Respectful Insolence

I don’t read atheist blogs much, if at all. The reason is that they just don’t interest me anymore. Sure, like so many, I went through a phase where I was quite enamored of Richard Dawkins’ brand of atheism. Then I read The God Delusion (well, most of it, anyway; I didn’t bother to read the last couple of chapters because I had lost interest and couldn’t force myself to finish them). These days I tend to think of myself as following the church of dontcareism. I just don’t care that much one way or the other about religion, and endless arguments about atheism, “atheism-plus,” and the like bore me to tears. It’s one of the reasons why, with the exception of Ed Brayton, I don’t read FreeThoughtBlogs anymore. I have my niche that really interests me, and I’m very good at it. That’s why, with rare exceptions, the only time you’ll ever see me writing about religion is when it somehow intersects with medicine, usually to the detriment of medicine, or how in reality so much alternative medicine quackery is based in religion- and superstition-based belief systems.

Other topics that used to be much more frequent topics of this blog are evolution and history, specifically Holocaust history. Why I don’t write about evolution that much anymore, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because there are so many out there who can do it better. Holocaust history is a different matter, though. I’m not sure how or when I stopped writing about that. Longtime readers will recall that in the early days of this blog I used to write fairly frequently about Holocaust and Holocaust denial. It began way back in January 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and how I discovered Holocaust denial, which was really really my gateway into skepticism and critical thinking that ultimately resulted in the science-based medicine blogging powerhouse you know and love today. Blogging about Holocaust denial continued over the next several years, but gradually petered out. Although I do sometimes bring it up from time to time, it is usually in the context of other topics, such as the way antivaccinationists like to liken the “vaccine-induced autism epidemic” to a “vaccine Holocaust” or “autism Holocaust.” As a spin-off of that interest, I created a character that for a while lived (well, not exactly lived) in infamy as my favored tool to make fun of overblown Nazi and/or Holocaust analogies, namely the Hitler Zombie. Sadly, the undead Fuhrer hasn’t been around for four years. Whatever the reason I stopped blogging about this topic, I hadn’t expected to revisit it in the context of atheists opposing a Holocaust memorial design in Ohio, but that’s exactly what I feel compelled to do right now.

Unfortunately, yesterday I became aware of a staggeringly tone deaf and ahistorical attempt by an atheist group to protest the use of a Star of David on a Holocaust memorial through a member of FreeThoughtBlogs. A reader e-mailed me a link to a post by Biodork about a controversy over a proposed Holocaust memorial in Columbus, OH, which led me to a news story about the controversy, and multiple posts by Dan Fincke over at Camels With Hammers about the controversy, one of which has the provocative title The Very Worst of the Atheist Movement on Display: Major Atheist Orgs Attack Star of David Holocaust Memorial.

It’s a title that, sadly, I’m forced to agree with. Talk about a combination of historical ignorance, and tone-deafness, with a distressing amount of plain napalm-grade burning stupid used to bring the whole mixture to a boil.

The reason this irritates me is not because I think that there isn’t a legitimate discussion to be had whether there should be a Holocaust memorial on statehouse property in Ohio and, if so, what form that memorial should take. Of course there should be. Many of you know that I lived in Cleveland myself for eight years back in the 1990s, and most my wife’s half of the family still lives in northwest Ohio. So I have an affinity for the state and care what happens there. The problem is the reasoning, such as it is, which boils down to two main objections voiced by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-Presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a letter sent to Senator Richard H. Finan, who’s apparently the chair of the committee planning the project. In this letter, Barker makes has two main complaints about one—and only on—aspect of design of the currently proposed Holocaust memorial. First, he castigates its inclusion as a “constitutionally problematic endorsement of religion.” Second, he castigates the use of the Star of David as somehow “excluding” all the other victims of the Holocaust. While expressing those objections, Barker gets himself all in a lather because to him the Holocaust was a religious genocide. Let’s deal with this last one first because that’s where so much of the burning stupid bringing the whole noxious mixture to a boil comes in. (You’ll have to wait for it a little bit, because it doesn’t show up until the end of the passage I’m about to quote, but, believe me, it’s bad.) Besides, these passages also deal with numbers one and two as well.

We and everyone who values the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment must oppose the current design because of the terrible legal precedent it would create. Permitting one permanent sectarian and exclusionary religious symbol, even though it represents a minority religion, would create the legal precedent, for instance, to place an equally large or larger permanent Latin cross on Capitol Grounds.

Can you play “name that logical fallacy”? Sure, I knew you could. This one is the “slippery slope” fallacy and ignores the unique circumstances of the Holocaust. Hemant Mehta (a.k.a. The Friendly Atheist) uses a similar logical fallacy to agree with the FFRF. More importantly, despite a whole lot of huffing and wheezing earlier in the letter, the Star of David is not just a religious symbol, but a symbol of race and culture. The term “Jew” is complex in that it can refer to religion or culture. Surely Barker must know that there are a large number of secular Jews, even atheist Jews, who use the symbol to denote their Jewishness just as much as the religion does. (In fact, he even mentions atheist Jews.) Next up, Barker and Gaylor provides us with a non sequitur of such enormous magnitude that, even now as I write this, I stand grudgingly in awe of it. Ready? As James T. Kirk said in The Wrath of Khan, here it comes:

As a much-persecuted minority conscious of the history of warfare and genocide in the name of a god and a religion, many U.S. Jewish citizens and groups work hard to keep religion out of government. They and we are aware of the sinister role Christian union with the state played during the Holocaust, of the writings of Hitler, a Roman Catholic, who said in Mein Kampf, By fighting the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work,” the concordance between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations with Nazi Germany and Fascisti Italy. They and we are aware that “Gott mit uns” (“God [is] with us”) was the Nazi motto emblazoned on the buckle of the Nazi German soldiers’ uniform—clearly showing the Holocaust was a religiously motivated genocide. They and we are aware of the long, dark history of religion aligned with the power of the state that has resulted in more people being killed in the name of religion than for any other reason.

To align the State of Ohio with one religion and its sacred symbol—even a minority religion for a worthy memorial—would dishonor the truest protection our country has against a similar holocaust on our shores: the precious constitutional principle separating religion from government. Had there been separation between religion and state honored and enforced in Germany, ensuring the government could not favor the dominant religion and persecute and scapegoat minority religion and other “dissidents,” there would not have been a Holocaust.

Logic and history severely damaged, much as the Reliant was after Kirk said, “Here it comes.”

Yes, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after reading that. If only Nazi Germany had had adequate protections against mixing religion and politics then the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened. If only… If only… If only Hitler hadn’t systematically dismantled every mechanism of democratic government and every check against unlimited government power soon after attaining the Chancellorship in 1933! Yeah, that might well have prevented the Holocaust. After all, before Hitler took power, there was religious freedom written into the Weimar Constitution, which explicitly said that there is no state religion. That sure stopped the Holocaust, didn’t it? Yes, I know Barker also used the word “enforced” as well, but, really, what was going on in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s went way beyond religious freedom and government not favoring religion. No, even making such a claim as Barker made reveals such an amazing ignorance of basic history that it stuns me. As for the “Gott mit uns” thing, Barker would have done well to check Wikipedia before laying that down. It’s a motto that dates back to at least the German unification in 1871, when the imperial standard first bore the words. During World War II, Wehrmacht soldiers did indeed wear this slogan on their belt buckles. However members of the Waffen SS, the soldiers who were actually responsible for organizing and carrying out much of the Holocaust, wore the motto Meine Ehre heißt Treue (“My honor is loyalty”). Most likely this reflected the fanatical loyalty to Hitler, the Nazi regime, and the volk that the Waffen SS were expected to demonstrate.

In any case, while there was a religious element to the Holocaust, Hitler justified it far more often in terms of portraying the Jews as parasites, the enemies of the volk endlessly working to undermine its greater glory, and, above all, responsible for Bolshevism and the “stab in the back” at the end of World War I that, in the eyes of Hitler and many fascist-leaning elements in Germany, robbed victory from the German people. He arguably more frequently invoked biology, referring to Nazi-ism as “applied biology” and Jews as “racial inferiors.” As early as 1935, “complete emigration” of all Jews from the Reich was a stated goal. It was all about the “purity” of the race and the elimination of what Hitler viewed in his fevered imagination as the implacable enemies of the volk.

The other issue is that Barker harps on is how the symbol is “exclusionary.” Let’s take a look at the inscription:

Inspired by the Ohio soldiers who were part of the American liberation and survivors who made Ohio their home.

If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.

In remembrance the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and millions more including prisoners of war, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, and political dissidents were suffered under Nazi Germany.

That sounds pretty inclusive to me. In the context of the actual inscription, obviously now it all boils down to the symbol. Now here’s the problem. Remember how I said that I spent a lot of time combatting online Holocaust denial in my early days and how that experience was pretty much my “gateway drug” into skepticism and critical thinking? This experience of diving into the vilest, deepest, darkest corners of Usenet and the web (which is where Holocaust deniers dwell) has shown me what anti-Semitism looks like. I also know all the common tropes used by Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. Now, I am not in any way accusing or even insinuating that the atheists who are currently up in arms about the design of the proposed Holocaust memorial in Ohio are anti-Semitic. I don’t think they are. I am, however, struck how they almost certainly unknowingly have chosen to emphasize one complaint I frequently saw voiced by anti-Semites. I really wish they hadn’t done that, particularly because I’m sure they did it unknowingly, but they did. What I’m referring to is their attack on the use of the Star of David based on explicit arguments that reject the fundamental “Jewishness” of the Holocaust. Indeed, Dave Silverman of American Atheists clumsily made this error in this video:

To be honest, it’s really painful to watch, and it was particularly painful to listen to this part, which is about as tin-eared and tone-deaf as anything I’ve ever heard:

It’s on public land, and it’s going to look like a temple, it’s going to look like a Jewish shrine. It’s going to look like a synagogue. And it’s important that we not give the Holocaust to just the Jews. There was a lot of people who died.

