Sunday, January 26, 2014

The missing words in a new book about the Holocaust

The New York Times today, January 26, 2014, has a front-page story titled "Holocaust Told in One Word, 6 Million Times." The word is "Jew," and the story is about a newly published volume that consists solely of the word "Jew," repeated six million times. Whether this is the best way to convey the sheer enormity of the Nazis' crimes against the Jews I'm not sure. But one thing is certain: the people killed by the Nazis included more than Jews. Here's what the US Holocaust Museum says about what happened in those same years to the Roma, or Gypsies:

It is not known precisely how many Roma were killed in the Holocaust. While exact figures or percentages cannot be ascertained, historians estimate that the Germans and their allies killed around 25 percent of all European Roma. Of slightly less than one million Roma believed to have been living in Europe before the war, the Germans and their Axis partners killed up to 220,000.

This isn't news, actually, but I hadn't grasped it until I heard about it on Friday at a conference honoring the great civil rights lawyer Jack Greenberg, who 60 years after helping argue Brown v. Board of Education in the Supreme Court is now deeply involved in advocating equal rights for the Roma.  

Once one knows this, it is hard to feel comfortable with a definition of the “Holocaust” that is limited to Jews. Many more Jews than Roma were killed, and a much higher percentage of Jews as well (two-thirds of Europe’s Jews), but it appears the Nazis set out to destroy two ethnic groups rather than one. It would have been better had the new Holocaust book included, after roughly every 30 repetitions of the word “Jew,” the word “Roma” as well, 220,000 times in all.

No comments:

Post a Comment