From Nuremberg to Charlottesville



Nuremberg, Jim Crow and Confederate Icons









On September 15, 1935, Adolph Hitler announced the establishment of what have become known as the Nuremberg Laws. These laws excluded Jews from German citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of "German or related blood." In addition: Jewish workers and managers we’re dismissed from businesses and government organizations, including schools; Jewish-owned businesses were taken over by non-Jews; Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jews; and Jewish lawyers were forbidden to practice law.


The Nuremberg Laws represented the application of Nazi racial theories. Jews were defined in Nazi ideology as a race, not as a religious group. For this reason, the laws did not define a "Jew" in religious terms, but rather as an individual who had three or four Jewish grandparents, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to a Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism for years found themselves defined as Jews. Even those individuals with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were legally defined as Jews.


As I have shown elsewhere (see Christian Origins of the Holocaust), the various anti-Jewish laws passed by the Nazis were based on similar laws and restrictions established by Christian churches throughout European history. Indeed, as Raul Hilberg illustrated in his book, The Destruction of European Jews (1965), the anti-Jewish laws passed by the Nazis had precedence in Canon Law.







The creation of the Nuremberg Laws was also directly influenced by similar laws enforced in the U.S. On June 5, 1934, Nazi lawyers gathered to compose what would eventually become the Nuremberg Laws. Due to the importance of these deliberations, a stenographer was hired to produce a verbatim transcript of those meetings. According to the Business Insider, the minutes of those meetings reveal that the lawyers involved


debated whether they should bring Jim Crow segregation to the Third Reich. They engaged in detailed discussion of the statutes from the 30 US states that criminalised racially mixed marriages. They reviewed how the various US states determined who counted as a ‘Negro’ or a ‘Mongol’, and weighed whether they should adopt US techniques in their own approach to determining who counted as a Jew. Throughout the meeting the most ardent supporters of the US model were the most radical Nazis in the room.


In other words, in creating their racially organized state, the Nazis looked to the U.S. for inspiration. As Time Magazine (March 21, 2017) notes, 


In Mein Kampf, Hitler called America the "one state" making progress toward the creation of the kind of order he wanted for Germany. In 1935, the National Socialist Handbook on Law and Legislation, a basic guide for Nazis as they built their new society, would declare that the United States had achieved the "fundamental recognition" of the need for a race state.


As it turns out, the Nazi method of defining who was a Jew was remarkably similar to that used to define who was a "Negro" in the Jim Crow Laws applied throughout the American South. The method used for defining racial identity in the South was known as the One-Drop Rule, a legal principle in complete contradiction to any understanding of genetic inheritance. According to this rule, any individual that had even one ancestor of sub-Saharan African ancestry (i.e., "one drop" of African blood), was defined as a "Negro." So, even someone with a great-great-great-great grandparent of African origin was defined as a Negro. Both the Jim Crow and the Nuremberg methods of determining social identity are examples of hypodescent, a method whereby an individual's racial or social identity is skewed in order for a dominant population to maintain control over a subordinate population by excluding members of that population from inclusion within the dominant population. Hypodescent exists specifically in those situations in which a dominant population wants to maintain its privileged position, and has been a defining characteristic of most colonial regimes.


The concept of race is a human construct that has no biological reality. Races are not natural entities; they are human creations. Indeed, given that the definition of species is problematic at best and that the very validity of the species concept is highly controversial among research biologists  (see Abruzzi, The Species Concept), the belief in the reality of something as ephemeral as human races has no scientific validity whatsoever. Race is a product of the specific socio-political context in which it occurs, which is why both the number and the specific definition of races varies widely among human societies. It is for this reason that the concept of race was abandoned by anthropologists some 50 years ago.













Several thousand individuals were lynched in the U.S. for violating or threatening either Jim Crow laws or other norms regulating racial interactions. According to a study published in 2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative, 3,959 black men, women, and children were lynched in the twelve Southern states between 1877 and 1950. Georgia had the highest number, with 586 lynchings. Many other African-Americans were lynched outside the South.






