Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for August, 2014

Why couldn’t the Jews just “blend in” during World War Two?

There are a number of issues for Jews just “blending in”, which broadly speaking worked differently in Eastern and Western Europe.

In Western Europe, maltreatment of Jews was mostly incremental. The Nazis didn’t start mass murdering people right out of the gate (though it was clear that things were going to get bad for the Jews, and people did openly speak in the ’30s of the possibility of Jews being killed en masse, albeit not on the scale it actually occurred). First, citizenship was revoked, certain rights were rolled back, Jews were de-integrated from society, etc. Eventually you got things like the famous yellow stars. The penalties for pretending not to be Jewish were pretty steep, and being killed for being Jewish wasn’t an immediate threat. Additionally, records were used over time to make it difficult to hide Jewish lineage. While Jews “passing” would’ve been relatively easy in Germany, the environment pre-war made it an unlikely choice.

In Eastern Europe, the Germans essentially rolled in followed by killing squads and created ghettos in cities. However, there were a couple of issues. First, you did have some of the same effect as in Western Europe, where people feared the Germans finding them unregistered more than they feared what’d happen if they didn’t. Creating ghettos and killing everybody wasn’t announced.

In Kiev, for instance, Jews were told that they had to assemble with their possessions for resettlement a few days after the occupation began–anyone violating the order would be shot. But upon their arrival, they were all shot in a ravine at Babi Yar–only a few who managed to slip away survived. While some Jews might’ve feared what would happen, the prospect of being hunted down was present, and culturally speaking restrictions on Jewish residence in Europe wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

Additionally, in Eastern Europe much more than western, Jews weren’t very integrated. It’d be a dead giveaway if someone could only speak Yiddish (which would’ve happened in rural areas, though most people could probably converse in the local language) or couldn’t find non-Jews to vouch for them or couldn’t document a name that wasn’t Jewish.

In all these cases, the penalty for trying to “pass” was death, and the Nazis had whatever historical records were available to hunt down those who tried.

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However, some people did. While it was difficult to do it, among the millions of Jews some were bound to try it, and some succeeded. Just yesterday I heard someone asking about documenting Jewish genealogies because their Litvak (Lithuanian-Jewish) ancestors intentionally obfuscated their Jewish heritage. And I know a woman (this anecdote is illustrative, not a source–that’d be against the rules) who survived the war as a girl in a Belgian orphanage–it was assured that there was no documentation tying her to being Jewish, and by all appearances she was just a young girl who was abandoned.

A better-known example is the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which sheltered thousands of French Jews (and others escaping Nazi persecution). Note that France had an integrated Jewish community (so people could “pass”) and didn’t have the incremental persecution increases in Germany, so there was more incentive to try to avoid the Germans figuring out you were Jewish at all. It required a organized effort, and lots of forged documents–if you mysteriously had no record of birth in the local church, the Nazis wouldn’t just shrug and move on.

So in short, you’d have to decide way in advance to pass in Germany, and it’d be difficult to in Eastern Europe. In either case, the incentive to hide being Jewish wasn’t immediately apparent, but the risks of it were.


Whatever happened to Oskar Dirlewanger?

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Oskar Dirlewanger had a long career as a soldier, fighting in World War One, fighting with the freikorps against communist insurrectionists in Weimar Germany, fighting with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. He also had a long ‘career’ as a sexual sadist and convicted child rapist. Undoubtedly this all made him very qualified to head the SS convict division, tasked with anti-partisan operations on the eastern front. The division went on to commit some of the most heinous crimes of the war (some of which are loosely depicted in the Russian movie Come and See. Sealing up hundreds of civilians in a barn, setting it on fire and spraying with machine guns was a trademark. Gang rape, mutilation and wholesale slaughter of civilians and enemy combatants was the modus operandi of these brave SS men. Redirected to Warsaw in time to fight in the uprising of 1944, the division took part in the Wola massacre of as many as 40,000 Polish civilians.

Fast forward to the end of the war, Dirlewanger wound up in Althausen prison in the French occupation zone. Official reports state that he died of natural causes while in prison. Later on, there were unsubstantiated rumors had it that he escaped and joined the French Foreign Legion to fight in Indochina, and then the Egyptian Army.

