The Psychopaths of the Holocaust: Lovefraud.com Review of Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories by Claudia Moscovici

Book Review: The psychopaths of the Holocaust

Holocaust Memories: A survey of Holocaust memoirs, histories, novels, and films, by Claudia Moscovici

Review by Donna Andersen on Lovefraud.com

Most of us have some knowledge of the Holocaust. We’ve heard about the concentration camps and gas chambers. We know one of Adolf Hitler’s objectives during World War II was the “Final Solution” — an attempt to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe. We know that six million Jews were murdered, plus millions more Communists, prisoners of war, gypsies, intellectuals, handicapped people and others.

We may have seen movies like Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. Maybe we read The Diary of Anne Frank. But it’s doubtful that we understand the true brutality of the killings, and the depravity of the people who committed them.

Claudia Moscovici’s book, Holocaust Memories, captures the scope of the horror.

The book is a collection of 70 essays by the author, each one a summary or review of a classic book or film about the Holocaust. Some are well known, such as Night by Elie Weisel, and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil, by Hannah Arendt. Because each of Moscovici’s essays is short — usually only two pages — the painful history comes in small doses.

Many of the works were new to me, depicting particular aspects of the Holocaust that I didn’t know. The author Leni Yahil described what happened in Hungary: In less than two months, from May 15 to July 9, 1944, 440,000 Jews, more than half of the country’s Jewish population, were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Most of them died in the gas chambers.

How can people do this?

Moscovici knows about psychopaths — she is author of the Psychopathy Awareness blog. In some essays, she analyzes the perpetrators’ disorder. For example, she talks about Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi lieutenant colonel who was one of the main organizers of the mass deportation of Jews. Eichmann escaped after the war and fled to Argentina. He was eventually captured and tried for his crimes in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt, who covered the trial, was surprised that Eichmann seemed so normal and felt no moral responsibility for his crimes. As Moscovici points out, the reason for this is simple — the man was a psychopath. Failure to take responsibility for anything is one of the key characteristics of a psychopath.

Holocaust Memories is an exceptional work of scholarship about one of the darkest chapters of human history. For all those people who now say the Holocaust never happened — well, there are plenty of eyewitnesses who know that it did, because they lived it.

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Advertisements

Elie Wiesel’s Night: Shedding Light upon the Darkness

 

Elie Wiesel’s Night: Shedding Light upon the Darkness

 by Claudia Moscovici

Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night (New York, Hill and Wang, 2006, translated by Marion Wiesel), is one of the best-known and most highly acclaimed works about the Holocaust. The New York Times called the 2006 edition “a slim volume of terrifying power”. Yet its power wasn’t immediately appreciated. In fact, the book may have never been written had Wiesel not approached his friend, the novelist Francois Mauriac, for an introduction to the French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes France, whom he wanted to interview. When Mauriac, a devout Catholic, mentioned that Mendes stated that France was suffering like Jesus, Elie Wiesel responded that ten years earlier he had seen hundreds of Jewish children suffer more than Jesus did on the cross yet nobody spoke about it. Mauriac appeared moved and suggested that Wiesel himself write about this difficult subject.

The young man followed his advice. He began writing in Yiddish an 862-page manuscript about his experiences of the Holocaust. The Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina published an abbreviated version of his book, under the title And the World Remained Silent. Wiesel later translated the text into French. He called it, more simply and symbolically, Night (La Nuit) and sent it to Mauriac, who helped Wiesel find a publisher (the small and prestigious publishing house Les Editions de Minuit) and wrote its Preface. The English version, published in 1960 by Arthur Wang of Hill and Wang, received strong critical acclaim despite initially modest sales. Over the years, Elie Wiesel’s eloquent books and informative interviews helped bring the difficult subject of the Holocaust to the center of public attention. In 2006, Oprah Winfrey selected Night for her high-profile book club, increasing its public exposure.

This work is autobiographical—an eloquent memoir documenting Wiesel’s family sufferings during the Holocaust—yet, due to its literary qualities, the text has also been read as a novel or fictionalized autobiography. The brevity, poignant dialogue, lyrical descriptions of human degradation and suffering, and historical accuracy of this multifaceted work render Night one of the most powerful Holocaust narratives ever written.

