Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maybe one, maybe the other

I worry that maybe I'm losing my sense of humour. That I'm beginning to take things way too seriously. Alternately, I'm wondering if I'm finally taking things seriously enough. I don't know. I'll let you be the judge.

The other day I was talking with someone who had just bought one of my books and had asked me to sign it. We chatted nicely and I remarked that she must read my blog because she knew so much about me. She laughed and said that she reads every day and that, of all the blogs she reads, I was the only daily blogger. "You're kind of like the 'blog nazi'" she said. The smile froze on my face. She saw it and quickly apologized saying, 'I probably shouldn't say it that way.' I shook off the moment and just said that I had been taken by surprise by that turn of phrase.

In fact I've heard people jokingly referring to others as the 'this nazi' or the 'that nazi' for some while and never much thought about it. However, that's probably because, being human and therefore naturally egocentric, it wasn't ever used about me. The moment it was, I bridled with upset.

I'm disabled.

We were the first to be killed.

I remember sitting, shocked, listening to a lecture back when I was taking my undergraduate degree, as my professor spoke about touring the institutions in Germany a few years after the war. He said that he asked, innocently, why there were only children in the institution. His question was met with stony silence. He said that it slowly dawned on him the understanding of the weight of prejudice that people with disabilities bear and how dangerous was the idea of ‘ten fingered perfection’. Of course all the elders had been eliminated, purged for the perfection of the race. I sat there shattered. I wondered why no one had told me.

I'm gay.

We were killed in fists-full.

I remember riding a streetcar in Toronto, just having moved here and seeing a young man, about my age, wearing a pink triangle. I’d never seen the symbol before and something about it intrigued me. I approached him and asked what the triangle meant. He told me, in a normal speaking voice, which was an act of courage in those dark days of violence and repression, of the plight of gay men and lesbian women in Nazi Germany. He talked about the camps, the medical experimentation, the pink triangle – made larger than the other triangles to be easy for all to spot. I listened in fear. Others listened in disgust. Some listened in agreement with the idea of extermination. I wondered why no one told me.

I'm a descendant of a couple who changed their faith from Judaism to Catholicism upon emigration - to try to escape prejudice.

There aren't enough fingers on one hand to count the millions killed.

I remember, only days ago, talking to my parents and asking questions about my Great Grandparents, who had emigrated to Canada. I listened to a barely remembered story of a man and a woman, connected to me by blood but lost to me in time, who fled oppression to come to a new land to make a new life. They left behind much. In the rubble of the life left was their faith. They left behind Judaism and adopted Catholicism, not because of belief but because of the weariness and daily grind of fear. They wanted all new. They wanted themselves new. You know, I've shared my life with my name and yet have never gotten to know it as anything other than the tag that follows Dave ... as the puppy after the child. In a few words describing a decision that is never talked about at family events, a decision that changed the course of our families history, I was left dumbfounded. I am not my name. I know. But my name is me. It means something.  Something I don't yet understand. I wonder why no one told me.

Nazi's took people's lives.

They took people's loves.

They took people's identity
I find the term 'Nazi' to be frightening. It denotes a shameful time in our history. It denotes a terrifyinging set of ideas. Ideas that I do not believe are long gone, ideas that can drape themselves in modern clothing and speak in clever riddles. They scare me.

And what scares me more is that a word that eliminated, that castrated, that brutalized, that horrified a generation - is now being used to describe someone simply stern or controlling or even passionate. Nazi's, dear friends, weren't school marms with  vicious wrists and a strong rulers. Nazi's were murderers and thugs.

I don't like the trivialization of something horrific.

I don't think that enough time will ever pass for the word Nazi to mean anything but horror.

But maybe I'm losing my sense of humour.

Or maybe I've gained a sense of proportion.

I don't know which.


ivanova said...

I think it's a tough one. The Nazis were horrifying and murdered millions. They also paid bizarre attention to detail and loved paperwork, categories, numbers, and lists. The way they conducted war and genocide was in a very bureaucratic and detached way, and I think that's notable too. It doesn't bother me when I hear people using the word Nazi to describe that brutal "rules are rules" quality, if I think they are being mindful of the whole story. I do think it's in quite poor taste to call someone you just met a Nazi as a joke. So that's just one lesbian Jew's two cents.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

you are absolutly right. There should no one ever in this world use the word nazi just to describe someone who loves to take a daily routine.

