How Society gets used to Injustice

Every morning the newspaper is delivered to our drive way. It is the same procedure every day. I wait until the yellow school bus swallows our children and the door close with the same squeaking noise. Then I bend down and pick up my daily portion of news wrapped in a dark blue plastic bag.

As I opened todays paper and flipped through the pages a almost silent thought crept into my mind getting louder and louder with every new page I turned. A campus shooting in Texas, that had been a rather casual side note in TV last night, was not even worth a mention in todays edition. I couldn’t believe, how quickly one gets used to certain kinds of news.

This kind lack of information mirrors human behavior: The human mind gets quickly used to certain occurrences. In January 2020 there were 28 mass shootings costing 38 lives. Only few nowadays make it to the headlines. That was different, when I was a child. I still vividly remember the first mass school shooting in Germany.

As quickly as life and routines change, the way we see the world and what we perceive as dangerous, just or unjust seems to shift. Victor Klemperer (9 October 1881 – 11 February 1960), a German native and language scholar, experienced this shift of conscience in a very personal way. His diary tells us in details about his life under the Nazi dictatorship and is a frightening documentation of a shift in mind and ethics enabling the most destructive regime ever haunting the face of our earth.

These shifts never come abruptly. More so, they quietly make their way into society. Changing habits, thoughts, and mind-sets in small steps. Almost unnoticeable. They crawl into news, everyday life, conversations, and increasingly change how we perceive things. What formerly was branded as unjust, is after a while met with indifference, and later will even be seen as a just decision.

It was February 21, 1935. Victor Klemperer awaited the visit of two students. As a son of a Jewish parent he had lost his call as a University professor due to Adolf Hitler´s racial laws. Now he was forced into retirement and isolated from his highly active life as a renown scholar and teacher. Any kind of normality was happily welcomed by him and his wife reminding them of the life they had before the Nazi regime took its deadly grip of Germany. But the normality that entered his quiet, isolated home through two former students opened his eyes to the gradual disappearance of what he once called normality:

The girls are completely anti-Nazi. But when it came to talking about two young noble women who had just been executed in Berlin for espionage (for Poland, the friend!), they thought it was all right. They did not ask about the difference between peace and martial law, security through public negotiations, etc. The sense of justice is lost everywhere in Germany, is systematically destroyed.

Victor Klemperer, Tagebücher 1935-1936, Berlin, Germany 1998, p.15 (translation: Miriam Groß)

Miss Winkler and Miss Hildebrandt had been two average young students, who hadn’t supported the Nazi regime. Nonetheless, they too were changed gradually with what they perceived as just or unjust. They stand for millions of average Germans, who had not enthusiastically embraced Hitlers thoughts, but opened the gates to destruction through their increasing shift in the sense of justice. A bitter warning, Victor Klemperer left behind through a small remark in one of eight diaries describing the year 1935.

What was unjust yesterday, is perceived as normal and soon will be deemed just. Harsh sentences, brute words tweeted quickly without thinking sow the seeds of indifference and later hatred. Back then during the Nazi regime it started of with the normalization of violent slurs against Jews. And then escalated into the murder of millions of innocent people.

We should stay woke! Victor Klemperer´s diary is a important warning. May our sense for justice never again be lost. May it not be systematically destroyed as once in Germany.

I am afraid, this will take the courage of many to speak up and show that they are not indifferent towards any kind of totalitarianism. It will come at a high personal cost, but so be it.

Standing in Solidarity as One

My heart stopped a beat as news poured into my busy day. A synagogue attacked in my home country Germany. The Holocaust memorial I know well desecrated by anti-Semitic hate symbols. Fear poured over me like waves of hurtful remembrance of times we thought were long gone. The nightmare of history repeating itself increasingly haunts my mind.

As I shared this anxiety with a friend, she politely wanted to diffuse my fears through words ascribed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rimes.” No matter, if it rhymes or repeats in a new version – the reality is a increase of anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups across the U.S. has climbed from 954 in the year 2017 to staggering 1,020 in the subsequent year. In Germany the rise of right-winged extremism and hate has significantly risen from 2017 to 2018: a sum of 25.250 citizens have been involved in hate groups, right-winged political institutions and structures. This sum has risen by 100 in the following year according to the governmental organization protecting the German constitution (Verfassungsschutz) .

