Thursday, March 7, 2013

US Nazi researchers "better at PR"

You may have read that a group of US historians found that far more Nazi concentration camps, labor camps, and ghettos existed than was previously known – some 40,000, in fact.

Over at Die Zeit, a German historian has reacted to the publication with charges of plagiarism. German historian Wolfgang Benz says he was surprised to hear the US historian claim that German researchers were not given the funding to look into the matter. He reiterates that his research group published a nine-volume (!) work called "Der Ort des Terrors." And he says the Americans copied out of it.

Benz seems to be quite upset, for he calls the American authors "frech, überheblich und größenwahnsinnig" (insulting, arrogant, and megalomaniac) for calling their publication an encyclopedia; he claims it is "full of gaps." He calls his group's nine volumes "a summary or documentation of what we know today."

Mainly, he says the Americans are better at PR.

What bothers him the most (and I can understand it) is the general assumption in the US that the Germans are not doing enough to work through their history. Benz says that no other nation spends so much time and money researching the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and national Socialism as Germany does.

I can confirm that television and the media in general are full of documentaries about these 12 years of German history; my American-German kids are already sick of me trying to get them to watch the next one.

And I agree that Americans generally think that Germans somehow refuse to deal with these 12 years of their history enough, as I wrote 10 years ago. I have even had Americans ask me why Freiburgers (I live in Freiburg) don't know about the concentration camp that existed here. I tell them it's because there was none (they may be thinking of this). But there are "stumbling stones" all over town where Jews deported to concentration camps used to live, and there is a sign on the Old Synagogue Square pointing to Gurs, the concentration camp in southern France where a lot of Freiburg Jews were eventually sent.

Are there such monuments in New York City showing where slaves were traded? Yes, it's the UN's. Look at the history of the old burial ground for slaves in New York City. Is this the way Americans want Germans to deal with their history?

One reason why Americans probably think the Germans refused to deal with their own past is because we Americans refuse to deal with our past. How else to explain the possibility of such recent publications as "Slavery by another name" (which discusses how Whites continued to oppress blacks in the South for a century after the Civil War) or "Sundown towns" (which discusses how whites outside the South oppressed blacks from the beginning of the 19th century all the way up to the 1980s)?

Ever heard the song "Strange fruit"? It begins, "Southern trees bear a strange fruit." The composer wrote this after seeing a photo of a lynching in Indiana – Indiana!

American TV is not full of reports about sundown towns, pro-slavery riots in Ohio, black codes in the antebellum North, etc. Maybe it should be.

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