Elie (Eliezer) Wiesel was only 15 years old when the Nazis entered Sighet in March of 1944, a Romanian town in Northern Transylvania that had been annexed to Hungary in 1940. At the directives of Adolf Eichmann, who took it upon himself to “cleanse” Hungary of its Jews, the situation deteriorated very quickly for the Jewish population of Sighet and other provincial towns. Within a few months, between May and July 1944, approximately 440,000 Hungarian Jews, mostly those living outside of Budapest, were deported to Auschwitz aboard 147 trains.

Wiesel’s entire family—his father Shlomo, mother Sarah, and sisters Tzipora, Hilda and Beatrice—suffered this fate. Among them, only Elie and two of his sisters, Hilda and Beatrice, survived the Holocaust. However, since women and men were separated at Auschwitz upon arrival, Elie lost track of what happened to his sisters until they reunited after the end of the war. In the concentration camp, father and son clung to each other as the only family they had left.

Night recounts their horrific experiences, which included starvation, forced labor and a death march to Buchenwald. Being older and weaker, Shlomo becomes the target of punishment and humiliation. He’s abused by SS officers as well as by other prisoners who steal his food. Weakened by hunger and fatigue, he dies after a savage beating in January 1945, only a few weeks before the Americans liberate the concentration camp. Throughout their tribulations, the son oscillates between a filial sense of responsibility towards his increasingly debilitated father and regarding his father as a burden that might cost him his own life. Elie doesn’t dare intervene when the SS officer beats Shlomo, fearing that he himself would become the next victim if he tries to help his father.

In the darkness and despair of Night, the instinct of self-preservation from day to day and moment to moment counteracts a lifetime of familial love. Even when Elie discovers the death of his father in the morning, he experiences a sense of hollowness: not only his father’s absence, as his bunk is now occupied by another inmate, but also the lack of his own human response: “I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I was out of tears. And deep inside me, if I could have searched the recesses of my feeble conscience, I might have found something like: Free at last!” (112)

Night offers a stark psychological account of the process of human degradation in inhumane conditions. Even the relatively few and fortunate survivors of the Nazi atrocities, such as Elie Wiesel, became doubly victimized. They are the victims of what they suffered at the hands of their oppressors as well as the victims of what they witnessed others suffer and were unable (or unwilling) to help. Although Night focuses on the loss of human dignity in the Nazi concentration camps, the author’s life would become a quest for regaining it by writing and talking about the Holocaust. As Wiesel explains to his audience on December 10, 1986 during his acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize in Oslo, his message to his son–and to the world at large—is about the empathy required to perpetuate Holocaust memories. He declares, “I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. … We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” (118).

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Review of The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer

The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer

The Diary of Anne Frank constitutes one of the most important legacies of the Holocaust. The journal documents the experiences of a young Jewish girl, her family and acquaintances while they hid for years in concealed rooms behind a bookcase, called “the Secret Annex”, in Nazi occupied Netherlands. Anne Frank’s father, mother and sister moved into the Secret Annex in July 1942. Shortly thereafter they were joined there by the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist. Their non-Jewish friends and employees, Victor Kugler, Johannes Keliman, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, provided them with food supplies as well as with invaluable information about current events, risking the death penalty for harboring and aiding Jews.

In her journal, Anne documents the daily difficulties of living in hiding as well as the family dynamics and challenges of becoming an adolescent in such difficult and dangerous circumstances. However, we know much less about what happened to Anne and her family once the Dutch Nazis caught them. On August 4, 1944, the Secret Annex was stormed by the Grune Polizei, led by the SS officer Karl Silberbauer. The Jewish families were interrogated, then imprisoned in Weteringschans and sent to the punishment barracks for having “illicitly” hid from the Nazis. A few days later, the Frank family and their friends were transferred to Westerbork, a transit camp for Dutch and German Jewish prisoners. On September 3, 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz. The train journey to the concentration camp took three days. There the Franks encountered Anne and Margot’s friend from the Jewish Lyceum, Bloeme Evers-Emden. Bloeme was later interviewed about the Frank family by a Dutch filmmaker, Willy Lindwer, for a documentary that would later be published as a book, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank (Doubleday Publishing, New York, 1988).

