen it happen?” Her friend replied, “How strange, Krysia [Tec’s Christian name], that you should ask such a thing. Everybody knows Jews do that, but they’re smart, they do it secretly! So how could I have seen such a thing?” Sadly, Tec’s friend was a thirteen-year-old Christian Polish girl who believed the blood libel—and who refused to be dissuaded, even when Tec pointed out that no one had ever seen it happen. Clearly, this girl was parroting a widespread belief that she had heard from her elders.

The Nazis, then, capitalized on two crazy but widespread beliefs among Christian Europeans in the first half of the 20th Century, beliefs that had been passed down through centuries: the belief that all Jews everywhere and throughout time were responsible for killing Jesus Christ, and the belief that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood in making matzoh.

These beliefs served to demonize the Jews. In fact, Nazi propaganda equated the Jews with the devil. Yehuda Bauer, on page 89 of A History of the Holocaust, explains that traditional pseudo-religious beliefs had held that the Jews were possessed by the devil, but that under the Nazis, the Jews were the devil himself. Anyone who would kill God in the person of Jesus Christ could hardly be considered human. And anyone who would kill a child to make matzoh was definitely not human, was indeed the devil incarnate. The devil had to be eliminated. The devil was the Jew.

My next post will look at the Nazis’ pseudo-scientific beliefs about the Jews.

Reflections on the Holocaust III: WHY--Pseudo-Religious Belief #1

Pseudo-religious nonsense about the Jews, unfortunately, goes back to the early Christian church fathers, who saw the Jews as the murderers of Jesus Christ. Because a crowd of Jews in 33 CE cried out, “Crucify him!” when the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate presented them with Jesus, some Christians in every age have persisted in blaming all Jews everywhere and throughout time as guilty of killing Jesus.

Several of the early Christian church fathers are quoted by Yehuda Bauer on pages 8 and 9 of the main history text for our course, A History of the Holocaust. The words of these church fathers are horrifying.

For example, church father John Chrysostum states, “The synagogue is . . . a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ,” and, “It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.” I might point out that John Chrysostum lived in the 4th Century CE, at which time no Jew in the crowd before Pontius Pilate in 33 CE could possibly have been alive. I might also point out that the Jews of 33 CE did not, in fact, kill Jesus Christ. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate issued the order for Jesus to be crucified, and the order was carried out by Roman soldiers.

Yet, 900 years later, in the 13th Century CE, we have church father Thomas Aquinas saying, “It would be licit, according to custom, to hold Jews, because of their crime, in perpetual servitude.” Thomas Aquinas believed that the Jews of his time were responsible for an event involving their ancestors 1200 years previously! I find this unbelievable.

I also find it unbelievable that these men are canonized saints in the Roman Catholic Church: SAINT John Chrysostom and SAINT Thomas Aquinas. After Vatican Council II in the 1960s, some canonized saints lost their sainthood because it was found that their stories were legends and that they probably never actually existed. One such is Saint Christopher, patron of travelers, who is said to have borne the Christ Child across a deep river on his shoulders. I think that saints should also lose their sainthood when they are found to have held extremely anti-Christ-like views and to have promoted hate-filled actions.

Protestant leaders, unfortunately, have followed in the same vein as the Catholic “saints.” Here is what Martin Luther had to say about the Jews, quoted by Bauer on page 22: “First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire,” and “Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.”

The Nazis, being anti-religious, were perhaps not much interested in blaming modern Jews for having killed Jesus in 33 CE, but they certainly capitalized on the fact that many European Christians did. Amazingly, in 20th Century Europe, this crazy belief was widespread. Surely, it is the height of nonsense to blame the Jews of the 20th Century for something that was done nearly 2000 years previously!

My next post will look at a second crazy pseudo-religious belief.

Reflections on the Holocaust II: WHY--Overview

As part of my Coursera course The Holocaust, I am required to write three papers, of which I have completed the first. In my first paper, I chose to examine the “reasons” for the Holocaust. After all, the horror of the Holocaust compels the question: WHY? Why did so many human beings plan, carry out, cooperate with, or turn a blind eye to acts of unspeakable cruelty against other human beings—human beings who were Jewish?