Ironically, while the racial regime established by Hitler and the Nazis came crashing down in 1945, the system of government that inspired it lasted a full generation longer in the U.S. As a result, many of the racial attitudes upon which the Jim Crow regime were built persist to this day. One example of the persistence of a hypodescent world view with respect to race in the U.S. can be seen in the discussion of former President Obama's racial status.  He is generally not described as multi-racial --and certainly not as a white man with a black father!-- but almost always as a black man with a white mother. Other examples illustrate the survival of a hypodescent view of race in the U.S., including the case of Susie Guillory Phipps.


In the United States, the "one-drop rule"  . . .  dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985, when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman . . . (Ms. Phipps) . . .   with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as "white" on her passport." (Harvard Gazette)




Susie Guillory Phipps


"a woman  with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother"




American attitudes towards race underlie the current uproar over the existence/removal of statues and monuments honoring the Confederacy and its heroes. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public places, including monuments, statues, flags, holidays & other observances, as well as the names of schools, highways, parks, bridges, counties, cities, lakes, dams, roads, military bases, and other public works. The overwhelming majority of these symbols are in those states that were formerly part of the Confederacy.


(The SPLC) . . . "identified 718 monuments. The majority (551) were dedicated or built prior to 1950. More than 45 were dedicated or rededicated during the civil rights movement, between the U.S. Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision in 1954 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. The survey counted 32 monuments and other symbols that were dedicated or rededicated in the years since 2000.


Many of these are memorials to Confederate soldiers, typically inscribed with colorful language extolling their heroism and valor, or, sometimes, the details of particular battles or local units. Some go further, however, to glorify the Confederacy’s cause. For example, in Anderson County, South Carolina, a monument erected in 1902 reads, in part: "The world shall yet decide, in truth’s clear, far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray, and died with Lee, were in the right."


Three states stand out for having far more monuments than others: Virginia (96), Georgia (90), and North Carolina (90). But the other eight states that seceded from the Union have their fair share: Alabama (48), Arkansas (36), Florida (25), Louisiana (37), Mississippi (48), South Carolina (50), Tennessee (43), and Texas (66). (SPLC)


The political (rather than cultural) significance of the Confederate monuments is indicated by the fact that two specific time periods stand out as periods showing a distinct increases in the construction of these monuments: 1895-1915, and 1950-1970. The first period coincided with the establishment of Jim Crow laws  throughout the South following Reconstruction; the second time period coincided with the growing Civil-Rights Movement that challenged those laws.





Stone Mountain


(Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson)




The construction history of Stone Mountain, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, illustrates the connection between the erection of Confederate monuments and Jim Crow laws. The major events associated with the construction of this monument coincide with the two time periods marking the peak construction of Confederate memorials.  The Stone Mountain memorial was conceived by Mrs. C. Helen Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and President of its Atlanta Chapter. Her initial vision of the memorial was a portrait of Robert E. Lee, with the possible inclusion of prominent Ku Klux Klan members. William and Samuel Venable, who owned the mountain, deeded its north face plus 10 acres to the UDC in 1916 for the purpose of creating a Confederate monument. Work began that year and continued until 1928, when it was halted and land ownership reverted to Samuel Venable. In 1958, Governor Marvin Griffin urged the Georgia legislature to approved the state's purchase of Stone Mountain, and work on the memorial was resumed in 1964. It was eventually completed in 1972.


Not coincidentally, on November 25, 1915. following the release of D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, a small group of hooded and robed Klan members held a torch-light ceremony on top of Stone Mountain --complete with the burning of a cross-- to celebrate the rebirth of the Klan. Samuel Venable subsequently granted the Klan an easement with perpetual right to hold celebrations at Stone Mountain. The UDC established the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association (SMCMA) for fundraising and maintained on-site supervision of the project. Gutzon Borglum (later to become sculptor of the Mount Rushmore Memorial)  was commissioned to create the monument. The influence of the UDC continued with the support of Venable and Gutzon Borglum, both of whom were Klan members. According to the University of Virginia American Studies website on Stone Mountain,


This new version of the Klan prospered, bringing in thousands of members, including the first chief sculptor of the carving, Gutzon Borglum and the owner of the mountain, Samuel Venable. Because of their deep involvement with the early carving, Klansmen, along with the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to influence the ideology of the carving, and they strongly supported the UDC's vision of an explicit Confederate memorial.


