Slavery and the Holocaust: How Americans and Germans Cope With Past Evils

Aug 27, 2019 · 281 comments
Al Staford (Atlanta)
There are plenty of German films and series about The Nazi era but it seems a large majority of them are about how some German was brave enough to fight the system. I have always found this boring and a little strange. While I love German culture immensely, there seems to be few minds today as iconoclastic as Fassbinder was 30 years ago, to examine this period in history honestly and self critically. The fact that dialogue about reparations exists in this country attests to the openness of our diverse culture. Comparatively speaking, the United States has been as or more successful at assimilating minority groups than many many other nations, including countries in Europe. Handing out a check will repair absolutely nothing. Helping those harmed by generations of institutional racism, trying to untie that gordian knot, should be undertaken, however impossible the task.
Bill (Terrace, BC)
It is folly to compare acts of inhumanity. The Holocaust & slavery were both dreadful acts of inhumanity. The key difference is that most Germans have accepted that the Holocaust was wrong & have attempted to redress it. Too many Americans are unwilling to do the same for slavery & the ongoing institutional racism that has followed & is far from corrected.
Dominic Holland (San Diego)
"What changed?" Not enough. See "Reckonings" by Mary Fulbrook:
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
All of us know about World War II when Nazis in Germany, France, Poland and other countries separated family members from each other, most of whom were never reunited. Thank G-d nothing like that could ever happen here.
cafephilo0 (RI)
America already has a full-blown memorial to human chattel slavery’s victims and their descendants. It lives, among other places — unbeknownst and/or unacknowledged — in the hearts of contemporary white racists and supremacists who need, through a massive educational effort, to learn the true reality and consequences of the moral evil what dwells inside of them.
Kevin McCloy (Long Beach, Ca.)
Should the East German communists and socialists who suffered in the concentration camps and prisons have said "I am guilty for my enemy's crimes?"
Douglas (NC)
it has recently been posited that democracy did not really come to the United States until the civil rights laws of the 1960s. The GOP response was the southern strategy and voter suppression today. Will the party come to terms with that legacy in a way that could be a lesson to America in general, and the American South in particular?
Vesuviano (Altadena, California)
The United States is a great country built on evil things, from the genocide of Native Americans to the slavery of Africans. It is peopled by 300 million souls, tens of millions of whom are white people who would rather believe the myths they were fed when growing up in the 1950s and 60s, such as films like "How the West Was Won" and "Gone With the Wind". The Washington Post today features an article about how plantation tours that are now discussing slavery in frank, factual, unpleasant terms are being met with pushback from white tourists who "didn't come here for this". Americans have always chosen to believe fake stuff. Just look who's in the White House.
Ted (NY)
There’s evidence that Nazi Germany studied and used US policies and approach implemented right after emancipation proclamation to strip American Blacks of their rights, humanity to turn them into second class citizens to legitimize discrimination. That said, how and why does the Jewish community ignore and remain silent on Stephen Miller’s discriminatory policies against Central American refugees that includes separation of children and parents, caging them, denying basic hygiene and demonizing them at large? Press reports note that Miller has filled bureaucratic posts with like minded people to carry forth this audacious hate filled campaign. Isn’t this what the Germans did? If the authors of the book and review assure us that they are not using relativism outright, why the relativity?
David (New Jersey)
This morning I was cleaning stalls in the stable -- where I do my serious contemplation -- and was thinking exactly about slavery and the holocaust. I don't know why, maybe it was kindled by the debate over reparations. Then I saw this book review. Wow. Slavery (along with Jim Crow) and the holocaust are probably the worst two stains on the Western conscience in the past two centuries. I am grateful that someone who understands the German sentiment has undertaken this book.
pschwimer (NYC)
racism in America will never be resolved unless and until we take responsibility for slavery.