This book contains several interviews of eyewitnesses and friends who encountered the Frank family at Auschwitz. According to their testimonials, after the men were separated, upon arrival, from the women, Edith Frank and her daughters, Anne and Margot, were sent to Barrack 29. The Frank sisters spent almost two months at Auschwitz in the hospital after they contracted scabies. Their mother stayed there as well to take care of them until Anne and Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen, probably on October 28, 1944. They were part of a large group of Jewish prisoners who were led on death marches to various concentration camps throughout Germany, as the Russians reoccupied Poland and approached Auschwitz. Within a few months, in January, their mother, Edith Frank, died from sorrow, malnutrition and exhaustion. Their father, Otto Frank, survived the Holocaust and devoted the rest of his life to preserving his family’s legacy—as well as the memory of the Holocaust–by disseminating Anne’s diary worldwide.

Although Bergen-Belsen was originally an exchange camp that had better conditions than the concentration and death camps, as previously mentioned, by 1945 it became dangerously overcrowded and disease-ridden as the Germans packed countless prisoners into it. Between July 1943 and the end of 1944, over 9000 Jews were imprisoned there from countries all over Europe. As more and more Jews were channeled into Bergen-Belsen from other, evacuated labor and concentration camps, by March 1945, the now heavily overcrowded camp reached around 41,000 inmates. The camp was initially run by Commander Adolf Haas, then by Siegfried Seidke and, in its final days, by the sadistic Commander Josef Kramer.

Lindwer states that the conditions became so bad in Bergen-Belsen during the last months of the war that “although there were no gas chambers, ten thousand people died… There was almost nothing to eat, it was winter, and sickness and disease were everywhere… As a result, in the last months before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and in the first weeks thereafter, most of the inmates perished. Among them were Margot and Anne Frank, who died of typhus within days of each other. The camp was liberated by the British shortly thereafter, on April 15, 1945” (6-7). We still don’t know for sure when the Frank sisters passed away. Although Lindwer’s book states that they died in March 1945, the Anne Frank Foundation indicates that it probably happened in February.

In a genocide in which millions of people were shot and buried in mass graves or incinerated anonymously in crematoria, Anne Frank’s diary, as well as books like Lindwer’s, continue to remind us that each life was important and that each death in the Holocaust is worth commemorating.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

How Bulgaria avoided the Holocaust

Bulgaria and the Holocaust

 

After WWI, Bulgaria had territorial aspirations: it wanted to regain Macedonia, Thrace and southern Dobrudja, provinces it had lost after the war. These territorial grievances led the Bulgarian government to become closer to the Nazi regime. In order to rejuvenate its economy, Bulgaria traded heavily with Germany, which accounted for 70 percent of the country’s foreign trade. (See Holocaust: A History, Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt, New York: Norton, 2002, 180). Once Bulgaria’s economic interests brought it within Germany’s orbit, it became obliged to align its political interest with Fascist ideology. King Boris III appointed Professor Bogdan Filov, a Germanophile, as prime minister, who in turn appointed the leader of the Bulgarian Ratnik (Fascist) Party, as minister of interior. Hitler rewarded Bulgaria for its loyalty by forcing Romania to give back southern Dobrudja. This in turn made the Bulgarians even more receptive to the Nazis. This rapprochement between Bulgaria and Germany did not bode well for the country’s Jews.

In the fall of 1940, the Bulgarian minister of interior proposed a law modeled after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, called the “Law for the Defense of the Nation,” which discriminated and disenfranchised Bulgarian Jews. King Boris III himself signed this law. However, remarkably, the feelings of the Bulgarian citizens prevented the regime from falling into step with the harsh measures that would destroy the Jews of Nazi-controlled and Nazi-allied Europe. Apparently, the Bulgarian people never considered the 50,000 Jews in the country—a very small percentage of its population—as a problem. According to historian Deborah Dwork, the Bulgarian Lawyers Association wrote an open letter protesting the anti-Semitic laws. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church also took a stance against discrimination, stating that the people of Bulgaria “shouldn’t admit injustice and violence against others” (Holocaust: A History, 181). At this point, the government of Bulgaria heeded the predominant views of its people and did not enact the discriminatory measures against its small Jewish minority. Bulgaria is a wonderful case study of how the just views of a population can make a big difference in preventing government-mandated injustice and even genocide.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Introduction to Holocaust Memories

Introduction

 

Nearly eighty years have passed since the Holocaust. There have been thousands of memoirs, histories and novels written about it, yet many fear that this important event may fall into oblivion. As Holocaust survivors pass away, their legacy of suffering, tenacity and courage could be eventually forgotten. We cannot take Holocaust memories for granted. It is up to each generation to commemorate the victims, preserve their life stories and help prevent such catastrophes. These were my main motivations in writing this book, Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films that, as its title suggests, includes over sixty reviews of memoirs, histories, biographies, novels and films about the Holocaust.

