A "Critical Holocaust Anthology" will hit the shelves this spring that will attempt to remove the Holocaust from its historical moorings in order to "open up a space for dialogue" that would allow for one to "study the meaning of genocidal violence in the histories of the Americas."
This project is the brainchild of Robert Soza, a University of California--Berkeley American Studies Ph.D. candidate specializing in "Cultures of US Imperialism" and "Holocaust Studies in the Americas."
"There seemed to be a void in the discussions of cultural trauma [and] … an under-abundance of work dealing with America’s genocidal history and its legacies … in communities of color. The fundamental concern for me is to reimagine genocide" so that blacks and Indians are "central in how trauma’s legacies are imagined," Soza said.
Co-editing the anthology with Soza is Berkeley alum and Washington State University professor of Comparative American Cultures David Leonard, who said "this project was a natural development of my research agenda."
Although the pair has not received any funding and are unsure whether Duke or Minnesota University Press will publish the anthology after many rejections from other publishing houses because of what Leonard called "a powerful hegemonic resistance to any sort of critique of the ways that the Jewish Holocaust is talked about in and out the academy," the pair, however, are being inundated with submissions.
Some of the contributors will include: Dr. Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado – Boulder, a man who pretends to be a "radical Indian activist" and who physically attacked and broke Mrs. Carol Standing Elk’s wrist after she exposed him as a fraud to the Native American community; Dr. A. Clare Brandabur of Turkey’s Dogus University, a feminist English literature professor who is an apologist for militant Islam; civil engineer turned novelist Manu Herbstein, a white South African Jew whose latest novel examines the slave trade’s "trans-Atlantic Holocaust;" and Raphael Seliger, editor of "Israel Horizons," a sporadically published "Socialist, Zionist" magazine about American Jews, to name a few.
"Our hopes are we will strike a chord with those who are struck by the overwhelming focus given to the Jewish Holocaust. We see a lot of potential for this with Ethnic Studies and from scholars of color, who know all to well the silencing of other historical narrative," Leonard said.
"This could lead to conversations" that "alter the historical memory of the dominant institutions," he said, adding that this "denial" of an American Holocaust "provides evidence" that the U.S. "privileges the experiences (life and death) of white people (both in American and throughout the globe) over those of people of color."
This project "needs to be done," Leonard said, because of the "obsession" with the Jewish Holocaust, "inscribed as the point of comparison, as the essential example of a holocaust/genocide … silences other claims," specifically those of blacks and Indians.
"The US invests very heavily in undoing the damage of European extremism that can be undone (which the US government utilizes to assume a moral high ground) all the while the nation dismisses the claims of its own citizen-victims," Soza added.
"If people began to contextualize slavery and Manifest Destiny within a discourse of genocide, this would open an incredible possibility in the study of Western Modernity," said Soza, who also edits Berkeley literary magazine "Bad Subjects," which "publishes short essays on contemporary culture and politics from a leftist perspective … to promote radical thinking about the political implications of everyday life."
"The possibility would exist to question U.S. responsibility for not only the dire conditions of its own domestic underclass, but the entire economic, political and military regime centered in the United States would also have to be interrogated with an understanding that genocide was a policy practiced," he said. "Contextualizing U.S. practice and policy within a discourse of genocide would help … this country’s citizens to stop idealizing this nation as the best and most free. If one really measures the costs to peoples who live in the lower classes here and those in the ‘Third World’ who produce the U.S.’s limitless supply of consumer goods, the U.S. no longer seems the alabaster pillar of freedom, but the master of a global sweatshop. A master that oversees and maintains abject poverty, asymmetrical power relations between white and non-white, male and female, first and third world, and so on."
Thus, Soza hopes the anthology will bring to light the U.S. government’s "spinelessness in dealing with its own state organized campaigns of slavery and murder" and will eventually lead to "reparations" for Indians and blacks.
However, the pair was quick to add that their anthology is not meant to diminish the importance of the Holocaust.
"We are in no way attempting to dismiss the serious concern within the Jewish Studies and Jewish community at large in relationship to those who would deny the Shoah," Soza said. "We are neither anti-Semitic nor denying the horrific realities of the Holocaust," Leonard said, but are merely "questioning why other forms of genocide are not offered a seat at the table of historic memory" and are seen "as less significant."
Thus, Soza said the anthology will attempt to dismiss the "Shoah as perfect in its uniqueness" that it "is unprecedented in both past and future" because it "is counterproductive to understanding the role of genocide in the emergence of the West as the contemporary location of global economic, military and political power today."