“It’s important that we not give the Holocaust to just the Jews”? Seriously? Does Silverman even know how much historical ignorance question reveals? Holocaust historians around the world are covering their ears in pain.

Let me explain why this is ahistorical, tone deaf, and a straw man, to boot. (After all, nothing in the memorial advocates giving the “Holocaust to just the Jews.”) I’m likely to piss off some people here, but, guess what? In this case, I don’t care.

I really hate to say it, but in this case a FOX News anchor gets it right compared to David Silverman when she points out that the Jews were the primary target of the Holocaust. Although there were many other groups who were ultimately targeted for mass murder during the Holocaust, the Jews were central to the Holocaust. Period. The FFRF’s campaign in this case flirts uncomfortably close (certainly unknowingly on the part of FFRF) with one complaint that I’ve seen used many times by anti-Semites, which is to deny the centrality of Jews to the Holocaust. Basically, they will say something along the lines of, “The Nazis killed lots of people during the Holocaust, not just Jews. What makes the Jews so special? The Holocaust was about more than the Jews.” Guess what? Dave Silverman said almost exactly that in the video above!

Let’s be clear. The central purpose of the Holocaust was to rid the Reich of its Jews, and the Jews were central to the Holocaust. It started with taking away their rights, then progressed to violence against them, then to forcible expulsion, and then finally to mass extermination. Yes, the Holocaust then expanded to target lot of other groups that the Nazis didn’t like, but it started with the Jews. As Gord McFee put it in his essay, entitled, appropriately enough, Are the Jews Central to the Holocaust?:

The ultimate aim and the primary target never varied. Others were murdered in the course of the Final Solution, e.g. Gypsies, Russian POWs, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on, but the first and constant target was always the Jews. The Final Solution was intended for the Jews, was about the Jews and chiefly affected the Jews. There is no denying that, without the Jews, there is no Final Solution.

To minimize or trivialize the “Jewishness” of the Final Solution is to seriously understate, if not, unintentionally perhaps, deny its essence. This does not mean that the suffering of other groups is to be ignored; on the contrary, it was terrible. But without the Holocaust, without the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, the others live. The term “holocaust” was coined to describe the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Final Solution. It does not seek to negate the suffering of the other victims.

Exactly. Jew hatred was a driving force of the Nazi Party from at least 1920 on, and it continued as a constant, unwavering fanatical belief right up until Hitler took his life in his bunker under Berlin in 1945. No Jew hatred, no Holocaust.

Silverman also makes the claim that the Holocaust was “about eugenics, it was about creating the perfect Aryan race.” Not exactly. It was about far more than just eugenics, and the widely exterminationist phase was all about the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” (as the Nazis euphemistically put it). One way you can pidginhole the Holocaust into being mainly about eugenics is if you define the “Holocaust” as only its genocidal mass murder phase, but, again, the Holocaust was more than that. It began before the T4 “euthanasia” program (Aktion T4), the famous program to eliminate what the Nazis characteristically called “life unworthy of life.” That began in 1939, as Nazi Germany was gearing up for the invasion of Poland, and started around the same time as the war. However, the Holocaust, as more broadly defined, began almost immediately after Hitler took power in 1933. As Joyce Garver Keller put it:

“The Holocaust did not begin in concentration camps in the ovens with smoke stacks and mass graves,” Keller told FoxNews.com. “It began in the halls of government with the passage of laws that targeted Jews, taking their properties, their businesses, their home, their freedom and ultimately their lives.

The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages. First came the stripping of legal rights and protections from Jews, in particular through the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. The purpose, of course, was to remove Jews from civil society. Then came increasing persecution and then imprisonment in concentration camps, where many died from overwork and starvation. As the war began (around the same time as Aktion T4 was getting under way), brutal murders of Polish Jews began, and later mobile killing squads known as the Einsatzgruppen followed the Wehrmacht into Russia and the Ukraine.

In many ways, the T4 program could be viewed as the turning point, when the Holocaust turned to genocide, and as a “warm up” for the genocidal killing that got into full gear a couple of years later, but it is not where the Holocaust began.

Let’s be very clear here. What is driving opposition to the Holocaust memorial among atheists is a single thing: The Star of David. There is actually a discussion to be had there, given how the Star of David is simultaneously both a secular and religious symbol. If Barker and Silverman had restricted their arguments to questioning whether the religious facet of such a multifaceted symbol disqualified it for inclusion on government property, would I have been so—shall we say?—vociferous? Probably not. It disturbs me, however, how certain secularists have been so quick to embrace ahistorical arguments in their knee-jerk opposition to anything that smacks of religion and in doing so have (I assume, unwittingly) been willing to latch on to arguments that I’ve seen anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers use beginning back in the late 1990s when I first encountered Holocaust denial on Usenet. Perhaps I will take a lot of flack for saying this. Perhaps not. I don’t care. My message to Barker and Silverman is simple. If you want to oppose the use of the Star of David as a religious symbol on state property, that’s fine. But could you please stop using such painfully bad and downright offensive arguments to do it?

Comments

  1. #1 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    July 31, 2013

    Nicely put, Orac. Not much I can add to it other than that I share some similar feelings about these kinds of actions and methods.

  2. #2 Gem Newman
    Winnipeg, MB
    July 31, 2013

    Thoughtfully put. Thanks for that. I’ll note that I believe you got David Silverman’s name wrong, though (unless you meant to make some snarky comparison between him and the 90210 character that went over my head). It’s a little strange to see this sort of thing from Silverman, who was raised Jewish—I would have liked to see a little nuance, at least. Ah well.

  3. #3 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    Fixed. For some reason a brain fart made me alternate between Silverman and Silver, depending on the paragraph. I attribute it to early onset Alzheimer’s. :-)

  4. #4 Julian Frost
    July 31, 2013

    Hemant Mehta is flat-out lying when he says:

    the sinister role Christian union with the state played during the Holocaust, of the writings of Hitler, a Roman Catholic, who said in Mein Kampf, By fighting the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work,” the concordance between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations with Nazi Germany and Fascisti Italy

    Nazism was actually based in part on the old pagan religions. Many members of the clergy were sent to the death camps and/or murdered. Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran priest. A large percentage of saints canonised by John Paul 2 were killed by the Nazis. This is known. Yet still I see the lie that christianity as a whole supported Hitler’s actions.

  5. #5 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    Actually, it was Dan Barker who wrote that. I slightly edited the introductory sentence to make that very clear.

  6. #6 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    July 31, 2013

    And I see I accused Hermant Mehta and not Barker of making that comment. Brain Fart.

  7. #7 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    Gorski:

    Kudos on this post. We haven’t agreed on a lot, but we certainly agree on this. The Star of David is central to the Holocaust and to the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. Recognition of this is not “exclusionary”, but simple truth.

    The way to honor all of the victims of the Holocaust is to tell the truth about it– it was a focused attempt to exterminate European Jews.

    The FFRF are not nice folks. The hate religion, and plainly that includes Judaism. Censoring the Star of David on a Holocaust memorial is Holocaust denial, plain and simple.

    I’d be interested to know why you don’t post on evolution any more. “Others do it better” isn’t an explanation. Maybe the luster of just-so stories wears off, with maturity.

  8. #8 rork
    July 31, 2013

    Though the post doesn’t really touch on the legal issues, I agree it’s not a big establishment problem, just insensitive to people who were thrown in camps who weren’t Jewish. I think that’s probably the attitude of most atheists.

    I also didn’t like the beginning who cares attitude about religion in an era were, to me, it seems the religious are seeking special treatment in the U.S. rather often. Down the block from me is a billboard asking us to protect religious freedom that I think is actually asking me to permit the discrimination against women in violation of the 1964 civil rights act. I get to endure very christian holiday decorations on the town square, made maybe-legal by the appearance of one snow-flake sculpture, that seem very unwelcoming to those of other or no faith. People trying to coerce our young to say a ironic pledge in school, or trying to twist what is taught in schools. Teachers and principals spouting their god-speak at every opportunity, knowing that those who might object will politely stay quiet. I need help, not shruggies.

  9. #9 Skeptico
    July 31, 2013

    Mike Egnor:

    I’d be interested to know why you don’t post on evolution any more. “Others do it better” isn’t an explanation. Maybe the luster of just-so stories wears off, with maturity.

    More likely the creationists just keep repeating the same old arguments that have been debunked numerous times. That’s the trouble when all you have is god of the gaps – debunking that fallacy for the nth time does get tedious.

  10. #10 Dangerous Bacon
    July 31, 2013

    Nice post, Orac.

    Some criticisms I’ve seen of this memorial on the basis of it being “exclusionary” make it obvious that the writers either are unaware of the inscription, or deliberately using the memorial to push the argument that “Jews are monopolizing the Holocaust” (to what nefarious ends we can only imagine).