Samuel (Ottawa)
Why leave out Starvation? the idea that the Indians and the Irish where inferior to the Anglo Saxon races caused the English to starve a million Irish during the Potato Famine and somewhere between 5 to 35 million people starved under British Occupation of India because of the colonial policies of Britain which claimed that white souls and lives where superior to Indian lives. To get a magnitude of British Loot of India stats offer a sobering insight. Before the British Invasion of India, India had 23 % of the world market and when the British left it had 0.02% !! If holocaust is seen as something american, ie even though it did not occur on american soil, something americans could learn from, colonial Starvation should also be taught. Indian &(Irish) lives matter too!
Jo Ann (Switzerland)
The US history is more complicated than in Germany because there is not only slavery to confront, just as Germans must confront their concentration camps, but for Americans there is also the atrocious treatment of the Indian tribes as well as the internment of the American Japanese during WW2. These were all governmental decisions to accept/impose mistreatment to non white human beings. And now the camps at the Southern border against South Americans...
CitizenJ (New York)
No reparations were paid by Germany (or anyone else) for the one third of all the world's Jews that were murdered. Reparations were paid only to those who could prove they performed slave labor or had valuable possessions confiscated. Germany also gives money to Israel, which is laudable, but so does the U.S. No useful analogy can be based on this reality.
Charlesbalpha (Atlanta)
The writer points out that the Confederate statues were put up "50 years after the war". Putting it that way obscures the fact that the glorification of the Confederacy coincided with the rise of fascism in Europe after World War I. Were they related? We know that the Nazis studied American history to see how to construct a state based on racism. After World War II, when flying a swastika flag could get one thrown in jail, I hear that some Nazis adopted the Confederate flag as a substitute. The parallels between Nazi Germany and the slavetrading South are a lot closer than the article discusses. Also, I've read that part of the Confederate agenda, if they ever managed to "settle" the war with the US, was to carve out an empire in the Caribbean and Latin America, just as the Nazis carved out an empire in Europe. ( So much for the modern apologists' claim that the Southerners just wanted to be left alone) Seizing the northern half of Mexico and turning it into the American southwest was just the first step, and the only one that succeeded.,
Richard Tandlich (Heredia, Costa Rica)
Reading the NYT 1619 series and teaching its suggested curriculum in schools and universities would be a start. A similar series connected to the history of europeans with native americans in the USA and all of the americas would also be excellent. Reparations to desendants of slavery and native americans should become a part of our economy and history. The US should not think of this on a scale of capitalism vs socialism since the wealth that came from this is really connected to crimes, not economic theory.
Cheri Solien (Tacoma WA)
Hirsh Glik, who wrote the lyrics to the Partisan Lied...actually titled "Zog Nit Kynmol," ("Never Say" in English) was himself a partisan who fought in the uprising in the Vilna Ghetto, not the more famous uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.
yimminy (Ontario, Canada)
@Cheri Solien--Thanks Cheri for reminding readers of this important point. Glik was reported to have died in a Third Reich established "camp"--''labour"or otherwise--in Estonia. I recall reading references suggesting that the melody--a cross between a march and a hymn--may have been from a Russian song. No matter, anyone who learned it as a child, as I did, knows it instantly. "Zog nisht keynmol az du geyst dem lesten veg,..." i.e., Never say you are going on the last way, even when grey skies obscure days with blue skies.... Times readers interested in the Vilna partisans amazing bravery & accomplishments could look at New York based David Fishman's, The Book smugglers : partisans, poets, and the race to save Jewish treasures from the Nazis " 2017, as much a moving & loving story of the Vilna partisans as it is a book about saving Yiddish writing & its publications. Ingenuity, bravery, and love in worse than war-time. What was necessary was done.
romanette (Decatur, Ga)
It's not just slavery that we are responsible for. Consider Guatemala. In 1954 we overthrew its popularly elected government because it was undertaking land reform, supporting unionization and protecting farm laborers. Especially in rural areas, these reforms had benefitted Mayan communities which had been subjected to forced labor through the 1930s. The consequence of this intervention was the development of an armed revolution which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Reagan Administration. Mayan communities were forcibly relocated to military camps where they were forced to participate in patrols against the rebels. Torture and massacre were used against Mayan villages. Mayan areas were depopulated and Mayan cultural practices prohibited. People fled the countryside for informal settlements in the capital lacking rudimentary social and sanitary services. A succession of corrupt governments have obediently reduced taxation and regulation while opening the country to domination by multinational corporations. What social services are available come from evangelical christians. US support has gone to the military and police for drug interdiction while these units continue to profit from the drug trade. The former government even agreed to Trump's demands that refugees from other Centeal American countries be required to seek refugee status there. In short, in Guatemala we have destroyed a society and created an urban dystopia. We need to take responsibility for that.