"There are numerous moments in the history of Europe where states have made it their policy to eradicate indigenous populations by both direct military means (extermination) or by legally dehumanizing them (chattel slavery)," he said. "I find, if one thinks about the details of Manifest Destiny or Trans-Atlantic slavery and its practice in the United States, one will be at a loss for reason -- the magnitude of the Shoah is not the only event that defies logic. Or are these events, Manifest Destiny and Black slavery, somehow more understandable, more rational and thus more readily justified than Nazi excesses? Certainly the United States has a vested interest in seeming to be a liberator (as it was in Germany) rather then a perpetrator (as it is at home)."
"Here it becomes a question of legal intent and actual outcome as national practice. The U.S. might never have legislated the destruction of Native America, but it was almost accomplished with a lot of help from the state. Military and economic domination by the United States was so complete at the end of the 19th century that passive genocide, in the form of systemic neglect, replaced direct military action. Furthermore, chattel slavery depended on the destruction of African humanity; it at the very least meets four of Lemkin’s five standards of genocide," Soza said.
Polish law scholar Raphael Lemkin attempted to describe the "Nazi butchery" by "coining a new word for this particular concept" by combining "the ancient Greek word genos (race, clan) and the Latin suffix cide (killing)," which then became the basis for the U.N.’s definition of genocide.
According to Lemkin and the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Article II: "Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
But based upon Lemkin’s criteria, American Council of Polish Culture historian Michael Zachowicz said Soza’s and Leonard’s attempt to portray the U.S. akin to Nazi Germany is absurd.
"Not only six million Jews, three million of which were Polish Jews, died but the Nazis systematically slaughtered 11 million people with the additional five million ‘others’ consisting of three million Polish Catholics, half a million gypsies; thousands of Russian and Ukranian Slavs, thousands of disabled and thousands of blacks," Zachowicz said. "That kind of orchestrated evil, as defined by Lemkin and the UN, never occurred in the U.S. and to argue that it did is an attempt at revisionist history."
Professor Steven Katz, Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University and former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, agreed and also noted that "this whole project is part of a wave of resentment of Jewish suffering and the Jewish situation."
"This claim [of Leonard’s and Soza’s] is based upon historical error and misrepresentation of the facts" and therefore they "would not make great historians," Katz said.
"Those who make this argument that the Holocaust and other historical events are similar are using different criteria to define genocide," Katz said. "Relying merely on numbers one won’t be able to establish the Holocaust’s uniqueness. We have to use a different set of criteria as defined by the U.N."
And since Soza and Leonard are only using the criterion of numbers of people killed as their way of defining genocide, Katz dismissed them.
"What happened to the Indians and slaves is not genocide," he said, "according to the UN definition."
"Anyone who is sophisticated and does a comparative history knows that there are other grounds that are needed to establish genocide besides numbers. According to the Nuremburg tribunal and the UN definition, genocide is only defined as an attempt to wipe out a race on purpose. In the case of the Holocaust, it was the Jews and Christians," Katz said.
"Nobody set out to kill the Indians, especially since those most responsible for their deaths were the missionaries who carried disease and they had no intention of harming the Indians but of helping them … Overwhelmingly, 80-90 percent of Indians died from disease, from smallpox, measles and influenza," he said.
The same is true of the slaves Katz said.
"Between 400 to 500,000 slaves were imported to the New World. During four centuries many died en route or because of disease, and yes, slavery was a great evil. But it certainly was not genocide," he said. "How could it be if … at the time of the Civil War, there was ten times that amount?"
In fact, Katz noted that the "exact reverse of what" Soza and Leonard "argue is true."
"The people who make this argument are angry that America has ignored the crimes against the Indians and the slaves. But they have to argue this not only in regards to America, but in regards to the colonial powers of Britain, Spain, France, Portugal and make the case on their own merits," he said. "Even then many of the colonial powers wanted the exact opposite of what these people argue. They wanted the people, the Indians and the slaves, to stay alive. The Crown in England and in Europe and America even passed legislation to keep them alive."
But Soza disagreed with Katz, emphatically declaring that his reasoning of a "perceived difference" between "U.S. slavery and Native genocide" is "untenable" and intimated that Katz is a puppet of people "in positions of power in the US" who want to "ignore rightful claims of genocide."
University of Dallas politics professor Dr. Richard Dougherty dismissed Soza’s argument and said that what really "animates" Soza and Leonard "is a partisan agenda."
"Their opposition to US policy is informed not by a concern for genocide -- identifying and preventing it -- but by the same Marxist ideology that marks much contemporary academic and political discourse," Dougherty said, adding that the duo would promote "US influence in the world" if it only "would embrace the principles they promote."
"No serious defender of American principles or American history could overlook the flaws of American society; what makes those flaws stand out more prominently for us, though, is that they fail to embody the very high principles that we hold so dear," Dougherty said.
"Were we to take the tack of most nations, we could simply deny that our goals were exalted, and not be charged with the hypocrisy of not achieving them. Whether the world would be a better place for our doing so is not certain," he said. "If this country is not the best or the most free, I think it behooves the authors to identify a nation that is."