It was difficult to choose among the multitude of books on the subject that deserve our attention. I made my selections based partly on the works that are considered to be the most important on the subject; partly on wishing to offer some historical background about the Holocaust in different countries and regions that were occupied by or allied themselves with Nazi Germany, and partly on my personal preferences, interests and knowledge. Because many of the memoirs share geographical and historical contexts, there is some overlap in the background information offered in these reviews. I have tried, however, to keep repetition to a minimum and highlight the unique and valuable contribution of each narrative.

This book offers a general audience, and particularly high school and college students, insight and information into the suffering of nearly six million Jews as well as millions of Gypsies, Poles, Russians and other groups that were considered to be “subhuman” and oppressed by the Nazis. I present the works of others—victims, historians, biographers, fiction writers and cinematographers—to incite readers to return to these invaluable sources. Furthermore, in order to provide more background into the suffering of the victims, I also offer information about the victimizers: particularly the rulers, politicians, propagandists, military leaders and “ordinary men”, to use Christopher Browning’s phrase, who perpetrated the Holocaust. This is why Holocaust Memories includes reviews not only of Holocaust memoirs, but also of books that focus on Fascist regimes and their leaders in various countries that enacted genocide or other crimes against humanity.

This book is organized in terms of four main topics: part one consists of the introduction and theoretical framework (Hannah Arendt and totalitarianism); the second part offers an analysis of the perpetrators and Jewish victims of the Holocaust in different countries in Europe; the third presents other victims of the Holocaust (the Poles, the Gypsies, Russian prisoners of war), and the fourth section covers other genocides (in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Rwanda and North Korea).

Raul Hilberg’s monumental studies of the Holocaust, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985) and Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 (HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), inform many of my reviews, not only in content but also in approach. The historian Robert Jay Lifton rightly calls Hilberg “one of the great scholars of our century. Perhaps more than anyone else, he has exposed the behavior and thought processes of ordinary people carrying out a genocidal project” (front cover of Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders). Although my book does not offer a history of the Holocaust per se, I review numerous history books that deal with the victims, perpetrators and bystanders of this catastrophe. The works of historians such as Raul Hilberg, Christopher Browning, Max Hastings, Anthony Beevor, Alan Bullock, Robert Conquest, Timothy Snyder and Robert Jay Lifton inform the background I offer in my discussions of Holocaust memoirs, histories, novels and films. In these reviews, I present a wide range of narratives about the Holocaust in all of what Hilberg calls its “stages of operation”: starting with the racial definition of what constitutes a “Jew”; to the Jews’ exclusion from society and the expropriation of their money and property; to their concentration in certain areas and eventually in Jewish Ghettos; to the exploitation of their (slave) labor and, ultimately, to their annihilation through mass shootings, starvation, medical experimentation and death camps. (See The Destruction of the European Jews, 267).

Since the Nazis targeted European Jews as their main victims, my book focuses primarily on them. At the same time, since the Nazis also targeted other groups they considered dangerous and inferior, I also review narratives about the sufferings of the Gypsies, the Poles and other groups that fell victim to the Nazi regimes. As Hilberg aptly puts it, “The Nazi destruction process was, in short, not aimed at institutions; it was targeted at people. The Jews were only the first victims of the German bureaucracy; they were only the first caught in its path” (The Destruction of the European Jews, 268). Had Germany won the war, there’s no telling how many more millions would have fallen victim to their race wars. The signs that the Poles and the Slavs would have been the Nazis’ next targets for extermination were apparent long before the end of WWII.

In the last section, I review books and films that discuss other genocides and crimes against humanity, including the Stalinist mass purges, the Cambodian massacres by the Pol Pot regime and the Rwandan genocide. In so doing, I emphasize that history can, indeed, repeat itself, even if in different forms and contexts. Just as the Jews of Europe were not the only targets of genocide, Fascist regimes were not its only perpetrators. If there’s one common thread among such diverse human catastrophes it’s totalitarian institutions. This is why Holocaust Memories also includes an analysis of Hannah Arendt’s groundbreaking The Origins of Totalitarianism. The ethos of mass murder is often initiated from above by authoritarian regimes and disseminated to ordinary citizens through propaganda, indoctrination and terror. The spread of Fascism and Communism during the 20th-century, culminating in the Great Terror and the Holocaust, offers a stark warning to posterity. For as long as we will allow totalitarian regimes and their evil leaders to take root in our societies, we will continue to remain vulnerable to the unspeakable destruction they can cause.

