Friday, August 1, 2014

Was the Holocaust Unique? Memories of a Blue Book Long Ago...

Long long ago in an undergraduate galaxy far far away I wrote a blue book on the uniqueness of the Holocaust for my Holocaust class with Dr. Todd Endelman sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. While I can't remember everything that I wrote for my examination, I can recall, in outline form, what my argument was.

If memory serves I began my exploration of the question Dr. Endelman posed to the class, was the Holocaust unique, by thinking first about murder itself since the Holocaust was clearly a species of murder. Instead of arguing that murder could be defined as a series of discreet acts--for example, murder, mass murder, genocide--I argued that murder had to be conceptualised as a continuum with the murder of one person on the right end of the continuum and genocide on the continuum's left side.

Redefining murder in this way, I next argued that the Holocaust could not be seen as unique from other instances of murder and from other instances of genocide. The Holocaust may have been genocide that resulted in the deaths of some six million European Jews, 60% of the Jewish population of Europe, the highest percentage of a people or a group genocided by genociders, but it was still a genocide. Genocide too, just like murder, I argued, had to be conceptualised as a continuum within a continuum with the Holocaust on the far left end of the genocide spectrum and other genocides lying at other points along the right part of the continuum line. The Cambodian genocide, for instance, saw 25% of the Cambodian population, defined as "westerners" exterminated.

In the end my point was that murder was murder and that no form of murder was unique, just qualitatively, continuumly, different. All murder, by and large, I argued, was and is, in some way, shape, or form, a violation of human rights.

By the way, the paper I wrote for my Holocaust class wasn't as well received as my blue book essay. In my paper I tried to apply Erving Goffman's notion of total institution to the ghettos created by the Nazis to help turn Jews into the very stereotypes and caricatures they had of Jews. Despite the unconvincing nature of the paper I would still maintain that Jewish ghettos were examples of Goffman's total institutions.

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