Russia isn’t the Holocaust, but it might be Germany circa 1933

AMERICAblog reader BeccaM posted a great comment yesterday in response to my article about Holocaust-phobes (people who fear any invocation of the Holocaust).

What Russia is doing to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans folk isn’t the Holocaust. I don’t have a problem with that particular word being associated solely with the German campaign of genocide and extermination — especially if it is remembered that while the overwhelming majority of those murdered were Jews, the Germans and their allies also killed gays, Romani, and the learning/cognitively disabled.

Moreover, while there’s all this focus on what the Germans did, let’s also not forget what Japan was doing in its own conquered territories. The Rape of Nanking comes to mind, as does the systematic enslavement of people, including young women having to serve as compelled prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.

The point is to recognize the parallels, the social movement towards oppression and violence and recognize when it has happened before, in the same ways. Russia’s new anti-gay laws are startlingly similar to the anti-Jewish laws passed by Germany in the years leading up to the actual Holocaust.

And you’re right, John, the Holocaust wasn’t an anomaly. If nothing like it could ever happen again, what’s the point in ‘remembering it always’?

An actual pink triangle worn by a man accused of being gay by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Nazis required gays to wear the marking, in the same way Jews were required to wear a Star of David.

An actual pink triangle worn by a man accused of being gay by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Nazis required gays to wear the marking, in the same way Jews were required to wear a Star of David.

Besides, there were (and are) plenty of other human-enacted evil acts that could qualify for comparison. Let’s also not forget what Pol Pot did. Or the Spanish Inquisition. Or the Crusades. Or the ‘Trail of Tears’ and systematic dispossession of America’s indigenous peoples. And the United States dreadful history of being founded on slavery.

Think about that: The United States of America’s primary founding document, the one our elected leaders vow to uphold, protect, and defend, includes entire sections laying out the rules for legal slavery and the reduction of an entire group of human beings to 60% — with zero voice in society or in government. Sure, it was superseded by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but for three quarters of a century, our American nation was founded on the principle that it was okay for one human being to own another.

The lists of atrocities we’ve done to each other, in ways small and large, are endless.

If we’re to learn anything from history, including events like the Holocaust, we have to be willing to recognize when the same events are happening, when we see the same warning signs.

Gays in Nazi Germany were considered a threat to German purity. The Nazis arrested 100,000 men, with 10,000 to 15,000 sent to concentration camps to die.

Gays in Nazi Germany were considered a threat to German purity. The Nazis arrested 100,000 men, with 10,000 to 15,000 sent to concentration camps to die.

What’s happening to LGBTs in Russia now is very similar to what began happening to Jews in Germany in the early 30s. Oppressive laws targeting a minority, systematically shutting them out of society, spreading lies and scapegoating them, and the enabling of vigilante thugs to raise the level of violence and fear.

‘Similar’ doesn’t have to equal ‘identical’ — although it’s damned close.

The Germans claimed Jews were conspiring to damage the German economy and harm the nation, corrupt their young, and harm the German-Aryan race with their flawed genes and perverse practices. The Russians are claiming gays are conspiring to damage Russian society, culture and the nation, corrupt their young, and damage the Russian genetic heritage with gay genes and perverse practices.

So the Germans tried to make the Jewish people out to be criminal financiers and conspirators; the Russians are trying to make LGBTs out to be pedophiles. Both are stereotyped slurs intended to dehumanize, so that down the road, when they begin (or began) the executions, those pulling the levers or turning the poison gas wheels actually do not believe they are killing human beings.

Making the comparison is in no way disrespecting the memory of all the Jews, Romani, gays, and mentally disabled the Germans slaughtered. Comparing and recognizing is the only way to ensure that “never again” is respected and protected.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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52 Responses to “Russia isn’t the Holocaust, but it might be Germany circa 1933”

  1. neroden says:

    Reagrading 1933 Germany, I’d worry more about the US, whose recent history has parallels to the invasion of Poland, and which is establishing Gestapo-like databases.

    In Russia, it was completely illegal to be gay under the Soviet Union. It was only legalized in 1993. This is classic backlash against liberalization.

    It’s therefore more parallel to the *KKK* and similar groups which erupted in the American South after the abolition of slavery in the US, with the support of the thug governments which also appeared at the same time and seized power by shooting the democratically elected government officials with guns.

    Awful evil stuff and it’s very important to fight it. But it’s a different mentality from the Gestapo mentality — an older mentality — and fighting it requires different tactics. The environment is one where anti-gay prejudice is still extremely common in the general population because the liberation movement has never gotten properly started.

