March 26, 2018 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. They lost 5-3. The Canadiens are having a miserable year, this loss, their 48th of the year (including regulation and overtime losses), officially eliminated them from playoff contention. The mood in the city is dour and angry. Fans are upset at management for mismanaging the Franchise, Carey Price. He had some mystery ailment he said was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome bothering him earlier in the year. It wasn’t team doctors who noticed it; it was his wife, Angela. Big defenceman Shea Weber played through a nasty foot injury before being shut down for the season and having surgery.
Then there’s the mistakes General Manager Marc Bergevin made in the off-season. He traded away promising defenceman Mikhail Sergachev for moody, sulky, but very talented forward Jonathan Drouin. And then the team put Drouin at centre, a position he hadn’t played for years. Why? Because the Habs haven’t had a #1 centre since the peak of Saku Koivu’s career in the late 90s/early 00s. Drouin, not surprisingly, has been a bust. Bergevin also let iconic defenceman Andrei Markov walk after he insulted Markov in contract negotiations. Bergevin then had the gall to tell us that the defence was better this year than last. I could go on and on.
Something stinks in the City of Montreal and it is the hockey team. It is a laughing stock.
And, not surprisingly, the Twitter wars have been epic. During last Thursday’s game, a prominent Montreal sportswriter made an idiot of himself. This is also not an uncommon occurrence when it comes to the Habs. He was in a discussion with a blogger, who noted that we Habs fans forget that the team has had 3-100 point seasons in the past 5. This sportswriter noted in response that “Germany had three really strong military years in WWII.”
And then all hell broke loose, as it should. When his interlocutor noted this stupidity, he dug in deeper, noting that “They [meaning Nazi Germany] were winning until they weren’t. It’s not that deep.” Another Twitter user called him out, and our intrepid journalist got his shovel out again: “Notice I said military. Only an idiot would stretch that into anything more.”
Well, maybe I am an idiot. As the second interlocutor noted, this is Nazi Germany we’re talking about. Not some random war. This is a régime that murdered 6 million Jews in cold blood, to say nothing of Roma, LGBT, and disabled victims. The Holocaust is, to paraphrase Elie Weisel, an event that cannot be understood, but must be remembered. There have been other genocides, particularly in the last half of the 20th century (after we, the West, declared “Never Again!”). But, the Holocaust remains beyond the pale in our collective consciousness.
And when this was pointed out to our journalist, that he essentially compared the management of the Montreal Canadiens to the Nazis, he got out his shovel and kept on digging: “No, not every soldier was a Nazi, not every German believed the Nazi ideology. But that’s beside the point, because we all know what I was saying, and it had nothing to do with Nazis.”
To put it bluntly, this is epic stupidity. According to the United States Holocaust Museum,
The German military participated in many aspects of the Holocaust: in supporting Hitler, in the use of forced labor, and in the mass murder of Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
The military’s complicity extended not only to the generals and upper leadership but also to the rank and file. In addition, the war and genocidal policy were inextricably linked. The German army (or Heer) was the most complicit as a result of being on the ground in Germany’s eastern campaigns, but all branches participated.
And sure, maybe the journalist didn’t mean to bring up the Nazis. But words have meanings, and someone who works with words on a daily basis should know better. The Wehrmacht was by-and-large Nazified. Period. And his comparison of the Habs 3-100 point seasons with the Wehrmacht includes the Nazis, whether he meant it or not. And he should know better. I did hit the unfollow button, by the way.
August 11, 2017 § Leave a comment
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre at Zmievskaya Balka, a ravine in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. The literal meaning of Zmievskaya Balka is ‘ravine of snakes.’ It was here on 11-12 August 1942 that the Jewish men of Rostov were marched out to the ravine, just outside the city, and shot. The women, children, and the aged of the Jewish population were gassed, and their bodies dumped at Zmievskaya Balka. Communists and some Red Army soldiers met the same fate, along with their family. All told, 27,000 people were massacred. At least 20,000 of them were Jewish.
This massacre is one of the forgotten ones of World War II and the Nazis. My guess is no one reading this post will have ever heard of it. Soviet and Russian authorities have done their best to make sure the massacre, or at least the Jewish fact of it, is forgotten due to the on-going anti-Semitism of the state.
In 2004, activists managed to get a memorial plaque erected that identified one of the massacre sites and noted the Jewishness of the victims. In 2011, approaching the 70th anniversary of the massacre, this plaque was removed. It was replaced with a more banal commemoration of the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-On-Don and Soviet Prisoners of War.” This erases the primary act of the Nazis in Rostov 75 years ago: the eradication of the city’s Jewish population. And, it obscures the Nazis murderous anti-Semitism.
This morning, organizers held a march to the sites of the massacre in Rostov, to remember this brutal massacre. We owe it to them to hold the memory of these victims in our
December 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m reading Terry Eagleton’s brilliant pamphlet, On Evil. (This came out in 2010, the ever-prolific Eagleton has churned out 4 books since then). It is, as you’d expect, a meditation on evil, what evil is, what it looks like, how it functions. And as you’d expect from a literary theorist, Eagleton looks at various examples from literature and the real world. This includes 20th century fascism.
I’ve always been disappointed with explanations of the Holocaust (or any other genocide) that reduces the motivation of the génocidaires down to “evil,” as in Hitler (or Pol Pot, the Young Turks, the Serb military leadership, etc.) were simply evil and that’s all there is to it. This is a cop out explanation. It’s reductionist and absurd. Genocides, and other horrible acts, are perpetrated by human beings. Indeed, this was Hannah Arendt’s point about Adolf Eichmann in her monumental Eichmann in Jerusalem: that Eichmann wasn’t a raving anti-Semite, evil excuse for a man. Rather, he was “just doing his job.” She went on to argue against this idea that evil is responsible for the horrid acts humanity has visited upon itself, that, rather, these horrid acts arise out of rationality.