And there exists an even more disturbing word, getting me more very very bad pictures in my head and even by living with much friends around makes me vulnerable to the judgment of people who dont have an ethnic approach to life.
The word is: "neo-nazi".

Believe me people like this still exist. They try to oppress people. Most of the time those are the ones who have never been loved or in a stable relationship of their own and just feel good in groups where there are supporters to their violence.

I can manage almost every word thrown in a conversation, but the word "nazi", taken out of the historical or political context, makes me go wild and painfull and hurt inside.

Wow, now a tear is rolling down my cheek while writing...

And I have so many friends in so many situations, they would be extinct if the "nazis or neo-nazis" would still rule the world. I would be dead a long long time.

The r-word being used I can talk about and sometimes even excuse. For the word "nazi" out of the historical or political context there is NO EXCUSE!

Sorry for all the anger
but I live in Germany and I know what I tallk about.


Jan said...

I do agree that the trivialization of the term Nazis is something to be upset about. I think this started with the Soup Nazis on Seinfield. At that time I felt that I was the only one that felt this was offensive. I got told I had no sense of humour and that I was way too serious. I do agree that comedy can lessen some of the stings of bad things that happen but some things are too horrific to ever minimize them with humour and the Nazis movement was one of these issues. If we trivialize it and relegate it to a funny reference it can be ignored and all of the Jews, disabled people and gays will be forgotten.

J. said...

Thank you. You are bang on - sensitive enough, not too sensitive at all.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Too few people know this history. As a teacher every semester I teach it to groups of young people who are stunned that the nazis murdered groups other than Jews. They don't know that the eugenics movement, the ideas that the nazis used to rationalize their extinction programs, originated in England and was worldwide. They don't know that in Canada we had forced sterilization of people with developmental disabilities even for 25 years after it was declared a crime against humanity at Nurembourg.

Should we trivialize the word nazi? Never and it will always be at our own peril. But even more we should not tolerate prejudice in any way shape or form - we know where it can lead - the world has been there and in a real sense we are still there.

Thanks for another thought provoking post.


Anonymous said...

Nazi is not a word that I would apply to anyone I appreciated or cared about. I'm guessing, however, that the speaker did not come from an era that was freshly emerged from World War II - and was using the term in the recently minted Hollywood sense that means more like "extreme" rather than murderer . . . I'm only guessing (and yes, I'm old so I remember the post World War II version!)

clairesmum said...

agree w/ others re gratuitous use of a very powerful term - but someone who can enjoy bunny ears and write about it the way you did has NOT lost his sense of humor!

J. said...

My daughter's teacher has a degree in history. This year she wrote her speech about Anne Frank. In the course of the speech she talked about the fact that many other groups of people were murdered in the Holocaust. Her teacher had never heard this and phoned me to ask where my daughter was coming up with this information. This teacher is a thoughtful well educated, sensitive young woman - and she had no clue about this aspect of history. The good news is that she is now going to include this information from now on when she teaches - but why did it take a child to introduce this to her when a high school education and three university degrees did not?

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

You and your readers may be interested in this clip by Nabil Shaban:


Noisyworld said...

I enjoyed watching Grey's Anatomy on TV and I was EXTREMELY shocked when they bandied about the word "Nazi" to mean someone who was tough and demanding and even more shocked to see it was refering to a woman of African decent.
I think the use of this word has crept from America where other words which hurt and have a seriously disturbing original usage are used regularly too, see all your posts on the word r*****.

As somebody with a brain I object to the use of this word and many others, especially now that my brain doesn't work as well as it used to due to injury :/ so that I and all my D/deaf, jewish, muslim, african, asian, gay, disabled and many other friends would be gone.

As a side note: upon the liberation of one of the camps my grandfather had to keep guard, he will only tell me small parts of his experiences even though I am now an adult.

David Morris said...

This is measured consideration.

