Monthly Archives: January 2013

Germany’s Merkel Warns Against Complacency on 80th Anniversary of Hitler’s Rise to Power

David Rising for the Associated Press, January 30, 2013:

On the 80th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to always fight for their principles and not fall into the complacency that enabled the Nazi dictator to seize control.

Speaking Wednesday at the opening of a new exhibit at the Topography of Terror memorial documenting Hitler’s election, Merkel noted that German academics and students at the time happily joined the Nazis only a few months later in burning books deemed subversive.

“The rise of the Nazis was made possible because the elite of German society worked with them, but also, above all else, because most in Germany at least tolerated this rise,” Merkel said.

After winning about a third of the vote in Germany’s 1932 election, Hitler convinced ailing President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint him chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933 — setting Germany on a course to war and genocide.

“This path ended in Auschwitz,” said Andreas Nachama, the director of the Topography of Terror.

The Topography memorial is built around the ruins of buildings where the Gestapo secret police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office ran Hitler’s police state from 1933 to 1945. A stretch of the Berlin Wall along the edge serves as a reminder of Germany’s second dictatorship under the Communists in the 20th century.

Once chancellor, Hitler was able to use his position to consolidate absolute control over the country in the months to follow.

About a month after being appointed chancellor, Hitler used the torching of the Reichstag parliament building — blamed on a Dutch communist — to strengthen his grip on power. He suspended civil liberties and cracked down on opposition parties, paving the way for the police state.

By midsummer 1933, he had declared the Nazi Party to be the only political party in Germany. He later named himself “Fuehrer” or “Leader” of the country.
The fact that Hitler was able to destroy German democracy in only six months serves as a warning today of what can happen if the public is apathetic, Merkel said.

“Human rights do not assert themselves on their own; freedom does not emerge on its own; and democracy does not succeed on its own,” Merkel said. “No, a dynamic society … needs people who have regard and respect for one another, who take responsibility for themselves and others, where people take courageous and open decisions and who are prepared to accept criticism and opposition.”

Following the morning ceremony, Germany’s Parliament held a special session in tribute to those who died under the Nazi dictatorship.

Inge Deutschkron, a 90-year-old Jewish Berliner and writer, recalled Germans celebrating Hitler’s rise to power as she addressed lawmakers.

She remembered her family growing more tense over the subsequent weeks amid worries about Hitler’s paramilitary SA thugs who roamed the streets.
“Often, I couldn’t get to sleep in the evenings and listened for footsteps in the staircase,” she said. “If they were boots, I became afraid they could be SA men coming to arrest my father.”

Deutschkron’s father managed to escape to England shortly before World War II, while she and her mother were hidden by friends in Berlin for the final years of the war.

She recalled most ordinary Germans’ indifference to the fate of Jews, who were forced to wear yellow stars.

“The majority of Germans I met in the streets looked away when they saw this star on me — or looked straight through me,” she said.

And when she visited West Germany’s capital of Bonn after the war, she recalled that most “had simply erased from their memory the crimes for which the German state had set up its own machinery of murder.”

Deutschkron remembered West Germany’s first postwar chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, saying that most Germans opposed the Nazis’ crimes against Jews and that many had helped Jews to escape.

“If only that had been the truth,” she said.

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Holocaust Ashes Painting Investigation

From the BBCnews.com, 9 January 2013:

Prosecutors in Poland have opened an investigation into reports that a Swedish artist used ashes from the Nazi death camp at Majdanek in a painting.

Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s picture was hanging in a gallery in the Swedish city of Lund until protests caused the exhibition to close last month.

Von Hausswolff said he had collected the ashes from the crematorium at Majdanek during a visit in 1989.

The prosecutors said they had still no evidence a crime had been committed.

If the artist is charged with desecrating human ashes, he could face up to eight years in prison.

It is estimated the Nazis murdered 80,000 people at Majdanek, three-quarters of them Jews, during the German occupation of Poland in World War II.

Preserved ovens
Writing on the gallery’s website, Von Hausswolff said the ashes had remained in a jar until two years ago, when he decided to mix them with water and create a painting as a reminder of the people tortured and killed in the camp.

However, the museum at Majdanek, in south-eastern Poland, strongly condemned his statement and asked prosecutors to investigate, saying it was sure the artist had not obtained the ashes legally.