One report had it different. In an act worthy of a Tarantino revenge/vindication story arc, he was found by three Poles serving in the French military, who proceeded to mercilessly beat him to death in his cell.


The Katyn Massacre

The Katyn Massacre was horrifying. 22,000 prisoners of war from the officer corp and high ranking civilians who surrendered peacefully to the soviets when Poland was invaded, murdered simply so there would be less resistance to Soviet rule.

Detailed information on the executions in the Kalinin NKVD prison was provided during a hearing by Dmitrii Tokarev, former head of the Board of the District NKVD in Kalinin. According to Tokarev, the shooting started in the evening and ended at dawn. The first transport on 4 April 1940, carried 390 people, and the executioners had a hard time killing so many people during one night. The following transports held no more than 250 people. The executions were usually performed with German-made 7.65×17mm Walther PPK pistols supplied by Moscow, but 7.62×38mmR Nagant M1895 revolvers were also used. The executioners used German weapons rather than the standard Soviet revolvers, as the latter were said to offer too much recoil, which made shooting painful after the first dozen executions. Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, chief executioner for the NKVD—and quite possibly the most prolific executioner in history—is reported to have personally shot and killed 7,000 of the condemned, some as young as 18, from the Ostashkov camp at Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days in April 1940.

The killings were methodical. After the personal information of the condemned was checked, he was handcuffed and led to a cell insulated with stacks of sandbags along the walls and a felt-lined, heavy door. The victim was told to kneel in the middle of the cell, was then approached from behind by the executioner and immediately shot in the back of the head. The body was carried out through the opposite door and laid in one of the five or six waiting trucks, whereupon the next condemned was taken inside. In addition to muffling by the rough insulation in the execution cell, the pistol gunshots were also masked by the operation of loud machines (perhaps fans) throughout the night. This procedure went on every night, except for the May Day holiday.

…but what happened with the discovery of the Katyn burial site is a lesson in how screwed up the world was at that time. when the Germans found the massacre site, they used it as propaganda material against the Russians.

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When the Russians retook the area, they planted evidence and said the Germans committed the massacre.

The whole era was colossal race to the bottom: who can kill the most people, in the most brutal fashion, and claim their enemy killed more, in a more brutal fashion. a sort of anti-morality. it really makes you wonder, how humanity can be that screwed up.

When, in September 1943, Goebbels was informed that the German army had to withdraw from the Katyn area, he wrote a prediction in his diary. His entry for 29 September 1943 reads: “Unfortunately we have had to give up Katyn. The Bolsheviks undoubtedly will soon ‘find’ that we shot 12,000 Polish officers. That episode is one that is going to cause us quite a little trouble in the future. The Soviets are undoubtedly going to make it their business to discover as many mass graves as possible and then blame it on us”.

Having retaken the Katyn area almost immediately after the Red Army had recaptured Smolensk, around September–October 1943, NKVD forces began a cover-up operation. A cemetery the Germans had permitted the Polish Red Cross to build was destroyed and other evidence removed. Witnesses were “interviewed”, and threatened with being arrested as German collaborators if their testimonies disagreed with the official line. Since none of the documents found on the dead had dates later than April 1940 the Soviet secret police planted false evidence that pushed the massacre date forward to the summer of 1941 when the Nazis controlled the area. A preliminary report was issued by NKVD operatives Vsevolod Merkulov and Sergei Kruglov, dated 10–11 January 1944, concluding that the Polish officers were shot by the Germans.


Young Ukrainian boys with wooden clubs chase a battered and bloodied Jewish woman during the Lviv pogroms; ca. 1941

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“On June 30, 1941, Lvov was conquered by the Germans. Pogroms against the Jews began that day, carried out by Ukranian civilians and the German Einsatzgruppe C. The Ukrainians were incited by rumors that the Jews had participated in the murders of Ukrainian political prisoners in the Soviet regime’s NKVD (security police) prison. Jews were forced to take the bodies out of the prison, and then the pogroms commenced and continued until July 3. In those few days, some 4,000 Jews were killed.”

(Source)

Chances are the reason most of these photos are of women, is that their men were already dead.

(A professor once told me that mediocre, normal people are the most dangerous in situations of persecution.

