War and Human Rights: Inertia and the Holocaust

This idea of inertia was particularly fitting for this week’s prompt because this week seems to be intended as a feeling of inertia. I think it is a proper way to address the violations of human rights by anthropologists in the 3rd Reich, but also the lack of a response of the United States for years in both Rwanda and Bosnia. I have added in the prompt below from which I will be responding to. Since I looked at Rwanda last week, I thought it would be better for me to look at some of the Holocaust material.

The first thing I want to address is a poem written by Primo Levi. Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer, and Auschwitz survivor. He wrote some incredible poetry in response to his time in the Age of Fascism that is both endearing and chilling. His piece, If this is a man follows:

You who live safely
In your warm houses,
You who, when you come home in the evening,
Find hot food and friendly faces:
Ask yourselves if this is a man
who works in the mud
who knows no peace
who struggles for half a loaf of bread
who dies for the flimsiest motive.
Ask yourselves if this is a woman,
hairless and nameless
powerless to remember
Empty eyes and cold womb
Like a frog in winter.
Ponder that this has taken place:
I entrust you with these words.
Chisel them in your heart
at home and abroad,
lying down and getting up;
repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble down,
may illness paralyze you,
may your children turn away from you

Levi challenges us a readers to listen to his message. He writes this as a response to his arrest and internment at Auschwitz. The poem asks us to look at what happened to individuals in these camps. The man who dies from the flimsiest motive is a reflection on the worthlessness of the Nazi attacks on individuals and using the manufactured attacks against the various groups to cause their suffering. He follows this with the woman, “empty eyes and cold womb/like a frog in winter.” His specific use of the idea of cold and empty is the opposite of what women are often described as. Women are often described as warm and full, but this has stripped her of any part of her identity.

However, the most crucial part that Levi addresses is the damnation if these people are forgotten. “Chisel them in your heart/ at home and abroad… Or may your house crumble down,/ may illness paralyze you./may your children turn away from you” Levi fears the people would forget the Holocaust. I mean, Nazis have become the rhetoric for absolute evil in the United States. Yet, the people who died in the Holocaust are forgotten because of time moving further and further away from the events. How many people remember the Homosexuals, Gypsies, Disabled, or even the Jews? I remember, and I know, and I talk about these situations to remember the destruction and support Levi’s request.

Secondly I want to address the actions of the 3rd Reich concerning their archaeological support for the Aryan superiority. The immense workarounds of the Aryan archaeologists specifically constructed the narrative for the pureness of German people , following the works of Tacticus. Yet, I find it ironic of the dismissal of Charlemagne.  Charlemagne ruled the 1st Reich, but as a Frankish King who took his seat in Aachen. The great uniter, but enemy of the ethnically German tribes in Saxony. It almost seems foolish. This entire discussion was built on the ideas of poorly conducted research looking to create a narrative to fit the nationalistic intentions of the Nazi Party and Social Darwinism. It is truly a dark stain on anthropology, yet it shows why the collaborative process is so important in academic works.

The inertia in this situation is that when learning this information, you stop in your tracks and have to wait for inertia to bring you back. This information is so brutal that it requires a inertia response in the mind. This is incredibly important information to look at, and it should never be forgotten.

I would like to end this post again with the inclusion of a wonderful piece of music. This piece was written by Hungarian band Omega and the piece is Gyöngyhajú Lány / Pearls in her hair. While the English translation is hotly contested on YouTube it has a wonderful sound, despite not knowing a word of Hungarian.


Link to the Assignment/Prompt – Added with permission by Dr. Kathleen Young