As mechanisms of social control, monuments and statues become significant pubic expressions of institutional power and authority. In a political context, power is the ability to get others to do what you want them to do; authority is the socially accepted right to exercise that power.  In 1938, Mao Zedong made his famous statement, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." In other words, he who has the gun has the power to get other people to do what he wants.  However, no social or political regime can be sustained if it relies exclusively on its ability to exercise power over its subjects. It must come to legitimize that exercise of power; i.e., it must acquire the authority accepted by members of the population to exercise its power over them. As anthropological research has consistently shown, those in power in any sociopolitical system seek to acquire symbols that legitimize their exercise of power. This is as true of modern governments as it was of kings and nobles in a feudal society, and of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, popes, rabbis, imams, etc. in their respective religious communities. All of the public rituals and paraphernalia ("trappings of power") associated with political and religious leaders serve to legitimize their rule and that of the institutions they represent. During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church generated all sorts of symbols that both demonstrated and legitimated its rule, including the building of churches, cathedrals, statues and other public structures and the performance of various rituals interceding between its subjects and God.. The same can be said for the U.S. Government. Monumental buildings, memorials, national cemeteries, flags, national rituals, etc. all express the power and legitimacy of the Federal Government.


One interesting example of a public monument projecting institutional power and authority was the 13th-century construction of  the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia in southern France. Following the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) in which the Roman Church defeated the Cathars and eradicated their "heresy", the victorious Church both initiated an Inquisition and built a massive cathedral in the town of Albi, from which the crusade derived its name. Tens of thousands of Cathars are estimated to have died as a result of the Crusade and the subsequent Inquisition.













Albi Cathedral



The Cathedral of St. Cecelia is an imposing structure that projected the power of the victorious church over its recently conquered subjects. 















The cathedral was dedicated to St. Cecilia, who suffered through three attempts to behead her before she died a martyr to her Christian faith.










In the apse behind the alter of the cathedral is a large mural depicting the Last Judgment.






At the highest levels in the mural are those individuals honored by the Church for their piety and dedication.








At its lowest level, the mural depicts the excruciating suffering that will befall those who violate the authority of the Church and its teachings.






 Thus, through both its imposing size and its interior artwork, the cathedral publicized the power and authority of the medieval Church over its newly conquered subjects.


It is in this context that the Confederate statues and monuments erected throughout the American South take on a political significance. It is not a coincidence that they show an increase in their construction at the very time that Southern whites were consolidating power through the establishment of Jim Crow laws and just when those laws were being challenged.  While many individuals perceive Confederate statues and monuments in different ways, and some may truly not view them in racist terms, the reality is that they are most definitely associated with the establishment and defense of a racist regime.  


There are many reasons for the persistence of widespread racism in the U.S.  Racially, the U.S. is a highly segregated society, with little sustained contact and communication across the racial divide. A central factor in creating and maintaining segregated neighborhoods was the policy of Redlining  applied at all levels of government, as well as by the banking and real estate industries. Studies repeatedly show that neighborhoods in most cities remain as racially/ethnically segregated today as they were decades ago. And since school attendance is largely determined by residence, education in the U.S. is also highly segregated. This has resulted in white and black populations having very different educational experiences and developing distinct narratives about American history. White Americans have not seriously confronted their history. There has been very little serious national discussion about the history of race in the U.S. --about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the Mexican War, the dispossession of Native Americans of their lands (involving forced migrations, the free distribution of their lands to whites, and their imposed confinement on reservations --referred to by some Native Americans as "Red Concentration Camps," Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, the overthrow of the native Hawaiian government, and the many other forms of racial conflict justified by "Manifest Destiny" and related ideologies of white privilege.