When the Soviet army reached Majdanek in July 1944, they found much of it intact despite attempts by the Nazis to destroy the camp before retreating.

Consequently, it is one of the best-preserved sites of the Holocaust and the original ovens of its surviving crematorium can still be seen today.

Salomon Schulman, a key figure in Sweden’s Jewish community, told Swedish television that Von Hausswolff’s painting was “repulsive in the extreme”, according to news website The Local.

Writing in the Sydsvenskan newspaper, Mr Schulman questioned whether it should be called art at all. “Who knows, some of the ashes might come from some of my relatives?” he added.

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New Facts About Lincoln

John Blake for CNN.com, January 8, 2013:

He used the N-word and told racist jokes. He once said African-Americans were inferior to whites. He proposed ending slavery by shipping willing slaves back to Africa.

Meet Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator” who “freed” the slaves.

That’s not the version of Lincoln we get from Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln.” But there’s another film that fills in the historical gaps left by Spielberg and challenges conventional wisdom about Lincoln and the Civil War.

“The Abolitionists” is a PBS American Experience film premièring Tuesday that focuses on the intertwined lives of five abolitionist leaders. These men and women arguably did as much — maybe even more — than Lincoln to end slavery, yet few contemporary Americans recognize their names.

Movie Pass: ‘Lincoln’
Opinion: GOP, time to rebrand in the image of the’ Great Emancipator’
The three-part documentary’s airing comes as the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 1863 decree signed by Lincoln that set in motion the freeing of slaves. Lincoln is a Mount Rushmore figure today, but the abolitionists also did something remarkable. They took on the colossal wealth and political power of the slave trade, and won. (Imagine activists today persuading the country to shut down Apple and Google because they deem their business practices immoral.)

The abolitionists “forced the issue of slavery on to the national agenda,” says Sharon Grimberg, executive producer for the PBS documentary. “They made it unavoidable.”

“The Abolitionists” offers four surprising revelations about how the abolitionists triumphed, and how they pioneered many of the same tactics protest movements use today.

No. 1: The Great Persuader was not Lincoln

The belief that slaves waited for Lincoln to free them ignores the actions they took to free themselves, new PBS film says.

Near the end of “Lincoln,” Spielberg shows the president delivering his second inaugural address, a majestic speech marked by harsh biblical language. Lincoln is often considered to be the nation’s greatest president in part because of such speeches. He was an extraordinary writer.

But the most well-known condemnation of slavery during that era didn’t come from the pen of Lincoln. It came from the pen of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who joined the abolitionist movement, the PBS film says.
Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” awakened the nation to the horrors of slavery more than any other speech or book of that era, some historians say. It hit the American public like a meteor when it was published in 1852. Some historians say it started the Civil War.

The novel revolved around a slave called Tom, who attempted to preserve his faith and family amid the brutality of slavery. The book became a massive best-seller and was turned into a popular play. Even people who cared nothing about slavery became furious when they read or saw “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”‘ performed on stage, the documentary reveals.

The lesson: Appeal to people’s emotion, not their rationale, when trying to rally public opinion.

Abolitionists had tried to rouse the conscience of Americans for years by appealing to their Christian and Democratic sensibilities. They largely failed. But Stowe’s novel did something all those speeches didn’t do. It told a story. She transformed slaves into sympathetic human beings who were pious, courageous and loved their children and spouses.

They forced the issue of slavery on to the national agenda. They made it unavoidable.

Sharon Grimberg, executive producer for the PBS American Experience documentary, “The Abolitionists”

“When abolitionists were talking about the Constitution and big ideas about freedom and liberty, that’s abstract,” says R. Blakeslee Gilpin, a University of South Carolina history professor featured in “The Abolitionists.”

“But Stowe begins with the human dimension. She shows the human victims from the institution of slavery.”

150 years later, myths persist about the Emancipation Proclamation

No. 2: It’s the economy, stupid

Want to know why slavery lasted so long? The simplistic answer: racism. Another huge factor: greed, according to “The Abolitionists.”

Many abolitionists didn’t realize this when they launched the anti-slavery movement, the documentary shows. They were motivated by Christian idealism, but it was no match for the power of money.

Christianity and slavery were two of the big growth industries in early America. The country underwent two “Great Awakenings” in the early 19th century — while slavery continued to spread.