The logic being that a mediocre person is in a situation of unsure status within the system. They do not have any skills which cement them into a position of need or power, nor are they clearly defined as a target of persecution. In order to signal to others that they are a ‘true believer’ and not part of the doubter’s camp or aligned with the ‘enemy’, these mediocre people often rely on exhibiting dramatic and excessive acts of violence against the targeted population.

An interesting example is the Cambodian Communist mass killings and the importance of thought crime to the Khmer regime. The Khmer were obsessed with trying to find physical symptoms to inner states, as thier main ‘enemy’ was not one defined by the ethnic but of political beliefs. Since you can’t tell by looking at someone what ideology they follow, the Khmer relied heavily on semiotics in order to find possible non-believers (soft hands meaning hadn’t worked in agriculture, wears glasses implying education enough to necessitate them to read, et al). In Tuol Sleng, the Khmer’s main torture center, even after a prisoner confessed to being a traitor or harboring negative thoughts about the regime, they weren’t executed right there, however, they were kept imprisoned and continued to be tortured. Why were they kept alive, when the main purpose of TS was to identify and execute traitors? One hypothesis is that, in order to clearly demonstrate their hatred of the ‘enemy’ and signal that they are a ‘true believer’ of the Khmer’s ideals, especially in the context of the Khmer’s paranoia, the perpetrators continued to torture the imprisoned, confessed ‘traitors’, in an outward display of hatred.)


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Rioters during the Bobby Sands hunger strike attack police in Belfast, Northern Ireland; ca. 1981

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Behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner working with a rat in a “Skinner box”; ca. 1960

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Skinner was one of the founding fathers of behavioral psychology. He felt strongly that all human behavior could be broken down I a fundamental electro-chemical interaction. This was groundbreaking in psychology for a number of reasons: 1- it gave rise to “scientifically respectable” psychological research, 2- it crossed some philosophical boundaries into concepts of free will, 3- it laid foundation for cognitive behavioral therapy, by making the correlation between conditioned behavioral response and positive/negative reinforcement. (He wasn’t the only one, Pavlov being the other of note, but he was one who gained recognition.)
His theories have come to be known as “incomplete,” as we discovered there are other measurable elements that predict behavior, but his steadfast belief in his ideas, and his committed research brought on a whole new wave of psychological ideology.


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The Russians teaching the German prisoners of war the cossack dance. The Eastern front, Russia; ca.1915

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François-Noël Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist.

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François-Noël Babeuf was born in 1760, in Saint-Quentin, to a desperately poor family. He was born in filth, in his own words. He was given an education by his father, and had a hell of a mind. His intelligence, thirst for knowledge, and independent thinking complemented the short and informal education he received, and paved the the way for his future. He began working, digging a canal, at the age of twelve. A few years later, he worked for a notary specializing in feudal law. His job was to help the aristocracy claim as much as possible of their ancient privileges. Around the same time, he married Marie-Anne Langlet.

In 1789 he participated in drawing up the official complaints for his area to submit to the Estates General, but without much success. When the revolution broke out in 1789, Babeuf wrote a letter to his wife

How ill that joy made me! I was at the same time alike satisfied and ill content. I said, so much the better and so much the worse! I understand that the people should do justice for itself; I approve of that justice so long as the destruction of the guilty suffices for it, but has it not to-day become cruel? Punishments of all kinds – quartering, torture, the wheel, the stake, the whip, the gibbet, executions everywhere – have demoralised us! Our masters, instead of policing us, have made us barbarians, because they are such themselves. They reap, and will continue to reap, what they lave sown. For all this, O my poor wife! will have, as far as one can see, terrible consequences! We are as yet only at the beginning!

Despite his reaction, Babeuf threw himself into the revolution wholeheartedly. He changed his name to Camille, the French form of Camillus, after the neoclassical fashion of the time. He changed the name of his son, too, from Robert to Émile, in honor of Rousseau’s book. In 1790, he was imprisoned for his writings, which were judged to incite rebellion against the government. He wasn’t held long, and soon continued his activism. In October 1790, he started his own newspaper. He argued for the actual abolition of fiefdom, where feudal property was declared invalid, instead of the process started in 1789 to phase it out by allowing communities to buy themselves free.

