Elie Wiesel and Dehumanization

Wieselby Jerry Richardson3/7/15
Benjamin Netanyahu recognized Elie Wiesel during his recent address to the US Congress.  Perhaps there are many American who do not really know who Elie Wiesel is or what he represents. Elie Wiesel is considered by many people, apparently including Netanyahu, as being the living-remembrance of the Holocaust.

Elie Wiesel has spent most of his post-Holocaust life as an author and speaker encouraging resistance against the evil of dehumanization and genocide.

Efforts to isolate, demonize, and dehumanize the Jews have returned; and are currently on the increase around the world, including within the United States.  The Iranian leadership has repeatedly made public statements of the desire to destroy the state of Israel. Typical Islamic rhetorical-efforts to dehumanize the Jewish people are well represented by statements such as the following:

“The battle with the Jews will surely come… the decisive Moslem victory is coming without a doubt, and the prophet spoke about in more than one Hadith. And the day of resurrection will not come without the victory of the believers [the Moslems] over the descendents of the monkeys and pigs [the Jews] and with their annihilation.” (official P.A. newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 18, 2001)
Islam’s War against the Jews

In 2013, a new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was sworn into office. While more soft-spoken than his predecessor – and widely described as a “moderate” – Rouhani has nonetheless referred to “the Zionist regime” as an enemy nation and pledged to find a way to achieve Khomeini’s long-term goal of ensuring that Israel ceases to exist.
Sworn to Destruction

Why has the act of dehumanization preparatory to genocide been so often repeated during human history?

Normal human beings have an inbred inhibition against the taking of human life.  A major large-scale, effective-way this reluctance has been overcome is via dehumanization.

If someone is made to seem inhuman then any reservations relative to killing them is reduced.  It is an age-old formula; and certainly one that the Nazis used to a maximum extent on Jewish prisoners before they burned them in the ovens.

The entire process of transporting them in railway cattle-cars, followed often by a grueling death of inhumane-overwork and starvation in the Nazi concentration/death camps was a process of dehumanization; and “…the issue of dehumanization is a central one in reflecting on the Holocaust.”    

There are multiple forms of dehumanization.  All types consist of abuse that typically ignores a person’s individuality, i.e., it is an act of stereotyping.  The abuse can be symbolic, verbal, physical, or some combination of the three.  Physical dehumanization (beating, whipping, hard-labor, starvation, etc.) obviously carries the most immediate threat; but the old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is completely untrue in an environment that fosters or permits any type of dehumanization.

Elie Wiesel was subjected to all of the types of dehumanization imaginable during his Holocaust experience.

What is it like to be intentionally and systematically dehumanized, up-close and not just from a distance?

A PARTIAL DESCRIPTION OF DEHUMANIZATION—ELIE WIEZEL (from NIGHT)

SATURDAY, the day of rest, was the day chosen for our expulsion.
—-
The next morning, we walked toward the station, where a convoy of cattle cars was waiting. The Hungarian police made us climb into the cars, eighty persons in each one. They handed us some bread, a few pails of water. They checked the bars on the windows to make sure they would not come loose. The cars were sealed. One person was placed in charge of every car: if someone managed to escape, that person would be shot.
—-
A few more days and all of us would have started to scream. But we were pulling into a station. Someone near a window read to us: “Auschwitz.” Nobody had ever heard that name.
—-
We stared at the flames in the darkness. A wretched stench floated in the air. Abruptly, our doors opened. Strange-looking creatures, dressed in striped jackets and black pants, jumped into the wagon. Holding flashlights and sticks, they began to strike at us left and right, shouting: “Everybody out! Leave everything inside. Hurry up!” We jumped out…In the air, the smell of burning flesh. It must have been around midnight. We had arrived. In Birkenau.
—-
NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
—-
Three days after the liberation of Buchenwald, I became very ill: some form of poisoning. I was transferred to a hospital and spent two weeks between life and death. One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.
Wiesel, Elie (2012-02-07). Night (Night Trilogy) (p. 21-22, 26, 27-28, 34, 115). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Some people believe, based upon the Bible, that the 3rd Diaspora of the Jewish people after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was a visitation of God’s punishment upon his chosen people (the Jewish people) for their unfaithfulness to his commandments—requirements detailed in the biblical book of Deuteronomy:

And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.

Deuteronomy 28:64 KJV 

Equally, some people also believe, based upon the Bible, that the Jewish people were prophetically destined to return to their native homeland, Israel.  And return they did in 1948 (1847 years after the beginning of the 3rd Diaspora).

Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob.

