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February 05, 2009


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I acknowledge that this is not the easiest post to wake up to and/or read, but reading about Bishop Williamson yesterday vividly brought back my encounter with David Irving. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck going up as it dawned on me what he was saying in this quiet, polite British voice. While we were talking, a younger woman with long, blond hair came out to the porch and handed him a cup of coffee. I assumed it was his wife/girlfriend.

As of this morning, there has been no word whether Bishop Williamson will agree to the Vatican's demand that he recant "in an absolutely unequivocal and public way" that he was wrong in saying the Nazis did not kill any Jews in gas chambers during World War II.

Like Jewish historians, I don't believe, for a millisecond, that the Pope did NOT know about Williamson's anti-Semitism: "What is particularly astounding is the Vatican assertion that they didn't know about his Holocaust views," said Marvin Hier, a rabbi and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "All somebody had to do was Google him."

I'm curious to know if any sistas or mistas have ever encountered Holocaust deniers and/or white supremacists. The latter, in particular, can live next door without your really knowing it. Or, as I have directly experienced, they can be sitting right next to you at a family dinner table.

Isn't it stunning that Irving's book is available on Amazon? Is this the dark side of "freedom of speech"?


When I was in my late teens and early twenties I worked in a four-woman office in which the supervisor was the daughter of a high-ranking German officer and another woman was a survivor of one of the WWII German concentration camps.

Rosy bore the tattoed numbers on her arms, taught me how to dance to "Ha-Va-Na-Gi-La" (spelled purely phonetically), and in the six years I worked with her spoke of her time in the concentration camps just once. She and her sister were the only survivors in her family. They made it because they both have lovely voices, and they would sing for the German officers at the parties held by the camp komandant, during which they would steal extra food.

Linda remembered being forced to participate in children's rallies and later the hardships endured at the end of the war.

Once I remember their tempers flaring when Linda said that the German people didn't know what was happening in the concentration camps. Even in that argument, Rosy acknowledged individual Germans who risked all to sneak food or provisions to those in the camp.


Amazing and inspiring story, treesta. Thanks so much for taking a moment to post it.

The only survivors of concentration camps I've encountered are those who have given lectures at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It's hard to believe that Rosy only spoke of her time in the camps once during those six years you worked with her. Further, that she expressed compassion for individual Germans who tried to help those in the camps. There seem to be two responses to abject suffering: profound bitterness or profound compassion. Rosy's story is an example for all of us.


I've not had close encounters with this particular lunatic fringe, but certainly have with various anti this or that or deniers of whatever. It is the dark side of freedom of speech, but we've got to keep that freedom so we can speak out against what we believe to be nonsense. Holding people in authority accountable is no easy task, is it? Bishop Williamson's non apology reminds me a little of yesterday's post. Haven't we heard the appointees say they are sorry the committee has to bother with asking these hard questions because they made a clerical error? My favorite usage of this line of bull was when my husband was once stopped by a police officer for rolling through a stop sign. He actually said, "I'm sorry you had to stop me for just a warning." AND he got away with just a warning. Unbelievable!


I'd be surprised if we haven't all come in contact with survivors or their decendants - but I can't honestly say I remember discussing their experiences first-hand. I did have a relative by marriage who was in the military and saw the death camps first hand as they were liberated. He found the entire experience so horrifying he never wanted to discuss it. It truly is repellant that there are still so many people who are proud to say they don't believe the Holocaust happened. Or any of the more-recent genocides - I wonder if these folks *really * believe their denials or are just evil, just enjoy spreading discord and dissent - that they believe there are "sub-humans" among us? All I can do, other than giving them no credence or audience, is to take comfort in my faith that they will experience the pain they have caused others when they die and are called forth for reckoning.


babysis, I think the reason I even noticed the report about the Bishop yesterday was because I saw "apology" in the headline or subhead and had been reading the comments that had come in on yesterday's post. Clearly, saying "sorry" isn't enough for the bishop. He has a history of making anti-semetic comments, and actually, the current Pope was a Nazi youth or something. I'm curious to see if the bishop has any integrity at all and sticks with his story or says what he needs to say to be welcomed into the gathering of bishops or whatever they're called . . . a "coven"? Oh, no that's a gathering of witches, not bishops. And it is pretty unbelievable that your husband got away with that he said after drifting through a stop sign. Was the cop who stopped him male or female? Actually, it doesn't make a difference.