Although I’m writing a book called Holocaust Memories, I was born generations later and have no personal memories of the Holocaust. I have vivid childhood recollections of totalitarianism, however, under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania: snippets of my family’s past and the struggles endured mostly by my parents, which I revisited and wrote about in my first historical novel, Velvet Totalitarianism (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 2009). In this book, I’m going two generations back in time, to the painful memories of the Holocaust that my grandparents only alluded to. It’s mostly their silence that speaks to me now, decades later. I never found out all the details of what happened to my paternal grandfather during the Holocaust in Romania: when and where he was thrown off a train when sent to a forced labor camp by the Antonescu regime during the 1940’s, as so many young Jewish men were at the time. All I know is that he survived that fall but walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

My grandparents’ survival of the Holocaust in Romania intrigued me enough to start reading scores of books on this subject. I wondered: how could hundreds of thousands of Jews manage to survive in a country that was so virulently anti-Semitic at the time? I learned about Ion Antonescu, the Romanian authoritarian ruler, and his changing and opportunistic policies, which created the apparent paradox of a large number of Jews surviving a pro-Nazi regime that despised them. I also learned about the heroic actions of the Jewish leader Wilhelm Filderman, who never stopped trying to negotiate with Antonescu a livable situation for Romania’s Jews. From there, I became interested in exploring deeper what happened to the rest of the European Jews during the Holocaust, nearly six million of whom were obliterated from the face of the Earth and never got the chance to share their tragic stories. This book is dedicated to them, to the survivors who lived with traumatic memories that continued to haunt them, and to the new generations of readers who want to learn about history’s darkest past.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Between Fanaticism and Terror: Hitler, Stalin and The Noise of Time

During WWII much of Europe was caught in a vice between fanaticism and terror; between Hitler and Stalin. The plight of tens of millions of people falling victim to Stalinism on the one hand and Fascism on the other is eloquently captured by Gustaw Herling, a Polish prisoner in the Soviet Union: “I think with horror and shame of a Europe divided into two parts by the line of the Bug, on one side of which millions of Soviet slaves prayed for liberation by the armies of Hitler, and on the other millions of victims of German concentration camps awaited deliverance by the Red Army as their last hope” (A World Apart, 175-76). The similarities between these two evil dictators obsessed with acquiring unlimited power are far greater than their differences. Yet it’s worth noting that the two tyrants selected their targets differently. Stalin’s purges covered every segment of Soviet society, almost indiscriminately: the Communist party; the Politburo; even the army, navy and air force during a period of time when preparations for war should have been a priority.

Julian Barnes, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, describes the arbitrary nature of Stalin’s Great Terror in his biographical novel about the composer Dimitri Shostakovich, The Noise of Time (New York and London: Knopf, 2016). Tellingly, the title phrase is borrowed from Osip Mandelstam’s memoirs, who himself died in a transit camp during the Great Terror of 1938. In personalizing the plight of millions by focusing on the tribulations of a single life—particularly that of a famous musician—Barnes illustrates that nobody was immune to Stalin’s subjugating power. Even the great Soviet General and Chief of Staff, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the composer’s patron, fell victim to Stalin’s paranoia during the purge of the military in June 1937.

By some miracle or good fortune, Shostakovich’s life is spared by Stalin. But the composer’s reputation isn’t, rising and falling with the vicissitudes of the Soviet regime, which the narrator calls “the Power”. In 1936, Shostakovich suffers a humiliating reprimand for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, deemed by Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper and propaganda mouthpiece, to be representative of the “fidgety, neurotic music” of the bourgeoisie. Although later Stalin personally calls the composer on the phone and undoes some of the damage to his reputation, Shostakovich, along with millions of Soviet citizens, lives in constant fear of the dictator’s arbitrary—and often fatal–displays of power.

Success and failure have a way of boiling down to the same thing in totalitarian regimes, which subsume artistic merit to ideological whims and injunctions. Even after Stalin’s death, during Nikita Khrushchev’s milder authoritarian regime, when the composer is pressured to join the Communist Party in order to become the Chairman of the Russian Federation Union of Composers, Shostakovich feels almost as humiliated and harangued as he did when he was vilified by Stalin’s acolytes in Pravda. In channeling the character of Shostakovich so compellingly and revealing with a keen sense of irony the arbitrary nature of Soviet totalitarianism, Barnes depicts its inner workings as well as those who had suffered its effects first-hand: authors such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Eugenia Ginzburg.