Ezekiel 28:25 KJV

For many years in many separate nations, the Jewish people were totally dependent upon the nation in which they lived to provide them with basic justice and protection. In many cases there was little demonstrated effort on the part of Jewish citizens, individually or collectively, to defend themselves—with weapons if necessary—from people who hated them because they were Jewish.  In fact, justly or not, the Jewish people, other than during those times when they have occupied their traditional homeland, have appeared to be, in some cases, pacifistic; and, historically, at times in the past, they intentionally embraced pacifism:

Judaism clearly has accepted a practical form of pacifism as appropriate in the “right” circumstances. For example, the Talmud (Ketubot 111a) recounts that in response to the persecutions of the second century (CE), the Jewish people agreed (literally: took an oath) that mandated pacifism in the process of seeking political independence or autonomy for the Jewish state. This action is explained by noting that frequently pacifism is the best response to total political defeat; only through the complete abjuring of the right to use force can survival be ensured.
Pacifism in Jewish Law

To be sure, efforts to avoid preemptive acts against possible large-scale threats of violence (including genocide)—which are often foreshadowed by speech-acts of demonization and dehumanization and smaller-scale violence—may appear laudable; but such efforts contain a dangerous trap for the innocent and unwary.  The trap is to believe that a workable strategy for non-violence is to fore-go resistance to evil for the purpose of reasoning with it, or for the purpose of not becoming what one is fighting against.  Sounds good perhaps; but evil does not reciprocate to weakness with anything other than an increase of evil. Jewish teachings have taking this into account for centuries:

Difficult as it is in our current society to take a stand against pacifism as a societal or individual moral philosophy, it is clear that the Jewish tradition does not favor pacifism as a value superior to all other values or incorporate it as a basic moral doctrine within Judaism.
—-
The use of force to hurt a person is wrong but Jewish law sanctions the use of force to prevent another from using force improperly.

A clearer rejection of the philosophy of pacifism is not possible. Indeed, one who examines even the ritual area of the law discovers that the use of violence in the service of that which is right is sanctioned as permissible. Thus, the Shulkhan Arukh [the medieval, authoritative work of Jewish law] (Orakh Chaim 329:6) mandates the use of force on the Sabbath in response to the threat of invasion of the Jewish community. It is simply untenable to claim that, as a matter of theoretical ethical duty, Jewish law perceives pacifism as the ideal response to evil in all circumstances.
Pacifism in Jewish Law

Pacifism is certainly not a label that fits modern-day Israel or ancient Israel.  Ancient Israel and Modern-day Israel (Zionism) have much in common: Being resolutely non-pacifistic. And one of the symbols for modern Zionism is Elie Wiesel.

Like so many other survivors, Wiesel has transformed his experience at Auschwitz into a kind of moral code—one that takes the principle of “never again” as a starting point.
Elie Wiesel

Here are the words spoken in honor of Wiesel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent address (March 3, 2015) to the US Congress:

My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.  Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.”

And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.  But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.

We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.  This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to US Congress 2015

At the heart of the unofficial motto of Zionism, “never again” is a deep sense of responsibility for the safety and protection of the citizens and the nation of Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu displays a deep and committed sense of responsibility that would be refreshing to see in our President.

The critical importance of responsibility relative to freedom has been emphasized by another Holocaust survivor, the founder of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl.  He recommended that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility:

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
Frankl, Viktor E. (2006-06-01). Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 132). Kindle Edition.


ELIE WIESEL (September 30, 1928 – Present)—short bio

Elie Wiesel is considered by many people, apparently including Netanyahu, as being the living remembrance of the Holocaust.  Elie was born on September 30, 1928 in Sighet Transylvania (part of present day Romania); during World War II, he along with his parents and his three sisters and many other Jews were deported to German concentration/extermination camps (Birkenau and Auschwitz, Poland).  Elie’s parents and little sister perished, but Elie and his two older sisters survived and were liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by allied troops.

Elie Wiesel has worked as a journalist and writer.  His most famous work is considered to be La Nuit, published in France in 1958. Two years later (1960) it was published in English as Night.  It is an absolutely gripping story; in Night, Elie speaks directly about the horrors and tragedy of the Holocaust.  Elie Wiesel has received many honors during his career including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

© 2015, Jerry Richardson • (3869 views)

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16 Responses to Elie Wiesel and Dehumanization

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Dehumanization is a common leftist trick, no doubt reflecting the natural tendency of collectivists to judge people as members of groups, not as individuals (and to assign all rights to the groups). Note that in the 60s liberal youths referred to the police as “pigs”. It was no accident. Their reflexive claims of “fascist”, “racist”, etc. are also an aspect of their “otherizing” of their opponents. (Of course, some of us — like me — return the favor by referring to them as vermin.)