Of course we need "freedom of speech" but one of the prices we pay is having to listen to folks deny the Holocaust and/or count on an assassin for Obama.

Wow, Chryso -- what a question: are these folks "evil"? That's a tough one. I guess I believe in the existence of evil. The best depiction of it I ever read was in C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters. Like Hannah Arendt's, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Lewis makes a compelling case on the banality of evil. Hell, as Lewis depicts it for example, is a corporate hierarchy. Memo writing, ass kissing . . . tedious and boring as all get out. That's what is truly frightening about evil. At it's core, it looks frighteningly normal, like what I see when I look in the mirror during ugly moments.


I work with a survivor. He works in another department that I have little or no contact with, so my knowledge of him is limited. I've been told that he has "the" tattoo (haven't seen it myself) and he never speaks about it.

This post makes me wonder though about the US and other countries ignoring such current day events that have/are taking place, like Rwanda. It still goes on, countries often aware, but nothing is done.


Matiss -- your comment reminded me of an interview I read in Sunday's New York Times magazine with J.D. Trout, who has just published a book called The Empathy Gap. Here are two questions and answers from that interview:

"Why do you think people tend to feel more empathy for a puppy with a hurt paw than for a person without health insurance?

"Part of the reason is banal. Ease of visualization. The person without health care is likely to appear as a statistic, one among 50 million others.

"Would you agree with the maxim that charity begins at home?

"There is no question that the drop-off in empathy occurs from your house out, which means that we feel less empathy for people who are farther away."

Trout's responses may explain a bit of why we ignore genocide -- too far away and too much like a statistic.

In her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power, now an advisor to Obama, writes: "Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalist, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination they need to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their heads down will be left alone. They urge ceasefires and donate humanitarian aid."

Many U.S. officials label issues of genocide "emotional" -- outside the purview of cold, rational interests. This was the case in Rwanda, and in World War II Germany.

Bottom line, we have to see it to believe it, I guess. I remember watching a documentary about Darfur, "The Devil Came on Horseback," in which a Marine, sent by the United States to make certain genocide wasn't occurring, brought back documented proof -- photos, videos, etc. -- and STILL the government refused to call it genocide. As babysis said earlier, unbelievable.


To me, people who intentionally spread discord, who incite people with lies, (esp. those who take pleasure at fomenting such stuff), are the human equivalent of the devil at work. Isn't it commonly accepted that the devil is the incarnation of evil? So, there's my little slippery slope of logic for you. Folks who will incite people to attack the "other", and those who excuse such incitement and the brutality it can evoke, are just plain evil in my book. What possible good can come from such as this?

We are commanded to love one another -- not hate, not lie, and certainly not kill and then lie about it and continue the hatred. Just no excuse for it in this day & age. Really, no excuse whatever...


Reading the various comments about freedom of speech reminded me of when I visited Israel. I remember being shocked when I read in one of the daily newspapers there that someone had been arrested because he publicly called a political candidate something equivalent to “the Devil”. Israel, democracy that it is, has little tolerance for speech that it considers inciting to violence. Austria has similar views as is seen in the link in this post that is the Wikipedia article on Irving. It notes that “in Austria, Irving was apprehended, tried and convicted of ‘glorifying and identifying with the German Nazi Party’, which is a crime in Austria.” In America we have a much higher threshold at which we consider speech to be inciting violence but perhaps if we were the cradle of Hitler or a country formed by survivors of Hitler we would have a different view. I am just glad that, to date, we have been fairly successful at not trading in that freedom when we come under fearsome times.


Thanks, Jersey.

We saw how much this country tolerates speech inciting violence when we witnessed some of McCain/Palin campaign stops and listened to all the invective spewed Obama's way. Our country also allows the Ku Klux Klan to demonstrate, with the proper permitting.

What do you make of the Japanese internment camps here in this country during World War II?


Much can be said about the Japanese internments and the present day Gitmo. We have not been quite as stellar on habeas corpus as we have been on freedom of speech.


I have a friend who swears that Japanese internment camps were as much about keeping Japanese citizens safe from "American" anger over the war as they were about keeping "America" safe from them. I don't buy it but he really believes it. And he was 9 and actually watched the airplanes fly overhead during the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor.