Who wants to hold onto equality if it is in name only? Equality can’t be the name of a meaningless transaction. It has to show itself by immense, and positive results, by effects that are easily seen, and not by imaginary abstractions.

He was arrested against in 1791, but the outcry from the community was powerful enough that he was released within days. He spent the next few years writing, holding minor administrative positions, and going in and out of prison.

His attitude to violence remained. He opposed the Terror, and welcomed the end of its leaders, for whom he coined the word “terroriste”.

In 1794, he started a new paper, called Journal of Press Freedom, and later the Tribune of the People. At the same time, he took that name Gracchus. After the end of the Terror, tolerance for political radicalism was even lower than it had been before, and Babeuf was arrested the same year. In prison, he formed new connections, with people like Augustin Darthé, Sylvain Maréchal, and Filippo Buonarroti.

With them, he began a new part of his life, politically. These new friends and allies were admirers of Robespierre and the rest of the fallen left of the recent past. Babeuf came to see things from their point of view, and attempted to rehabilitate Robespierre and his fellow “terrorists”. After the Jacobin club had been forcibly closed, Babeuf and Co. created its successor, the Panthéon Club. They were quickly driven underground. This became the start of the Conspiracy of Equals, a clandestine movement to start a new revolution. Their goals were two-pronged, on the one hand, which was the side they showed in public, they wanted to return to the constitution of 1793, which had held the beginning of a welfare state, universal suffrage, and other democratic gains which the constitution of 1795 had undone. For those who had been let into the inner circle, they wanted to abolish the current system of government entirely, and to end private property. The second side to the movement was infinitely more threatening to the authorities, but even the “public” goals could get them all sentenced to death.

They gathered support through their writings, songs, and wall newspapers. The continuing setbacks for both democracy and equality swelled the ranks of Babeuf’s supporters, as did the threat from the growing royalist opposition.

In 1796, a police spy who had infiltrated the ranks of the Equals denounced them. Many members of the group were arrested, Babeuf, Buonarroti, Darthé and Maréchal among them. The next year, they were put on trial for conspiring to overthrow the government.

The trial was held in Vendôme, as the Parisian population was seen as too much of a risk. In the end, Babeuf and Darthé were sentenced to death. They were executed the next day.

Babeuf’s ideas to abolish private property and the current state were neither new nor unique, which he himself proved during his trial, but his attempt to put them into practice was unique. The Babouvist movement became the first seeds of what would later develop into socialism, communism and anarchism.

“Babeuf, the communist Babeuf, your teacher and mine,” said Jean Jaurès, “founded in our country not only socialist doctrine, but above all socialist politics”. The manifesto of the Comintern, written by Leon Trotsky, declared that

“We Communists, united in the Third International, consider ourselves the direct continuators of the heroic endeavors and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations from Babeuf – to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.”

Today, Babeuf has disappeared from public consciousness, and having been mentioned a century ago by the new faces of communism and socialism, with a name drop in the Communist Manifesto, might be his biggest claim to fame.

More:

Chanson nouvelle à l’usage des faubourgs (Mourant du faim, mourant du froid), one of the most famous songs sung by the Babouvists, written by Sylvain Maréchal, performed by Rosalie Dubois.

Collection of texts by and about Babeuf and the Babouvists, on marxists.org

Communist historian Doug Enaa Greene lectures on the French communist revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf

I don’t know what the hell this is, but I found it while searching youtube for the video above


A Punt Gun, used for duck hunting but were banned because they depleted stocks of wild fowl; ca. 1920’s.

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Called the “Punt Gun,” this firearm of unusual size could discharge over a pound of shot at a time, and dispatch upwards of fifty waterfowl in a single go.  A punt gun is a type of extremely large shotgun used in the 19th and early 20th centuries for shooting large numbers of waterfowl for commercial harvesting operations and private sport. “Used for duck hunting” isn’t the right expression for aiming this piece of artillery in the general direction of a flock of ducks, firing, and spending the rest of the day picking up the carcasses.

How they were used:


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An old woman who fled the war zone with her cow, sits on a bench in Amiens, France; March 28th, 1918

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