The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 September 2005

A true reign of terror

In 2005, the term "Nazi" is tossed about seemingly with abandon: it's the 21st century's all-purpose pejorative. Apart from making Mike Godwin's name a household word, this sort of slander — and it always is intended as such — serves no purpose, and it invariably looks even more foolish in light of the atrocities committed by the real Nazis.

With this in mind, I betook myself today to Untitled (ArtSpace), which is presenting two exhibits pertinent to the stench of Nazism.

In the center of the building is Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945, one of the traveling exhibitions of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Some of this material I knew; some of it was startling but fit into context. The Nazis were devoted to eugenics, and the persecution of gay men was justified as a measure to purify the Aryan bloodlines; what I didn't know was the extent to which they would seek them out. In February 1934, for instance, the Reich ordered police surveillance of men who were thought to be likely violators of Paragraph 175, the law which criminalized male homosexuality and which had been substantially expanded by the Reich, and later that year, the Gestapo demanded lists of gay men from local police departments. The persecution did not extend to lesbians, who were, after all, only women, and therefore of no consequence to the Nazis.

Along the walls is an exhibition called Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, stories and photographs of people who literally risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi extermination program. The exhibition, the work of Gay Block and Rabbi Malka Drucker, looks at these workaday heroes, from all walks of life and all strata of society. What they had in common was the willingness to step forward when most people were afraid even to speak up, and a general resistance to the word "hero": said Johte Vos, of the Netherlands, "This is totally the wrong thing to call us. We did what everyone should have done." And indeed, in the portraits, taken by Block in the late 1980s, you can see both the smile and the shrug: they were proud to do what they did, but they seem slightly embarrassed at being fussed over. (At any rate, this is what I saw: your mileage may vary.)

The Cimarron Alliance Foundation, which arranged for these exhibitions, has a simple objective:

By presenting this historical and scholarly exhibition, and by hosting a series of public, educational events, the Cimarron Alliance Foundation with its community partners hopes to preserve the memory of those who suffered and were lost in the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, and to encourage those who visit the exhibition to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by this unprecedented tragedy as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a free and democratic society.

Two pertinent films were screened at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art last weekend, and there will be public forums as well: Monday at 7 pm, Bill Parsons, chief of staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, will speak at the Kerr-McGee Auditorium on the OCU campus, and on the 10th of October, there will be a panel discussion presented by the Norman Human Rights Commission in Norman's Council Chambers.

Why does this matter today? Because the ongoing misuse of the term "Nazi" today tends to trivialize the events of history; but more important, because, as General Eisenhower, after inspecting an actual concentration camp, wrote to General George C. Marshall in 1945, "I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda'." Which there has.

And because each of us, I think, still possesses a conscience.

Untitled (ArtSpace) is a converted warehouse at 1 NE 3rd Street in downtown Oklahoma City. The exhibitions run through 23 October.

Posted at 2:11 PM to Almost Yogurt

We did what everyone should have done.

Sometimes that's what defines a hero. Sad commentary on the rest of us, though.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:49 AM on 26 September 2005