    Some of the protest has a definite odor of bigotry.

  11. #11 Mu
    July 31, 2013

    One thing in the development of the Holocaust from a simple persecution to a genocide that is often overlooked is that persecution was actually “working” for the Nazis in the 1930s. By 1939 60% of the German Jews had already left Germany, leaving most of their property behind. Unfortunately, due to the early success of the Wehrmacht,those that didn’t manage to go overseas got later caught again, together with the 5 million or so Jews of former Galicia (then part of Poland and the USSR). Without this, Jews would indeed only have been a minor part in the mix of victims.

  12. #12 Skeptico
    July 31, 2013

    Interesting post, Orac. It had struck me that the star of David was a secular as well as a religious symbol, and so I wasn’t convinced that it was worth making an issue. I didn’t realize what other bad arguments they were using though.

  13. #13 Xuuths
    July 31, 2013

    I have to disagree with your interpretation of “slippery slope” as a logical fallacy. Pointing out the setting of a legal precedent is most definitely NOT a logical fallacy, but what attorneys are paid handsomely to accomplish. (Some slippery slope statements are logical fallacies, but certainly not ALL.)

    Some of your other points downplay the reality of the non-Jewish parts of the Holocaust’s origins.

    I’m surprised you couldn’t finish The God Delusion, seriously.

    But that said, I enjoy your posts exposing quack medicine, so I suppose you’ve settled into your niche.

  14. #14 Sastra
    July 31, 2013

    You make a lot of good points. And yes, I suspect both Barker and Silverman were unaware of how their argument on ‘not just the Jews’ echoed that of holocaust denialism. They’re too used to having to emphasize that the United States is ‘not just’ people of faith.

    Permitting one permanent sectarian and exclusionary religious symbol, even though it represents a minority religion, would create the legal precedent, for instance, to place an equally large or larger permanent Latin cross on Capitol Grounds.

    If they’re worried about a “slippery slope” here it’s probably because they know how the Religious Right works … and how the average American citizen thinks. “Look — if a Jewish Star of David is okay then so is a cross. You can’t single out Christianity and persecute it.” Context? Petty details.

    These days I tend to think of myself as following the church of dontcareism. I just don’t care that much one way or the other about religion, and endless arguments about atheism, “atheism-plus,” and the like bore me to tears.

    Ah — a “shruggie.”

    That’s fine. We all focus on issues we feel passionate about and tend to give the others a nod.

    But keep in mind that when it comes to the forces which fight against the values of reason, science, critical thinking, skepticism, and the natural world Religion and the Faith-based rationalizations which prop it all up are the ultimate authority. It’s where the action and arguments really begin. The root source and origin.

    It’s not just that many forms of alt med pseudoscience are simply extended arguments for evidence of the supernatural (though they are.) It’s that the mindset which encourages people to believe in “alternative medicine” is almost always grounded in the same mindset which claims that belief comes down to faith and choice and commitment … and that’s a good thing. Pick a side. Ways of knowing. Personal experience. Believe.

    Mind, body, AND spirit. Only alternative medicine is holistic.

    I think it’s a fight against religion/spirituality, whether you make it explicit or not.

  15. #15 Antaeus Feldspar
    July 31, 2013

    I’d be interested to know why you don’t post on evolution any more. “Others do it better” isn’t an explanation. Maybe the luster of just-so stories wears off, with maturity.

    Is that the impression you’ve gotten from all your second-hand observations of maturity?

  16. #16 Xuuths
    July 31, 2013

    For me, the “idontcareism” ignores the reality that your taxes would go down if religious institutions were not tax-free. Wars might not be started (and lots of people killed) if political leaders didn’t feel god was telling them to attack. What kind of medical treatment you get may be determined by the religion of who is in the emergency room (or pharmacy). What appears in the books our children are taught may be decided by young earth creationist historical revisionists. What you can legally purchase, on what days, is often decided by theocrats at the local level. What movies you’re allowed to watch can be decided by religious people on the rating board (most theatres will not show NC-17 rated or unrated films). Even what areas of medical research will be funded by the NIH is being determined by Dr. Collins who gives lectures about how religion guides him.

    I could go on an on.

    Religion affects us all, even when we try to be aloof (or think we are). But I certainly understand burnout on the topic.

  17. #17 Humanist Living
    July 31, 2013

    Comments like this don’t show a focus on the ideas involved but instead poison the well and distract from an otherwise informative piece:

    “Talk about a combination of historical ignorance, and tone-deafness, with a distressing amount of plain napalm-grade burning stupid used to bring the whole mixture to a boil.”

  18. #18 Emil Karlsson
    Debunking Denialism
    July 31, 2013

    Great post!

    It disturbs me, however, how certain secularists have been so quick to embrace ahistorical arguments in their knee-jerk opposition to anything that smacks of religion and in doing so have (I assume, unwittingly) been willing to latch on to arguments that I’ve seen anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers use beginning back in the late 1990s when I first encountered Holocaust denial on Usenet.

    Exactly. I find it very problematic that well-known and leading skeptics can be selective enough to make such a mistake.

  19. #19 Chris Hickie
    July 31, 2013

    I wish such craziness as you discuss, Orac, couldn’t gain such traction, but, like so many other areas that all people should better know and understand, history isn’t being taught or learned like it needs to be.

  20. #20 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    @Humanist Living:

    One wonders whether you castigate, say, P.Z. Myers for his tone this way.

    Whether you do or not, I answer the way I answer a lot whenever I hear this complaint, which is to echo Han Solo, “Hey, it’s me.” It’s my opinion of what Barker and Gaylor wrote in their letter (primarily), which was offensive and dumb on so many levels that the original version of this post last night was less benign. Yes, this version is actually toned down a bit.

    Again, as I pointed out elsewhere in my post, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t an argument to be made against a prominent display of the Star of David. I don’t think it’s a particularly compelling argument, but there is a reasonable one to be made. The problem is that Barker and Gaylor chose some of the absolutely dumbest and most offensive arguments that could be made. Even the one that was not unreasonable (the religious connotation of the Star of David) they chose to present in a manner that sounded anti-Semitic, and David Silverman echoed the same argument. Again, I don’t think any of them are anti-Semitic, just ignorant of history and so knee-jerk antireligion that they didn’t stop to find out what the implications of the arguments they used are.

  21. #21 Xuuths
    July 31, 2013

    You might want to check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffen-SS for yourself, as your statements above were a bit in error. (I mean, if you’re going to accuse someone else of getting the history wrong, you probably should make sure you get the history right.)

  22. #22 Orac
    July 31, 2013
  23. #23 Xuuths
    July 31, 2013

    That doesn’t exactly support your inaccuracy nor conflict with my link. But you appear to be looking for a fight on this, rather than having a discussion. Oh well, some other time.

  24. #24 Orac
    July 31, 2013
  25. #25 Albrecht Kolthoff
    Berlin, Germany
    July 31, 2013

    Some remarks from an atheist in Berlin, Germany.

    1. Usage of the Star of David as designation of Jewish communities and identity stems from the medieval ages in Europe. Since the 19th century it was used as a symbol for a political movement (Zionism).

    2. The Nazis forced the Jews to wear armbands with the Star of David; thus it was a unique symbol of what we know now as the Holocaust. In 1948 it became the most prominent feature of the Israeli national flag.

    Both points make clear that the Star of David isn’t a religious symbol per se as undoubtedly the Christian cross is. It is a symbol both self-chosen and imposed, a symbol with cultural, political and religious connotations. The religious meanings may even be the weakest compared to the others, but then, you can’t have the Jews without their religion.

    3. If these ardent fighters for atheism still are in fear of having a monument dedicated to victims of the Holocaust, they could easily interpret the Hexagram as another symbol. In Central Europe this symbol also has been used for quite a different object since the late Middle Ages: It has bee the trade sign of the brewers, and so you’ll see this sign at the doors of many taverns until today especially in Southern Germany as a “Brauerstern” (brewer’s star). See:
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brauerstern
    http://www.brewingmuseum.org/articles/six-point-brewers-star
    http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/brewerstar.shtml

    [Disclaimer: That was meant to be sarcastic.]

    Having experienced numerous debates about Holocaust monuments and memorials in Europe and in Germany, I must say that this one is especially embarrassing, particularly to me as an atheist. Not because there are people opposing such a monument – during such debates here in Europe there have been many honorable voices against monuments, or against the actual design of such monuments etc. The debate about the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin where I am living is not the only one example for that.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_of_Europe

    Well, Berlin is not Columbus, and debates about a monument are necessarily different. But there’s one thing for sure: The most embarrassing part with this Ohio memorial debate is that these fighters for reason are so ill-educated and plain dumb.

  26. #26 Denice Walter
    July 31, 2013

    @ Albrecht:

    Thanks so much for the links to the monuments- especially the stelae, shoes and triangles.

  27. #27 Hibob
    July 31, 2013

    “the Star of David is not just a religious symbol, but a symbol of race and culture. ”

    The cross has been the absolute symbol of Western culture ever since Charlemagne. It’s still pretty much inseparable from European governments: the flag of England (St. George’s Cross), flags of Switzerland, Greece, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Norway; Fleur De lys, Iron Cross …
    OK, I’m going to sound like Sheldon if I continue that list.

