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HOLOCAUST POETRY: BEARING WITNESS IN LITERATURE

Jews loading onto trains at the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland (1942-43) from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Umschlagplatz_loading.jpg

Jews loading onto trains at the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland (1942-43) from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Umschlagplatz_loading.jpg

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway car (by: Dan Pagis)

here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him I 

 

This poem was found on http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/lesson_plans/dan_pagis.asp#5 . Dan Pagis (1930-86) was a Holocaust survivor who was interned in a Ukrainian concentration camp.

Professor Murray Baumgarten of the University of California (Santa Cruz) argues that the study of the Holocaust should be an interdisciplinary study. While  his own background is as a professor of literature, he argues that a variety of disciplines would be appropriate as companions to historical study in order to build a more complete understanding of the incomprehensible atrocities that took place during the 1940s.

When considering literature of the Holocaust, Baumgarten notes the power of the use of first person narration as writers bear witness and testify to their experiences. The use of first person is transformative for the reader and transports the reader into the context experienced by the author. First person gives a power and connection that is seldom found in the traditional genre of historical writing. By it’s very nature, literature is personal and subjective. These characteristics give Holocaust literature great power.

Dan Pagis’ poem (above) is an example of this. In Pagis’ voice, “Eve” is the mother of us all. His first person voice becomes our voice and we are transported into the place of his experience. The reader gives the voice “breath” in the present. By reading in the first person, we become one with the text as it provides testimony of the human experience of another person. Baumgarten argues that,  in this case, Pagis is testifying to his experience and therefore the reader becomes part of that witnessing. Pagis is creating a “chain of witnesses” to what happened during the Holocaust by including the reader in the experience. There is power in the words and testimony through what Baumgarten refers to, enthusiastically, as the “the magic of culture”.

The place of Holocaust literature in education is a powerful tool when one makes plain to students that the Nazis intended to make even the very memory of the Jewish culture extinct. Baumgarten argues that by allowing students to experience the power of first person Holocaust narratives, the students themselves become witnesses to the atrocities and thereby defeat the Nazi intention of a cultural erasure of European Jewry. The student, therefore, is fighting against the Nazi attempt to exterminate the memory of Jewish Europe.

A powerful thought indeed!

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NAZI RACIAL POLICIES: BEGINNING TO TRY TO COMPREHEND THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE

Jews in Vienna forced to scrub the streets. Source: Images of the Holocaust in Vienna; available at: The Holocaust Research Project, http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/viennagal/Jews%20in%20Vienna%20forced%20to%20scrub%20the%20streets.html

Jews in Vienna forced to scrub the streets. Source: Images of the Holocaust in Vienna; available at: The Holocaust Research Project, http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/viennagal/Jews%20in%20Vienna%20forced%20to%20scrub%20the%20streets.html

The NSDAP (Nazi Party) developed race policies based upon four sets of ideas. These ideas were a mix of deep historical prejudices, nationalistic myths of identity, a mix of scientific and pseudoscientific thought, and the fashionable field of social philosophy (in the 1920s) called eugenics. Many of these ideas – especially eugenics – were not particular to Germany. Eugenics was also extremely popular in the USA during the post-war era. Central to eugenics is a form of rank-ordaining in which people were classified and placed into what was consider by some to be a scientifically proven hierarchy.
An illustration from a 19th century American publication produced to emphasise the danger to society posed by the “feeble-minded”. Source: Manjoo, F. (2007) Progressive Genocide, Salon.com, www.salon.com/.../2006/03/04/bruinius/index.html

An illustration from a 19th century American publication produced to emphasise the danger to society posed by the “feeble-minded”.
Source: Manjoo, F. (2007) Progressive Genocide, Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/…/2006/03/04/bruinius/index.html

After the study of languages, a number of European writers in the 19th century had begun to “rank order” the peoples of the world. The highest rank was attributed to a cultured group who (it was believed) had migrated from the region of India to northern Europe – this group were referred to as Aryans. The NSDAP discovered these “pseudoscientific” views and integrated them into a glorified myth of German national identity – the true German, it was believed, was ethnically Aryan.
In this same ranking system, racial “pollutants” were identified within Europe. These inferior groups included slavs, Roma and, significantly, the Jews.
4 THEORIES

The combination of these ideas formed the theoretical basis upon which the NSDAP built its policies of anti-Semitism. As Nazi theorists adapted eugenics and mixed it with nationalist myths and fanciful theories of racial development over centuries in Europe, they soon considered ways in which they might attempt to “restore” an Aryan order to the societies of Europe. The theories they were developing would soon influence public policy and practice in many aspects of life.

eugenics theory to action

A simply timeline of the implementation of NSDAP racial policies is instructive in demonstrating the way in which the policies of eugenics were applied incrementally and increasingly targeted the Jewish people of Germany (and later it’s neighbours).

timeline

In September 1939, when the Second World War commenced Germany’s borders closes to crossings. The ongoing emigration of Jews from Germany soon came to a close as warfare ensured that Jews could no longer escape German territory. By 1941, Nazi Germany controlled large areas of Europe. Many Jews were summarily executed in these areas by both the Wehrmacht and the SS. In numerous areas (especially on the Eastern Front) Jewish settlements were depopulated and many dues walled in to closely guarded urban ghettos. In 1942, as the war in Eastern Europe intensified and large Jewish populations fell under the control of German forces, the Wansee Conference in Berlin decided on the fate of the Jews (and other similar “out groups”) in Nazi Europe. The so-called “Final Solution” called for the SS to carry out an extermination of Jews through a variety of means. This remained policy of the NSDAP until the collapse of Nazi Germany at war’s end in 1945. The death toll as a result of the Final Solution is horrific.