By way of contrast to Stalin’s arbitrary purges, Hitler honed in on one main target: the Jews. His single-minded focus on destroying the Jewish people could only be called, in his own words, “fanaticism”. He remarked: “Any violence which does not spring from a firm spiritual base will be wavering and uncertain. It lacks the stability which can only rest in a fanatical outlook” (Mein Kampf, 171). There are many hypotheses concerning what might have caused Hitler’s hatred of the Jews, ranging from psychological to sociological and biographical explanations. These speculations, however, only make sense in hindsight. Nothing in Hitler’s adolescence, when pathology usually shows up, gave any obvious signs of the tremendous anti-Semitic hatred that would later dominate his life.

Biographers state that Hitler was a mediocre student, receiving poor grades in physics, mathematics and German. He performed better in art, but wasn’t original. As a young man, he pursued his floundering artistic career in Vienna for about six years. Some state that Hitler’s anti-Semitism grew out of his frustration with being rejected by the prestigious Vienna Art Academy. They surmise that he blamed his failure on the Jews. While there may be some truth in this conjecture, there’s evidence to the contrary as well. Hitler continued to sell his art and make a living from its sales, supplemented by funds from his family. Interestingly, as Raul Hilberg points out, “Apparently, two of the [art] dealers were Jews” (Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, 4).

WWI seems to have been a major turning point in Hitler’s life. But even then nobody could have guessed that this mediocre soldier would rise to absolute power and wield death and destruction throughout Europe. Hitler was decorated the Iron Cross First Class during the war, but only the second or third time that he was recommended for it: incidentally, by a Jew (Lieutenant Gutmann). At the end of WWI, Hitler was gassed and spent a considerable period of time recuperating in a military hospital. There he had time to contemplate what might have brought about the humiliating defeat of Germany in WWI. After the war, Hitler took a course in Pan-Germanism and became more radicalized in his anti-Semitism. Adolf Gemlich, a German army soldier wrote Hitler a letter asking him about the importance of the “Jewish Question”. Hitler wrote Gemlich a response that prefigured the major themes of Mein Kampf, his autobiographical treatise written in prison and published in 1925-26. He distinguished between an anti-Semitism based on reason, or what he called a “rational” and “scientific” anti-Semitism, which would have staying power, and an anti-Semitism based on emotion, manifested by pogroms. Only the former, he stipulated, could efface the Jews from the face of the Earth. (For more information on Hitler’s letter, see the Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/adolf-hitler-s-first-antisemitic-writing)

This letter, and particularly the delineation of a systematic and “scientific” anti-Semitism, earned Hitler a reputation on the “Jewish Question” among anti-Semitic radicals opposed to the Weimar Republic. So to return to our earlier question: why did Hitler target the Jews as the main scapegoat and object of his vitriol? He offers a direct answer to this question in Mein Kampf:

 

“The art of leadership as displayed by really great popular leaders in all ages, consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary… Where there are various enemies…it will be necessary to block them all together as forming one solid front, so that the mass of followers in a popular movement may see only one common enemy against whom they have to fight. Such uniformity intensifies their belief in their own cause and strengthens their feeling of hostility towards the opponent” (Mein Kampf, 110).

 

This statement reflects the cold and calculated reasoning Hitler alluded to as early as the note of 1919. He targeted the Jews as his scapegoats and victims for strategic reasons. Hitler’s explicit intent was to simplify the root of Germany’s social and economic problems to the Jews—considered outsiders in most European countries–and coalesce all forces and people against this common enemy. His choice wasn’t primarily a matter of genuine emotion, nor only of pathological hatred. As for Stalin during the Great Terror, it was primarily the product of an insatiable and malicious will to power. This answer–which boils down to power for its own sake–could have never offered a satisfactory response to the question scribbled by victims on cell walls, in prisons, concentration camps and gulags; a question which still echoes to this day: “Zachto—Why?”