When I received the invitation to a Interfaith vigil in White Plains, Westchester on short notice, there was no holding back. As a descendant of a Nazi perpetrator and a German citizen I am committed to not hide in fear, but to stand strong against anti-Semitism, racism and other hateful actions against minorities. Yes, my grandfather fought as a marine in Hitler´s army. Yes, my home town had welcomed Julius Streicher and send innocent Jews into the Holocaust. Those opposing these hateful actions, went into hiding or out of fear. Numerous in contrary became part of a cheering crowd welcoming Hitler.

It is this legacy of remembrance, which drives me as I will not be silenced, driven into hiding because of fear or even changed to join a criminal group, which does not see all humans as the images of God.

The German Lutheran Theologian Martin Niemöller once put it into fitting words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
” (1)

His question is vital and real for anyone of us. Systems of hate gradually and first silently build up. As they do not face backlash, they will spread their evil influence in a increasing manner. As the US is becoming a Nation, where minorities are becoming the majority (2), numerous Jews came up to thank me for my participation. This gratitude moved me to tears as I as a descendant of a Nazi grandfather shook hand after hand.

After the Interfaith Vigil, I stood at the Holocaust memorial with my colleague Jim O´Hanlon explaining the different mentioned places of horror, which are located in Germany. A lady interrupted our thoughtful exchange and shook our hands in gratitude while explaining that her grandfather had fled Germany due to the Nazi crimes. Her hand was warm and soft as she embraced mine for what felt like a long time. It felt as if she wanted to warm me through her friendly embrace.

I wish, our grandparents would have met in this warm fashion. I wish, my grandfather would have never been part of a Nazi regime that killed millions. As she spoke about her fears pondering if she should go into hiding, I looked firmly into her eyes.

No!

We will not be silenced by hate.

We will not hide driven by fear.

We will stand in solidarity as one with her and any other person, who is targeted by hate.

When they come for you, dear Jewish friend, we will stand strong and will speak justice in the name of the one God, in whose image we are made.

_____________________________________________

(1) Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews . Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, p. 47.

(2) Jim Wallis. Christ in Crisis. Why we need to reclaim Jesus. New York 2018, p. 57.

The Nightmarish Reality of Evil Imagination

It may be mentioned beforehand that the author is a animal friendly person. The cause of this blog post is to have a closer look at symbols, their manifestations and dangerous abuse in history to make the reader aware of epistemic dangers.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

My hands held the remote control in a tight grip as memories flooded into the dark living room as enthusiastically spoken words poured out of the TV.

Vivid memories took ahold of me and in an instance took me back to my ten-year-old self. The trembling of my hands extended into the living room many years later. As I wanted to open the dark and heavy metal garden gate to my late grandfathers house, I halted in an instance as I saw the aggressive German Shepherd speeding towards the gate like a gray-black-and brown lightening bolt. His massive body shook as he let out a deep barks gnashing his huge teeth. I retreated, clinging to my school bag as the German Shepherd rested his muscular paws as a additional sign of aggression on the dark fence while trying to get his teeth into what he perceived to be a dangerous enemy.

My grandfather came running out, calling his “good boy” back to him. The German Shepherds were Opas the whole pride. As they had served a full life in the German Police force, he made it his calling to give them a good retirement in his home. These dogs had many privileges. They sat at the table. Were fed high quality food. Took the best spot on the sofa. And they rewarded my grandfather with unconditional love combined with a aggressive form of protection towards anyone, who seemed to be an enemy.

Opa shook his head as he saw my ten-year-old self shaking heavily. Then he opened the gate while having a good grip on his dog. “He doesn’t mean it. Right, my boy? You are such a good boy!” Only slowly the adrenaline in my body subsided as I entered my grandparents´ home and the smell of homemade German food wove me into a blanket of sweet expectations for a good meal.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

Other memories flooded my mind as I sank deeper into the sofa. It was last summer, that the sight of German Shepherds at a memorial send shivers of fear down my spine combining the memories of my ten-year-old self with the experiences of those targeted in the protests of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Sculpture in Birmingham, AL, captured the horrible scene of suppression, brutality, and racism in a lively way – warning of instruments of hate. Durning the Birmingham campaign students flooded the prisons, causing the racist police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor to turn to a very different tactic as prisons had to be shut down. He used fire hoses and sicced trained police dogs on the “Foot Soldiers” of the movement that had fought for equality and freedom in a world of separation and injustice.

