“Your silence will not protect you.”
– Audre Lorde
Increasingly, words like “holocaust” and “concentration camps” are being used by animal rights activists to describe the treatment of non-human animals. I’ve changed my take on that but have already written about it.
Also, thanks to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, there’s no shortage of social media references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, extermination, etc. But I’ve also recently written about that ongoing conflict.
What I do wanna talk about here is silence.
I’ve been to a handful of NYC rallies in support of the Palestinians who endure life under U.S.-funded bombs. At each event — whether verbally or via protest sign — I am confronted with some form of this question: Why is the world silent on Gaza?
We could just as easily ask ourselves why we all remain so silent about so many forms of global war zones — from drone targets to fracking sites to ocean floor trawling nets and beyond. The stories of extermination abound.
However, since the situation in Gaza often evokes Holocaust comparisons and discussions, I thought it’d be helpful to recall the silence (and complicity) that greeted the Final Solution…
“The miracle of the 20th century”
The most frequently evoked after-the-fact rationale for the deadliest war in human history being labeled a moral battle — a “good” war — was the Allies’ supposed aim to stop the Nazi Holocaust.
Hitler’s “Final Solution” took the lives of roughly six million Jews along with millions more Slavs, Eastern Europeans, Roma, homosexuals, labor leaders, communists, and others suspected of such “crimes.” If decency and morality played any role, the United States would have taken action against Germany some time during the 1930s.
On the contrary, the U.S. business class had nothing but love for the Nazi regime. Before, during, and after the Good [sic] War, the American business class traded with the enemy. Among the U.S. corporations that invested in the Nazis were Ford, GE, Standard Oil, Texaco, ITT, IBM, and GM (top man William Knudsen called Nazi Germany “the miracle of the 20th century”).
In December 1933, for example, Standard Oil of New York invested $1 million in Germany for the making of gasoline from soft coal. Undeterred by the well-publicized events of the next decade, Standard Oil also honored its contracts with I.G. Farben — a German chemical cartel that manufactured Zyklon-B, the poison gas used in the Nazi gas chambers — right up until 1942.
U.S. investment in Germany accelerated more than 48 percent between 1929 and 1940, while declining sharply everywhere else in Europe. All of these businesses were more than happy to see the German labor movement and working-class parties smashed. For many of these companies, operations in Germany continued during the war (even if it meant the use of concentration-camp slave labor) with overt U.S. government support.
“Pilots were given instructions not to hit factories in Germany that were owned by U.S. firms,” writes Michael Parenti. “Thus Cologne was almost leveled by Allied bombing but its Ford plant, providing military equipment for the Nazi army, was untouched; indeed, German civilians began using the plant as an air raid shelter.”
With the 1% behaving in such a predictable manner, it only follows that they wouldn’t allow a little thing like widely-known genocide get in the way of profits.
“Surprise and pain”
“The plight of Jews in German-occupied Europe, which many people thought was at the heart of the war against the Axis, was not a concern to Roosevelt … [who] failed to take steps that might have saved thousands of lives,” wrote Howard Zinn. “He did not see it as a high priority.”
As Benjamin V. Cohen, an advisor to FDR, later commented, “When you are in a dirty war, some will suffer more than others … Things ought to have been different, but war is different, and we live in an imperfect world.”
Swirling around the subject of the Holocaust in our “imperfect world” are many questions. Who knew about Hitler’s plan and when? What was done to stop it? Were there complicit roles played by factions within the United States?
While volumes have been written to correctly challenge those contemptible historical criminals who deny the Nazi death camps ever existed, one of the more subtle forms of denial is rarely questioned or even mentioned. This particular negation involves the deep-seated belief that the West was simply not aware of the extent of Nazi Germany’s atrocities until the war was nearly over and once they knew the truth, they acted expediently to save lives.
