…and the rest

March 19th, 2008 — Wordman

Quick: how many people died in Nazi concentration camps? Most people (at least in the States) will reflexively answer “six million”, if they can answer at all. If you are one of them, you are way off the mark. While six million Jews may have been killed, the total number of people killed is upwards of 9.5 million. Put another way, for every dozen Jews murdered in the camps, seven non-Jews in the camps were also exterminated.

Ironically, the zeal that intends (correctly) to ensure that no one ever forgets the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust has essentially caused the 3.5 million non-Jews killed in the same camps to be largely forgotten by the collective consciousness. (Not to mention the up to eight million other civilian deaths at Nazi hands outside the camps. Or the 20 million Stalin killed, for that matter.) I know the argument is that the Holocaust (used here to mean specifically the deliberate extermination of Jews) is deserving of special attention, because its very deliberateness screams out as being “more horrible” or “more evil” than other civilian death. Maybe that’s true. But if you view that same argument from the other end, it is essentially saying that the other 3.5 million premeditated camp murders are somehow “more acceptable”, and that just seems stupid at best and inexcusably vile at worst.

Of the many memorials to this insanity, many use the word “Holocaust” the same way I did above: to mean specifically the Nazi “final solution” against the Jews and only the Jews. The New England Holocaust Memorial, for example, counts only the Jews: “Six million numbers are etched in glass in an orderly pattern, suggesting the infamous tattooed numbers and ghostly ledgers of the Nazi bureaucracy. Evocative and rich in metaphor, the six towers recall the six main death camps, the six million Jews who died, or a menorah of memorial candles.” Some memorials might have a special room, wall or plaque to mention the “others” that also died. A few, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are more inclusive of the other victims and fighting genocide in general, but these seem to be the exception, not the rule.

So, whatever else you might think of the proceedings, it was interesting to see Austria light 80,000 candles last week “one in memory of each of the Austrian Jews and others who perished”. It was good to see victims of all genetic backgrounds included, even though Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer focussed his speech on wrongs done to “our Jewish fellow citizens”. The 3.5 million might finally be graduating from no mention at all to at least rate a first-season Gillian’s Island-like “and the rest”.

Here’s hoping they get their own credit sooner than later.