    It is therefore critically important to point out that the sort of thugs who murder gay people are wimps, pathetic losers, unmasculine, undeserving of respect, afraid of mere words on paper, while the gay people being murdered are brave, stalwart, hard workers, etc.

  2. NoBigGovDuh says:

    And Russia conducted its own gay Holocaust right before Germany

  3. NoBigGovDuh says:

    More Chinese people where killed by Japan than all Holocaust victims.

    The Nazis killed a huge group of people.

  4. rmthunter says:

    There’s a difference between screaming “Hitler” a la Card and making a reasoned and accurate comparison between his tactics and those of someone like Putin. It’s not all that long ago that gulags were a common feature of the Russian “justice” system. Whip up enough resentment against gays and “foreigners” (read “people with brown skins”) and they’ll be back in short order. So far, I don’t see a lot of difference.

    After all, Hitler didn’t start off as a dictator — he was actually elected.

  5. rmthunter says:

    One additional point: While Germany in the 1930s is the most egregious example, this is a common tactic among would-be despots, or those entrenched elites who want to hold on to their power — or even relative nobodies who see an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Look at Mugabe’s rhetoric leading up to the recent elections in Zimbabwe. Look at just about anything that comes out of the “Christian” right in America — including the Catholic bishops. Look at any dictator. It’s all of a pattern: “This group (insert favorite target here) is going to destroy our morality/country/the world. And they do disgusting things, especially to children.”

  6. rmthunter says:

    Anti-Semitic Americans were doing the same thing in the lead-up to WWII — Father Coughlin comes to mind, but he wasn’t alone.

  7. rmthunter says:

    Amazing commentary, Becca — and right on target.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Renew America? See my below quote from Hitler about “rejuvenating the world.” Creepy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Putin is a despot, a despot blaming minorities for a recession. This is what Hitler did in his early stages. He started out as an elected leader, then slowly brainwashed people to give up their own freedom. Who’s to say that Putin doesn’t have the same power? Russia is a large military power, there’s no free assembly there, the gov’t controls information. It’s a large country with the majority spread out in isolated regions.

    Yes, maybe Putin isn’t the wretched, bloodthirsty sociopath Hitler was. I don’t think there could be another Hitler in the developed world, including Putin. But he’s capable of watching people get abused, jailed, and denied rights for no reason. He’s just a thug trying to secure the vote. He’s really panicking now, because people don’t like him. How many will suffer so that he can stay in power?

    Embezzlement is a huge problem in Russia. Putin and his lackeys are stealing large amounts of government money. He has people believing “everything’s fine,” and they are so controlled they will agree. Even if it means “look at those nasty gay people and ignore me.” They are a knowledge-deprived country stuck in isolation. Stuck in the ’30s. Maybe it won’t be the Holocaust, but it is the US and Europe in the early 20th century. Angry at minorities and not their leaders.

  10. grayzip says:

    My intent is as follows:

    I do not think it is wise to evoke Nazis and the Holocaust when advancing a position generally, and specifically I think it is disastrous to lean on concerning Sochi, where we otherwise have a strong position. My reason for this is that many kooky and dumb people online have over the years effectively rendered the whole “Nazi-Holocaust allusion” trope ridiculous. Maybe it would have been useful had they not but you can’t unring that bell, and one ignores its having rung at the peril of being taken seriously.

    So we disagree. Where is the problem? Is it that I state my position in the strongest terms possible? Or is it just that I am not a dittohead?

  11. BeccaM says:

    ((hugs)) Thanks dear.

  12. BeccaM says:

    Nice try, but no. Your intent was clear enough, as it’s been in your other comments as well.

  13. grayzip says:

    I’m not looking to make friends but to participate in a debate; I’m also not calling anyone here kooky or dumb as a rereading of my post might help you see.

  14. karmanot says:

    Well done Becca, well done Yea!

  15. karmanot says:

    Whatever….next

  16. BeccaM says:

    OMG… I just read through as much of that linked story as I could tolerate. It’s just a never-ending litany of anti-gay bigotry and hate.

    You know what’s even sadder: If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see the article was writtenby Paul Kokoski — a Canadian. I did some quick Googling and it turns out he spends much of his time writing to the media and news outlets around the world, spreading a constant message of hate, intolerance, and lies. He’s also frequently featured on the wingnut website, RenewAmerica, where when he’s not gushing about how much he loves Jeebus and the Church, he’s foaming at the mouth at how much he wants gays not to exist.

  17. BeccaM says:

    Calling someone ‘kooky,’ ‘dumb’ and ‘probably-moron’ is far from the most effective way to persuade someone to consider an alternative point of view or to re-examine their own positions.

    Ad hominem attacks merely alienate and irritate. And not just the person at whom you are directing them.