    I think the FFRF was hamhanded in this effort. I also think monuments not situated at courthouses/legislative buildings should be the lowest of priorities. But the argument that this could provide a modern precedent for new Cross-themed monuments certainly holds water.

  28. #28 Mu
    July 31, 2013

    Orac, I think his beef is with your classification of the Waffen-SS as a main perpetrator of the Holocaust. While there has never any argument about the Allgemeine SS being the main actors, including the Waffen-SS in the criminal organizations was controversial, and the main argument at Nuremberg was that there was a large cross-over between the two organizations, potentially allowing war criminals to escape judgement if the Waffen-SS was not included in the organizations where simple membership was sufficient to declare you guilty without proof of individual guilt.

  29. #29 palindrom
    July 31, 2013

    I sure wish the atheist movement would focus its energies on creating goodwill, rather than destroying it. I think that in general it’s a bad idea to make people angry at you unless you have an extremely compelling reason for it, and lame slippery-slope arguments aren’t good enough, in my view.

    As a lifelong atheist, I think our main goal should be to get the larger society to treat us with a modicum of respect, leave us alone, and to prevent the fundamentalists from hijacking public education. After that, we can worry about these tiny symbolic things.

  30. #30 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    The jesus cross and the jewish star are pretty much on par as far as being religious symbols which don’t belong on government monuments, so it’s not a “slope”, slippery or not. Furthermore, “slippery slope” is not necessarily a fallacy, especially in matters of law where the whole point is to have standards which apply to more than one thing unless explicitly defined not to.

    “Unique circumstances”, however, sounds like special pleading. It’s like saying, “We feel extra sorry for this religion, so we are doing it anyway”.

    The text etched on the monument may be universal, but the overall design sure isn’t. And what about the 20 million dead Russians? Where is their 12-foot stone carving of a hammer and sickle to represent their special status? Hitler sure did put out lots of anti-communist propaganda and had planned well in advance to slaughter them. But communists don’t have a special social status like the Jewish victims do, so no monument for them.

    I wonder if there are any relatives of Palestinians living in Ohio.

  31. #31 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    [Again, I don’t think any of them are anti-Semitic, just ignorant of history and so knee-jerk antireligion that they didn’t stop to find out what the implications of the arguments they used are.]

    You give them too much slack. The FFRF is packed with lawyers and ideologues, who do nothing but think out the implications of what they do. Any marginally cogent person knows that demanding the removal of a Star of David from a Holocaust memorial, under any pretense, is an anti-Semitic act. Neo-Nazis no doubt have their “Constitutional” objections too.

    The FFRF hates all religion, not the least Judaism, and they represent a significant faction among New Atheists. .

    Are people who hate Judaism because they hate all religion really anti-Semites?

    I would say yes. Anti-Semites are no less abhorrent just because they hate other people too.

  32. #32 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    “Orac July 31, 2013
    You mean history like this?
    http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007403

    Xuuths may have completely failed to state any specific point, but re-asserting the fact of the “loyalty” slogan does not disprove religious motivation. Perhaps this is more relevant (from the wikipedia article he provided):

    “Himmler wrote, “Atheism is the only world-view or religious view that is not tolerated within the SS.”[12]]”

    Obviously he forgot to mention Jews, but by that time it probably didn’t need to be specified.

  33. #33 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    July 31, 2013

    @Carl

    Did you not read Orac’s post? It seems like you didn’t, since you’re making the same arguments that he is pointing out are bad. You’re also ignoring the point that the 6-pointed star is largely a cultural, ethnic and political symbol, and that the religious connection is secondary.

    @Orac

    One other thing that jumped out at me is the description of Judaism as a “minority” religion. Isn’t it one of the three biggest religions?

  34. #34 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    Mike Egnor:

    If you think religious belief is inseparable from race… YOU are the racist one.

  35. #35 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    Orac, I think his beef is with your classification of the Waffen-SS as a main perpetrator of the Holocaust. While there has never any argument about the Allgemeine SS being the main actors, including the Waffen-SS in the criminal organizations was controversial, and the main argument at Nuremberg was that there was a large cross-over between the two organizations, potentially allowing war criminals to escape judgement if the Waffen-SS was not included in the organizations where simple membership was sufficient to declare you guilty without proof of individual guilt.

    A not unreasonable point, but given that there was so much crossover between them it also partially supports my case.

  36. #36 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    “Himmler wrote, “Atheism is the only world-view or religious view that is not tolerated within the SS.”[12]]”

    Obviously he forgot to mention Jews, but by that time it probably didn’t need to be specified.

    Well, Jews were excluded from basically everything of import in Nazi Germany after 1935.

  37. #37 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    Todd W:
    “Did you not read Orac’s post? It seems like you didn’t, since you’re making the same arguments that he is pointing out are bad. “”

    Then I don’t think you understood anything I said. I clearly explained why he was wrong about those arguments. You can disagree, but your observation that I am supporting an argument he doesn’t like is just an empty complaint.

    “You’re also ignoring the point that the 6-pointed star is largely a cultural, ethnic and political symbol, and that the religious connection is secondary.””

    The christians try that same BS with the cross. But even if that weren’t a load… where is the monument to the cultural-political soviet people?

  38. #38 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    “Orac
    July 31, 2013
    Well, Jews were excluded from basically everything of import in Nazi Germany after 1935″

    Obviously. The point is that, despite that group not using a specific religious slogan, they were most definitely a religious group with an explicit policy against non-religious people. As he said, that is their ONLY policy.

  39. #39 lilady
    July 31, 2013

    I am ill-at-ease with the Star of David being placed on any building on government property…just as I am against a cross, a manger scene or a menorah on government property.

    If the National Holocaust Museum in Washington is able to present The Holocaust and the systemic genocide of Jews throughout Nazi-dominated Europe and attract visitors, 90 % of whom are non-Jews, without the Star of David affixed to its building, then why is it necessary to display a religious symbol on government land in Ohio? (I’ve yet to tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, even though I have donated to the Museum)

    http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/North_America/United_States_of_America/Washington_DC/Things_To_Do-Washington_DC-US_Holocaust_Museum-BR-1.html

    If we as skeptics, fight the placement of the Ten Commandments
    tablets on land of State Capitols and the Supreme Court decision to permit that religious symbol, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Orden_v._Perry isn’t it disingenuous to argue for the placement of the Star of David on State land?

  40. #40 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    @Emil Karlsson:

    [Exactly. I find it very problematic that well-known and leading skeptics can be selective enough to make such a mistake.]

    What about the demand to remove the Star of David could possibly construed as a mistake?

    Why do you refer to deliberate attempts to deny a central truth of the Holocaust– that it was directed at Jews– as a “mistake”?

    You need to understand what the FFRF is about. It is a hate group. It hates religious people, and does whatever it can under law to drive them out of the public square.

    This bit of Holocaust denial is a feature, not a bug. The FFRF knows exactly what it’s doing.

  41. #41 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    I am ill-at-ease with the Star of David being placed on any building on government property…just as I am against a cross, a manger scene or a menorah on government property.

    And I get that. I actually share that unease to some extent. As I said above, there are reasonable arguments to be made against this design. The problem is that neither FFRF nor AA has made them. Instead, they chose at least one dumb and offensive argument. Much of my problem is with the whole “it’s important that we not give the Holocaust to just the Jews” and the efforts on the part of the two atheist organizations involved to deny the centrality of Jews to the Holocaust as a strategy.

  42. #42 Orac
    July 31, 2013

    You need to understand what the FFRF is about. It is a hate group. It hates religious people, and does whatever it can under law to drive them out of the public square.

    Uh, no. No it isn’t. Don’t mistake my criticism of the FFRF on this issue for agreeing with you on this. The FFRF screwed up on this issue. When it comes to not allowing the state to endorse a specific religious tradition (i.e., mangers on state property, Ten Commandments in courthouses), I’m with them.

  43. #43 lilady
    July 31, 2013

    Another point I would like to make is the definition of The Holocaust, and the description of “other holocausts”/genocides, which occurred throughout history, provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:

    http://www.ushmm.org/research/library/faq/details.php

    I am more concerned with how the far-to-the-right “Christians” have driven our foreign policy, our domestic policy, the science we teach in our schools and the destruction of our public school systems (“divine intervention” and “school vouchers” being used for religious schools’ tuition), foreign aid policy to prevent more AIDS deaths, the human right to control procreation, the limitation of fetal stem cells to develop effective therapies against diseases and disorders, and the movement to “define” marriage with a Constitutional Amendment.

  44. #44 Melissa G
    July 31, 2013

    The Star of David is not *just* a religious symbol (nor a cultural one)– it is the VERY THING the Nazi government made the Jews stitch onto their clothes to identify them to their oppressors. Anyone who cannot see how this makes the display of a Star of David at a Holocaust memorial different from a cross on public lands is tone deaf to the sociology of oppression.

  45. #45 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    Gorski:

    [Uh, no. No it isn’t. Don’t mistake my criticism of the FFRF on this issue for agreeing with you on this. The FFRF screwed up on this issue. When it comes to not allowing the state to endorse a specific religious tradition (i.e., mangers on state property, Ten Commandments in courthouses), I’m with them.]

    We aren’t discussing the censorship of Christian symbols.

    We’re discussing the censorship of Jewish symbols, and specifically the censorship of a Jewish symbol on a Holocaust memorial.