JimJ (Victoria, BC Canada)
Crucial difference: people of African decent CONTINUE to experience discrimination in the economic system, the education system, the health care system, the justice system, etc. Forget about reparations, what about equality? Let's start there and then we can talk about the other stuff.
CitizenJ (New York)
As others here have mentioned, comparing the two evils here at issue is neither necessary nor helpful. Slavery is as old as the human race; the gratuitous attempt to exterminate the Jews was almost unprecedented. The number of Jews now living in Germany is negligible; not so for the descendants of slaves in America. If the Times comment sections is any indication, many Americans not only loudly declare America’s guilt for the slavery of Africans, but also loudly criticize those who don’t share their opinion.
ecco (ct)
"...important and welcome..." sez you. but still missing the chapter in our history most like the nazi genocide, our own genocide, extermination, if you will of the native tribes...slavery and evil to be sure, and evidence of our worship of business over humanity, but, c'mon, at the root of this country's existence, its original sine, if you will, is the slaughter (replete with invective that goebbles would envy) of those whose lands we coveted... any therapist will tell you that failure to face this crime makes all our efforts to solve other problems seem like convenient repressions, how much easier it is to dither over structural flaws than to admit that the foundation is rotted.
Jubilee133 (Prattsville, NY)
"Neiman contends that postwar Germany, after initially stumbling badly, has done the hard work necessary to grapple with and come to terms with the legacy of the Holocaust in a way that could be a lesson to America in general, and the American South in particular." It's an attractive, but insultingly simplistic comparison. Insulting, because no progressive in the US dares calls illegal immigrant detention camps on the Southern border "Plantations," although the Times's "1690 Project" writers now refer to Plantations as "slave-camps." Nor do progressives use the metaphor of "lynching" to describe ICE's targeting of undocumented workers, but AOC and her ilk will not hesitate to describe ICE as using "gestapo" tactics. We should stop using facile and wrong comparisons. Slaver int he South did not seek to exterminate, on an industrial scale, all blacks living in the world during those years. Indeed, the object was to keep blacks alive to toil for their owners' prosperity. The Germans' purpose was not really to enslave Jews, although that occurred, but to annihilate the Jewish People forever. The Jews did not suffer modern slavery, but an ancient form in Egypt. Jews returned to their own country after 2,000 years, but American blacks are still trying to make this country treat them as equals. The only real commonality is suffering and redemption. But you don't need to engage in unfair comparisons to promote proper memory of the events which yielded both.
Prudence Spencer (Portland)
Why should northerns have any remorse for slavery? How many Americans died in the civil war to end slavery? (confederates were not Americans, they were traitors) In reality, humans are petty awful to each other. Neither confederates or Germans have a monopoly of that. Best way to deal with our legacy is to teach truthful history.
Andy F. (Atl., Ga.)
