To say that Hitler's Nazis killed eleven million people doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how evil they were. Murder is bad and all, but in my view, there are many, many things worse than death, and the Nazis did most of them to people. I assume most people have learned at some point in detail about the atrocities of the Holocaust, yet it seems to me that in American popular culture we typically represent Nazis as one-dimensional stock villains who just want to take over the world for vague unspecified evil reasons. This glaring discrepancy is why Steven Spielberg could no longer use Nazis as Indiana Jones villains after making "Schindler's List", and in recent days has also caused me some discomfort as I'm revisiting an Indiana Jones fan fiction based on a rejected screenplay that I started over a decade ago. The truth is awkward. I don't believe all my suffering in the past decade, considerable though it is, would measure up to even a week in a Nazi concentration camp.
And of course, the Nazis' atrocities against the Jews should never ever ever be downplayed, but they do tend to get all the attention, with other persecuted groups who together constituted their other five million victims all but forgotten from our collective memory. This week an excellent op-ed appeared called "Why Nazi Atrocities Against Gay Men Must Never Be Forgotten". (Specifically men, yes, as the author briefly notes that "they viewed lesbianism as a temporary condition so they suffered less", and I in turn note an interesting parallel to what I've read about medieval views of homosexuality, in which female same-sex crimes were given much more leniency because women were stupid and emotional and less responsible for their actions. Yay for misogyny?) Ironically, given how little attention this subject has received, the first time I heard the word "homosexuals" (though I'd already been called "faggot" several times a day for a few years by that point) was in sixth grade when a teacher listed off groups of people that the Nazis persecuted.
Alan Keele likewise noted in his review "Mormons and Nazis", "While visiting in 2007 the Villa Wannsee, outside Berlin, site of the infamous planning meetings for the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' presided over by Adolf Eichmann, I was intrigued – and, frankly, shocked – to learn from a display there that from within Germany proper – not counting places outside its borders like Poland with much larger Jewish populations – the Nazis actually murdered more homosexuals even than Jews.
"I am convinced that the sobering fact of the existence and extent of such homicidal Nazi homophobia, if more widely known and better understood among Mormons today, could have an important tempering effect on current thinking about how disciples of the Prince of Peace should speak about and behave toward members of the LGBT community, especially recalling how homophobia was falsely viewed in the Third Reich as a lofty moral position, the taking of a righteous religious stand against sinful monsters portrayed by Fascist hate-mongers as an imminent danger to society....
"This is by no means an abstract concern. I have witnessed several things, some quite recently, that both shocked and horrified me. In my High Priests’ meeting in early 1994, a retired Seminary and Institute teacher, a man I very much admire, a war hero seriously wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, worked himself into a rage over the fact that President Clinton had invited gays to march in his inaugural parade. Growing more angry by the moment, he opined that gays should not be allowed to take employment or find housing. When someone asked him how he expected them to live, he finally sputtered that all queers should probably be taken out and shot."
In fairness, taking them out and shooting them would be much nicer than what the Nazis actually did to them.
An older but very educational article that also came to my attention outlined "In Germany’s extermination program for black Africans, a template for the Holocaust". Besides showing how the "Final Solution" for Jews and others directly evolved from Germany's genocide against black Africans in what is now Namibia, it explores the intertwining with eugenics and the civil rights movement in the United States. The concept of exterminating "undesirable" types of people really was born in the United States from brilliant minds like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, but it was mostly about not letting them reproduce, and Germany watched these developments with interest and decided to improve on them by adding unspeakable torture and mass murder. When the United States saw that, they were all like "Woah, guys, we're as racist as the next country, probably more so in fact, but too much is too much." It forced more than a little bit of soul-searching.
Tangent: The United States' history of forced sterilizations is not ancient history. The article notes that in North Carolina they "continued into the 1970s, long after Hitler fell", but I also remember less than seven years ago when doctors in California were exposed for sterilizing at least 148 women in prison between 2006 and 2010. I was immersed in right-wing Facebook pages and news sources at this time and I remember well that this was pretty much the only thing California ever did that they agreed with. Typical comments from self-proclaimed conservatives ran along the lines of "I don't see the problem here!" and "They should sterilize the men too!" A self-proclaimed conservative myself, it nonetheless made me sick. There are few times when it's okay to compare people to Hitler, but this was one of them.
Hitler said a few nasty things about black people in his book. But the Nazis themselves, unlike their predecessors in Namibia, never got around to an orchestrated campaign against black people because there weren't very many in Germany or nearby. They had a relatively low number of young mixed-race people in the Rhineland (descended from black French troops) whom they sterilized in 1937, and as horrible as that is, it remains one of the least of their atrocities. And when black American athlete Jesse Owens totally humiliated them in the 1936 Olympics, they were nonetheless PR-savvy enough to treat him better than the United States did. Though by no means oblivious to the Nazis' animosity toward him, he famously opined, "Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send a telegram." If the Nazis had won World War II, though - which was never much of a risk given Hitler's incompetence at military strategy, but if they had somehow, it wouldn't have been long before they swept over Africa and added a few tens of millions more mutilated corpses to their resume.
This actually has some relevance to my aforementioned fan fiction which, as per the screenplay it's based on, has Nazis as the villains and takes place in black Africa in 1937. Back in tenth grade or so I made a point of playing up the racism aspect that the screenplay completely ignores (and adding a bit of American racism as well, because they don't deserve to get off the hook either, though the protagonist himself is canonically established as way ahead of his time on racial equality). But revisiting it now, I still feel uncomfortable because that still doesn't come close to adequately conveying how evil Hitler and his ilk truly were. It's even putting a bit of a damper on my longtime love for the Indiana Jones franchise.
It bears repeating that if there is no God and no afterlife, Hitler and his Nazis won, and their victims lost in a very big, very permanent way.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.