Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Camp Auschwitz

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

During the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21, a man later identified as Robert Keith Packer was photographed wearing a "Camp Auschwitz" t-shirt. The front also said "Work brings freedom," one translation of the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" slogan atop the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The back of the shirt said "Staff."

Packer, a resident of Newport News, VA, who apparently has a history of extremism, was arrested, but later released without criminal charges or paying any fines. He was merely ordered to stay away from D.C. unless summoned there. Other insurrectionists also expressed pro-Nazi, pro-Holocaust, anti-Semitic, white supremacist or bigoted views.

Several people, including Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger in a personal and moving statement, directly linked the hatred and violence of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" of 1938, when German Nazis smashed the windows of Jewish stores and synagogues.

One of the most powerful responses came from Andrew Brandt, who was following the story of Robert "Camp Auschwitz" Packer and posted a thread about a family photo:

The entire thread is worth reading. This is real history; these are human stories. And not only did Brandt never get to meet most of the people in his family photo, even some of their names are lost, because they were murdered by the Nazis.

I wonder if people like Packer and the rest of the Nazi contigent at the U.S. Capitol have more than a childish understanding of the Holocaust. Presumably, they know some basic events, probably from a bigoted source, and they approve of the genocide. But there's a leering, smug immaturity to many right-wing authoritarians in addition to their seething hatred. They want to provoke, to offend, to transgress tenets of basic respect and dignity. They aggressively deny the humanity of their chosen scapegoats. They willfully blind themselves with rage to broad swaths of the human experience. They could look at Andrew Brandt's family photo, hear his story, and not see anything, somehow not be moved.

We've seen and will continue to see excuses for and downplaying of the insurrection, for the failed attempted coup. And not every right-wing authoritarian, white supremacist or bigot proudly identifies him or herself as a Nazi. But we can't pretend that right-wing extremism doesn't exist in the United States and isn't a dangerous force. Many conservatives who don't identify as bigots or white nationalists have nonetheless supported their more extreme kindred or even voted them into office. And they continue to be enabled by a group of dogmatic centrists addicted to blaming "both sides" equally. As Rebecca Solnit observed in "On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway":

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naïve version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis? . . .

In the past four years too many members of the right have been emboldened to carry out those values as violence. One of the t-shirts at the #millionMAGAmarch this weekend: “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” Except stage a coup, torture and disappear tens of thousands of Chileans, and violate laws and rights. A right-wing conspiracy to overthrow the Michigan government and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer was recently uncovered, racists shot some Black Lives Matter protestors and plowed their cars into a lot of protests this summer. The El Paso anti-immigrant massacre was only a year ago; the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre two years ago, the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally in which Heather Heyer was killed three years ago (and of course there have been innumerable smaller incidents all along). Do we need to bridge the divide between Nazis and non-Nazis? Because part of the problem is that we have an appeasement economy, a system that is supposed to be greased by being nice to the other side.

It's crucial to call out right-wing authoritarians and to hold them accountable. It's also important to excoriate any knee-jerk "both siders" who, intentionally or not, work to deny that accountability, or habitually attack honesty and accuracy in the name of politeness and civility. Finally, it's essential to remember our own humanity and to recognize the same in others fighting against right-wing authoritarianism, and to remember and honor the very human victims of its violence. Andrew Brandt's family photo and story remind me of a poem I've cited before, from Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo:


Her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters were all gassed on arrival.
Her parents were too old, the children too young.
She says, "She was beautiful, my little sister.
You can't imagine how beautiful she was.
They mustn't have looked at her.
If they had, they would never have killed her.
They couldn't have."


Annie Asks You said...

This is another important and powerful post, Batocchio. It's the regrettably ideal partner to your MLK Birthday post--reminders from the past that are far too applicable today.

I mentioned them both in my post this week about Jon Swift--and your efforts. If you care to read it, here's the link to my blog..


Thank you!


Bruce.desertrat said...

From Solnit's article "some plowed their cars into a lot of protests this summer."

At least four state legislatures have offered bills to make this legal....

StringOnAStick said...

My husband is Jewish. Decades ago his uncle showed me a family tree that went back for many generations. Then suddenly the family tree nearly ended on one day in 1944 when all members died except the teen son who was out looking for food when the German army rolled through their village and slaughtered everyone there. That young teen was my husband's grandfather.