The pictures of the aggressive German Shepherds went around the world. Setting a spotlight on the racial injustice and oppressive system, which could no longer be ignored or downsized. As the obedient dogs did their duties for their masters the heartbeat of the world skipped in grief as once again injustice showed its evil grimace.

“… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

“The dogs are here at Dora, as in all camps. Held on leashes by their masters, they grow ferociously whenever a prisoner is near. One word or gesture from the SS and the dogs will tear the prisoner apart. They are really more efficient than their masters; a prisoner seeking death could cross the line without worrying too much about a bullet in the back or head, but the dogs are a terrifying, visceral fear.”

Yves Béon, Planet Dora, A Meomoir of the Holocaust and the Birth of the Space age, trans. Yves Béon and Richard Fache (Boulder, Colo.: Westvieew Press 1997), p. 43.

In German concentration camps the German Shepherd was widely used as a guard dog and instrument of horror. While the breed was a relatively recent creation accepted in 1899 by the German Kennel Club, it became the distinctive German breed very popular amongst the Nazi officials. Max von Stephanitz saw his breed as distinctly German. Breeders and owners in other countries venerated the dog for its purity of blood, bravery and loyalty, a dog soldier. This back then much admired breed soon became a symbol for its owners rootedness in Aryanism.

Hitler playing with a German Shepherd
(https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-madman-of-the-mountain-adolf-hitlers-personal-life/)

“The German is a real dog-lover, for it is part of his nature … to enter into the spirit of the Aryan mysticism, which makes us feel at one, interiorly, with clouds, trees, lake and heath, and with all living creation…. This appears in his religious beliefs, for the eagle and the wolf were dedicated to All-Father Wotan, King of Battlefields, Bestower of Victory…. [H]is wolves … roam the battlefields, crouch at his feet, and are cared for by the Lord of the World himself…. [T]wo stones with bason-like hollows were erected to the right and the left of the ancient altars of sacrifice, from which poured the blood of the sacrifice which had been offered in honour of Wotan, so that his wolves could feast on the entrails of slaughtered enemies.”

Max von Stephanitz, The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture, 1923.

It must be pointed out, that the German Shepherd itself like most dog breeds follows his instincts of bonding to his owner. As one should maybe discuss at another point the underlying Nazi thoughts the proclaimed scientist and nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz must have had, it is interesting to point towards the psychological mechanism in bonding between dog and master.

“Lorenz […] explains that a dogs youthful attachment is an important milestone in development, because “love for the mother is transformed into love for the human master. Their main focus was not to be a rampaging killer, but to please their master. By being trained and rewarded in a certain fashion, they became horrible instruments of destruction.”

Robert Tindol, Animals and War, BRILL, 01. Nov 2012, p. 111.

Their actions therefore reflected the intention of their Nazi-Masters, who dehumanized and killed Jews and other incarcerated. The German Shepherd therefore is a specialized example of human cruelty. A pars pro toto for a system of pure evil.

”… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

Childhood memories , memories of important happenings in the Civil Rights Movement, and memories of the cruelty my ancestry had inflicted on others during the Nazi-terror, hit me with full force as I heard the speech of the President Trump at a rally in El Paso, Texas on Feb 11.

Donald Trump spoke admirably of the German Shepherd in the context of the war on drugs. for him they seemed better weapons than any intelligent machinery. Cold flashes of fear and hot flashes of anger raced through my body as I tried to make sense of the most powerful man of the world talking admirably about a dog, who well through history had become a instrument of fear and destruction. A loyal, unreflected soldier, whose only target is to impress and please his owner, no matter whom might suffer.

The Holocaust, the Civil Rights movement, the many usages for suppression and domination, made the marveling words of Trump into a grotesque scene of simplistic thoughts or even worse: showed a vivid and very well alive expression of “fantastic hegemonic imagination”, which with the Nazi-regime become not only a imagination, but a manifested weapon made out of flesh and blood.

”… By the way, there is nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd …”

In many respects, the German Shepherd is a living and breathing symbol of what Emilie M. Townes calls the “fantastic hegemonic imagination”. A manifested weapon of devoted hate and suppression.

In her book “Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil” Emilie M. Townes explores the creation and cultural reproduction of structural evil as it is manifested in public policies and public policy making by highlighting this fact through examples within the US.

“Exploring evil as a cultural production highlights the systemic construction of truncated narratives designed to support and perpetuate structural inequities and forms of social oppression.”

