Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dr. Edward Kissi and Clinicians on Black Survivors of the Holocaust

Black Survivors of the Holocaust also titled Hitler's Forgotten Victims Afro-Wisdom Productions is a documentary about the offspring of African soldiers who stationed in Germany’s Rhineland, intermarried with German women and reared their Afro-German children as Black Germans. When Hitler came to power, many of these children were involuntarily sterilized as teenagers. The shame and humiliation haunted them throughout their lives. In addition, the documentary tells...Blacks who were actually interned in particular concentration camps in Germany during the war. Concentration camps set up by the Nazi regime also contained Black prisoners of war (continental Africans and Americans of African descent).

Dr. Edward Kissi looked at the experiences of Black people in Nazi Germany and Nazi concentration camps. He argued that the traditional view of the Holocaust as an exclusively Jewish experience has, inadvertently, relegated the similarly excruciating experiences of Black people in Nazi concentration camps to the margins of Holocaust history. Thus Blacks have become the hidden victims of the concentration camp horrors whose experiences are yet to be excavated from the camp archives and integrated into Holocaust historiography.

The idea that Black people died with Jews in the Dachau, Neuengamme and Mauthausen concentration camps in Germany has often been met with disbelief and skepticism. Dr. Kissi acknowledged the difficulties of conducting archival research on the subject of Blacks in the Holocaust. While the Nazis kept detailed records of the number of Jews sent to particular concentration camps, and how they were killed, concentration camp records have very little traces of the presence of Blacks. One reason, Kissi argued, is the refusal of the Nazi regime to admit that Germany's predominantly White population also included Blacks. By eliminating the notion of "Black Germans" in their concept of German nationality or citizenship, the Nazis made Blacks "the invisible Other" in German society. Thus, it is possible that the Nazis did not keep any meticulous records on Blacks in the concentration camps. A researcher looking for records pointing to the skin color of camp inmates may not find some. That researcher will need carefully-thought-out research methodology to discover and document the fate of some of the concentration camps' hidden victims (Blacks).

Dr. Jessica Rausch-Medina cautioned against painting people with a broad brush. Just as race is a constructed and artificial category, Jewish people are not all the same and differ depending on where they come from. When applied to the interracial people featured in the film, it is literally impossible to tell who is Black. Her second point was that history is remembered by individuals and societies whether through conscious effort or not and is evoked and mobilized during periods of natural crisis. She provided the example of the way Jews were treated during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the late 1970s in which Jews were treated as concentration camp victims had been treated in Auschwitz and then the Jewish citizens were “disappeared.”

Sheldon Wykell shared Dr. Rausch Medina’s view that race is and ethnicity are constructs that are used by regimes to manipulate reality to appear to resemble how they want it to seem. Mr. Wykell was moved by the similarities in suffering of the Black survivors and other survivors of the Holocaust who believed because they were Germans first that nothing adverse would happen to them. Both Mr. Wykell and Dr. Rausch Medina called for the need for reparations for the Black survivors.

From watching the film, Kim Vaz was struck by the fact of there are no ‘simple’ questions. For the Afro Germans who were sterilized in their youth, the seemingly simple question of “do you have children” is loaded with human rights violations. For this simple question contains personal, family, community, state and international implications of a child’s fundamental right to control her or his own body. The violation of the body that prevents a child from reproducing not simply a new physical life is at issue but more importantly is, the distortions done to the ability of individuals to give birth and rebirth to their own subjective experience over the course of an entire life. For Dr. Vaz, perhaps no one captured this idea better than Imre Kertesz, the Hungarian Noble Prize winner for literature in his autobiographical novel of his experience in the concentration camp he called Kaddish for an Unborn Child.

Presenters Biographies:

Edward Kissi is a historian who studies Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and also genocide, from a global and comparative perspective. He is the author of Revolution and Genocide in Ethiopia and Cambodia, published by Lexington Books, in 2006. Edward has been teaching courses on African history and the history and theory of genocide in the Department of Africana Studies since Fall 2003. He was granted tenure and promotion to Associate Professor this past Summer. As a genocide scholar, Edward has always been interested in the Holocaust. In recent years, he has been looking at “Blacks in the Holocaust” as well as “Blacks and the Holocaust.” He is currently working on a second book which examines what people on the African continent, especially Ethiopian Jews, knew and thought about the annihilation of European Jews in the course of World War II. He, therefore, has knowledge about our theme today.