@Prudence Spencer Why should northerns have any remorse for slavery? How about this for starters: "Historically, the enslavement of overwhelmingly African people in the United States, began in New York as part of the Dutch slave trade. The Dutch West India Company imported 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam in 1626, with the first slave auction being held in New Amsterdam in 1655. The last slaves were freed on July 4, 1827. Some younger black New Yorkers born to slave mothers continued to serve indentures into their 20s. [1] The British expanded the use of slavery. By 1703, more than 42 percent of New York City households held slaves, often as domestic servants and laborers. This was the second-highest proportion of any city in the colonies after Charleston, South Carolina.[2] Others worked as artisans or in shipping and various trades in the city. Slaves were also used in farming on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, as well as the Mohawk Valley." (Wikipedia)
Ben (Atlanta)
I think a key difference that’s often missed when opposing reparations for slavery’s descendants is the fact that slavery actually changed human evolution. The Holocaust was relatively brief. You either survived, or didn’t. If you survived, you should get reparations for what was taken from you. But for all practical purposes it was a pretty brief affair and it’s not like it altered Jewish futures that much. But slavery was different. For hundreds and hundreds of years slave owners treated human beings like cattle; they separated families, they raped at will, and they engaged in forced breeding to produce the kinds of traits that were desirable to them. The result? We now have descendants of slaves with lower average IQs, greater physical strength, and who face bigger hurdles in an information economy as a result. It’s like domesticated cattle. We’ve altered them to the point where they need to be taken care of, where they can no longer survive on their own. Until genetic editing helps us undo the ravages of slavery, reparations for the descendants of slaves is the best approach. Like cattle, these people have little hope of competing with the descendants of the free on a level playing field. And so we need affirmative action, reparations, and different standards to help them succeed. This is why slavery was different from the Holocaust. And this is why the descendants of slaves deserve more assistance than the descendants of Holocaust survivors.
David (Massachusetts)
@Ben 2/3 of all the Jewish men, women and children in Europe were killed in the Holocaust. Poland had over 3 million Jews before the war and now there are hardly any. And, on a personal level, my wife never new any grandparents, aunts and uncles on her father's side. So it wasn't just some "pretty brief affair."
Kevin (New York)
"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." -Winston Churchill
Marci (Oaktown)
There are two key differences between the US history of slavery and the German holocaust. How long ago these atrocities occurred, and the stable or shifting cultures that committed them. Germany, until recent years, has had a unified culture. The holocaust is so recent that young people in the 60's realized that their parents and grandparents generations, just 20 years before, were responsible. America has had endless waves of immigrants since slavery ended 150 years ago. It's hard for people to feel responsible for the atrocity of slavery when their ancestors arrived long after slavery ended, often fleeing oppression and facing discrimination themselves.
Eva (New York)
@Marci Jim Crow ended legally in 1965 and in practice, in the 1980s and later. That is really not that long ago.
JoAnne Howlett (Northampton MA)
This work is much needed. I am sure I’m not the only one who recognizes that many of the points made here are precisely what Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has spoken of, and a reason why I’m glad she is in the race.
william etheridge (Sydney)
Interesting book. Recent years I have for first time read a lot of US history. And the more I read the further my tongue went out. The numbers are staggering. How slavery grew madly in the slave states as the South capitalised on the black soil belt and the booming cotton demand. Reality is the Founders fudged slavery c1787, in the Constitution accommodating the South for sake of the Union, hoping the problem would fade. Quite the opposite thanks to the cotton gin and European demand. By the 1812 War, if not earlier, the problem had become a runaway train, secession or fighting for the Union. The Founders and their immediate successors failed, period, meaning “soft racist” North too. As Nic Guyatt explained recently they could not face freeing the slaves, day one. Reactions by some in the US demonstrate abundantly how the US has still not faced its racist past. The US is not alone in having slavery embedded in its history. Apart from the Spanish and French it became important for Britain too, especially from the 18th C, through the 13 Colonies and its Caribbean colonies. It's not academic because, like it or not, the US and allies remain the main players for the rules-based liberal international order, roots of which go back to Mediaeval England via the 17th C English Revolution. The liberal order saw off frightful challenges in the 20th C and today still faces the fall out from that tumult, in China and Russia. In fronting for“responsible freedom” it helps to be open.
CitizenTM (NYC)
My mother, daughter of a card carrying Nazi, took us to Auschwitz and to Israel in our teens, in the 1970s. Our schools taught us about fascism, the holocaust and the regime of terror. When I came to the US in the 1980s I was embraced by some Jewish Americans I met at school and outright rejected by others. I understood both. In 1991 I travelled with my African American fiancé on invitation to South Carolina - without informing the hosts of her origins (did not occur to me). The shock of how she was treated never left me as did the sight of how African Americans were in general second class down South - and we and I by myself never went back there. I have no recipe against racism and historic crimes - but I plan to visit the museum dedicated to victims of lynching in Alabama one day.