Emilie M. Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, New York 2006, p. 4.

Townes emphasizes that a passion for justice is not enough, but that we need to become aware of a system in which we all participate and therefore take in injustice through supposedly harmless appearing caricatures and images. She calls this “fantastic hegemonic imagination” (Ibid., p. 113.)

The German Shepherd was certainly for many Nazis a beautiful symbol of domination, superiority, and Aryan strength as we have seen above through the words of Max von Stephanitz. But while Townes refers to symbols like the Black Mammy woven into the conscience of society, this living and breathing symbol goes a step further: the imagination or Aryan-“dream” became a dangerous, complicit, and nightmarish reality for uncounted victims.

The dogs of the camps, after all, did not kill 6 million humans, or even a small fraction of those 6 million. Their handlers, even if they did nothing in the war but train animals, were not quite so innocent.

Robert Tindol, Animals and War, BRILL, 01. Nov 2012, p. 120.

The German Shepherds have been mirrors of their masters evil deeds, who themselves were bound into a demonic system of dominance and destruction.

Is there really nothing better than a good old fashioned German Shepherd? May the people in power choose their words and actions wisely while drawing on life giving imaginations, not manifested weapons of hate.

False messiahs, votes, and hopes for the future

A sigh of relief passed my lips as I opened my absentee ballot that had just come with our daily mail. It had been some journey to exercise the rights of my German citizenship: After applying in April the ballot finally arrived two weeks before the election. As I opened the grey envelope, perfect German structure greeted me while my mind wandered of to the consequences of my vote and that of 82 Million German citizens. Even though nobody really expected a political messiah, many of those near to me set their hopes on the main stream parties. And I must admit, the rather uneventful political campaign without any major scandals had a consoling effect on me. But these quiet and intellectual campaign trails have not always been part of Germany´s political makeup.

When Hitler headed for being reelected in November 1933 a incredibly accurate planned show was orchestrated by Hitlers Propaganda minister Goebbels. In many ways it had particularly similar elements of a boastful and arrogant attitude, which was exposed during the last US-American campaign for the oval office. The loud outward appearance was even called by some “American style”. Victor Klemperer diary entry from Nov 11, 1933 is a shocking and insightful reminder of this time:

“The excessive propaganda for the ” Yes”. On every business car, postal car and bicycle , at every house and shop window, on wide banners stretched across the street – everywhere slogans by Hitler and always “yes” for peace. It is the most unbelievable of all hypocrisies. We want more soldiers to make the army to the militia and to blend with the million of SA [Sturmabteilung]. Parades and choruses until into the night, loudspeakers on the streets, music cars (with on the top mounted radios), cars like trams.

Yesterday from thirteen to two o’clock the “festive hour”. “In the thirteenth hour Adolf Hitler comes to the workers.” Perfect the language of the Gospel. The Redeemer comes to the poor. And in addition the America-appearance. The sirens’ haul, the minute of stillness […] A highly skilful, calmly spoken report on the disposition by Goebbels, and then about forty minutes of Hitler. A generally hoarse, overwhelmed, excited voice, wide passages in the vindictive tone of the preaching sectarian. Content: I know no intellectuals, citizens, proletarians – only the people. Why have millions of my enemies remained in the country? The emigrants are “rascals” like the brothers Rasser. And a few hundred thousand rootless international – interjection: “Jews!” – want to oppose millions of people. I only want peace, I have risen from the low people, I do not want anything for myself, I have three and a half years’ full power and do not need a title. You must say yes for your sake. […] The man [Hitler] is a excessive enthusiast. And he hasn’t learned anything.” (1)

As I started to fill out my absentee ballot, I couldn’t get my mind of the present difference of politics in both countries. Here was I in one of the greatest nations in the world casting my vote for the highest office in Germany – and in some ways things have been tossed upside down. My fear of seeing this nightmare happen again intensified significantly in the last weeks when hearing about the rise of right winged parties in the country of my upbringing. We may not have the choice of electing a “political messiah” – and I am very honest: I do not hope, we will ever be blinded and lulled into disaster by a crazy and powerful politician! But by exersizing the rights of my citizenship in a democratic way, I will be able to be a small drop making a difference against any right winged tendencies.


(1) Victor Klemperer, Tagebücher (1033-1934), p. 67-68. Translation (MG)