Monday, April 13, 2009

Nuremberg Sounds Familiar

I went down to Chicago this weekend and, beginning to doze on the train, I recalled reading: "It was frightening to see how people felt justified to discriminate, how that attitude of superiority was drilled into ten-year-old children ... . More than once she'd overheard comments on streetcars or in restaurants about Jews smelling bad." And, suddenly, I couldn't remember if I had read that in Hegi's Stones from the River, or if it had been in the article about Kurt Epstein, the Czech Olympian, that Tom referred to when he was considering the contrast between pictures of health and beauty and images of concentration camps.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas, I worked in the stacks at the university library. The section I worked in contained the transcripts of the Nuremberg war trials, complete with supporting documents. Over the course of the year, I read many of the transcripts and background documents. Out of all that horror, the medical experiments are what I remember best, especially the experiments that used Jewish prisoners to determine the probable effects on pilots of bailing out at high altitudes. What the German "scientists" were interested in were the effects of extreme cold and a sudden loss of atmospheric pressure on the human body. And, in my mind's eye at least, they weren't even testing protective gear, they were just watching people freeze to death or die slowly from lack of oxygen.

That was a long time ago. This morning, I'm trying to imagine Tom's canvassing attorney, sitting in my office, telling me: "You must have been one of those 19-year-olds who read the transcripts of the Nuremberg war trials. Nuremberg sounds familiar. I promise to look that up."

21 comments:

Hilarym99 said...

First you want me to learn McCarthy, now you want me to learn about some old trial in across an ocean? Can't please anybody. ;)

Seriously. Aside from the big pieces that I find it hard to excuse not knowing, there are so many nooks and crannies of history and literature and news and film and art and music that I would have never known about if you all hadn't mentioned them in passing, driving me to The Google to find out what the hell you were talking about.

Just went back to read about the trivium and quadrivium this morning.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Hilary, do NOT get me started about all the stuff I've had to look up: Benares, Cockshutt, Metonymy, only to mention a few choice topics.

I have some more to add to this, but will have to do it later.
Later all.

Decidere said...

Ever since my research on self-trepanation, I've had trouble focusing.

I did have a period where Latin American football stadiums-cum-torture chambers became my all-encompassing obsession. Fortunately that little fetish passed. Both for me and the region.

Decidere said...

Better with video, and here.

Billy Glad said...

The ironic thing is that when the scientists get hold of you, the better shape you're in, the longer you suffer. I guess that's irony. I've never quite figured irony out. Guess I should wiki it. Or maybe I should google it, then wiki it if wiki seems to have the most interesting blurb. I'm not sure what to do. I don't want to start out on the wrong path and end up like Hemingway's leopard.

Billy Glad said...

I thought I'd check google sources to see how well I remembered facts from 50 years ago. I guess you'd say I was deeply impressed by those transcripts. Maybe some things are better left ungoogled. An "attitude of superiority" can't account for something like the holocaust.

Decidere said...

One of my summer reading projects as a tyke was reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". While other kids were out swimming in the pond, I was pondering over Russians heroically trying to stay alive floating in ice water just to satisfy some German's sick concept of "science". Funny, but for all their superiority claims, I bet the Slavs would outlast Teutons on any frosty day. Would they have tested Jamaicans to compare? Didn't we already have this data from the Titanic?

Another sad chapter to this is I think we left the Japanese medical experiments largely unopened. Things were going so swimmingly with MacArthur and in general the Japanese were just such a foreign concept to us (no shared royalty to our Queen Mum, say), that we just hung a few higher ups and let it go. Or maybe I just missed the book.

Tom Manoff said...

I seem to be very close to Des on reading and sensibility. I also read "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" though I may have been older. Autobiography of Speer too. I'm named after my mother's first husband who was killed at Normandy. I feel in some way that the Great War was "mine" like many of my generation. I knew people who had survived the camps, and in New York in the 50's-70's it was very common to see Jews with numbers on their arms. A movie that captures my sense of adventure about the way is Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun." Living in Germany I felt some connection to people who lived through the war, especially digging in my garden and finding blown up bits of their lives. A also interviewed some really ugly Nazis, one SS fellow.
Visits to the camps, standing in front of the ovens is a more real experience than the film footage, the same clips seen too many times.

I've wondered a bit like Des on the lack of condemnation after the War of the Japanese by comparison and have had Germans complain to be about it. Thoughts not fully worked out there, though some if the war criminals went uncharged to protect the US take over of the chemical war experiments. Thinking on that. I wish that Iris Chang had finished her work on Japanese crimes after her first book "The Rape of Nanking" which really woke me up about Japan's role and has made me think more about their cultural traits and history that led them down this path.

Des. Thinking later on, what are your thoughts about McArthur's wish to attack Red China during the Korean War? Surely some of his support of Japan's reconstruction after World War II was to create a base for eventual conflict with China and Russia.

Tom Manoff said...

I recommend highly Epstein's classic "Children of the Holocaust."
http://www.amazon.com/Children-Holocaust-Conversations-Daughters-Survivors/dp/0140112847


Also "Where She Came From:"

http://www.amazon.com/Where-She-Came-Daughters-Mothers/dp/0841914443/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1239707219&sr=1-6

I knew the Epstein family. But the books are really fine, and I don't recommend them because of the personal contact.

Billy Glad said...

Maybe if I'd been assigned to the T section I'd have read the Tokyo war crime trials and my life would have turned out differently.

I think the opening statement of the prosecution at the doctor trials is a good summation of the reasons for the Nuremberg trials. After MacArthur's entry into Japan, the "rehabilitation" of Japan was never in doubt. I think the foreigness of their culture spared them, too. They are probably lucky not to have been occupied by asiatics.