The American experience contrasts quite sharply with that of Germany, which has directly and extensively confronted its past. As the late Andrew Cohen, a Canadian journalist and professor at both the University College London and Oxford University, once emphasized during an interview with the BBC,


Germany is very devoted to a discussion of its past. I have not seen a country anywhere that is as committed to a frank and painful discussion of its history as Germany is. Making a Nazi salute or denying the Holocaust in Germany could land you in jail -alongside swastikas and other Nazi symbols they are illegal. And the country takes pains to make sure the horrors of World War Two are remembered, respectfully, with a view to preventing them happening again. Cities are full of sites dedicated to the Holocaust, from big museums and concentration camp memorials to tiny plaques in the ground, the size of cobblestones, that you may notice by chance when in the middle of something else.


By contrast, there has been no systematic national discussion regarding how racism has permeated American history.  Only small independent museums scattered throughout the country examine the consequences of American racism, and usually only on one or more of the issues  mentioned above.  Colonial Williamsburg did not even introduce its first black interpreter presenting the slave experience upon which that community depended until 1979, and even that decision was controversial. Nothing exists in the U.S. that compares to German policy towards National Socialism and other forms of discrimination.  Every major city, as well as specific historical locations have National Socialist Documentation Centers that present exhaustive displays detailing the rise and abuses of the Nazis and the history of anti-Semitism that underlay the Nazis rise to power. Each center presents a detailed collection of material documenting both the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in German society and the devastation that it caused the country. In addition, each Documentation Center publishes a catalogue of the material in its collection, which is available in several languages.. The Munich NSDC occupies an entire four-story building and publishes a 624-page catalogue of the materials in its collection.






Munich National Socialist Documentation Center

Samples of Material on Display


The Munich Documentation Center presents ample evidence of Nazi atrocities.  However, the purpose of the Documentation Centers is to do more than rehash Nazi atrocities. While it does focus on the tyranny of the Nazis, its broader goal is to educate the public on the factors that gave rise to the Nazis and the Holocaust they produced.  It is to this end that the Centers focus on the history of anti-Semitism in Germany both during and before the Nazis assumed power. The Munich Center contains  numerous exhibits documenting the extent to which anti-Semitism permeated German society.



Including photos of signposts documenting the exclusion of Jews from many communities.







Anti-Semitic stickers are on display together with an explanation as to how popular and widely used they were , . . .























Stickers were frequently placed on the mail by postal workers,

often without an individual's knowledge or consent.







One exchange of love letters is displayed (between Trude G. & Hans S.) that illustrates just how deeply anti-Semitism pervaded daily life.







In the above letter, Trude writes to Hans . . .






The museum display illustrates how commonly accepted Trude and Hans' anti-Semitism was at the time they wrote their letters.








Indeed, the Documentation Center shows that anti-Semitism was so widely accepted that vacation resorts would promote the fact that they were Judenfrei ("Jew Free").













The Center also documents how heavily involved the leading religious institutions and their leaders were with the Nazi regime.


























The Documentation Center also draws attention to the fact that anti-Semitism continues to exist in Germany.
















The Center also raises concerns about the current rise of far-right political movements and the degree to which they follow in the footsteps of the past, in many cases applying earlier anti-Semitic propaganda motifs to Muslims . . .
















. . . including the use of Nazi-era Aryan notions of German identity, such as the poster below distributed by National Democratic Party (NPD), a far-right, ultranationalist political party in Germany opposed to immigration.







At the same time, a display of Nazi symbols and related images of ethnic hate have been made illegal and have become socially unacceptable by most Germans.




Finally, every German student is required to visit at least one Concentration Camp, where the conditions of life and harsh treatment of prisoners is presented in great detail.


























While anti-Semitism has certainly not been eradicated in Germany and there has been a recent increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, the prevalence of hate speech and negative ethnic-racial attitudes is considerably less prominent and socially reinforced in Germany than it is in the U.S. Germans are well-versed in the role that ethnic hatred has played in their history. Most white Americans, on the other hand, have little understanding of the role that racial attitudes have played in the history of the U.S., both as a mechanism for maintaining white privilege and minority disenfranchisement and a rationalization for American hegemonic actions overseas.






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