Total killed: Approximately 10 – 11 million people
Approximately: 6 million Jews
•Most Jews were killed in Eastern European extermination / death camps such as Auschwitz-Berkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Sobilor, Chelmno, and Majdanek.
•Camps were run by a section of the SS.
•In addition to extermination camps were slave labour camps such as Dachau.
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NAZI STRATEGIES FOR TAKING POWER IN GERMANY

"Es lebe Deutschland" depicts Hitler as a German  Messiah.

“Es lebe Deutschland” depicts Hitler as a German Messiah.

The methods that the NSDAP (National Socialists or Nazis) used to gain power reflected their pragmatic philosophy. Nazis, being anti-intellectual, were prepared to adopt any method of taking power – as long as it worked! In terms or responding to this focus question, the NSDAP’s rise to power should be examined in two phases.

  1.  The Early 1920s
  2. The Late 1920s and early 1930s

These two phases reflected the very different conditions in which the Party operated in Germany. Let’s examine the major features of each phase.

Phase 1: The Early 1920s:

The early 1920s were a time when German democracy was in its infancy after the Great War. Despite the successes of the popular German statesman Gustav Stresseman between 1923 and 1925 as leader of the new Weimar democracy, German society was confronted with numerous economic and political upheavals. After 1918, German society faced economic ruin as it confronted reparations bills and ruinous hyperinflation. Politically it faced radical political challenges from the extreme left and extreme right of politics. At this time, the NSDAP attempted to directly overthrow the Weimar government through a coup attempt in the state of Bavaria during the Munich based “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923. This resulted in Hitler’s arrest and imprisonment in Landsburg where he wrote his book Mein Kampf.

In Mein Kampf  he outlined for the NSDAP (sometimes rather incoherently) a new strategy for achieving power in Germany.

During Hitler’s time in prison, the sense of crisis in Germany abated. The 1924 Dawes Plan, in which the USA undertook to assist Germany with loans to pay its reparations bills provided for Germans a welcome relief to the mounting pressures on its fragile democracy. This relief would be short-lived however.

Phase 2: The Late 1920s and Early 1930s:

This new strategy for achieving power was referred to as a “legal revolution” by Hitler. During the mid-1920s through to the early 1930s, the NSDAP concentrated upon creating a mass party that appealed to a broad cross-section of Germans. Propaganda became a tool for recruitment of supporters. With the support of powerful financial figures and in a coalition with other parties, the NSDAP gained a respectability by 1928 that len them credibility in the eyes of many Germans but despite this by 1928, it appeared that the NSDAP was perhaps a spent force in politics.

After the onset of the worldwide economic collapse known as the Great Depression in 1929, unemployment skyrocketed in Germany. The NSDAP could now appeal to Germans in the midst of a new and terrible crisis.

How did the NSDAP attempt to take power in Germany?

How did the NSDAP attempt to take power in Germany?

As America, too, faced economic crisis, it withdrew its financial support from Germany. Without the support of American loans, Germany plunged into economic ruin! Germans turned to groups who showed them a way out of this crisis in the elections of 1930 and 1932. It was in these elections that the NSDAP made their largest gains and their greatest bid for power.

RENAISSANCE 101: SOME INTRODUCTORY IDEAS

Vitruvian

The Renaissance was a period of European history following the Middle Ages. It took place between approximately 1350 and 1600 but many of its key features were less developed until about 1450. The term “Renaissance” is a French word meaning “rebirth”. This period of history can be considered as a period of rebirth in European culture after the so-called “dark age” for learning during medieval times. It is worth noting however that, in many respect, the medieval period of European was hardly a “dark” period of technological development.)

 The Renaissance saw developments in:

ARCHITECTURE

ART

EDUCATION

LITERATURE

MUSIC

PHILOSOPHY

SCIENCE

RELIGION

 During the Renaissance there was a “rebirth” of the classical cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome.

While some aspects of medieval life continued, many other aspects of life saw refinement and improvement especially for the wealthy and those who could be considered nobility.

The period known as the Renaissance can actually be divided into two important parts:

  1.  The Italian Renaissance
  2. The Northern Renaissance

The Renaissance began in Italy in the 1400s and spread to Northern European countries (such as Germany, Holland, France and England) during the 1500s. While there were many pressures to change, it is helpful to try to map this process of change.

The rise of ideas during the Renaissance.

The rise of ideas during the Renaissance.

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