    As a woman in a same-sex marriage, I feel it is very much in my best interest to object to what Russia is doing to its gay citizens, in the strongest terms possible, because already there are anti-gay bigots here in America who are saying we should do here exactly what they’re doing over there. Just as there were American anti-Semites during the 1930s who applauded what Germany was doing to its Jews and other “undesirables” (including gays), and said we should do here exactly what Germany was doing then.

    There’s also this thing called altruism. Caring about the health, well-being, and welfare of others, regardless how it affects you personally.

    Seriously, you’re not making friends here.

  18. BeccaM says:

    Thank you, Dave, you’re most kind.

  19. JayRandal says:

    Retro-communist Russians are scapegoating Gays same as German Nazis did. Unfortunately far-right
    homophobic bigots in US would like to do the same thing. American Gays have to be prepared for the
    possibility of increased hostility against them. Bad economic times causes bigotry to surface in violent
    confrontations. Rough times ahead for Gays here in US and worldwide.

  20. grayzip says:

    Elsewhere on the internets today racist homophobe Orson Scott Card is being lambasted for comparing Obama to Hitler and suggesting our president is somehow going to enlist “young out-of-work urban men” as an army of “brownshirts” and on and on.

    Wingnuts love making things into Nazi parallels. Maybe because they often own Nazi memorabilia, who knows? I still get a smile thinking about Orly Taitz calling things not breaking her birther way a “psychological Kristallnacht.”

    And yes it’s true there are the kooky Nazi allusions and, in theory though they are thin on the ground, the reasonable ones. So on a purely abstract level the nonstop avalanche of kooky ones should not matter to someone who imagines themselves reasonable and *their* Nazi/Hitler/Holocaust comparison sound and apt.

    But look at the company you are thereby keeping, because your audience sure will. That to me is the main reason to not make these arguments. They perhaps aren’t offensive, other than often being offensively dumb. But they tar you as being a probably-moron. Why do that to yourself or your cause unless there is absolutely no other way to make your point? Usually there is. It is almost always in your own best interest to find one.

  21. dave3137 says:

    This was/is a truly wonderful and insightful post. Thank you, BeccaM.

  22. ex_brit says:

    A very insightful and helpful explanation BeccaM. Another trap we must be wary of is to ensure we use the term “propaganda” correctly, and not in a way that attaches validity to repressive laws. This word has been bastardized by the Russian propagandizers and it is important that our side reclaims it and uses it accurately to describe untruths generated and promulgated for political gain. I surmise that the American rightwing (“Family”) organizations that were blackballed by the SPLC as spreaders of “anti-gay propaganda” are at the forefrontof this tactic just as they were in several African countries, and that it is no coincidence that anti-gay forces in Russia have taken to our right’s mirroring vernacular. For example, while the Russian laws use the word propaganda to mean the expression of homosexuality, the generation and spreading of anti-gay filth (just like the dehumanization of Jews in 1930s Germany) continues unabated in officlal organs such as Pravda, thanks to Western organizations and individuals labeled as hate groups and spreaders of anti-gay propaganda. For example, this piece of pure anti-gay propaganda in today’s Pravda: http://english.pravda.ru/history/15-08-2013/125400-homosexuality_sochi_games-0/

  23. BeccaM says:

    The other trouble is the people who are trying to shout us down by arguing, “It’s not the Holocaust, gays in Russia aren’t being marched off to gas chambers, so stop saying that’ll ever happen. It’s not the same and never will be the same.”

    The key word left out of that is “Yet.”

    Gays in Russia are being kidnapped, assaulted, and sometimes even murdered or driven to suicide. That’s a fact. And it wasn’t happening as recently as five or ten years ago. Demonstrations for gay rights are being brutally repressed, both by private citizen mobs and by the Russian police. Russian law now makes it illegal to say:

    Как не ошибиться, чтобы быть гомосексуалистом человека. Они не представляет опасности для детей.

    Translation: It is not wrong to be a gay person. They are not a danger to children. (Used Google for that, so apologies if it’s not accurate Russian.)

    Russian legislators appear to be proposing public whipping for gay people, and as has been reported by The Guardian, there’s also a proposal to remove all children from gay parents.

    I mean, c’mon — does it have to be literal gas chambers before people will recognize this is well on its way to going way beyond simple repression of a minority group?

  24. Number Six says:

    Damned straight! (Uh, this isn’t going to take away my nearest Starbucks, is it?)
    /snark

  25. Number Six says:

    Or, in Bush’s case, a mirror.

