Under Darkness

Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp. This photo shows less than half of the bodies of the several hundred inmates who died of starvation or were shot by Gestapo men. Germany, April 12, 1945. Myers. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-203456 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1121
Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp. This photo shows less than half of the bodies of the several hundred inmates who died of starvation or were shot by Gestapo men. Germany, April 12, 1945. Myers. (U.S. Army)

By konigludwig

They came without warning late one night in 1943 and took 7 year-old Rebekkah Dunst and her parents from their home. The next day my mother cried and cried. Her older brothers too. Rebekkah had been my mother’s best friend. My grandmother wept bitterly for the Dunst family. They had been close neighbors, good friends, kind, decent and gentle people. They had done nothing wrong. Nothing.

My mother and her brothers were warned by my grandmother not to be seen crying for the Dunst family in public. In Nazi Germany, to show empathy for Jews, foreigners, the disabled, homosexuals, or anyone else who didn’t represent the Nazi ideal of an ethnically pure and glorious Greater Germany revealed a moral weakness that was not to be tolerated nor excused. The slightest sign of nonconformity was dangerous. Germans were afraid. Everyone was afraid. Not just Jews.

My grandfather was a soldier in the German Wehrmacht. His family had lived in Germany since 1482. But that did not stop the Gestapo from ransacking my grandmother’s house, a German soldier’s home, on several occasions. My uncles were in the Hitler youth but that did not matter either.

They were looking for letters from my grandfather’s brother and sister, who had emigrated to Brazil when the Nazis first came to power in Germany. Even possessing a simple letter from someone whose loyalty to the Third Reich was suspect could be a death warrant.

And so here we are again. We have failed to learn the lessons of history. We have elected a president openly supported by Nazis and White Supremacists–a man who has refused to disavow their support–and who now finalizes plans to “relocate” millions of Hispanic immigrants and to forcibly register millions of Muslim-Americans. Suddenly, the American Right is no longer preoccupied with our constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Religion nor their abstract fears of imagined government concentration camps.

The majority of Germans didn’t vote for Hitler. But now, like then, a great nation has lost its moral compass, and the long established relations of the civilized world have been suddenly swept in a single night into an abyss of pure darkness.

Ⓒ 2016 by konigludwig

What Does Black Lives Matter Want?

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By Robin D. G. Kelley

On August 1 the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of over sixty organizations, rolled out “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice,” an ambitious document described by the press as the first signs of what young black activists “really want.” It lays out six demands aimed at ending all forms of violence and injustice endured by black people; redirecting resources from prisons and the military to education, health, and safety; creating a just, democratically controlled economy; and securing black political power within a genuinely inclusive democracy. Backing the demands are forty separate proposals and thirty-four policy briefs, replete with data, context, and legislative recommendations.

But the document quickly came under attack for its statement on Palestine, which calls Israel an apartheid state and characterizes the ongoing war in Gaza and the West Bank as genocide. Dozens of publications and media outlets devoted extensive coverage to the controversy around this single aspect of the platform, including The Guardian, the Washington Post, The Times of Israel, Haaretz, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Of course, M4BL is not the first to argue that Israeli policies meet the UN definitions of apartheid. (The 1965 International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the 1975 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid define it as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”) Nor is M4BL the first group to use the term “genocide” to describe the plight of Palestinians under occupation and settlement. The renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, for example, wrote of the war on Gaza in 2014 as “incremental genocide.” That Israel’s actions in Gaza correspond with the UN definition of genocide to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” by causing “serious bodily or mental harm” to group members is a legitimate argument to make.

The few mainstream reporters and pundits who considered the full M4BL document either reduced it to a laundry list of demands or positioned it as an alternative to the platform of the Democratic Party—or else focused on their own benighted astonishment that the movement has an agenda beyond curbing police violence. But anyone following Black Lives Matter from its inception in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict should not be surprised by the document’s broad scope. Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi are veteran organizers with a distinguished record of fighting for economic justice, immigrant rights, gender equity, and ending mass incarceration. “A Vision for Black Lives” was not a response to the U.S. presidential election, nor to unfounded criticisms of the movement as “rudderless” or merely a hashtag. It was the product of a year of collective discussion, research, collaboration, and intense debate, beginning with the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland last July, which initially brought together thirty different organizations. It was the product of some of the country’s greatest minds representing organizations such as the Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Dream Defenders, the Organization for Black Struggle, and Southerners on New Ground (SONG). As Marbre Stahly-Butts, a leader of the M4BL policy table explained, “We formed working groups, facilitated multiple convenings, drew on a range of expertise, and sought guidance from grassroots organizations, organizers and elders. As of today, well over sixty organizations and hundreds of people have contributed to the platform.”

The result is actually more than a platform. It is a remarkable blueprint for social transformation that ought to be read and discussed by everyone. The demands are not intended as Band-Aids to patch up the existing system but achievable goals that will produce deep structural changes and improve the lives of all Americans and much of the world. Thenjiwe McHarris, an eminent human rights activist and a principle coordinator of the M4BL policy table, put it best: “We hope that what has been created carries forward the legacy of our elders and our ancestors while imagining a world and a country profoundly different than what currently exists. For us and for those that will come after us.” The document was not drafted with the expectation that it will become the basis of a mass movement, or that it will replace the Democratic Party’s platform. Rather it is a vision statement for long-term, transformative organizing. Indeed, “A Vision for Black Lives” is less a political platform than a plan for ending structural racism, saving the planet, and transforming the entire nation—not just black lives.