    The point is obvious: it’s plainly anti-Semitic. It’s no “mistake”. Bevies of lawyers working for ideological advocacy groups don’t make “mistakes” of this sort– “Oh, gee, we didn’t imagine that anyone could construe demanding the removal a Star of David from a Holocaust memorial as anti-Semitic Holocaust denial! Why are people so hysterical?”.

    The FFRF has a nation of targets– millions of Christian teachers in high school classrooms, thousands of Christian college professors in public universities, millions of creches and crosses across America, millions of Christian symbols on public monuments, insignia, graveyards, etc. It’s a target rich environment for religion-haters.

    But they chose– carefully and specifically and deliberately– the Star of David at a Holocaust memorial. It sure as hell was no mistake. It was, in baseball terms, a blow-back pitch– a warning to Jews that they are not welcome in the public square either, qua Jews. Their message: it ain’t just Christians who need to shut up.

    Your opinion and my opinion on teaching ID in schools has nothing to do with the fact that the FFRF is a hate group.

    This is about the FFRF, not about Dover.

    Well, it is about Dover, because it’s about the freedom for religious people to speak in the public square, but you need to understand some basics first before you understand the broader picture.

  46. #46 Mu
    July 31, 2013

    Oddly enough, the Star of David was not always the equivalent to the Christian cross, having only come into general use as identifier after the French revolution, based on some sporadic use since the middle ages. This is rather short for a religion that’s been around for some 3000 years.

  47. #47 Calli Arcale
    July 31, 2013

    “It’s important that we not give the Holocaust to just the Jews”

    Huh. I wonder how he’d feel if that argument were said in a non-religious context. For instance:

    “It’s important that we not give the Civil War to just slavery.”

    While there was more going on than just slavery, the question of slavery and the emancipation movement was absolutely central to the events that led up to the Civil War, and the prosecution of the war itself. Likewise, while it’s true that the Civil Rights Movement was about more than just blacks, the whole nexus of the movement pertained the reprehensible treatment of blacks in much of the country.

    I don’t see why this monument needs a Star of David, but I also don’t see any harm in including a Star of David on it either.

    Sastra:
    “But keep in mind that when it comes to the forces which fight against the values of reason, science, critical thinking, skepticism, and the natural world Religion and the Faith-based rationalizations which prop it all up are the ultimate authority. It’s where the action and arguments really begin.”

    Not all nonsense is based in what folks generally recognize as religion. Spend a little while reading about the enormous efforts the Soviet Union put into seriously whacked out pseudoscience whilst being aggressively atheist and you’ll see what I mean.

    Honestly, I think we’ll all be better off when what religious views a person has becomes unimportant except in the context of identity, like what hairstyle they wear. We’re better off without holy wars, of any kind.

  48. #48 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    Calling the FFRF a “hate group” shows us how the word “egnorance” entered the English language. The hate groups they continually fight are another story.

    They could defuse the Star of David as a religious symbol and make clear the connection to the marks the Nazis made them wear by including pink triangles, brown triangles, etc., as well.

    It would be particularly magnanimous to include the brown triangles, as the Nazis came a lot closer to their goal of killing all the Gypsies in Europe than they did the Jews. Any recognition of that seems to be regarded as antisemitism, however.

  49. #49 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    @Battleaxe:

    [They could defuse the Star of David as a religious symbol and make clear the connection to the marks the Nazis made them wear by including pink triangles, brown triangles, etc., as well.]

    Why “defuse the Star of David as a religious symbol”? What is wrong with displaying a religious symbol at a Holocaust memorial, as long as it’s telling the truth.

    Jews were targeted for a number of reasons, very prominent of which was their religion. Why demand that that simple truth be censored?

    Why must reference to religion be sandblasted from the public square?

    In a democracy, must Free Exercise of Religion not take place on public property?

  50. #50 Matt Carey
    July 31, 2013

    ” it is the VERY THING the Nazi government made the Jews stitch onto their clothes to identify them to their oppressors.”

    why not include a triangle as well? Or, if they have colors, pink, black, purple, etc. triangles? It is the “VERY THING” so many were required to wear as well.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_concentration_camp_badges

    I would prefer that such a monument included such additional symbol(s)

    That said, it’s a memorial. Every military cemetery in the U.S. has religious symbols, and this is not just an historical artifact. New graves have them too. I don’t care if the Star of David is a religious symbol, a secular symbol or both in this context. If Jews were persecuted solely for their religion, would we then never be able to build a memorial?

  51. #51 Antaeus Feldspar
    July 31, 2013

    Not all nonsense is based in what folks generally recognize as religion. Spend a little while reading about the enormous efforts the Soviet Union put into seriously whacked out pseudoscience whilst being aggressively atheist and you’ll see what I mean.

    Indeed. I don’t, sadly, remember who it was that first made the point, but when you look closely at Marxism, you realize how amazingly it resembles millenialist religion: we may be downtrodden now, but real soon now the Big Battle is gonna come along, and once it gets here, we’re gonna win it, and when it’s won, it’s gonna stay won FOREVER and we’ll all be living in paradise. Marxism just had “historical inevitability” rather than “God” as the omnipotent force that would achieve this unquestionable victory.

  52. #52 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    Nothing on public property must be seen as endorsing one religion over another. Perhaps you’ve heard of the First Amendment? Of course you haven’t. In the wingnut mind the only Amendment is the second half of the Second.

  53. #53 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    My #52 was aimed at the imbecile Egnor—slow typing fingers…

  54. #54 Calli Arcale
    July 31, 2013

    Anteus — well put. Religion is a product of human minds, and since both theists and atheists have human minds, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that both of them have produced systems that could reasonably be described as religions, even if they don’t fit the usual model of “god stuff”.

  55. #55 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    July 31, 2013

    @Carl

    where is the monument to the cultural-political soviet people

    Now that is a completely different argument. Saying “you can’t display the six-pointed star because it is a religious symbol” is a very different argument than saying “why don’t you also include the other secular symbols used by the Nazis to mark those they persecuted”.

    @Mike Egnor

    We’re discussing the censorship of Jewish symbols, and specifically the censorship of a Jewish symbol on a Holocaust memorial.

    The point is obvious: it’s plainly anti-Semitic.

    Calling for the removal of the symbol from the design is not, in and of itself, anti-Semitic. Calling for it to be removed because “Jews are ” would be. There are perfectly rational arguments to be made for the inclusion or exclusion of the symbol that have absolutely nothing to do with being pro- or anti-Semitic.

  56. #56 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    A Star of David in a Holocaust memorial endorses Judaism?

    It acknowleges Judaism. Is that an endorsement?

    It would seem to me that refusing to acknowlege Judaism in the Holocaust is closer to being unconstitutional. Its censoring a religious symbol and telling a lie about history simply because it is a religious symbol.

    Why do you believe that the First Amendment demands anti-religious censorship?

  57. [...] Other recommended reading: Suing Ourselves in the Foot The Ohio Holocaust Memorial [...]

  58. #58 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    Who’s “refusing to acknowledge Judaism in the Holocaust”, you cretin? Does the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum “refuse to acknowledge Judaism in the Holocaust” because they don’t have a Star of David plastered all over the outside?

    Remember, you are a supposedly scientifically-trained man who rejects evolution. That should clue you in that your brain is about as much use in any thought process as a cauliflower of the same size and shape. So your opinions on any subject are worth less than nothing.

  59. [...] perhaps more consequentially, as Orac documents the ways in which anti-Semites have a long and ugly history of trying to minimize the importance of [...]

  60. #60 Mewens
    July 31, 2013

    Mike, I’m not entirely sure you know what censorship actually is. If we take your argument at #56 at face value, then the government has already exercised censorship against gays, atheists, Soviets – anyone the Nazis intentionally targeted, really.

    “Not acknowledging” isn’t censorship by any stretch of the imagination, even if it’s ill-advised or ridiculous in a given situation.

  61. #61 LW
    July 31, 2013

    @Melissa G

    The Star of David is not *just* a religious symbol (nor a cultural one)– it is the VERY THING the Nazi government made the Jews stitch onto their clothes to identify them to their oppressors. Anyone who cannot see how this makes the display of a Star of David at a Holocaust memorial different from a cross on public lands is tone deaf to the sociology of oppression.

    My reaction exactly. 

    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge

    Nothing on public property must be seen as endorsing one religion over another.

    So we must falsify history by removing or concealing any symbol of historical relevance that *also* is connected with any religion?

  62. #62 Sastra
    July 31, 2013

    Calli Arcale #47 wrote:

    Not all nonsense is based in what folks generally recognize as religion. Spend a little while reading about the enormous efforts the Soviet Union put into seriously whacked out pseudoscience whilst being aggressively atheist and you’ll see what I mean.

    No, not all nonsense is religion-based, but the cultural role-model for proud and intractable dogma impervious to evidence is “faith.” If you believe in something as a matter of faith you’re immune to criticism. You’re an insider who has made a commitment to a Higher Power which doesn’t need to be proven by rational standards. In fact, being beyond the superficial ways of the world and human reasoning is the entire point.

    The Soviet Union had a serious problem: their pseudoscientific claims were demonstrably not true and they didn’t have the option of insisting that it was all true enough on some supernatural level available only to the faithful. But alternative medicine advocates frequently revert to spiritual explanations which go beyond science when faced with negative results.

