As part of my Master’s degree in Music at Catholic University, I am taking a course, “The Music of the Holocaust Era.” In addition to studying specific works that came out of the Holocaust (both by Jewish and non-Jewish composers), we are discussing the environment that musicians were faced with under the Nazi regime. Part of this discussion has been the entire mindset of the Nazi party’s efforts to eradicate the Jewish population (as well as a number of other “other” groups).
What it boils down to, at least from my perspective, was an arbitrary distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Jews were declared inherently different from true Germans, out to bring about the economic and political ruin of the entire country. Even though families had intermarried, Jews had fought in wars on behalf of Germany, were successful musicians who had contributed to the vast cultural depths, they had to be expelled from the country and eventually from existence. That is the irrational logic of the Holocaust. It was implemented under the guise of patriotism and propaganda and enforced with violent repression.
In our day, in the United States, there is currently a controversy over the US Drone policy. The US has been killing so-called enemies at will and with little accountability or oversight for years using these remote controlled planes. While their use has been opposed by many, the recent outcry has been due to the now-public memo which lays out the “legal” justification for killing pretty much anyone perceived to be a threat, including U.S. citizens. It’s the “U.S. citizens” part that is now causing the stir.
But what the lunacy of Nazism teaches us is the absurdity of these nationalist distinctions, “American,” “German,” “Pakistani.” People should rightfully be concerned and outraged at the killing policies of this administration, but not any more so because they now include US citizens, but simply because these policies kill humans. In fact, we shouldn’t be surprised at all that the government would kill its own citizens because other, arbitrary, divisions are actually more important. Muslim? Ties to “radical” groups? Family member who is in prison? In US history, it was at one time American Indians, then African Americans.
We don’t have to look far to see how these distinctions apply other other groups in the US especially when you look at immigration stance and policy. We are told, by both liberals and conservatives, that we have to fear the influx of Latin American people coming to the country. We can’t grant them citizenship, even if they fought in the military, go to college, support the economy, excel in the arts and culture…sound familiar?
I’m not suggesting that the US government is the same as the Nazi regime, but merely highlighting that the xenophobic philosophy that led to the Holocaust and the underlying philosophy behind US “homeland security” are not that different.
Over and over, stories from Germans who lived during the Holocaust have claimed that there was nothing that could be done. People who spoke up were killed. Musicians who protested saw their careers end or were sent to the camps. But antisemitism didn’t appear out of nowhere in 1933. Perhaps in some sense, by the time Hitler came to power and made policy what was already accepted sentiment, it was too late. Christians and other people of good will waited too long and so they were left with the option to become martyrs or to become complicit. That is a choice that we should all pray we never leave ourselves with.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.