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

A precedent for the Holocaust: The Armenian genocide and The Promise

 

As Peter Balakian points out in the Preface of his book, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian genocide and America’s response (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004), the Holocaust had a significant historical precedent: one which, unfortunately, is all too often ignored. The Armenian genocide, he states, “has often been referred to as ‘the forgotten genocide,’ ‘the unremembered genocide,’ ‘the hidden holocaust,’ or ‘the secret genocide’” (xvii). He adds that many historians—including Yehuda Bauer, Robert Melson, Howard M. Sachar and Samantha Power–rightfully consider the Armenian genocide to be “the template for most of the genocide that followed in the twentieth century” (xviii).

Over a century later, Turkey still refuses to acknowledge the systematic and premeditated mass killings of the Armenian population by the Ottoman Turks, even though this genocide, officially recognized as such by 29 countries, is well documented: “In the past two decades, scholars have unearthed and translated a large quantity of official state records documenting the Committee of Union and Progress’s (Ottoman Turkey’s governing political party) finely organized and Implemented plan to exterminate the Armenians” (xxi). Balakian himself studied “hundreds of U.S. State Department documents (there are some four thousand documents totaling about thirty-seven thousand pages in the National Archives) written by American diplomats that report in-depth the process and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. The extermination of the Armenians is also illuminated in British Foreign Office records, and in official records from the state archives of Germany and Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey’s World War I allies. The foremost scholar of the Armenian Genocide, Professor Vahakn Dadrian, has made available in translation the body of Turkish sources both primary and secondary” (xxi).

The genocide involved the systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing of approximately 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during WWI. The extermination started on April 24, 1915 with the deportation and execution of a few hundred Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople. It progressed to the forced conscription, imprisonment in labor camps and murder of able-bodied males. Soon thereafter, it led to the mass murder of women, the elderly and children, who were herded by Turkish military escorts for hundreds of miles across the Syrian desert, without sufficient food, water, medical care or sanitary facilities. The Turks butchered entire villages and communities mercilessly driven on these death marches. Women and young girls were often subjected to rape and torture before being killed. Sometimes the victims were loaded on cattle trains for days, without any provisions, in a manner similar to the Nazi transportation of Jews to concentration camps almost three decades later.

Similarly to the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian Holocaust didn’t happen out of the blue. Like the Jews in many European countries, the Armenians were considered second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire. Even during relatively Enlightened times, when the Ottoman rulers granted the Christian and Jewish minorities some autonomy and minority rights, non-Muslims were still considered to be “gavours”: meaning “infidels” or “unbelievers”. In the Eastern provinces, Armenian villages found themselves subject to higher taxation and often invaded by their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors. Moreover, like the Jews in the Pale of Settlement region, the Armenians fell victim to periodic pogroms.

However, discrimination and subjugation don’t necessarily lead to wide-scale genocide. Consequently, just as the Jews couldn’t have anticipated the extermination of their people by the Nazis, nothing prepared the Armenian communities living under Ottoman rule for their ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Turks. In both cases, world wars were used as an excuse—and incitement–for genocide. The Ottoman Empire entered WWI on August 2, 1914, when it signed a secret treaty with Germany to fight on the side of the Axis powers. The Turkish leadership wanted the local Armenian population to act on their behalf, demanding their insurrection against the Russian Army. The Minister of War, Enver Pasha, launched an attack on the Russians. He attempted to encircle and destroy the Russian army at Sarikamish in order to reclaim the Turkish territories occupied by the Russians since 1877. However, his plan failed and his troops were defeated. The Turks blamed their loss on the local Armenian population, viewing them as traitors who helped the Russians. Subsequently, able-bodied Armenian men living in the Ottoman Empire were discharged from active military service, disarmed, and sent to forced labor battalions, where many were executed by the Turks.

In a move that would prefigure the Jewish genocide in the Eastern Territories during WWII, on May 29, 2015, the Turkish Central Committee passed a law of deportation (called the “Tehcir Law”) that gave the Ottoman Empire the right to deport anyone they considered a threat to “national security,” which, in their estimation, included women and children. The mass deportation—in grueling death marches–of the elderly, women and children soon followed. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died from starvation, disease, and mass shootings. To carry out the genocide, the Turks formed a paramilitary organization that has been compared by historians to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. The Turkish Committee of Union and Progress founded a “Special Organization”, comprised mostly of Turkish criminals released from prisons, who were put in charge of the deportations and massacres of the Armenians. They killed countless helpless civilians, decimating their numbers through forced marches, shootings, mass burning, drowning and even poisoning. Like the Nazis, the Turks experimented with toxic gases and biological warfare (by inoculating healthy Armenians with the blood of typhoid patients). After the Allies defeated the Axis powers, on November 3, 1918 Sultan Mehmet VI was ordered by the Allied administration to hold war trials for the Turkish leaders of the Armenian genocide, which included Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha and about 130 high officials of the Ottoman Empire.