    From what I’ve seen alties frequently draw positive comparisons between religious ways of knowing and their own level of certainty.

    Honestly, I think we’ll all be better off when what religious views a person has becomes unimportant except in the context of identity, like what hairstyle they wear.

    I think religion as a marker of identity is only going to become unimportant when believers admit that faith is unimportant — and so is God. But that — again — runs counter to the entire point of religion. It’s not only supposed to be significant knowledge of the true nature of reality — it’s supposed to separate the seekers from the deniers. And it does so by using methods which don’t rest on objective evidence and argument, but on ‘faith’ — belief based on evidence which is insufficient for cold, narrow people … but it’s enough for open, loving people like us.

    I see alternative medicine as a microcosm of this basic mindset.

  63. #63 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    So we must falsify history by removing or concealing any symbol of historical relevance that *also* is connected with any religion?

    Again, is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum “falsifying history”?

    What if I say leaving pink and brown triangles off the monument is falsifying history?

  64. #64 LW
    July 31, 2013

    What if I say leaving pink and brown triangles off the monument is falsifying history?

    Oh, you can. But by your argument above, even if they are added, the Star of David must *still* be omitted because it is recognizably connected with a religion.

  65. #65 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    If a number of the markings the Nazis forced different categories of people to wear were on the monument, then it would be obvious that the Star of David is not intended as a religious symbol in this context.

  66. #66 Mike Egnor
    July 31, 2013

    @Battleaxe:

    Why is censorship so much a part of your agenda?

    Why not let people make decisions about public religious symbols and expression based on historical relevance, community sentiment, aesthetic considerations, etc?

    Why do you insist that acknowledging religion is the same as endorsing religion?

  67. #67 LW
    July 31, 2013

    If a number of the markings the Nazis forced different categories of people to wear were on the monument, then it would be obvious that the Star of David is not intended as a religious symbol in this context.

    There’s no reason for me to believe that would “sanitize” the monument in the eyes of those who believe that “Nothing on public property must be seen as endorsing one religion over another.” See what rork had to say about “sanitized” displays:

    I get to endure very christian holiday decorations on the town square, made maybe-legal by the appearance of one snow-flake sculpture, that seem very unwelcoming to those of other or no faith.

  68. #68 Brianne Bilyeu
    United States
    July 31, 2013

    Thanks for this post, Orac. Lots of food for thought here. I am very much moved by the excerpt from Gord McFee’s work. I think we need to keep this fact central in our minds when we examine the arguments around this memorial. It is very liberal-minded of me to want everyone to be treated fairly and equally (which translates to being represented on the memorial fairly and equally), but the Jews *were* targeted unequally, and I wouldn’t object to that fact be underlined on any Holocaust memorial. I stand by my earlier objections – I would like to see a visual representation of the groups that are currently only written about…but I’m afraid that comes more down to personal preference than a failure of the design to recognize other groups.

  69. #69 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    July 31, 2013

    Egnor, you are too fucking stupid to engage.

  70. #70 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    “Todd W. July 31, 2013
    @Carl
    where is the monument to the cultural-political soviet people

    Now that is a completely different argument. Saying “you can’t display the six-pointed star because it is a religious symbol” is a very different argument than saying “why don’t you also include the other secular symbols used by the Nazis to mark those they persecuted”.”

    OMG Todd. Make up your f—ing mind. it was YOUR claim that the Star of David is largely non-religious, which is why I repeated your exact words.

    So which is it? Is it a religious symbol which doesn’t belong in an exclusive monument design, or is it a cultural thing which we are inexplicably choosing to represent to the exclusion of other obvious victims?

  71. #71 Carl
    July 31, 2013

    “LW July 31, 2013
    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    > Nothing on public property must be seen as
    > endorsing one religion over another.
    So we must falsify history by removing or concealing any symbol of historical relevance that *also* is connected with any religion?”

    A monument is not the historical record. That belongs in books.

    Maybe you haven’t looked at the picture, but it is not a document or an image of an event. It is a single thing selectively portrayed with a single religious symbol.

    But even if these official government-sanctioned monuments were our primary method of writing history, it would be an absurdly incomplete one. Good thing that is not the case.

    By the way, your interpretation of not “endorsing one religion over another” to mean that religion must be omitted entirely is incredibly obtuse.

  72. #72 Krubozumo Nyankoye
    August 1, 2013

    I don’t know if this is a distinction or not but my slight reading of the Nazi drama in the middle of the last century was all about RACE, not so much religion. Jews were characterized as a non-aryan race. The Nazis, indeed the germans colonially at least in SW Africa seemed to have some animus concerning people with too much melanin as well.

    To the egnorant, one can only point out in concordance and full throated agreement with is unassailable logic that indeed it is true, atheists throughout history of tortured witches and those possessed by demons of faith so they could confiscate their worldly possessions and then burn them at the stake on public display for the entertainment of the bloodthirsty believers.

    Aside from the fact that atheism in the U.S. is considered a greater character flaw than being poor, it is heartily amusing to hear you claim that a few atheists are oppressing the masses of the faithfull. Every Sunday you can see the government providing tax supported personnel, traffic cops, to orchestrate the influx and eflux of the faithful form their temples.

    Orac, I like this post, you did a good job of pointing out how making arguments that are flimsy or even disingenuous is self defeating. I know nothing of the protagonists in this dustup because I am Internet impaired on multiple levels. But I have often found that well meaning people out of an apparent urge to have an effect resort to things which in retrospect they should have avoided.

    On one hand I don’t really care what religion does because so far at least it has not affected me and probably won’t. If I were a woman I might feel very differently about that. Getting back to that whole burning
    witches thing, it was witches right? Not so many rich merchants went to the stake as pubescent girls and old crones. It is true Giordono Bruno was burnt, but he was an atheist!

    Another curiosity about how the religious react to atheism of whatever form is the common accusation of atheists being believers.

    I agree with Orac for the most part that atheism per se is not worthy of much discussion and I will confess that to a degree I agree with him on “The God Delusion”, but with the substantial caveat that in my case at least he was preaching to the choir and though I found some of his arguments a little persuasive there weren’t any deep insights to be had. Affirmation is fine.

    Jews are people who live within a kind of cultural bubble that is a little different from a lot of other people’s cultural bubbles. The holocaust was indeed all about cleansing the great aryan reich of the undesireables, racist at the core. But labels for racisim are harder to idenify if the distinction is not black and white, so to speak..

    The thing I find most amazing is that we expend our energy and resources on such non-squitur issue whilst around us our ecosystem is being demolished.

    The recent course of human history is abundant with irony.

    Fare forward, travelers.

  73. #73 Brin
    August 1, 2013

    I agree with Silverman and the FFRF about having an inclusive design rather than one that points only to Jewish identity. I think Jewish symbols should be present and prominent but not exclusive.

  74. #74 Todd W.
    http://www.harpocratesspeaks.com
    August 1, 2013

    @Carl

    it was YOUR claim that the Star of David is largely non-religious, which is why I repeated your exact words.

    So which is it? Is it a religious symbol which doesn’t belong in an exclusive monument design, or is it a cultural thing which we are inexplicably choosing to represent to the exclusion of other obvious victims?

    What do you mean, make up my mind? I thought I was being pretty clear that the star is largely political/cultural, as others have pointed out with the history of the symbol, as well as how it was used in the context of the Holocaust.

    It seems that it is rather you who need to make up your mind. You argue that it shouldn’t be included because the design excludes symbols of other groups, but then you also water down your argument by harping on its being a religious symbol.

    In the context of the design, the star is not a religious symbol. It does not establish or endorse one religion over others. If you rely on that as the basis of your argument, then if, for whatever reason, symbols from every religion (and something to represent atheism) were included in the design, I assume you would then support it, since then all religious symbology would be equally represented. But since the entire context is the cultural and ethnic identity of Jews, arguing based on religion fails.

    As other have pointed out already, it would be appropriate to include the other symbols used by the Nazis to mark those populations they persecuted. An argument could be made that it is inappropriate to include the star if the other symbols are excluded. But none of these arguments have to do with the First Amendment or religion, which is why the FFRF is off-base.

  75. #75 Renate
    August 1, 2013

    I don’t really consider the David star as being a religious symbol. Jews had to wear it in Germany and the occupied countries and being a Jew had less to do with religion as with family background. Religious conversion wouldn’t save a Jew from the holocaust.
    This song from this period still brings tears to my eyes
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GORwnPInec
    The star is mentioned as well.

  76. #76 Mike
    August 1, 2013

    The main point I want to make is that while the inscription as was pointed out is inclusive, but the Star of David is not.

    Also, when people think of Holocaust, they often only think about the concentration camps and mass murder. I think this is how these atheists are saying that the Holocaust wasn’t centralized on the Jews since so many others were killed in this small time frame of the Holocaust.

  77. #77 JustNuts
    August 1, 2013

    This organization is rather blunt and this does smack of anti-Semitism and overall ignorance. In this realm, I much prefer the approach of “Americans United for Separation of Church and State.” The organization does have atheist membership but is actually headed up by Barry Lynn, who is Church of Christ clergy and has a law degree from Boston U. They are always up to date with astute analysis of current separation issues and there is no mention of this Ohio story on their web site. They also routinely have articles revealing the religious right’s suppression of holocaust education.

