Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 11, 2006
HISTORY: The Uniqueness of the Holocaust

We were having a discussion over in RedHot and I thought I'd re-post my point here.

The Holocaust needs to be understood in two dimensions.
One is the horizontal dimension, comparing it to other events close in time. Many horrible things were done during that era, from deliberate atrocities like Stalin's and Mao's use of famines to defensible but nonetheless horrifying tactics like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horizontal dimension argues for the non-uniqueness of the Holocaust, but does not minimize its horror.

The other is the vertical dimension: the Holocaust can't be separated from the long, lamentable history of hatred and violence against Jews in Europe. Viewed in this sense, the Holocaust is different from contemporaneous events not directed at Jews but different only in degree from prior pogroms.

Like many historical events, the Holocaust is only properly understood if you combine the two dimensions, and see that it was the interaction between deep-rooted historic anti-Semitism and a time and place when the methods of mass propaganda and mass production were applied to mass murder as never before or since.

Of course, I should note that a favored tactic of Holocaust denial/minimization is to emphasize the horizontal dimension while utterly ignoring the vertical dimension. You need to take both together.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:04 PM | History | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Uniqueness? Of course its unique. Just as Stalin's famine is unique and Hiroshima is unique and the Khmer Rouge's systematic murder of a nation is unique. The proper debate is not uniqueness, but significance. What about the Holocaust makes it more significant than these other events? Thats the hard, dangerous question.

Posted by: seamus at February 11, 2006 3:41 PM

Many answers, Seamus, and since I have a dog in this fight I'm gonna try to lay low.

But one worth recognizing is the Institutional/Beaurocratic/Industrialized Dimension. No other genocide before or sense used the "official" apparatus of the state to accomplish it to that degree.

I mean, in 1944 with the Red Army advancing at the rate of miles per day, the regime diverted rail cars from the front to take Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. That's one of the facts that "separates" it from the crowd.

Posted by: Mike at February 12, 2006 12:23 PM

I'm not arguing the alternative. The cold ruthlessness, as well as the verifiable number of victims, argue for appreciation of the Holocaust as the most awful event in an awful century.

But I have been in the company of people who have accused me, upon my mentioning the Khmer Rouge and/or the forced Ukranian famine in the same conversation as the Holocaust, of "minimization" or worse.

What struck me most about these few occassions was that the accusers, ostensibly accusing under the banner of religious solidarity, were engaging in a fair amount of "minimization" themselves. Whether their motives were driven by a desire to maintain a privileged position on the hierarchy of victimhood or to soften the hard edge of an otherwise exhausted ideology I can't say. A bit of both, vertical and horizontal you might say, in all likelihood.

Posted by: seamus at February 12, 2006 12:57 PM
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