    The key event in the Third Diaspora apparently was the Bar Kochba revolt around AD 135. It was then that the Romans ejected the remaining Jews from Palestine and renamed the region as well as the city of Jerusalem. Of course, Jews had already been scattered throughout the Empire and the Levant; my German History professor pointed out that the Jews of Worms were able to escape pogroms (pre-Nazism, at least) because it was recorded history that there had been Jews in the area at the time of the Crucifixion, who obviously bore no blame for the actions of the Sanhedrin.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness

    Do you think the idiot libertarians understand this?

    Dr. Frankl also noted that when all is said and done, “there are basically two types of men, decent and unprincipled.” Something the libertarians ought to think about as well. And not all choices are equally valid or principled.

  3. Anniel says:

    I, too, was caught up by the man Elie Wiesel. My grandson asked what I thought of Wiesel’s statement that “the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” We had many thoughts but finally found this on the Nobel site:

    “For the world to remember and learn from the Holocaust is not Elie Wiesel’s only goal. It is equally important to fight indifference and the attitude that ‘it’s no concern of mine.’ Elie Wiesel sees the struggle against indifference as a struggle for peace. In his own words, ‘the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference’.” From Nobel.org

    I think the people of the United States will pay a heavy price if we remain indifferent and don’t stand with Israel.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Both love and hate require a lot of energy. Indifference, not so much. Thus one cornerstone of the libertarian “philosophy” is, “I don’t give a shit.”

      Another is the desire to release the “little monster” within them without criticism or restraint from any quarter.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That “criticism or restraint” is the key to libertinism. They seek not only legal toleration of their vices and degeneracies, but also the absence of any form of disapproval. Hence their hatred of any form of moral code (such as most religions, especially Catholics and socially conservative ones).

      • Anniel says:

        Kung Fu, Just read your post to my grandson. As usual you nailed it. Jack is still nodding his head “yes.”

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Anniel, I am glad to hear this. Perhaps the most important thing we need to do is to show things the way they really are, not as the liars and asshats (that’t the first time I have ever used this word) of academia and the media would have us believe they are.

          This is especially important for young people. And I am glad you are teaching and your grandson is learning about things as they are.

  4. Jerry Richardson says:

    KFZ,
    “Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth…”

    Do you think the idiot libertarians understand this? —Kung Fu Zu

    Unfortunately, I think only about half (hopefully) of the people currently in the USA understand that freedom is only half of the story and responsibility the other half.

    Dr. Frankl also noted that when all is said and done, “there are basically two types of men, decent and unprincipled.” —Kung Fu Zu

    Viktor Frankl had hard-core dehumanizing experience upon which to base his opinion. I did not add the follow to the article due to its length. But I think it is worth including here—part of Dr. Frankl’s description of his Holocaust experience:

    A PARTIAL DESCRIPTION OF DEHUMANIZATION—VIKTOR FRANKL (from MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING)

    I shall give as an example the circumstances of my own admission. Fifteen hundred persons had been traveling by train for several days and nights: there were eighty people in each coach. All had to lie on top of their luggage, the few remnants of their personal possessions. The carriages were so full that only the top parts of the windows were free to let in the grey of dawn.
    —-
    Then the train shunted, obviously nearing a main station. Suddenly a cry broke from the ranks of the anxious passengers, “There is a sign, Auschwitz!” Everyone’s heart missed a beat at that moment. Auschwitz— the very name stood for all that was horrible: gas chambers, crematoriums, massacres.
    —-
    Fifteen hundred captives were cooped up in a shed built to accommodate probably two hundred at the most. We were cold and hungry and there was not enough room for everyone to squat on the bare ground, let alone to lie down. One five-ounce piece of bread was our only food in four days.
    —-
    …we assembled around an SS man who waited until we had all arrived. Then he said, “I will give you two minutes, and I shall time you by my watch. In these two minutes you will get fully undressed and drop everything on the floor where you are standing. You will take nothing with you except your shoes, your belt or suspenders, and possibly a truss. I am starting to count— now!” With unthinkable haste, people tore off their clothes. As the time grew shorter, they became increasingly nervous and pulled clumsily at their underwear, belts and shoelaces. Then we heard the first sounds of whipping; leather straps beating down on naked bodies.
    —-
    The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine men. We could, of course, lie only on our sides, crowded and huddled against each other, which had some advantages because of the bitter cold. Though it was forbidden to take shoes up to the bunks, some people did use them secretly as pillows in spite of the fact that they were caked with mud.
    —-
    Like nearly all the camp inmates I was suffering from edema. My legs were so swollen and the skin on them so tightly stretched that I could scarcely bend my knees. I had to leave my shoes unlaced in order to make them fit my swollen feet. There would not have been space for socks even if I had had any. So my partly bare feet were always wet and my shoes always full of snow. This, of course, caused frostbite and chilblains. Every single step became real torture.
    —-
    One morning I heard someone, whom I knew to be brave and dignified, cry like a child because he finally had to go to the snowy marching grounds in his bare feet, as his shoes were too shrunken for him to wear. In those ghastly minutes, I found a little bit of comfort; a small piece of bread which I drew out of my pocket and munched with absorbed delight.
    —Frankl, Viktor E. (2006-06-01). Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 8-32). Kindle Edition.