CitizenTM (NYC)
One big difference between the terror of Nazi fascism and the terror of slavery was the length in time. The former burned out within 12 years, causing death, suffering and destruction of unimaginable scope. The latter went on for two centuries, deeply embedding itself in the American psyche.
William Burgess Leavenworth (Searsmont, Maine)
Please, stop treating slavery as a monolith. Slavery in New England was as different from plantation slavery as New England is from Alabama. In most of New England, slavery was eliminated before the Revolution, but there had been white slaves sold into those colonies after another Scottish loss to English forces in the repetitive wars between those two countries--White Scottish slaves labored in the Saugus Iron Works in the 17th century. There were black Minutemen among the militia at Bunker Hill. Free Black sailors served in the Navy in the War of 1812, and served on the Constitution in her battle with the Guerriere, as well as in the Battles of Lake Erie. The Old Northwest Territories were settled by New England veterans of the Revolutionary War, and they absolutely forbade slavery in the newly acquired territories that became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. Consider how the Civil War would have turned out had the same territory been settled by slave-owning Virginians. Stop talking about slavery as though it was a monolithic institution. It was two very different institutions, one in New England, and the other in the Plantation South.
East Roast (Here)
@William Burgess Leavenworth And Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine tried hard to discourage black refugee resettlement from the south. There is a reason why the great migration curved North towards the midwest and east. New England is white because of planning, not because it just "happened to be so." The story of slavery doesn't end with the end of slavery.
CitizenTM (NYC)
Would you have books, records, academic papers supporting this argument?
Alice In Brooklyn (USA)
Wow, this very good article is bringing about an epidemic of what-aboutism in the comments. Yes, another nations have done bad things, yes white southerners were not the only people to profit from slavery, yes, slaves were not the only group of Americans to suffer. That is all beside the point. This article, and this book, are about how America as a nation has grappled with this particular source of moral shame: slavery and its aftermath. As we can see in the comments, we mostly do it by pointing at others. “Slavery was mostly benevolent”, “the civil war was about state’s rights”, “sharecropping wasn’t a big deal”, “civil war memorials just commemorate great men”, “discrimination is a thing of the past” a nation, we’ve engaged in an endlessly metamorphosing denial. Maybe the answer is to follow Germany’s young people’s lead: young people, rise up and demand a truthful teaching of history. Looking the other way while large swaths of the country deny history certainly hasn’t gotten us anywhere.
Billy Jeffery (Toronto)
Question: are weddings and similar social occasions still being held/staged at former plantations in the South?
Henry (Burlington VT)
@Billy Jeffery Yes they are. In April we visited Middleton Place near Charleston, SC and there was a wedding (or perhaps a pre-wedding celebration) that was in progress during our visit. There is also a fine dining restaurant on site, at which we ate. Upon reflection, my wife and I both agreed that we would never go back. The grounds are beautiful and the food excellent, but the knowledge of how such a place came to be was at best unsettling.
Prodigal Son (Exodus)
I’ve been learning about both the holocaust and the legacy of slavery since I went to elementary school. I am tired of hearing about both. They are not the same. They are not remotely similar. The Holocaust happened less than a century ago,but how many Jews use it as an excuse for their own failures? I am the descendant of Holocaust and pogrom survivors. I’ve been bullied, harassed, and assaulted by black people for my entire life, starting in Kindergarten. I feel no white guilt. I do feel loathing and contempt for the grievance culture and the self-defeating mindset that grips many African-American communities.
H. (Cincinnati)
Furious doesn't even begin to describe how your comments make me feel. That you say you "feel no white guilt" indicates that you do. Since you've been force to endure learning about the Holocaust and slavery since elementary school, how did you miss the part about Jim Crow Laws? How did you miss the part about the Civil Rights Act of the 1960's? The fact that federal laws had to be put in place to try to end discrimination a mere 50 years ago means that up until that time, discrimination based on race was socially and legally accepted. Stop blaming the victims of racism; we didn't create the laws which left us out as full participants in society. We weren't responsible for laws denying us equal education, housing, lending, healthcare, movement (yes, go read about sundown towns - you missed that part too).