And certainly, the Holocaust is one of those events. Eagleton notes that the Holocaust was exceptional, though not due to the body count. As he notes, both Stalin and Mao killed more people than did Hitler. Rather,
[t]he Holocaust was unusual because the rationality of modern political states is in general an instrumental one, geared to the achievement of specific ends. It is astonishing, then, to find a kind of monstrous acte gratuite, a genocide for the sake of genocide, an orgy of extermination apparently for the hell of it, in the midst of the modern era. Such evil is almost always confined to the private sphere.
Eagleton is both right and wrong here. What makes the Holocaust perhaps more horrifying than other genocides is the sheer rational organisation of it. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 was arguably more vile and disgusting, as 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hacked to death in a 100-day spree. But Rwanda was largely wanton violence and indiscriminate killing. In many ways, it was the more evil event. But the Holocaust was organised by the state, it was rational, and it was far-reaching. In short, it was the Enlightenment taken to a horrifying extreme. By the state; the modern state, of course, is based upon these same Enlightenment ideals.
But the Holocaust was not an acte gratuite, as Eagleton argues, it wasn’t a genocide for the hell of it.
But he is right that such organised, rational terror is usually smaller scale, and in the private sphere, simply because it is easier for a serial killer to organise himself than it is to organise an entire state machine dedicated to the eradication of a group of people from the face of the earth.
February 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
My sister-in-law’s husband is spear-heading this campaign. Please circulate this widely. The actions of the Rostov-On-Don city council are disgusting and an attempt to erase history and are thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Let us ensure they cannot get away with this:
Please disseminate the following press release by the committee organizing the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar.” Scheduled events will commemorate a series of mass executions by Nazis just outside the city of Rostov, Russia between 1942 and 1943. While grassroots commemorative initiatives have taken place since the early 1990s by Rostov’s small Jewish community, 2012 marks the first major effort to commemorate the Holocaust in Rostov publicly.
The planning process takes place amidst conflict over the recent decision by Rostov government officials to take down a memorial plaque that was erected in 2004, identifying most of the 27,000 Zmievskaya Balka victims as Jewish. The replacement plaque does not mention Jews, but rather the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war.” Having struggled for decades to battle exclusionary nationalism and anti-Semitism in the construction of public memory of the events at Zmievskaya Balka, Rostov’s Jewish community and the diaspora it has yielded have been spurred to action and are seeking support as well as information, donations of artifacts and broad participation in the commemorative activities.
70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar”
Rostov on Don, Russia, August 12-14, 2012
Organizing Committee Announcement
August 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of mass executions of Jews by the Nazis in Rostov on Don, Russia, in the Zmievskaya “balka” – a huge ravine on the edge of this southern Russian city of over one million residents. Here more than 20,000 people were killed. The greatest number of victims, including poisoned children, died on August 11 and 12, 1942. For Russia, this place holds the symbolic importance of Ukraine’s Babi Yar. There is no place in Russia where a greater number of Holocaust victims lost their lives. Others were also killed here: Soviet citizens of other nationalities, prisoners of war, resisters, psychiatric hospital patients, and others.
In 1975, a memorial was erected at the Rostov “Zmievskaya Balka” and a small museum was built there.
This anniversary of the Rostov tragedy, dedicated to the memory of the victims, deserves attention on an international level, as this place has relevance for many famous people connected with the history of the Holocaust. Among those executed here was world-renowned psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein (about whom several feature films have been made). Both before and after the war Alexander Pechersky lived in Rostov. Pechersky was the organizer of the only successful mass escape from a Nazi death camp — the escape from Sobibor. A British film about his exploits was well received.
Two other prominent Jewish leaders are connected to Rostov: Fedor Mikhalchenko, rescued in Buchenwald as a child and later to become Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Meir Lau, present day chairman of the Board of the museum “Yad Vashem.” Meir Lau, who is planning to attend the rememberance events, will be one of the honored guests. Government delegations, including the U.S. and Israel, are being invited.
Please note that August 11, 2012 falls on a Saturday (the Sabbath), which means that no memorial services will be held on this day.
August 12-14, 2012
Planned memorial /educational activities in Rostov-on-Don include the following:
– A memorial evening in one of the city’s largest halls on August 12th ;
– A ceremony at the Zmievskaya Balka on the morning of 13th August;
– Opening of a new exhibit at the Museum of the “Zmievskaya Balka” (August 13);
– International conference in memory of Sabina Spielrein on the “Fate of Scientists during the Holocaust” (August 12th -13th );
– A seminar for teachers of Russia, CIS and the Rostov Region, “Lessons of the Holocaust – the path to tolerance” (12th -14th August);
– A Holocaust Film Festival to feature both documentary and feature films;
We are seeking support from colleagues and interested parties across the globe.
How You Can Help:
– Join the organizing committee.
– Donate money to help us hire organizers and researchers.
– If you have any information about the victims of Zmievskaya Balka or their relatives or descendants, please contact us.
– Do you read Russian? When searching for the names of the dead, we found the miraculously-preserved records of the Rostov synagogue circa 1850-1921. Please help us translate these records, as well as other research articles on the events at Rostov, from Russian into English so that they may be more widely disseminated.
– Contribute to memorial books or consider donating to the exhibit.
– Spread the word: disseminate this press release widely.
Please contact us for more information.