My German teacher in high school was rumored to be a survivor of the camps and to have a tatoo. I never saw it but we all believed it. She certainly had no sense of humor at all about Hitler or Nazi jokes. She was a great but tough teacher but could be surprisingly sweet at times.

My theory about evil is that it always springs from separating others into "us" and "them." They are dirty, subhuman, selfish, mean, etc. This separating out being human nature, the line between evil and not is one that we could all cross over, but most of us don't. We keep our separating in check.


What are the chances that THREE sistas in the sassosphere would know of someone who survived the concentration camps? Doesn't that prove, on some unscientific level, how MANY people suffered?


The Japanese internment camps... The Trail of Tears... The Massacre at Wounded Knee... no group of people is exempt from the capability of inflicting great suffering or genocide upon another group of people. The question for me is - How is it that the same circumstances can invoke the demons of hatred in some people and the angels of love in others?


When I read Westsista’s comment about her friend’s view that the internment of Japanese-Americans was at least in part for their own protection, it made me think of the arguments for segregating or banning blacks (or gays) from the military. “We are doing this to protect you from those whites (or homophobes) whose fury we cannot control.” It’s kind of like an abusive spouse who says “It’s your fault I’m violent. You need to be controlled.”


treesta -- the last question in your comment is worthy of an entire Sassistas! post.

And Jersey -- an amazingly astute point. I'm constantly stunned at the high level of commentary here in the sassosphere. When I wrote this post last evening, I didn't know what to expect in terms of comments/feedback, but today has truly been gratifying for me.

Love to all.


The latest on Bishop Williamson (copied from a CBC report):

Bishop Richard Williamson of the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that based on research he did in the 1980s, he became convinced of his views about the Holocaust, which historians say resulted in the deaths of six million Jews.

Williamson is quoted by Der Spiegel as saying he would re-examine "everything again and look at the evidence." However, he said he won't be visiting the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

"Since I see that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must look again at the historical evidence," the British bishop was quoted as saying.

"It is about historical evidence, not about emotions," he added, according to the report. "And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time."
Historical evidence, not emotions.

I almost didn't post this; after all, it is Sunday morning. What frightens me most is Williams' calm, sanctimonious demeanor. What will it take for the Pope to get rid of this bozo?


My thoughts on Williams' approach are positive. How else can a retraction on his part be credible but by showing a genuine reason for his change? If he simply retracted, we all know it would be a lie but he would retain his position.

Let's see what he says after he "takes the time" he claims he needs. If he does recant after further research, his reasoning will be blow to all holocaust deniers. If he still does not recant after further research he should be defrocked.

If only the church had taken this approach at the time of Galileo and during the many centuries since! It is way past time for disagreements to be settled by discussion and observed facts rather than dogma and power plays. I have much faith that reason and evidence can carry the weight of scrutiny.


You have a point, Jersey, and now I'm reminded of a prior comment I made about Williamson having the integrity to "stick" to his opinion and not just say what he needs to say to avoid getting defrocked.

A couple of questions: why is he even being given the time of day? What possible "further research" does he need to do? What doesn't he know or get that the rest of us do just by googling "Holocaust"? How can this be about "reason" when his questions are so unreasonable? I think he's buying time. Basking in the spotlight. He will never recant. He'll die first. A martyr for holocaust deniers worldwide.


What I like about this chess game between Williams and the Catholic Church is that Williams has maneuvered in such a way as to change the discussion into one of reason rather than dogma. When he refuses to recant --- and I suspect he will refuse to recant --- the Church will have to remove him and will have to do so for irreconcilable points of view. The Church will not be able to simply say, as it did to Galileo, “We have the revealed truth and you are a heretic.” Instead it will have to acknowledge that there is no way to force another to acknowledge observed facts in the same way the Church does. In effect, Williams will have to be defrocked in the same sense that a social club removes a member: he no longer espouses the views of the club.