CitizenTM (NYC)
That your comment gets any recommends saddens me deeply. We are so primitive as a society it hurts.
Prodigal Son (Exodus)
Jews have been actively involved in the civil rights movement for decades. Some of them are directly responsible for enacting the laws that you mentioned. Most liberal Jews are sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans. I am no longer one of them. And yes, I do blame “victims of racism” for stealing my car, vandalizing my property, sexually harassing me, robbing me, and holding up my elderly grandmother at gunpoint on her own doorstep in Brooklyn. I guess I should blame myself and other “white oppressors” for those things that Black people did to me and my family, right?
Guido Malsh (Cincinnati)
Interesting that while anti-Semitism has never vanished from Germany on an individual basis, the German government has forbidden it as a systematized national behavior issuing strict and absolute laws against those who practice it. Relatively speaking, Germany is now a pacifist country. Meanwhile, back in the good old USA, racism still might as be considered a way of life and our Civil War is still being fought. From the top down, our leaders tell us so with their dog whistle language. Vote.
Charles (Switzerland)
Checking into a hotel in Memphis, the older white porter seemed surprised when I said that I was from Boston. 15 years later a young man asked me: "how long are you staying in Germany". This fear of the other haunts.
Ellen (San Diego)
As an old person now (78), like many I’ve been exploring my family history. Though they were Northern families (Pennsylvania and New York), the Scottish side in Pennsylvania and the Dutch New Yorkers both had slaves. The Scots were also on the frontier in the Cumberland Valley fighting with the Native Americans. What to do with this history, said I? Absorb it, learn about it, gain perspective, write a book which I’m working on now. I also had a chance to work twice on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico- to my good fortune, I had a chance to contribute my professional skills. I’ve also worked with children in poor urban and rural communities. It feels far better to acknowledge and learn from this history than to hide my head in the sand.
Albanywala (Albany, NY)
It was so painful to accidentally visit Lee's status in Richmond, Virginia. Come on, America can do better than that. It claims to be an exceptional country. A sad memorial to American assault on humanity.
Eric (NYC)
Sort of revealing how many comments assert that the genocide and horrific experiences of Native Peoples must also be addressed. Yes. Of course. Who can doubt that? But in light of the obvious fact this book isn’t about that, and that sadly many Americans have no contact with Native Americans, it only reminds me that it is uncomfortable and shameful for Americans to sit and contemplate the legacy of slavery.
ecco (ct)
@Eric nope...contemplating "the legacy of slavery" is obviously easier., look at the amount of ink we give to comparision, we repress the "horrific experiences of native peoples" true, this book is not about the genocide that made america, but taken with the all the commentary devoted to slavery and its continuous presence in the media (near zero for the tribes, btw) it is a part of the gloss, the refusal to face and redress the theft of lands and destruction of lives at the root our "more perfect union."
Mary M (Raleigh)
Jim Crow meant that the Civil War settled nothing. The myriad of ways of disenfranchising black communities from voting their will, from closing polling stations, reducing voting hours, requiring I.D., purging voting lists, not taking anti-hacking measures, is like the Faulkner quote...the past is still present. We cannot see it objectively, because we're a part of this system. Until whites say with tears in their eyes and shame in their hearts, "Black lives matter," nothing changes.