To accept this blatant fiction is to enable oneself to believe that the inaction of the Allies was due merely to lack of information. Apologists can pretend that the details of the Holocaust were not known and if they had been, the United States would have intervened, but as historian Kenneth C. Davis explains:
“Prior to the American entry into the war, the Nazi treatment of Jews evoked little more than a weak diplomatic condemnation. It is clear that Roosevelt knew about the treatment of the Jews in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, and about the methodical, systematic destruction of the Jews during the Holocaust. Clearly, saving the Jews and other groups that Hitler was destroying en masse was not a critical issue for American war planners.”
Indeed, when a resolution was introduced in January 1934 (!) asking the Senate and the President to express “surprise and pain” at the German treatment of the Jews, the resolution never got out of committee. Such inaction was not reversed even as more specific details began to reach the average American.
On October 30, 1939, the New York Times wrote of “freight cars … full of people” heading eastward and broached the subject of the “complete elimination of the Jews from European life” which, according to the Times, appeared to be “a fixed German policy.”
As for the particulars on the final solution, as early as July 1941, the New York Yiddish dailies offered stories of Jews massacred by Germans in Russia. Three months later, the New York Times wrote of eyewitness accounts of 10,000-15,000 Jews slaughtered in Galicia.
The German persecution and mass murder of Eastern European Jews was indeed a poorly kept secret and the United States and its Allies cannot honestly or realistically hide behind the excuse of ignorance. Even when the Nazis themselves initiated proposals to ship Jews from both Germany and Czechoslovakia to Western countries or even Palestine, the Allied nations could never get beyond negotiations and the rescue plans never materialized.
One particularly egregious example was the 1939 journey of the St. Louis. Carrying 1,128 German Jewish refugees from Europe, the ocean liner was turned back by U.S. officials because the German immigration quota had been met. The St. Louis then returned to Europe where the refugees found temporary sanctuary in France, Great Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Most were eventually captured by the Nazis and shipped to death camps.
“The rescue of European Jewry,” writes Henry L. Feingold in The Politics of Rescue, “especially after the failure to act during the refugee phase [1939-1941], was so severely circumscribed by Nazi determination that it would have required an inordinate passion to save lives and a huge reservoir of good will toward Jews to achieve it. Such passion to save Jewish lives did not exist in the potential receiving nations.”
A lack of acknowledgement from the Roosevelt Administration and barely a peep from the U.S. public, Feingold believes, convinced men like Goebbels that the “Allies approved or were at least indifferent to the fate of the Jews.”
Goebbels’s line of thinking was not too far from the truth.
Even when eyewitness accounts from Auschwitz reached the U.S. Department of War and some in the Roosevelt Administration were finally pushing for the bombing of the death camp or at least the railways leading to it, the word came down that air power could not be diverted from vital “industrial target system.”
It was claimed by American military planners, according to Feingold, that Auschwitz was “beyond the maximum range of medium bombardment, diver bombers and fighter bombers located in [the] United Kingdom, France or Italy.”
Reality: Allied bombers passed within five miles of Auschwitz in August 1944.
“This story of extermination”
In March of 1943, Frida Kirchway, editor of The Nation, summed up the situation succinctly:
“In this country, you and I, the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt. If we behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent cowardly ones, the two million lying today in the earth of Poland … would be alive and safe. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and yet we did not lift a hand to do it.”
In April 1943, an editorial in the London New Statesman and Nation contemplated the legacy of Allied indifference to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, predicting “when historians relate this story of extermination, they will find it, from first to last, all but incredible.”
That editorial writer, it turns out, was far too optimistic.
We are still ignoring myriad “stories of extermination” — stories that involve millions of humans all across the globe, stories that involve trillions of non-humans.
Such stories also encompass the entire ecosystem and, well, that means: End of story.
To paraphrase Kirchway’s quote above, “We have it in our power to rescue this doomed planet and all the earthlings that inhabit it. Will we lift a hand to do so?”
Reminder: Our silence will not protect us.
The thought of standing up to oppressors can be absolutely daunting but, since everyone is making Holocaust references lately, I’ll leave you with this one to mull over: The resistance fighters who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising had a much higher rate of survival than those who did not rebel.
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.