I am finding that the answer that makes the most “sense” to me is that the perpetrators, their supporters, and even many bystanders were CRAZY. By “crazy,” I mean that they embraced beliefs with no basis in reality, beliefs that were not at all helpful to themselves and that were disastrous for their targets, the Jews. In fact, our Coursera Professor, Peter Kenez voices this explanation himself in his lecture “The Jews of Western Europe.” Speaking of the Nazis, Professor Kenez says, “The party taking control of the machinery of a modern state was lunatic, aside from the vicious aspect—they were crazy—what they were after did not serve their interests, no matter how you define their interests."

We tend to view craziness as an aberration—but considering the numbers of people involved in enacting, supporting, or allowing the Holocaust, we have a huge number of aberrant people. In other words, it is possible for millions of people to be crazy, or out of touch with reality, in ways that cause extreme harm.

I would say that it behooves us to analyze this craziness, to see it for what it is, and to prevent it from happening again. Here, I echo Primo Levi, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who says of the Nazi hatred for Jews, “We cannot understand it, but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again.” (“Afterword” to Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening, page 394)

To this end, I will first examine some of the crazy beliefs that led to the Holocaust and then consider them in light of what we know about healthy and unhealthy mental processes.

Crazy beliefs about the Jews during the time of the Third Reich combined traditional pseudo-religious nonsense with modern pseudo-scientific nonsense. In my next post, I will turn my attention to the first crazy pseudo-religious belief.

Reflections on the Holocaust I: Pre-Reflections

I am taking a fascinating free online course with Coursera on The Holocaust. This is the first of several posts in which I will share some of my reflections on what I am learning about the Holocaust. I have sub-titled this first post “Pre-Reflections” because here I will simply introduce the Holocaust, Coursera, and The Holocaust course.

THE HOLOCAUST. Just in case someone may read this who is unfamiliar with the term Holocaust, I will begin with a definition. The Holocaust refers to the extermination of millions of Jewish people by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. This was done largely in gas chambers, but Jews were also shot, hanged, beaten, starved, and worked to death in concentration camps. The Nazis’ extermination campaign was aimed at Jews, but other undesirables were eliminated as well, including the physically disabled, the mentally ill, homosexuals, Gypsies, and political dissidents.

COURSERA. Coursera is a wonderful entity that offers free online courses taught by respected university professors. It is very easy to sign up for a free Coursera course at this web address.

THE HOLOCAUST COURSERA COURSE. My present Coursera course, The Holocaust, is team-taught by two professors from the University of California at Santa Cruz: Peter Kenez, Professor Emeritus of History, and Murray Baumgarten, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature. The course lasts for 10 weeks; thus, there are 10 modules. Each of the 10 weekly modules includes these elements:

  • Online lectures by the professors
  • Supplementary readings: historical accounts, memoirs, novels, short stories, poems
  • Supplementary films: documentaries, films based on a true story, fictional films
  • Three papers to write, which are peer evaluated
  • Online forums in which to engage in discussion with classmates

I am finding The Holocaust Coursera course to be excellent! I appreciate the scope of the lectures, the wide range and richness of the material, the in-depth thought required by the papers, and the opportunity to interact online with classmates from all over the globe. I also love the way the Holocaust is approached both from a historical perspective and from the perspective of its literature. Not only are we reading historical accounts of the Holocaust, but we are also reading memoirs, novels, short stories, and poems. I hadn’t realized that there is Holocaust poetry, but there is.

This completes my pre-reflections. My next several posts will reflect on what I am learning about the Holocaust.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two More Knitting Projects

Here are two more of my knitting projects, very recently completed.

The first is a scarf in four shades of blue: blue, wedgewood, aqua, light blue. I used 25% wool / 75% acrylic yarn in 143-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces, per skein) -- 2 skeins each of wedgewood, aqua, and light blue, and 3 skeins of blue. I used the knit stitch with double strands of yarn all the way through, with size 17 needles, getting 3 stitches and 2-1/2 rows to an inch. Each blue-shade block has 18 stitches per row and 12 rows. There are 9 blocks in all, 2 each of wedgewood, aqua, and light blue, and 3 of blue.
Scarf in shades of blue
The second project is a shawl in primary colors: blue, red, and yellow. I used 25% wool / 75% acrylic yarn in 143-yard skeins (100 grams, or 3-1/2 ounces, per skein). The shawl took 9 skeins of yarn, 3 of each primary color. I used the knit stitch with triple strands all the way through, with size 17 needles, getting 3 stitches and 2-1/2 rows to an inch. There are 30 stitches per row.
Shawl in primary colors
I am really enjoying knitting scarves and shawls!