  5. Jerry Richardson says:

    KFZ,

    And not all choices are equally valid or principled. —Kung Fu Zu

    Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness —Viktor Frankl

    A theme of responsibility is strong in the philosophy and rhetoric of Netanyahu, Wiesel, and Frankl. I believe that grows directly and indirectly out of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. All three men are painfully, and experientially, aware of the wise maxim that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke).

    The segments of our society that are clearly more orientated toward “freedom” and “rights” than toward “responsibility” would be viewed and correctly characterized by Viktor Frankl as having a “collective neurosis” :

    It is fitting that research conducted at Boston University, based on a new test that “measures the collective neurosis as formulated by logotherapy,” shows that there “appears to be a negative correlation between the collective neurosis and responsibility.”

    Viktor Frankl, The Unconscious God (paperback), p. 79

    Frankly is not the only psychological thinker to believe that something is wrong with a large segment of modern ideology. Michael Savage wrote an entire book entitled Liberalism is a Mental Disorder; and a veteran psychiatrist, Dr. Lyle Rossiter, wrote a book entitled, The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness.

    In his book, Dr.Rossiter says:

    Modern liberalism’s irrationality can only be understood as the product of psychopathology. So extravagant are the patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating that characterize the liberal mind that its relentless protests and demands become understandable only as disorders of the psyche,” declares Rossiter.
    “The Liberal Mind” reveals the madness of the modern liberal for what it is: a massive transference neurosis acted out in the world’s political arenas, with devastating effects on the institutions of liberty.

    The Liberal Mind

    Dr. Rossiter’s descriptive term, “a massive transference neurosis” and Frankl’s descriptive term, written years earlier, “collective neurosis” would certainly seem to give credibility to the notion that something extremely critical for a “free” society, namely “a sense of responsibility” is missing from a large segment of US ideology.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The key notion that rights and responsibilities are linked is related to the equally key notion that power and accountability are linked — something that liberals definitely obamanate when they’re the ones who hold the power. The essence of the Fuehrerprinzip was power without accountability, which the Nazis saw as the inverse of the Weimar Republic (accountability without power).

  6. Jerry Richardson says:

    Timothy,

    The key notion that rights and responsibilities are linked is related to the equally key notion that power and accountability are linked…—Timothy Lane

    Great comment! Brings to mind the quote from Spider-man’s Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility”; usually the original quote is attributed to Voltaire. But who cares? It’s a great statement. Too bad hardly anyone in power pays any attention to its wisdom.

    The essence of the Fuehrerprinzip was power without accountability… —Timothy Lane

    Thanks for the new German word. Here’s Wikipedia on Führerprinzip:

    The Führerprinzip… German for “leader principle”, prescribed the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich. This principle can be most succinctly understood to mean that “the Führer  ‘s word is above all written law” and that governmental policies, decisions, and offices ought to work toward the realization of this end.

    Führerprinzip

    That leads me now to coin a new word Obummerprinzip : This principle can be most succinctly understood to mean that Obama considers his word, and his executive orders, to be above all US law and the US Constitution.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My explanation of the Fuehrerprinzip (I don’t know how to do umlauts here) comes from Dr. Gilbert’s interviews with Hermann Goering at Nuremberg, and I figured the latter ought to know.

  7. Jerry Richardson says:

    Anniel,

    I think the people of the United States will pay a heavy price if we remain indifferent and don’t stand with Israel. —Anniel

    I believe that without a doubt that is true.

    Thanks for your good and pertinent comments.

    I also found a good site for one of Wiesel’s speeches. Here’s some of his speech on indifference:

    In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.

    Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

    Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.
    Elie Wiesel

    Elie Wiesel, The Perils of Indifference

    Wiesel’s words on indifference remind me of the words of Jesus:

    I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

    Revelation 3:15-16 KJV

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Technically, that’s John’s message to the church in Laodicea, though he may have been quoting a prior statement by Jesus (it does sound familiar in that respect). Revelation starts off with messages to various churches before going into the really interesting parts.

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Timothy,

        The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: —Revelation 1:1 KJV

        Of course John wrote the book of Revelation. But he credited the source to be a message from Jesus. New Testament translators consider it to be that, which is why in many translations, including the KJV that I use, the words are in red—signifying that Jesus spoke them. John does not ask nor expect for the words to be credited to him.

    • Anniel says:

      Thanks for the reference Jerry. My grandson and I have been trying to follow every nuance of Wiesel’s thinking on this matter. More truth sometimes comes in small doses than large.

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