  26. BeccaM says:

    Indeed. And for those who don’t know German (I know enough to get by, and can read it far better than I can speak the language):

    True, it is your turn to be on a par with Nazi Germany. This time is the exclusion and persecution of dissenters from the Orthodox churches and the nationalists. Putin behaves like the leader Adolf Hitler.

  27. BeccaM says:

    Exactly. And as you pointed out above, the point isn’t the catastrophe itself, but what led up to it and how, at many points, it’s possible it could have been averted.

  28. BeccaM says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, John, and the chance to contribute.

  29. Dave of the Jungle says:

    He’s an old school Stalinist and one of the most dangerous men in the world.

  30. Bill_Perdue says:

    The key words are ‘might be’.

  31. nicho says:

    A. Bush is a douche. B. Putin rose high in the ranks of the KGB. You don’t do that if your eyes betray anything that’s going on behind them. I imagine looking into Putin’s eyes is like looking into a deep hole.

  32. nicho says:

    Let’s not load on too much homework at once.

  33. Anonymous says:

    They share the same heart – pompous and corrupt

  34. Dave of the Jungle says:

    It turns out that George W Bush actually couldn’t see into Vladimir Putin’s heart.

  35. Dave of the Jungle says:

    Yep.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Russia already has “youth camps” and rabid nationalists. It wouldn’t be hard.

  37. Dave of the Jungle says:

    One could go back to the 1870s, at least.

  38. UncleBucky says:

    Warheit!

  39. nicho says:

    I would suggest that anyone who’s interested read not so much about the war, but what happened between 1923 and 1939 in Germany. That’s not what a lot of people focus on, but it lays the groundwork for what came next.

  40. Dave of the Jungle says:

    It is also true that many Germans were sympathetic to components of Nazi ideology before Hitler came along and compiled them into a political program. They liked the strong man form of governance and believed in Pan-Germanism long before World War 1. They had reacted against the French Enlightenment and Democracy and many did not believe that Germany lost the war on the battlefield. Hitler tapped into and exploited those feelings and had someone to blame for Germany’s post war plight in his back pocket.

  41. nicho says:

    This is slightly OT, but it shows what happens when you have a gangster government, as Russia does:

    With great regret, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced the closure of its programs in Somalia, where the organization had been working since 1991, due to rampant instability, ongoing attacks and threats against staff, and a general environment in which armed groups and civilian leaders have supported, tolerated, or condoned the killing, assault, and abduction of humanitarian aid workers.

    http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=6985&cat=press-release?source=ADN130801E01&utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Enewsletter&utm_campaign=201308

  42. Anonymous says:

    Anyone that’s really into this subject might want to read about cult mentality. A lot of these people were brainwashed – they were lied to until it was too late. What started out as “free membership” became forced, all because the majority was ignorant enough to support the laws. They were never explicitly TOLD that they’d eventually see Jews get killed, but they were in denial and believed the lies. Note that the Holocaust happened during a Depression which parallels today’s desperation.

  43. nicho says:

    For many people, especially people short on historical knowledge, the Nazi era was about the Holocaust and nothing else. While the Holocaust was horrendous, it’s important — as Becca and John point out — what led up to it. It wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. It was a progression. At first, a lot of people were attracted to certain elements of Hitler’s proposals. But, as time went on, and the horror became clearer, people who were opposed couldn’t speak out. They were spied upon — by their government, their employers, their neighbors, and eventually, their own family members.

    Early on, failing to give the Nazi salute to someone in the street could get you a beating from thugs — or a visit from the SS. As time went on, failing to give the salute with enough perceived enthusiasm could do the same.

    Had people recognized the signs early enough, the whole thing might have been stopped in its tracks. However, it soon reached a point of no return. This is why it’s vitally important to nip these things in the bud.

  44. PeteWa says:

    glad to see this comment on the front page!

  45. Indigo says:

    Thank you.

  46. Anonymous says:

    “They refer to me as an uneducated barbarian. Yes, we are barbarians.
    We want to be barbarians, it is an honored title to us. We shall
    rejuvenate the world. This world is near its end.” -Hitler

  47. Freday63 says:

    “The point is to recognize the parallels” and to remember the consequences too. I have this little bear with his pink triangle tattooed over my heart to remind me every day.

  48. Dave of the Jungle says:

    Nationalismus kann außer Kontrolle geraten sehr schnell.

  49. uhagen says:

    Stimmt, es ist sehr dran, mit Nazi-Deutschland auf einer Stufe zu stehen. Dieses Mal geht die Ausgrenzung und Verfolgung Andersdenkender von der Orthodoxen Kirchen und den Nationalisten aus. Putin gebärdet sich wie der Führer Adolf Hitler.

  50. Dave of the Jungle says:

    Intolerance must be stopped SOMEWHERE.

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