B. Hofmann (Boston)
Obviously, genocide and human rights violations extend beyond slavery in America and the Holocaust in Germany. If Neiman was comparing the two to better understand that, I would agree with many of the comments saying that the author must acknowledge more than she does, starting at least with the Native American genocide and extending to human rights violations that have occurred all over the world, not merely in America and Europe. But the book and this article reviewing it are not written to better understand genocide. They are written to explore how nations with a sphere of influence, an esteemed reputation in global matters, deal with terrible and infamous human rights violations that bring with them the potential to undermine their nation’s reputation severely. Therefore, I think comparing the Holocaust in Germany and slavery in America is an understandable and fair comparison, especially concerning the notion of comparative redemption and how nations choose to prorgress (or not) after traumatic history. On that note, and keeping in mind that I have not yet read “Learning from the Germans,” I was surprised to find that in the review itself, there was no mention of the American prison system or police brutality. Neiman mentions neoslavery as sharecropping and Jim Crow, but even in 2019, neoslavery is more than that, especially with the 13th Amendment allowing slavery as “a punishment for crime”. Granted, this article is a review, not the book itself, which seems promising.
Jakob (Washington DC)
All of these stories always fail to mention the British and their common stock company South Seas Company, the most active African slave and Irish indentured servant vendor to the Americas and Caribbean. A company that imported first African slaves by a contract with the King of Spain to the Islands. A company that was funding a host of rich Englishmen including the Duke of York. If you want to discuss reparations the discussion should include Great Britain and Spain and not be limited to descendants of African slaves.
Alice In Brooklyn (USA)
You miss the point. This article is not about who to blame, it’s about how do we deal with a past that brings us shame.
DrJ (Chicago)
Excellent article about a very insightful book. Our country has blood on its hands from slavery and the destruction of Native American peoples. It's time to atone for our behavior.
Reading this article made me realize I must have lived in a totally different world, for I have never heard an elderly German admitting to their guilt. But they did succeed in making us feel ashamed and guilty of their crimes. Born in the late 70ties in East Germany and grew up with a steady “the evil ones, the wrong-doers, the ones bringing all the destruction and pain live behind the wall” which tuned into a “we didn’t know of anything bad happing and we didn’t participate, the neighbors did” once the wall came down and I got my education in West-Berlin. I have talked to a few concentration camp survivors, brave enough to sit in front of a classroom full of teenagers repeating the same lines their grandparents fed them. The courageous men and women, tattooed numbers on their arms visible, would sort of smile faintly at us. Schindler’s List in 1993. I remember our entire high school having to go watch it in a movie theater on Kurfürstendamm and discuss it afterwards. We discussed it. We had arguments. The generation that was responsible did not. My mother’s generation didn’t even dare to ask their parents. My grandma (1937) was a child during the war, my grandfather slightly older and probably part of the Hitler Youth. As the story goes, my paternal great grandparents were communists, but then who knows? Traveling the world for me means being confronted with being German at any given time. Maybe a reboot of Roots would help raise awareness and spark up discussions?
Seinstein (Jerusalem)
A critical issue which merits consideration is creating and sustaining a culture in which daily personal accountability is a norm, value, ethic in the constant, necessary “wars” against toxic WE-THEY weltanschauungen without which daily violating, by words and deeds, of created, selected and targeted “the other,” is not enabled. Comparing and considering which evil is worse inadvertently creates the ongoing trap of a binary, either/or choice when evil, however delineated, exists with interacting ranges and continua of types, levels, and qualities by ordinary people. “Seeded” and harvested by human complacency and complicity. By willful blindness. Willful deafness to the experienced existential pains of all too many. All around. By willful indifference to what aiS, which should never BE. By willful ignorance in a reality of available and accessible generalizable facts. By choosing to communicate with and through semantic surrealism in which “kidnapped,” abused, neglected children are “separated” from their marginalized, discriminated against, dehumanized, stigmatized and excluded parents. A reality in which “praying” transmuted into preying on....A reality in which leaders and the led enable premeditated murder of sick children in treatment to be planned, implemented and justified. Personal accountability is a critical ingredient and opportunity for choosing to make a difference that creates a much needed difference for equitable, sustainable menschlichkeit for ALL!
Steve3212a (Cincinnati)
@Seinstein Jerbert, too may words. Personal accountability is not exactly a new concept requiring a veneer of German metaphysics.