But the spread of Christianity did little to stop the spread of slavery because too many Americans made money off slavery, the documentary shows. The wealth produced by slavery transformed the United States from an economic backwater into an economic and military dynamo, says Gilpin, also author of “John Brown Still Lives!: America’s Long Reckoning With Violence, Equality, and Change.”

“All the combined economic value of industry, land and banking did not equal the value of humans held as property in the South,” Gilpin says.

Many Americans hated abolitionists because they saw them as a threat to prosperity, says David Blight, a Yale University historian featured in “The Abolitionists.”
“They wondered if you really did destroy slavery, where would all of these black people go, and whose jobs would they take,” says Blight.

The South wasn’t the only region that profited off the slave trade. Abolitionists faced some of their most vicious opposition in the North. New York City, for example, was a pro-slavery town because it was filled with bankers and cotton merchants who benefited from slavery, Blight says.

“Jim Crow laws did not originate in the South; they originated in the North,” Blight says.

The lesson: Don’t reduce the issue of slavery to racism. Follow the money.
Photos: A look inside ‘Lincoln’

No. 3: Flawed reformers
The historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. once said that black abolitionists used to say that the only thing white abolitionists hated more than slavery was the slave.
“The Abolitionists” reveals that some of the most courageous anti-slavery activists were infected with the same white supremacist attitudes they crusaded against. White supremacy was so ingrained in early America that very few escaped its taint, even the most noble.

The documentary shows how racial tensions destroyed the friendship between two of the most famous abolitionists: Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison was the editor of an abolitionist newspaper who convinced Douglass that he could be a leading spokesman against the institution that once held him captive.
There’s this perception that good old Lincoln and a few others gave freedom to black people. The real story is that black people wrestled their freedom away.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a history professor featured in the film, says some abolitionists were uncomfortable with interracial relationships. They wouldn’t walk with black acquaintances in public during the day, and refused to sit with them in church.

Lesson: Racism was so embedded in 19th century America that even those who fought against racism were unaware that it still had a hold on them.

“The majority of aboloitionists did not believe in civic equality for blacks,” Dunbar says. “They believed the institution of slavery was immoral, but questions about whether blacks were equal, let alone deserved the right to vote, were an entirely different subject.”

Opinion: Would Lincoln be frustrated with our current Congress?

No. 4: Lincoln the “recovering racist”
Tell some historians that “Lincoln freed the slaves” and one can virtually see the smoke come out of their ears.

“Please don’t get me started,” Dunbar says after hearing that phrase.

“There’s this perception that good old Lincoln and a few others gave freedom to black people. The real story is that black people and people like Douglass wrestled their freedom away,” Dunbar says.

Historians still argue over Lincoln’s racial attitudes. The historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. once called him a “recovering racist” who used the N-word and liked black minstrel shows.

Others point to the public comments Lincoln made during one of his famed senatorial debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858 when he said, “There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

“There must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race,” Lincoln said in the speech.

Spielberg’s film depicts Lincoln as a resolute opponent of slavery, willing to deploy all the powers of his office to destroy it.

Yet “The Abolitionists” paints another portrait of Lincoln. It recounts how he supported colonization plans to ship willing slaves back to Africa. It says that Lincoln once floated a peace treaty offer to the Confederates that would allow them to keep slaves until 1900 if they surrendered. At one White House meeting with black ministers, Lincoln virtually blamed slaves for starting the war, the film’s narrator says.

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to become one of its most formidable opponents.
Blight, the Yale University historian, says Lincoln always personally hated slavery. He publicly spoke out against it as early as the 1840s, and spoke often about stopping the expansion of slavery.

Opinion: What Obama can learn from Lincoln

Lincoln hoped to slowly end slavery without tearing the nation apart, Blight says.
“He was a gradualist,” Blight says. “He was trying to prevent a bloody revolution over it. He couldn’t.”

He couldn’t because of the pressure exerted by the abolitionists and the slaves themselves, other historians say. Blacks did not wait for white people to free them, they say. At least 180,000 blacks fought in the Civil War. And Douglass was one of Lincoln’s harshest critics. He constantly pushed Lincoln to move aggressively against slavery.

The historian William Jelani Cobb wrote in a recent New Yorker essay on slavery:
“On the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s worth recalling that slavery was made unsustainable largely through the efforts of those who were enslaved. The record is replete with enslaved blacks—even so-called house slaves—who poisoned slaveholders, destroyed crops, ‘accidentally’ burned down buildings.”