  78. #78 Orac
    August 1, 2013

    Also, when people think of Holocaust, they often only think about the concentration camps and mass murder. I think this is how these atheists are saying that the Holocaust wasn’t centralized on the Jews since so many others were killed in this small time frame of the Holocaust.

    Yes, this is almost certainly a large part of the historical ignorance, namely viewing the Holocaust as only the exterminationist phase, which actually began fairly late in the process and didn’t really ramp up until 1942. From this perspective, ti’s easy to make the mistake of viewing the T4 “euthanasia” program as the beginning the the Holocaust. Viewed that way, then it’s easy to make the mistake of viewing that as the start of the Holocaust and viewing the Holocaust as being more about eugenics than about elimination of the Jews from the Reich. However, when you look at the entire historical context, though, it becomes obvious that the Holocaust began almost as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933, when they began to systematically exclude Jews from civil society. By 1935, the Nuremberg laws formally stripped Jews of most of their civil rights, and the persecution ramped up to become increasingly violent until the exterminationist phase began. At around the same time (1939), the T4 program began and can be looked at as a warm up for the exterminationist phase of the Holocaust and as a precursor to the gas chambers and camps.

  79. #79 Sid Offit
    August 1, 2013

    Holocaust had its roots in American science and progressivism

    http://hnn.us/articles/1796.html

  80. #80 ChrisP
    August 1, 2013

    The Nazi repressions against the Jews were not about religion, but about race. Protestants and Catholics (among others) were indeed caught up in the repressions because they were unfortunate enough to have a Jewish grandparent.

    It has its origins in the Völkisch movement from the middle part of the 19th Century. While the Völkisch movement adopted eugenic ideas, it owed little to the US eugenic movement and much more to British writers on the subject. Even so, the movement was largely homegrown

  81. #81 Sid Offit
    August 1, 2013

    Eugenics was practised in the United States many years before eugenics programs in Nazi Germany[4] and actually, U.S. programs provided much of the inspiration for the latter.[5][6][7

  82. #82 Krubozumo Nyankoye
    August 1, 2013

    ChrisP -

    My point exactly. I find it a stretch to make it into race but apparently Hitler and the Nazis in general did not. Doesn’t really surprise me even a little. Just look at US politics.

    We should all also bear in mind that religion is actually a choice. You can switch any time you want though you might have to move location to avoid being prosecuted for apostasy. Race is not a choice. Whatever amount of melanin you are born with genetically determines your race to some extent. Social conventions define the rest.

    I think the distinction is significant but I won’t make an argument over it here. Choice versus genetics is pretty clear.

  83. #83 al kimeea
    www.quackademiology.com
    August 2, 2013

    People forget Mr. Hilter was Time Mag’s cover girl in ’37(?). Besides being such a fine dancer, Dear Leader was also a vocal Christian:

    “What we have to fight for…is the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator.”

    “The anti-Semitism of the new movement (Christian Social movement) was based on religious ideas instead of racial knowledge.”

    “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty
    Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” – Dolph baby at various times

    Race or not, they were the primary target of the Wannsee Conference of 1942 as Orac mentioned. Chilling viewing in either the German or BBC version.

    The roots of The Jewish Problem can be traced back to Martin Luther’s wee tome on Jewish Lies, if not further.

    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full!

    But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    Give the monument a place of prominence in a nearby park, a nice busy corner perhaps, so all passersby can be reminded how dangerous faith can be.

  84. #84 Mewens
    August 2, 2013

    @ Sif Offit #79, 81
    What’s your point? That political groups 100 years ago must be the same as political groups today? That idiotic, pseudoscientific ideas didn’t exist before you anti-vaxxers indulged in them? Race purity was the anti-vaccine craze of the late 19th century; you have a lot in common with them.

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself, offering apologetics for Nazis while simultaneously screaming, “Nazis!” at your political opponents. Make up your mind – are you pro-Hitler or anti-science? You’re simply not dashing enough to pull off both.

  85. [...] I don’t have much more to add to the discussion around the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit against the state of Ohio’s planned Holocaust Memorial than what has already been said in many places. For background, as well as some truly excellent analysis, I will point you towards the two posts Dan Fincke wrote here and here, as well as James Croft’s post here and David Gorski’s post here. [...]

  86. #86 Sid Offit
    August 2, 2013

    Common goodism based on the great and all-knowing God science at the expense of individual liberty leads to disastrous consequences. What about this can you no apprehend, Mewens? What has changed about progressivism over the last 100 years?

  87. #87 The Atheist Jew
    August 2, 2013

    Silverman is an idiot when it comes to anything to do with Jews. He overcompensates to appease his flock by trying to disassociate himself from his ethnicity. The Star of David is not a biblical symbol nor is it a religious symbol, and therefore it isn’t a violation of separation of church and state. It doesn’t promote Judaism as a religion either.
    As for Jews not being the only victim of the Holocaust, sure there were many other groups who perished, but I don’t recall any propaganda films put out by the Nazi called the Eternal Gypsies or the Eternal Gays.

  88. #88 Captain Quirk
    Vulcan
    August 2, 2013

    [blockquote]The Star of David is not *just* a religious symbol (nor a cultural one)– it is the VERY THING the Nazi government made the Jews stitch onto their clothes to identify them to their oppressors. Anyone who cannot see how this makes the display of a Star of David at a Holocaust memorial different from a cross on public lands is tone deaf to the sociology of oppression.[/blockquote]

    Exactly. I’m autistic and an advocate for disability rights, and history was not my subject growing up. But seriously, anyone without a major learning disability in the US knows that there were restrictions targeting Jews prior to the concentration camps. Most people may not remember most of the restrictions, but I bet almost any random person you ask will know about the yellow stars they had to wear.

    I am in the habit of educating people about T4 and American eugenics, in order to help people see the devaluing language and attitudes about people with disabilities that is still acceptable to this day has its roots in a far more overtly dangerous dehumanization. But the centrality of anti-Semitism to Nazi ideology and the Holocaust is painfully obvious even to me. People know these things, they just need to be reminded of them. And be willing to re-examine their ideas.

  89. #89 Mewens
    August 2, 2013

    @86
    Ha ha ha, I see how it is, Sid.

    You don’t appreciate true personal freedom – you chase its shadow and can’t understand why you never find its substance. Here’s a hint: “I’ve got mine, screw you” inevitably robs everyone of their personal liberty.

    Now, go crack a history book and educate yourself; you’re woefully in need of some learning.

  90. #90 DLC
    August 3, 2013

    This is the point that so many are overlooking. The Nazis recruited members using hate of the Jews as part of their platform. Antisemitism is one of their talking points. Destruction of the homosexuals, communists, gypsies and mentally ill were things added in later as part of the “racial hygiene” programs. This doesn’t mean those other groups do not deserve representation or commemoration, it just means that the central target of the holocaust was European Jews, and that this fact should be recognized.

  91. #91 Scottynuke
    August 3, 2013

    Entirely secular-symbol shaped cookie, please.

  92. [...] The Ohio Holocaust memorial: How not to fight for separation of church and state More Obama Big Lies: Touting Sweatshop Amazon Warehouse Jobs as “Middle Class” Who Is Roger Ferguson and Could He Be the Next Fed Chair? There’s a new contender for the top spot at the Fed, but why? (he’s a Pete Peterson ally and would be a disaster) Actual Elected Official. Republicans, Guns, and Race (guns on planes. What could go wrong?) Parasite journalism: is aggregation as bad as plagiarism? What is the payoff structure of gold? (Glenn Beck scams everyone?) Guns Are for White People 10 Words You’ve Probably Been Misusing The Duck’s Alive. The Dog’s Embarrassed. The Photo’s a Classic Where Have All the Jobs Gone? Unequal Classrooms: What Online Education Cannot Teach Management and Larry Summers Do the Math: Christel House’s Grade Doesn’t Add Up (you have to understand the limitations and transformations of your data) [...]

  93. #93 CherryBombSim
    August 4, 2013

    I wouldn’t dream of denying that Jews were the central focus of the Nazi Holocaust, but I am a little bewildered by why it is so important to have a memorial to it in Columbus, Ohio, of all places. Was there a concentration camp there that I am unaware of?

  94. #94 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    August 4, 2013

    @CherryBombSim – one group’s answers to your question are at http://ohiojc.org/statehouseholocaustmemorial.html.

  95. #95 Delurked Lurker
    On a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam
    August 5, 2013

    MB @94
    On the basis of your link and the photo of the memorial I would think that the very prominent display of the symbol should have been expected to cause some protest. A simple read of the inscription explains it all though.
    As for atheists I can’t do better than Carl Sagan who said

    “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence…..To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”

  96. #96 al kimeea
    www.quackademiology.com
    August 5, 2013

    Even if the German High Command were all Icke lizards, they rather easily convinced 10s of millions of christians, primarily of the Lutheran and Catholic cults, to go batshitte insane on Europe for the second time in a generation.

    Those first two quotes I listed earlier come from Dolphie’s post WW1 magnum opus and the last from a speech around the time of the ReichsKonkordat (1933, still in effect AFAIK) as are these:

    “I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.” – A. Hilter

    “What the liturgical movement is to the religious realm, fascism is to the political realm. The German stands and acts under authority, under leadership – whoever does not follow endangers society. Let us say ‘yes’ wholeheartedly to the new form of the total State, which is analogous throughout to the incarnation of the Church. The Church stands in the world as Germany stands in politics today.”. – Abbott Herwegen to von Papen when asked to help build the Reich”

    Sad that all this misery is over a silly old and popular mythology involving the snuffing and zombiefication of an immortal deity.