Kim Vaz, Ph.D., LMHC coordinated the Film Series: Fears of Difference, Diversity of Holocaust Experiences.

Jessica G. Rausch-Medina, M.D. Child, Adolescent Adult Psychiatrist, in private practice in Tampa since 1984, was at U.S.F. until 1992, completed all her training in Philadelphia, at Hahnemann Medical College. Went to Medical School in Argentina at the National University of Buenos Aires. Has very lose ties to the Holocaust, this has been an integral part of who she is.

Sheldon Wykell, MSW, LCSW graduated from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago. He has 35 years in the field of clinical social work and social services administration. He is the former Executive Director of Jewish Family Service of Sarasota-Manatee. While at the Jewish Family Service in Chicago he directed Chicago office of HIAS, the immigrant resettlement program that historically has sponsored and managed the resettlement of Jews in America for over 100 years including before, during and after the Holocaust. Clinical practice includes work with a wide range of clients in individual and group therapy including couples, families, children, elderly, and chronically mentally ill. Currently in private practice in downtown St. Petersburg. Sheldon is a major film fanatic. He sees everything and feels the only thing missing from life in the St. Pete-Tampa area is an independent film house to see films like this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The following entry is part of a chain of correspondence between film series discussants Michael Poff MA, MSW and Edward Kissi Ph.D and is included here by permission.

"The question and tentative objection following Black Survivors were just as specific as those for "Paragraph 175." There is at least one dominant socio-political militarized movement in the world today with the ideology, globalist intentions, and magnitude resembling the pre-WWII Nazi social movement whose various leadership explicitly acknowledges sentiments equivalent to Hitler’s in Mein Kampf and who have been repeatedly showing all around the globe that they are not just bluffing when they say they are willing to wage war, execute, terrorize and generally subjugate others who do not submit to their religious-political worldview. The non-centralized minority but radicalized, extremist and politicized versions of fundamentalist Islam and corresponding fundamentalist leaders - state or otherwise - such as M. Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden, etc. meet these criteria. These are among the most explicitly ideological and violent of many forms of dehumanization in our dangerous world today and to discuss them should not exclude discussion of others. Even if you disagree with what I have just written I hope you would grant that to raise the proposition in scholarly debate is sound and justified given recent history. Yet, in our discussions the only target of accusation of trends equivalent to Nazi policies raised have been those that pertain to US immigration law, US marriage law, and existing and absurd US anti-sodomy laws. Crimes rationalized under these banners are inexcusable in 2009. But I can only surmise that it would be humanity’s compulsion to ignore and repeat history if the West and communities of all colors, religious faiths, gender or sexual orientation were unwilling to discuss other more recently destructive varieties of hate, particularly politicized Islamic extremism for fear of being accused of stereotyping or for fear of offending our brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith, who have the most to loose from our silence, in any case. As a historian I hope you might agree that such silence is dangerous. Yet, not one word has been raised during discussion of the persecution/execution of homosexuals, religious converts and so-called sexual ‘criminals’ (particularly women) in Iran and by other radicalized Islamist governments. The most public and recently-documented cases of persecution/execution of brave Muslims and non-Muslims who speak out against extremism within the Muslim world have not even been mentioned. Even the historical alliance for the very purpose of the Final Solution between Hitler and Islamic leaders such as Hassan al-Banna and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem or Islamist groups (still very active today) such as the Muslim Brotherhood has not been discussed. Can you help me understand this?

I believe that as discussants we can engage without fear over such questions and with the trust that subjects of controversy will be taken up openly and on their face. And I believe that where stereotyping or evidence of minimization is suspected or where denial of current dangers is perceived then this can be explored honestly and directly. From your thoughtful comments and feedback I believe that you agree."

“Correspondence from Michael Poff to Edward Kissi.”