This is the very wisdom I appreciate you for -- I desire your wide perspective.

Also, a ' means something is left out. It isn't ever used in plurals.

Belinda said...

I am guilty of the allowing the word to be applied to me jokingly ("the pie Nazi" for my obsessive perfectionism when it comes to baking pies) and not taking it as a serious thing. In my mind I separated it from a connection with Nazism the real thing, but maybe that is dangerous. And thinking about it, I should not have taken it so lightly as there is nothing about Nazism that I would embrace in a million years. It really isn't a "light" term. I won't be using it that way any more.

Susan said...

Whoops. I've done it again.

Another word from my vocabulary bites the dust... I stand corrected. Thanks Dave.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks all for your opinions, I was worried I was becoming kind of a language grinch. In reality I find much funny and I tend to see the positive side of things. However, there are certain things that 'get' me. Like I said, I've heard these terms before without hearing them. It was only when tossed at me that I reacted. Anyways, thanks all for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I think her use of the word "Nazi", in context of you being a faithful, daily blogger, was just utterly, completely wrong. Irrespective of the mountain of baggage that comes with that word.

Without turning to a dictionary, when I think of Nazi I think: mean, intolerant, horrifying, aggressive, brutal, nasty, awful, disgusting, inhuman, vicious.

None of that even remotely comes to mind when I contemplate your blog, Dave. None. Never. Ever.

Sometimes people grappling for a word pull a completely wrong one out of their heads. I think this is one of those instances.


Myrrien said...

I am pleased that I have never heard this hideous term, and it is supposed to mean perfectionist? Tough? Does it nothing.

It had better not be heard in my hearing ever. If those so called perfectionists had won ww2 my son would have been killed at birth.

Let it join the list of forbidden words but I have to admit it is probably going to be at the top of that hated list.

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking, I think you are right that this word should not be used, but I have heard it and not really thought before about the danger of trivialising something so horrific.

I was aware that the Nazis murdered people from numerous groups within society, not exclusively the millions of Jews who were murdered, however I did not know that people with disabilities were targeted first? (a point which is not very relevant to this post but for my own understanding of the history)

kitten said...

dave, i see you as a "blog avenger".

you're out there demanding justice for those who have little experience in standing up for themselves, and teaching them how to be heard. you're teaching staff how to listen. and every day you're being a positive example of how to treat others...

and when you ARENT a positive example (which happens to all of us occasionally) you apologise and try to make it right. that makes you a two thumbs up a-ok human being in my eyes.

plus, you're teaching Ruby that people dont have to all be the same to be valuable, which is an invaluable lesson.

Zoe said...

Anonymous -- indeed, disabled people were the first group to be systematically murdered by the Nazi regime. You can check out the excellent book, "Forgotten Crimes" by Suzanne Evans for more information.

What's frightening is that a lot of the arguments people make against disability rights today (disabled people are less than human, disabled life is not worth living, disability is a financial burden on society) are the same ones that the Nazis used to justify their actions.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Actually, I think it was their own allies who were first to go, in the night of the long knives.

I think to call someone a 'Nazi' is something that is both offensive but also something a person should be called on, because it indicates a level of ignorance, a usage because North American's seem to like using the word in a black and white view; someone opposed to your belief or someone extreme is called a 'Nazi'

Being sent mail and called a Nazi is always shocking. But then so was the person who recently wrote that they agreed with the guy who did the shooting in Montreal about the problems with Feminists. When confronted, he was unaware that the shooter had shot women to death, had systematically moved through the building trying to shoot every woman just for being there, shot at the copier, shot in the lunch squad.

Of course, there is also a blindness of hatred where a film showing US soldiers torturing and skinning people are 'good guys' because those who they kill are Germans. While films on Rabin, who saved over 200,000 civilians is not shown in the US because he was a National Socialist in China.

But please, call out those who engage in statements like that - so that the usage will die out.

Anonymous said...

I totally get where you are coming from, but I think people, in general, are mean and cruel enough on their own without looking for offense where none is meant. Sometimes we can be just a little too sensitive and politically correct, no? To joke about something is often to take its power away....I think its long past time that `nazi' held no power over anybody....