As for Lincoln’s true feelings about blacks, that matter may always be subject to debate.

“No historian would doubt that Lincoln was a man of his times,” says Dunbar, author of “A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City.” “He was a racist, and never truly believed that blacks could live in America after emancipation.”

Other historians say Lincoln was evolving into the leader that Spielberg depicts.
The historian Gates once wrote that Lincoln initially opposed slavery because it was an economic institution that discriminated against white men who couldn’t afford slaves. Two things changed him: The courage black troops displayed in the Civil War and his friendship with Douglass the abolitionist.

“Lincoln met with Douglass at the White House three times. He was the first black person Lincoln treated as an intellectual equal, and he grew to admire him and value his opinion,” Gates wrote.

Gilpin says Lincoln was great not only for what he got right, but because he could admit what he got wrong.

“You dream of a president like that,” Gilpin says. “Not only was he a brilliant manipulator and reader of public opinion, but he had the capacity for growth. He came into office because he was a moderate but he turns out to be the Great Emancipator.”

Lesson: Lincoln led an epic battle against slavery, but the abolitionists lit the fuse.

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Bill Omits National Memorial to WWI Vets

Tom Howell for The Washington Times, December 31, 2012:

Congress approved a bill on Monday that makes sure the 100-year anniversary of World War I is recognized in the coming years, but a long-sought memorial to Americans who fought and died in the Great War is not part of the deal.

Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, said he will reintroduce a bill in the new Congress to honor the “doughboys” who joined the overseas conflict in 1914-1918 with a memorial on the Mall in the nation’s capital. The measure found favor in the House in December but failed to cut a clean path through the Senate in the hectic final weeks of the 112th Congress.

The House passed a bill in early December that would establish a congressional commission for the war’s centennial, approve a memorial on the Mall and redesignate the Liberty Memorial of Kansas City as the “National World War I Museum and Memorial.”
But, Mr. Poe said, objections in the upper chamber led Missouri senators Claire McCaskill, Democrat, and Roy Blunt, Republican, to amend the bill in late December,a tumultuous period dominated by talk of the “fiscal cliff.” The Senate approved only a centennial commission and the House concurred on Monday, leaving hopes for a D.C. memorial in the lurch.

“That’s right —it was a casualty of war,” Mr. Poe said in a recent interview.
Mr. Poe and advocates have pushed for a World War I Memorial alongside the trio of memorials to other major 20th century conflicts — World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.

“We need the fourth,” the congressman said. “It needs to be on the Mall somewhere.”
On the House floor Monday, he said “time is short” to plan for the centennial that kicks off in 2014. Many European allies have already planned events to recognize the notable anniversary of the conflict, he said.

David DeJonge, president of the National World War I Memorial Foundation, said he is disappointed that the memorial was cut out of this year’s deal because it “puts us behind the gun as the centennial approaches.”

He said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Poe’s renewed effort will bear fruit with a boost from President Obama and popular opinion.

The path to this point took a circuitous route. Mr. Poe decided to submit a revised version of his bill in September, after D.C. leaders objected to a plan to “nationalize” the District of Columbia War Memorial that is dedicated to city residents who fought and died in the war.

The bill sought an exemption to a 2003 law that prohibits new commemorative works on a key cross section of the Mall, a potential sticking point that arose during testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee. Nonetheless, the bill advanced to the House floor.

While the location of a memorial has not been settled, Mr. Poe at one point recommended a site in Constitution Gardens — located north of the Reflecting Pool near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — where munitions and administration buildings once stood to assist American efforts during World War I.

Local advocates have argued Pershing Park, located blocks from the White House and named for Gen. John J. Pershing of World War I fame, is the ideal location for a national memorial.

But Mr. Poe and other advocates have pushed for a high-profile spot along the heavily-trafficked portion of the Mall, noting more than 116,000 Americans died in World War I.

Before its initial passage in the House, Mr. Poe bill was amended to decrease the memorial’s recommended size to a half-acre and specify that while the memorial can be built on the Mall, it does not have to be placed in Constitution Gardens.

“The bottom line is it makes no difference where it is on the Mall,” Mr. Poe said. “We’re not talking about a lot of land.”

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