Boston Review

Archaeologists Discover Nazi Extermination Camp Gas Chambers in Poland

A rusty road sign outside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

From “Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp”

By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post

Few sites across war-torn Poland harbor more secrets of atrocity and horror than the Nazi concentration camp of Sobibor. Different from Auschwitz, which almost immediately yielded the full scope of the crimes committed there, the history of Sobibor in eastern Poland was initially hidden and opaque.

Unlike Auschwitz, the fate of Sobibor wasn’t liberation. It was obliteration. The Nazis who had run the camp tried to extinguish every remnant of it in 1943, painting over its grounds with a farm, trees and asphalt. Besides a railroad track and the commander’s house, Haaretz noted, nothing remained of the camp. Save for the testimonies of the few survivors, who could only provide scant recollections of small areas of the camp, Sobibor had been lost to history.

But now, more than 70 years later, relics of genocide have surfaced, bringing more clarity to the murder of an estimated 250,000 Jews there than ever before. Buried beneath an asphalt road were a series of well-preserved gas chamber walls that archaeologists say will help elucidate the secrets of Sobibor. Beneath the road were brick rows, stacked four deep — the exoskeleton of four gas chambers.

“The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibor is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” historian David Silberklang, editor of Yad Vashem Studies, said in a statement. “It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”

Read more at The Washington Post

Bearing Witness To Nazis’ Life-Shattering Kristallnacht

View of a destroyed Jewish shop in Berlin on Nov. 11, 1938, after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht. The pogrom unleashed Nazi-coordinated attacks on thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses.

On a busy street in Berlin’s shabby-chic district of Kreuzberg, the gray and dirty pavement glistens with little brass cobblestones. Millions of these stones are embedded in sidewalks all over Europe. They commemorate the last address the city’s Jewish residents called home before the war.

Etched into each stone is the name of an individual, a date of deportation, the name of a concentration camp and, more often than not, a date of death.

But some stones are inscribed with the word ueberlebt, meaning “survived.” The name on one such stone is Margot Bendheim, the maiden name of Margot Friedlander. For the past three years, this stone is no longer a valid record of her most recent Berlin address — which lies across town.

“As a survivor, I feel that I do something for the people who cannot speak for themselves anymore,” says Friedlander, who just turned 92.

After 64 years of exile in New York, Friedlander made the decision to return to her native Berlin for good. City officials welcomed her with open arms, and Friedlander was promptly given back her German citizenship.

“When I received my German citizenship, I said: ‘You expect me to say thank you for it? I will not do it. Because you only give me back what you took away from me,'” she says.

Read more at NPR: National Public Radio

Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack – NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.

With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama described the attack as “clearly a big event of grave concern” and acknowledged that the United States had limited time to respond. But he said United Nations investigators needed to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.

Read more at The New York Times.

Little Doubt: Experts Attest to Use of Nerve Gas in Syria

A man holds the body of a child allegedly killed by a nerve gas attack in Syria on Wednesday.

Experts are convinced that the hundreds of people who died in attacks in Syria on Wednesday were the victims of chemical weapons. It is yet to be confirmed, however, exactly what was deployed and whether the Assad regime is indeed responsible.

Gruesome scenes played out Wednesday morning in footage of the overcrowded hospitals of Arbeen, a suburb east of Damascus. People writhe on the floor screaming, as more and more dead fill the hallways. Doctors and nurses try to revive the victims with onion juice and garlic. They rub onion halves on their skin, pour cold water over them as they twitch uncontrollably.

“What else can we do? We don’t have anything else,” says Abu Ahmad, a pharmacist who lives in Arbeen. The area has been under the control of the rebels since the beginning of the year and, for the past few months, almost entirely cut off from the outside world by the military forces under Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad. Some 10,000 people still live there.

As of Wednesday, the death toll in Arbeen was 63. But if what the opposition is reporting turns out to be true, that is only a small sliver of the carnage: Up to 1,300 people were allegedly killed in a toxic gas attack by the Syrian army that day.

Shocking videos have been uploaded to YouTube. In them, children are seen to make up a large percentage of the dead. The videos have already had political consequences, as governments around the world reacted with horror. On Wednesday evening, the UN Security Council announced the need for “clarity” about the reported use of chemical weapons, but they didn’t reach agreement about launching an investigation.

Read more at Der Spiegel

Rami Abdul Rahman’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

“I am a simple citizen from a simple family who has managed to accomplish something huge using simple means,” said Rami Abdul Rahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

COVENTRY, England — Military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war. The United Nations and human rights organizations scour its descriptions of civilian killings for evidence in possible war crimes trials. Major news organizations, including this one, cite its casualty figures.

Yet, despite its central role in the savage civil war, the grandly named Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is virtually a one-man band. Its founder, Rami Abdul Rahman, 42, who fled Syria 13 years ago, operates out of a semidetached red-brick house on an ordinary residential street in this drab industrial city.

Using the simplest, cheapest Internet technology available, Mr. Abdul Rahman spends virtually every waking minute tracking the war in Syria, disseminating bursts of information about the fighting and the death toll. What began as sporadic, rudimentary e-mails about protests early in the uprising has swelled into a torrent of statistics and details.

Read more at The New York Times.