The film The Promise (2016), directed by Terry George, captures the trauma of the Armenian genocide in an epic drama reminiscent of War and Peace. The movie traces a love triangle between Mikael, an Armenian medical student, and Ana, an Armenian tutor educated in France, who is in turn engaged to Chris, an American journalist covering the war for the Associated Press. A small town boy from a poor family, before meeting Ana, Mikael himself becomes engaged to a wealthier neighbor, whose family gives him a dowry (400 gold coins) to cover his expenses for medical school in Constantinople. At a party held by his wealthy uncle, Mikael is introduced to Ana, his nieces’ tutor, as well as Emre, the son of a Turkish official, whom he befriends. He’s smitten with Ana as soon as he meets her. The young woman captivates him with her beauty, culture and sophistication. But the beginning of WWI nips their romance in the bud. Mikael is sent to a labor camp, from which he manages to escape.

In one of the most harrowing scenes of the film, Mikael rides on top of a cattle train, hoping to elude the Turkish army and make it back to his native village to help his family. Suddenly it starts to rain. He hears strange sounds: terrible moaning and cries. Hands emerge between the grates of the train, trying in vain to cup the drops of water. To his shock, Mikael discovers that hundreds of Armenian civilians are trapped inside, dying of thirst and hunger. Before jumping off the train, the young man manages to pry open the lock to one of the doors and save the trapped prisoners. He finally makes it to his parents’ house, where the family has an emotional reunion. However, realizing that it would be too dangerous to stay with his parents, Mikael and his fiancée get married in great haste and move to a remote location, where they live together in a rustic cabin. A few months later, his wife becomes pregnant and experiences health complications.

Meanwhile, his friends, Ana and Chris, visit Mikael’s parents trying to locate him. They are helping a group of orphans escape from the murderous Turkish troops. As Mikael joins them on the back roads to lead the orphans to a safer area, he watches helplessly as a group of Turkish soldiers carry off his own family and other inhabitants of his little village, Sirun. He runs to their aid but arrives too late: most of his family and neighbors lie murdered in a ditch. Only his young niece and mother have (barely) survived, left for dead by the Turks. The rest of the beleaguered Armenian community decides that it’s better to fight to the death rather than be butchered like sheep by the Turks. Armed with rudimentary tools and a lot of courage, the refugees fight valiantly and manage to hold off the Turkish onslaught until a French ship, le Guichen, comes to their rescue. As Mikael takes a lifeboat of orphans to safety, Ana drowns when her boat is capsized by the Turkish artillery. Despite their rivalry for her love, both Mikael and Chris mourn her death together. This tragedy resolves the tension of the love triangle that had divided them.

The Promise follows in the footsteps of War and Peace in depicting war on an epic scale through the optic of a personalized family drama and love story. While viewers seem to rate the film highly, its critical reception has been mixed. Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator website, reports that, so far, The Promise received an average rating of 5.7/10. Benjamin Lee, the film critic for The Guardian, found the film “soapy” but well intentioned. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times concurred, calling it “corny” and “a derivative of better war romances”. The Nation’s film critic, Pietro A. Shakarian, rated it more highly, claiming, “The Promise captures the magnitude of this history (of the Armenian genocide) that no prior film on the genocide has done before.”

I agree in part with both perspectives. Like Shakarian, I find The Promise to be a moving epic drama that tackles an important and often overlooked subject. At the same time, I feel that the film sometimes privileges the love triangle at the expense of offering viewers more necessary background about the Armenian genocide. For instance, when depicting the friendship between Mikael and Emre (the son of the Turkish official, who is eventually killed because he didn’t turn against his Armenian friend), the movie may give viewers the false impression that Turks and Armenians peacefully coexisted before the beginning of the war. But, as I previously indicated, the status of the Armenians living under Ottoman rule was similar to that of the Jews in many European countries: they were considered (at best) second-class citizens and (at worst) enemies to be wiped out in pogroms. In both cases, the sociopolitical conditions were ripe for mass extermination. World wars were a catalyst for rather than the cause of genocide.

 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction