Sep 242020
 

All figures within this blog posting are based on the relevant Wikipedia articles. These are not 100% accurate because no figures are – there are academics who spend their whole career improving estimates of how many were killed.

I have a bit of a bee in the bonnet about this – and it has come up recently because :-

  1. I’d encountered a Jew who questioned that the overall total was over double the 6 million Jews killed.
  2. In association with a Twitter thread about the comparison between the ICE forced sterilisation of immigrants and the Nazis, I made a comment mentioning the other victims of the Nazis and neglected to include the Poles.
  3. On another Twitter thread, there was a discussion on US children not being aware that six million Jews had been killed in the holocaust; I don’t see not knowing the exact number (although six million isn’t the exact number either) as being that much of the problem (“millions” is close enough) but denying that Jews were killed in the millions is definitely problematic. But interestingly no mention was made of the other Nazi victims!

But let us get one thing out of the way first. This is not intended to devalue the murder of 6 million Jews – if they were the only victims of the Nazis, it would still be well worth going to war to scrub the Nazi stain from the Earth. And I’m not in general in favour of war.

But the same applies to the other categories of Nazi victims, and it seems they are often forgotten – people make a big deal about how the Nazis killed six million Jews (and it is a big deal) but totally neglect to mention the others.

Pre-War Killings

The first concentration camps were created in 1933 during the Nazis rise to power as a means of controlling political opponents. As the Nazi grip on power solidified, the advantages of a means of holding inconvenient people outside the control of the German judicial system became apparent and the slow decline of the concentration camps was reversed and the number of inmates began to rise again.

The number of political opponents who were killed by the Nazis during this period is not known, but a very rough estimate could be 25,000. Although other religious opponents can be included in that 25,000, Jehovah Witnesses deserve a special mention because almost unanimously they opposed Nazi mandates (including refusing to serve in the military). Approximately 1,400 were killed.

In addition to political opponents, Nazis incarcerated (and frequently killed) criminals and “asocials” (the homeless, alcoholics, unemployed, lesbians, …). At least 70,000 were killed.

Homosexuals (gay men) were also violently repressed and many ended up in the concentration camps. The number killed is unknown – Wikipedia claims “hundreds” but another estimate claims that up to 60% of the 5,000-15,000 sent to concentration camps were killed (for the purposes of the pie chart, I’m going to estimate 6,000). Many of those who survived the camps were re-imprisoned at the end of the war – being gay was still a ‘crime’.

Whilst lesbians were sometimes categorized as “asocials” and could end up in the camps for that reason, but they were not repressed quite as much as gay men.

The Jews and The Shoah

Although this blog article is about the other victims of the Nazis, it is unconscionable to talk about the holocaust without mentioning the Jewish victims. The Wikipedia figure for Jewish deaths is unusually precise – 5,896,577 or a touch under 6 million.

A bit of a distraction from the main topic – the word “holocaust” is Greek in origin and was used before World War II; usually in reference to the genocide of Armenians. “The Holocaust” is of course only used in reference to the Nazi programme of exterminating “sub-humans” which all too commonly is assumed to be only the Jews.

The specific word for the programme of exterminating the Jews is “The Shoah”.

I believe it is helpful to have two distinct (actually more – other groups also have terms) terms to distinguish between the Jews specifically (The Shoah) and the killing of everyone the Nazis considered “sub-human” (The Holocaust). There are those who object to this but given that at least one Jewish camp survivor (Elie Weisel) was of the same opinion it can hardly be legitimately called disrespectful.

Another reason for distinguishing the Jews from the pre-war category is that whilst Jews were harrassed mercilessly, ghettoised, and yes murdered before the war, the systematic killings did not begin until after the war began.

This is also the place to go into some of the issues relating to counting and categorising the victims. Was a Jewish Socialist killed because she was a Jew or because she was a Socialist? If she was picked up in 1934, it seems likely to be the later; if she was picked up in 1942 it would have been the former. And was she counted in both categories?

Do we count those killed outside the extermination camps as victims of the holocaust? If (for example) we exclude the handicapped because they weren’t in the camps, then we must also exclude up to a million Jews killed by the Einsatzgruppen.

During The War

The Roma

The Roma (or Gypsies although the later is regarded as an insulting term by many) come first because they are the closest to the Jews in terms of the level of hatred shown by the Nazis. Hated just because of whom they are rather than what they did.

Determining just how many Roma were killed is particularly difficult for a wide variety of reasons. The Wikipedia estimate of 220,000 killed is almost certainly a massive under-estimate – modern researchers have consistently increased the estimate up to a high of 1.5 million (75% of the total pre-war Roma population). I’ll go with an estimate of 1 million.

The Slavs (Poles in particular)

The third main racial group that the Nazis categorised as “subhuman” were the Slavs of Eastern Europe – Poles, Lithuanians, Czechs, etc. The Nazi attitude to the Slavs various widely – from expressing the desire to exterminate the entire race, to ‘accepting’ (with caveats) those Slavs who collaborated, and the wish to use Slavs as slave labour.

I suspect in the long term – if the Nazis had won – the Slavs would have followed the Jews into the ovens.

The Slavs will get sub-divided for various reasons – including to keep the Jews as the single largest group, but they could be categorized as one.

The first sub-group are the Poles. It is clear from the words and actions of the Nazis during the invasion that they intended to exterminate nearly all of the Poles – both Jews and non-Jews.

There is a myth that the Poles enthusiastically welcomed the extermination of the Jews – whilst there were undoubtedly some Poles who hated the Jews, it is also true that Poles represent the single largest group honoured as Righteous Amongst The Nations; yet it is believed that the nearly 7,000 Poles listed is a vast under-estimate of the total who could be listed – the true figure could be 50 times higher.

And many thousands of the 1.8 million Poles killed by the Nazis were killed for helping Jews.

Now we move onto the category of the Soviet Slavs – which comprises many different nationalities which I would be happy to individually identify but accurate figures for each are difficult to find.

First we find that Soviet prisoners of war – 2.95 million were killed (I’ve subtracted the figure of 50,000 Jewish soldiers because they were probably included in the Jewish total and to make this figure consistent with the other non-Jewish casualty figures).

Added to that we have 5.7 million Soviet civilians killed.

To this we should add 300,000 Serbs killed; not by the Nazis themselves but by a client state.

And the handicapped. They were not typically thrown into concentration camps, but “involuntarily euthanized” in or near their care facility. Up to 250,000 were killed.

Endword

The pie chart above visually represents the total of each group killed; from this we can see in purely numerical terms that there were many other groups included in The Holocaust. Any one of which would be a crime against humanity.

For those that doubt the figures … and especially that the “others” added up to more than the Jews, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states “… murdered during the Holocaust at 17 million: 6 million Jews and 11 million others.”

There is currently an issue regarding the education of the young about the Holocaust with surveys reporting that some haven’t heard of it and many others do not know how many Jews were killed.

Not knowing the exact figure is forgivable – as we have seen the usually quoted figure of 6 million isn’t itself accurate – “many millions” is accurate enough for casual knowledge. And I’m a devotee of accurate figures, but when you come down to it, that’s what computers are for.

Not knowing about it at all is not just disrespectful to victims, but dangerous because we see warning signs of something similar happening today. But we need to remember that most teenagers have very little interest in the dry bones of history, and perhaps we need to make it an interesting horror story.

Jul 052020
 

This is inspired by a tweet claiming that something was an example of mediæval blood libel; I remembered it being earlier than that, looked it up, and found the relevant tweet had disappeared off the bottom of the page.

So this blog posting.

The earliest reference to the blood libel in the relevant Wikipedia article was an accusation that Jews sacrificed Greeks in the temple in Jerusalem in the BCE era.

Calling this “blood libel” is mildly controversial – there are those who prefer to stick to a very specific definition which specifies christians accusing Jews. Whilst I’m fine with a definition this specific for a specific instance (“The Blood Libel”), being too pedantic prevents discussions about instances (real or theoretical) of similar accusations by other groups against other groups (“a blood libel”).

In addition, if you prohibit the use of the phrase “a blood libel” in reference to any accusations which don’t meet a specific definition too closely, it makes discussing generic blood libel accusations somewhat tricky – be too quick to dismiss the fictional accusation that atheists use the blood of neo-pagan children to make “holy bread” as not being “The Blood Libel” and you risk implying that it’s not that bad.

Whilst the Jews are a popular target for the evil ones that like emphasising the “us versus them” (frequently as a means of bolstering their own power), they are not the only target – from a Eurocentric perspective those other targets include the Romani, blacks, Irish, Asians, and immigrants of any kind.

This general demonisation of “them” isn’t any kind of blood libel of course, but it is possible that non-Jewish blood libel accusations have been made against “them” ever since religion became a source of power for priests – well before history (the written record) began, and well before the Jewish people called themselves Jews.

The blood libel is specifically a false accusation that Jews sacrifice the children of christians (or Greeks in the earliest examples) to use their blood to make a “holy bread”. Ignoring the ethnic groups, the key elements of a blood libel are :-

  1. The accusation is false (or it wouldn’t be a libel).
  2. The accusation involves blood consumption – blood has been important symbolically since forever.
  3. The religious aspect – consuming the blood is a religious act. Well, religion has been the curse blighting humanity ever since it began.

There is nothing in there that is dependent on the identity of the perpetrator or the target group (because I’ve removed it), but doesn’t it cover the essentials of a blood libel?

Being cynical about human nature, I’m pretty sure that blood libels have been around ever since religion could be used to divide us and them. Which is a good deal further back than the last 2,000 years.

None of this is meant to undermine the seriousness of the blood libel against Jews.

No Fun At The Fair

Jun 142020
 

In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.

And some pretty daft things have been said about it.

One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.

The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.

The Bare Family

In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.

But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).

In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.

There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.

Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.

In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.

So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!

But is the violent removal of such statues justified?

Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.

In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.

There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.

Oct 312019
 

Today it is Samhaim, I spotted an off-the-cuff remark on Twitter about women being executed for ‘witchcraft’ in the past, and I also knew that many men were executed for ‘witchcraft’ in the past, so I decided to see if I could get some half-reasonably accurate data on the genders of executed witches.

I got rather rough lists of names from both Wikipedia and here. Processing the two lists was not fun :-

  1. First I removed duplicates where possible.
  2. I flagged as M(ale) all the names that were obviously (to me) male. Or where there were other clues (“husband”).
  3. I flagged as F(email) all names that were obviously women, those where there was some doubt, and those where there was a hint (“daughter”).
  4. I flagged as F(emale) all surname-only names.

This quite possibly over-estimates the number of women executed for witchcraft, and is nowhere near accurate (a list of 477 names out of tens of thousands is a hopelessly small sample).

Out of that list of names, 384 were women (approximately 75%) and 113 were men (approximately 25%). This is nowhere near equal, but neither were male executions so rare that you can honestly say “women were executed for witchcraft”; it has to be “women and men were executed for witchcraft” (or some variation of that).

Having said that, it would be nice to see some proper historical statistical work done to see if a more accurate ratio could be determined.

The Red Door
Nov 112018
 

If you use the Unix or Linux command-line, you may very well wonder about the origins of some of the “special” characters. One of those is tilde (~) which is expanded by the shell into “home” :-

✓ mike@Michelin» echo $HOME                        
/home/mike
✓ mike@Michelin» echo ~
/home/mike
✓ mike@Michelin» echo ~root
/root

This doesn’t of course work in general; just in the shell.

But where did this usage originate?

As it turns out, it was the markings on the keyboard of the ADM3A terminal :-

If you used Unix in the late 1970s/1980s, you may very well have used the ADM3A terminal and it seems that those who added the tilde feature to the Unix shell were amongst the users.

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