The Holocaust and the Othering of People

June 16, 2010

I struggle with understanding the Holocaust. How is it possible that such a mass atrocity could occur? How can human kind allow for such devastating events to occur? So many killed for such irrational reasons. During our trip in Berlin, I was awash in Holocaust history which explained how it was possible that the Nazis could create such an environment of hate towards the “other” groups they deemed sub-human. By successfully creating an image of Jews and other non-aryans as subhumans, the Nazis were able to round up massive amounts of people and displace them.

Jews being harrassed by Nazi Police officers

Propaganda was spread to create an image of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, as the enemy of the Aryan race. They were physically and mentally inferior, and dangerous in the minds of the Germans. As a result, the populations, not all but many, were complacent when so many of the “others” were thrown into mass ghettoes, concentration camps, and extermination camps. The images that stuck out for me were the walls, so many large walls which served to displace people, control them like animals, and eventually lead them to be slaughtered. Walls…. Thats all I keep thinking about when I think about Germany’s past.

Nazi soldiers destroying the Ghetto in Warsaw

I found it quite incredible that Germans today are very open with the past. Unlike many other countries that have committed crimes, the Germans have recollected the past memory and have put it on display. Dealing with the past cannot be easy, but the Germans have made sure its in the collective memory of everyone. It serves to provoke people, to make people think and wonder how and why such acts were possible. I believe it serves as a message to future generations to make sure such things will never happen again.

All of this makes me wonder how the Israelis have taught the Holocaust, how they have memorialized the events in the collective memory of their population? Do they continue to seek justice for the crimes of the past, or revenge? I wonder because as I relate the images of the holocaust to images and events that I have seen in my life, I feel history has a way of repeating its self, not in the way of genocide, but perhaps in the othering and dehumanizing way.  It disturbs me that so many images of walled ghettos and concentration camps just remind me of Palestine today.

Images that invoke another time

Last night I was watching the movie The Pianist, a movie about the Warsaw ghetto, and what struck me most were the lines of people waiting  and the amount of time it took for jewish citizens to cross from one side of the ghetto to the other. Waiting in long lines all day, and at the same time being humiliated by border guards. The inhabitants of such ghettoes were living in horrible conditions, much worse then those on the outside, and they were walled in. Another reminder of the occupied territories.

I guess I cannot help but think that a group of people who had experienced the worst acts of human kind, would not be more compassionate with other people. How did this happen? Is too much memory a bad thing? Does being the victim allow a group to justify vengeance, even if it is misdirected? Is vengeance ever a good thing? I remember reading a book by Marth Minow entitled Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, and specifically one quote caught my attention, “Pain can sear the human memory in two ways: with forgetfulness of the past or imprisonment in it.” This may seem pessimistic, but i believe it resonates true.

Images of occupied Poland during WWII and images of occupied Palestine today



  1. Something that Adam kept pointing out to me in Italia seems to resonate with what you are talking about. The people who sell cheap goods on the roadside and those that are begging for money are all either black or gypsies. In Rome we saw many gypsies prostrating themselves on the sidewalk praying that someone would give them some change. And as Adam rightly pointed out, these tourists, who spend countless dollars on all sorts of nonsense, can’t be bothered to throw these people some change.

    Also, and more to your point, I agree that there is something deeply traumatic about the Jewish treatment of the Palestinians. I think it is about revenge. I absolutely agree with you that of all the people in the world who should be sympathetic and compassionate toward their fellow human beings you would think it would be the Jews, but hatred has a way of spreading like a disease. Violence seems to contaminate the soul with hatred. It is easy to say that the Jewish people should be more compassionate, but isn’t it also difficult to understand that kind of Pain? Surely it is also easy to tell people what they should do with that Pain, but in practice the heart does not forgive so easily…

  2. When I saw the wall in Jerusalem, I immediately thought of the Berlin Wall and the parallels do not stop there.

  3. i am no historian and will not say that my comment is absolute fact..i am however deeply intrigued by wars and in particular the holocaust. I am neither a Jew nor of Aryan race so my views are not biased or racist.

    In my realisation, Jews have been tortured, tormented and hated almost from the time before christ (BC). this is in referance to the bible and we all know of the story of Moses and the slavery of the Jews even way back then. The world has never given Jews the right of peace and humanity for centuries, between their exodus from Egypt right up to the Holocaust and perhaps so many cases till today!

    I often wonder why the Jews? whats so different about them that Europe has made them ‘sub human’? They do not necessarily look different to many europeans. There are those that may not be Jew or black yet they have dark hair and dark eyes, as Hitler himself did! It is not recorded in history that Jews have been rebels or terrorists or forcing their religious beliefs in European countries…infact they have been generally passive and devoted simply to their born faith…so why hate Jews???

    In my mind i have have settled on this hard reason…it is written in their destiny.
    God has called the Jews ‘The chosen people’ and they have faithfully devoted themselves in their religion and love for God. Because God favours them this would cause evil to try and break their spirits and turn them away from their faith. It has been the way of the world, the battle of good and evil, Lucifers deep desire to rip all Gods creation apart and turn his people against him. This has happened literally from the very beginning of time in reference to Adam and Eve and the snake (lucifer).
    To put it plainly as i see it, i believe evil will always attack those who follow the God of Jews and/or Christians simply because of Lucifers desire to turn everyone and everything against the Lord. Because God had Chosen the Jews as his people, Satan will use the world and people of different beliefs to destroy and hate them.

    I believe the Bible is not pure religious jargon but a sort of history book for the beginning of time and the end of time which has not yet come. I have heard of something called The Bible Decoded which reads between the lines of what the scriptures really mean and i have heard that the warning of Hitler had been written in those very scriptures. It sounds so wrong to say but i have put it down to spiritual war between God and Lucifer and why Jews and Christians are directly targeted for hate and persecution. In Revelations it speaks of the second coming of the Lord and how all his followers who stand steady in him will be persecuted by others…it has already happened and is still to happen.

    in my naive reasoning i think it all comes down to the battle of Satan against God. Satan will always bring attack against Gods people until the last days.

  4. […] echo through history; it has served as the internal justification for persecution, slavery, and genocide. In a global society where white, heterosexual, cissexual men are widely considered to be the […]

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