Do not misunderstand me. I think Williams is one of those who lets his biases and bigotries dictate his reasoning. He is dead wrong but there is no way to convince a person who refuses to believe facts or misapplies reason to false assumptions. However, reason has its limits in that my reasoning cannot trump his; my reasoning can only disagree with his. Only dogma has the privileged power of preeminence. Nonetheless, I can and the Church should refuse to associate with those we believe are wrong. In this case with Williams, the Church has ceded its right to expel him dogmatically and, thank God, is now going to have to do so because of a difference in reasoning.


Damn, Jersey, that's brilliant reasoning.

I don't know whether to thank God for you or to kiss you, so . . .

Thank God for Jersey . . . and MMMWA!

By the way -- and I believe I already posted this in a comment over the past week -- I passed a bumper sticker last weekend that said, "Jesus died for your sins. Not Christianity." I instantly felt the tears in my eyes. I felt so free. I thought (really I did): "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"


I can't believe this hasn't been resolved yet:

German Catholic leader wants Williamson response now
Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:27am EST

BERLIN (Reuters) - A leader of Germany's Roman Catholic Church said on Sunday it was "almost ridiculous" that Bishop Richard Williamson has said he needs time to review evidence about whether the Holocaust took place.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, a long-time former chair of Germany's Catholic bishops' conference, told Deutschlandfunk radio that Williamson, who belongs to the ultra-traditional Society of Saint Pius X, must quickly clarify his views on the Holocaust.

Williamson has said he believes there were no gas chambers and that no more than 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the 6 million accepted by most historians.

The Vatican has ordered him to retract his comments. Williamson has said in response he needs more time to review the evidence.

"That's actually almost ridiculous," Lehmann said, adding it was hard for many people to understand the "cat and mouse" game being played. "And that's why this has to somehow quickly be brought to a conclusion," the bishop of Mainz added.

Pope Benedict has tried to defuse the controversy over Williamson, which began in late January. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and the criticism of Williamson's views from the pope's home country has been especially high.

Catholic-Jewish relations have been tense since January 24, when Benedict lifted the excommunications of Williamson and three other renegade traditionalist bishops in an attempt to heal a schism that began in 1988 when they were ordained without Vatican permission.


Chryso -- thanks for this update. Many of us are curious about how this mess will be resolved. I tend to be more like the Cardinal in the story you posted above, that this quickly ought to be brought to a conclusion. I also thought Jersey made a great point about giving Williamson the opportunity to recant after he further investigated the evidence. What is new in your story is that Williamson believes 300,000 Jews died rather than six million. That's half the number espoused by wackos who deny the horror of the Holocaust. Most believe 600,000.


I think historical truth is kind of like our economic system: both are very much based on confidence and consensus. Once a slide in confidence or a loss of consensus occurs in the underpinnings of our economy, we enter economic deflation. When the same happens on historical facts, discussions devolve into exchanged salvoes of lies, conspiracies and mistakes.

Wikipedia says: “According to researchers Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, there is a "convergence of evidence" that proves that the Holocaust happened. This evidence includes:[22]
1. Written documents—hundreds of thousands of letters, memos, blueprints, orders, bills, speeches, articles, memoirs, and confessions.
2. Eyewitness testimony—accounts from survivors, Jewish Sonderkommandos (who were forced to help load bodies from the gas chambers into the crematoria in exchange for the promise of survival), SS guards, commandants, local townspeople, and even high-ranking Nazis who spoke openly about the mass murder of the Jews
3. Photographs—including official military and press photographs, civilian photographs, secret photographs taken by survivors, aerial photographs, German and Allied film footage, unofficial photographs taken by the German military.
4. The camps themselves—concentration camps, work camps, and extermination camps that still exist in varying degrees of originality and reconstruction
5. Inferential evidence—population demographics, reconstructed from the pre-World War II era; if six million Jews were not killed, what happened to them all? “

This is enough to convince me and most people but we are convinced because we have confidence that when we see such statements numerous times over many years without credible refutation they are true and because there is a huge consensus on that view. There are no first-hand empirical tests we can perform to demonstrate the truth of our convictions. When confidence in historical facts is eroded by one’s bigotries and biases and when the consensus of those with whom you associate supports different conclusions, unfortunately there are no objective facts or empirical tests that will override the lack of confidence or alternate consensus.

When I think about Williams and what I have just written here, I think no amount time is going to change his convictions. It also makes me think we all should be careful to consider how convictions on historical truth are shaped by our sentiments, temperaments and biases.

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