    Faith is not a virtue. The early Buybull is full of genocides ordered by doG for his Chosen Ones to carry out in return for his eternal love and protection. And yet…

    The one thing this atheist is certain of is that no faithiest has ever produced any kind of evidence for any deity of any kind. I’ll be quite happy to change my mind when that happens, but chances are, Sol will have long eaten Gaia before anything new is proffered.

  97. #97 Alison Cummins
    Montréal QC
    August 5, 2013

    Egnor #45:
    “We aren’t discussing the censorship of Christian symbols.
    “We’re discussing the censorship of Jewish symbols, and specifically the censorship of a Jewish symbol on a Holocaust memorial. ”

    From the OP: (quoting Dan Barker):
    “Permitting one permanent sectarian and exclusionary religious symbol, even though it represents a minority religion, would create the legal precedent, for instance, to place an equally large or larger permanent Latin cross on Capitol Grounds.”

    From the OP: (Orac replies):
    Can you play “name that logical fallacy”? Sure, I knew you could. This one is the “slippery slope” fallacy and ignores the unique circumstances of the Holocaust.

    *** *** ***
    The problem with this response is that I think you’re ignoring the unique circumstances of the religious right in US politics and their delusions of persecution. Fundamentalists identify quite closely with the jews, learning Hebrew to read the OT in the original, trying to obey many of its injunctions without actually keeping kosher, and regarding Israel as central to the approaching armageddon. American fundamentalist christians think of themselves as living in a prelude to pogroms and another holocaust, this time targeting religious christians. This justifies their need for guns and their hatred of government.

    So for many people, yes, we are discussing the censorship of Christian symbols. For them, objections to the Star of David are support of religious persecution. If the Star of David goes up but crosses are still limited, then that proves that secularists are targeting christians for special persecution. Heads they win, tails we lose.

    It may not appear to be a slippery slope to the everyday secularist who lives and engages comfortably with all kinds of people without fear of persecution. It is most certainly a slippery slope to the religious right that they will rush to tip the rest of us off given the slightest opportunity.

    So arguing that stars of david and christian crosses are clearly different and that comparing them is ahistorical is beside the point. They *will* be compared.

  98. #98 Leigh Jackson
    August 7, 2013

    The Jews were the primary and far and away biggest group that the Nazis targeted for elimination and Silverman should have said so. That said I think there are reasonable grounds for debating whether it is right for the Star of David to go on this government memorial.

    The problem for me is that the sign might have the unintended consequence of obscuring the fact that other groups within German society were also targeted for destruction. One would need to read the memorial in order to be made aware that it was not a memorial simply for Jews.

  99. #99 John Pieret
    http://dododreams.blogspot.com/
    August 8, 2013

    Sorry I didn’t see this sooner … blog surfing fail … but, based on your self-description, you might want to consider Apathetic Agnosticism.

    http://apatheticagnostic.org/ourchurch/faith.html

  100. #100 Tim McDowell
    British Columbia
    August 10, 2013

    Sorry David/ORAC, but this wasn’t up to your usual standards, and your discomfort and inexperience with religious topics was clear. While I agree one has to question the optics of this particular FFRF action, one also has to question why yet another Holocaust memorial at all, and why in Ohio? You should have left this topic to someone more comfortable with the topic of secular vs religious issues.

    I have to admit I was put off by your dismissal of atheists in general and Dawkins in particular in your opening salvo. I thought it displayed a very “shruggy” attitude. And seriously, you didn’t even bother to finish reading The God Delusion? How lazy. It was not a perfect book, but he is a far better writer than many in the skeptical community.

    Fellow canuck Alison (#97) made several good points about your misuse of the slippery slope logical fallacy. It is not such a big issue here in more secular Canada, and the very secular province of BC, but as someone who follows US politics closely, it is a huge issue in ‘Merica. The religious right WILL use this to “demonstrate” how Christians are being persecuted.

    I divide my skeptical reading, and occasional online commentary equally between Alt Med, and religion. I don’t have a particular interest in cryptozoology, UFO’s or Holocaust Denialism, but they are all topics that are valid pursuits of skeptics, and I don’t slag those who take a particular interest, just because I don’t share it.

    Stick to vaccine denialism and cancer quackery, which is really your strength. Leave religious issues to those who actually care about it, and are better informed.

  101. #101 Traveler
    Texas
    August 13, 2013

    As a person of Slavic heritage I am often bewildered why the Holocaust is spoken only in terms of Jewish dead. Hitler targeted three groups, Jews, Slavs, and Romanies. Ethnic slaves were often cleared from their lands by special troops using firing squads but a fair number, 5 million, were sent to concentration camps. That is close to the 6 million cited for Jews. If executions are counted then Slavs lost approximately 35 million. As #72 pointed out it was about race, not religion. Slavs were cleared from their lands to make room for an expected expansion of German citizens.

    As an Atheist myself, I don’t mind a Star of David on a Holocaust memorial but I think a world map would be more appropriate. The Star of David alone implies that the Holocaust was only or mostly about Jews and this is incorrect. It was about any race other than Aryan. It had nothing to do with religion and the reason the Jews were especially targeted is because they were in Germany and the closest and first target. But others were targeted as the Reich expanded into other territories.

    BTW my Polish aunt who still has her German prisoner tattoo on her arm is celebrating her 90th birthday soon. She and the family she lost in the concentration camps are/were Christian.

  102. #102 Orac
    August 13, 2013

    It had nothing to do with religion and the reason the Jews were especially targeted is because they were in Germany and the closest and first target.

    Only partially correct. True, the Nazis viewed the Jews as a race, not a religion. However, it was not because they were in Germany that they were the first. Nazi doctrine included getting rid of the Jews as far back as 1920. The idea was that they were why Germany lost WWI and a “cancer” on German society; therefore they needed to be removed. The Germans first stripped them of their rights, then plundered their wealth and forced them to leave, and finally turned violent. When they found millions of Jews in territories under their control they realized that they couldn’t expel them. So they turned exterminationist.

    Although the Jews were not the only target of Nazis during the Holocaust they were without a doubt the primary target of the Nazis. The Holocaust was primarily about the Jews. No Jew hatred, no Holocaust. As my friend Gord McFee put it:

    The one common thread throughout this “process of destruction,” as Hilberg calls it, was the Jews. The Communists were often explicitly targeted as well, but the Nazis believed that Communism was a creature of the Jews in any event. The expression often used was “Jews and other undesirables,” and the Jews were almost always the first group targeted in any initiative. There is no doubt that they were the focal point from beginning to end.

    The Germans set up an office on the “Jewish Question” under the direction of Adolf Eichmann — the infamous Bureau IV B 4. The name used for the ultimate killing action was “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” Others were drawn in — with horrific results — but the key object and common thread was always the Jews.

    There are thousands of captured documents dealing with the killing actions. Almost every one of them deals with the Jews and there are almost no documents that deal with another target that do not also address the Jews. The Einsatzgruppen reports almost always separate out the Jews from the other people shot, going so far as to break down the Jews by age and gender (http://www.holocaust-history.org/ intro-einsatz). And the Report 51, submitted by Himmler to Hitler in 1943, breaks down the victims into a variety of categories (bandits, partisans, etc.), but only lists the Jews as “Jews executed.”

    Finally, the Korherr Report is entitled “The Final Solution of the European Jewish Question: A statistical report,” and once again, addresses virtually only the Jews.

    Hitler said before the outbreak of the war that if there were another war, he would annihilate the Jews. He said during the war that he was in the process of annihilating the Jews. And he said in his Testament that he had done exactly what he had said he would do.

    The ultimate aim and the primary target never varied. Others were murdered in the course of the Final Solution, e.g. Gypsies, Russian POWs, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on, but the first and constant target was always the Jews. The Final Solution was intended for the Jews, was about the Jews and chiefly affected the Jews. There is no denying that, without the Jews, there is no Final Solution.

    To minimize or trivialize the “Jewishness” of the Final Solution is to seriously understate, if not, unintentionally perhaps, deny its essence. This does not mean that the suffering of other groups is to be ignored; on the contrary, it was terrible. But without the Holocaust, without the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, the others live. The term “holocaust” was coined to describe the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Final Solution. It does not seek to negate the suffering of the other victims.

    Still the best explanation I’ve encountered.

  103. #103 Chris,
    August 13, 2013

    My spouse’s grandmother, aunt and uncle were held in a camp by the Germans in the Netherlands. His father was in a boarding school, so was not grabbed from their home.

    The reason was that the Nazis were trying to round up the members of the town council, which included his grandfather. They actually all disappeared because they knew the Nazis were going to force them to certain things (it gets fuzzy because his grandparents’ did not speak much English).

    But the big difference is that all three of them were released. Though they did suffer when the Nazis starved them. His grandmother was very grateful for the food drops (this is where pointing at pictures in Dutch language books on the period were used).

    Years after they died, we took a trip there with two of our teenage children to visit his aunt and her daughter’s family. The trip also included visiting other relatives in Denmark. We visited the Danish Resistance Museum in Copenhagen, and later the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. They were completely different, the latter being much more sobering.

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