Tom Manoff said...

Billy, I agree with the "foreigness" idea. An older German woman who came to America I knew thought this also. She always complained that the Japanese had it easy in America compared with Germans concerning the War. The issue of Japanese Internment in the West is something else perhaps.

Decidere said...

The Germans may have had it tough after the war, but they got real reversal, they got to reclaim their souls. The Japanese got nothingness, a loss of the Emperor and a gain of corporate culture with little else. You tell me which you'd rather have 60 years down the line.

Patton & MacArthur, the right's heroes. I'm torn. MacArthur did do a good job on Japan. Would he have understood China? The difference between New York and some hollow in West Virginia. If we look at our own behavior in Latin America in the 1950-1990 era, I'm not sure us getting in touch with our inner A-Bomb would have been a good thing, even if sparing China some of its debacles might have been nice. (Hell, Chiang Kai-Shek was certainly no gift to compassion and wisdom, nor was our man in China, Stilwell).

Billy Glad said...

The fact that the Japanese were, by the end of the war, viewed as sub-human made dropping the second bomb a "no-brainer," and, had we had a couple more on hand, we probably would have dropped them, too. Their foreignness, their culture, their history, their attack on us, their wartime atrocities made it easy for us to think of them as sub-human, insects maybe. I'm not clear how the Jews became sub-humans to Europeans. In some way, they got caught up in the proposition that some people don't have as much right to live as other people do. So, when the food starts running out, they have to go. The main reason I think its a mistake to mess around with Iran is the attitude of it's leadership toward Israel's right to exist and their denial of the holocaust, which, if you strip away the semantics on all sides, seems to come down to the proposition that Jews don't have the same right to life that Iranians do. So, clearly, the Jews did something that, in the eyes of the Iranian government, forfeited their right to live, in the same way a murderer, for example, forfeits his right to have his life thought of as just as valuable as everyone else's life. Maybe the Iranians are thinking of the Arabs the Jews have killed. If they are, they have more motive to exterminate Jews than any European nation ever did. Until I believe they're beyond that, I can't trust them. I believe the only reason we didn't use atomic bombs on China was that the Russians had a small leg up on us on the hydrogen bomb. Had we got there first with a good lead, we would have bombed China, and Russia, too, if they got in our way. I believe the Obama Presidency is the last chance for Islam to avoid a long, destructive conflict with the West. Clearly, America has had second thoughts about the neo-con agenda or Obama would not have been elected. If Iran and other Islamic states fail to take advantage of the next eight years, they may well end up like Japan.

Decidere said...

Judging from the racist emails I receive each day, we as a country think of Muslims as subhuman, lumping of course Iranians and Arabs together. Just got 1 in two days ago, because an Airbus scheduled for delivery to UAE got totalled in tests, it gives our wingnuts excuse to lob racist insults. And then of course there's our general attitude towards Palestinians - they don't have a right to exist, or it's the Saudi's problem, just like Scotland is responsible for my welfare and behavior (not).

GirlfromtheBronx said...

I still can't get past the self-trepanation video juxtaposed with the Nuremberg trial's opening statements. I once kvetched about having to wake up to Madonna's private parts, but this thread makes that experience seem like Sesame Street.

I started The Rise and Fall in HS, but didn't finish it. There was an old NY library copy that somehow landed in our house and was never returned. I also started Being and Nothingness around the same time. Not finishing books would later become a theme in my life. The list of unfinished books is too much to bear this morning. But I'm enjoying thinking of what kinds of kids we all were. Quite a unique bunch. Can't deny that.

Over the weekend I went to school to make sure one of the rooms I teach in had a phonograph for playing some LPs, so I went to the front desk and asked the young woman at the desk if she knew if the room was equipped with a phonograph. She looked at me quite confused and said " A photograph? " Just thought I'd share that.

On the other thread, Antepilani spoke of having the right tools to learn. I'm big on tools too. And that's what scares me about many of the students I meet. They don't seem to know how to learn. I'm told some people never learn. It may be something that, like language skills, needs to happen early on. Perhaps another thread.

Billy Glad said...

I think we've paused at a juncture along the road to demonizing the Muslims, or the Shia and other extremists anyway. There are certainly many wingnuts out there. (You keep interesting company on the web, young Decidere. You could have a brilliant career on the other side.) Obama and the Democrats are taking a real political risk. As I've often argued, they could end up being the administration that "lost the Middle East." If Obama fails, I think we'll wash our hands of the Middle Easterners, including the Jews, whom I believe we are already beginning to view more as Middle Easterners than Europeans. Another note I sound too often, I guess.

Decidere said...

Well the Israelis are fighting a war amongst themselves, more Russophiles vs. Middle East, though I guess the natives and Germans/East Europeans are more aligned than the old Soviets.

quinn the eskimo said...

We, the people & nation of Scotland, would like it placed (firmly) on the public record, that we accept no responsibility for the welfare, behaviour, existence or coming into existence of the so-called "Decidere" creature.

We believe it is best dealt with on an international basis, as a collective effort on behalf of the well-being, peace and mental stability of the family of nations.

Good luck to our forces, and may God bless us all.

Tom Manoff said...

With events having moved beyond our ability to influence outcomes, what choice is there other than commentary among ourselves --the old fashioned idea of just hanging out with a bunch of really bright somewhat quirky but artistic souls?

Billy Glad said...

I've always wanted to have my own table at a cafe or restaurant. Somewhere in the back, near the kitchen.

Decidere said...

Scotland's still dealing with the disrepute of Quinn off in Nova Scotia or the back-tundra of the plains, and yet he's going to lay an ex-communication on my tartan? Fie on th' likes o' that, laddie, you just keep those ice weasels well-fed, and I'll take care o' me own self.