Lane (Riverbank ca)
Learning from past atrocities so we don't repeat them can be uncomfortable but necessary, but we can't undo the past,only build on it. Much has been heard lately regarding slavery and nazi atrocities sometimes alluding to current politics particularly on the right. Missing is any mention of the 100 million victims of communism in the last century caused by those on the left. Such selective historical inspection indicates political motives.
K.R. Cook (Red Hook, N.Y.)
As I scrolled down to read many of the comments, all good ones, I saw an absence of comments on modern slavery here in the US and the rest of the world: That of human trafficking. Slavery hasn't gone away. It has just been re-invented.
Travelers (All Over The U.S.)
My relatives fought and died to protest and end slavery. That is reparations enough.
Eric (NYC)
@Travelers My family fought and then died fighting Nazis in Austria. I don’t think we got reparations, but even if we had that wouldn’t have been the end of anything. You seem to suggest you’ve reached the end of your ability to tolerate the fact that fighting and dying didn’t make the problem go away. My work and the work of my siblings didn’t go away because of my family members died fighting for justice- it started there. There is no statute of limitations when the ruinous effects of slavery still exist.
Jim Wood (Sodus, NY)
@Eric Exactly! Two of my great-great-grandfathers were wounded fighting to end slavery-one had his leg amputated, but those losses were not reparations. I have still benefited from the privileges that an economy and social system built on slavery, sharecropping, land theft and redlining have brought me while institutionalized racism has marginalized and penalized African-Americans, Native-Americans and, often, other people of color. Eric has it right; "My work and the work of my siblings didn’t go away because of my family members died fighting for justice- it started there. There is no statute of limitations when the ruinous effects of slavery still exist."
Mike Gordon (Maryland)
@Travelers Reparations enough for them. True. But those of us who are temporarily still living share a common responsibility to put things right, no matter who our biological ancestors happen to be or which family we were born into.
Lew Bethesda (Maryland)
I believe that the biggest difference in the reaction to those two evil periods in American and German history is this. Twenty or 30 years after the end of the Nazi regime there were very few active participants or supporters of that gruesome ideology. (They have since been reborn in later generations.) Slavery was officially ended in the 1850s, but its philosophy and racist ideology never died and was never repudiated and so strengthened with the emergence of Jim Crow, the Klan, and "massive resistance" even 100 - 120 years later (not to mention how it went mainstream in the past 3 years). The overwhelming majority of Germans abhor the Nazi era and all that it stood for while a substantial number of Americans still believe the racist ideology on which slavery and anti-Black policy is based.
Michael Kittle (Vaison la Romaine, France)
I grew up in northern Ohio in fully segregated Cuyahoga Falls where the only black presence were black women that took the bus from integrated Akron to clean houses during the day. My grandparents employed such a black maid who was the first black person I ever met. My grandparents were both prejudiced and expressed this openly to my sisters who adopted those values. The thought of reparations to the black community would have been abhorrent to my grandparents. Hopefully their prejudice died along with them in their graves!
tedc (dfw)
Atonement can not be achieved without genuine and sincere remorse. When will we able to repent from the bitter memory of slavery, if we failed to learn during the past 200+ years?
Mia (San Francisco)
I grew up poor in the Deep South and recall countless cringeworthy moments where my peers from white middle and upper middle class families were demanding and dismissive of their “help.” Many of my friends were basically raised by black maids who endured nonchalance at best and ostracism at worst (over things like improperly washed delicates). These same people today have the gall to lecture me and everyone else around them about white privilege as they virtue signal and bang the drum of every devisive race-based buzz word du jour. Maybe reparations should consist exclusively of rich white employers making up for the low pay they gave to their workers for the decades before they were safely distanced and “woke.”
Able (Tennessee)
When as pointed out in the review Germany went through its period of recognizing the horrors of the holocaust it was the period of the 1960’s when many perpetrators were still alive as well as many victims.Slavery in the US however was not such an immediate horror having ended during the 1860’s.Anticipating reparations in a similar manor as Germany carried out is a stretch as far as I know no one is alive today who participated in slavery either as slave or owner of slaves and expecting the current population of America to tax white people to pay reparations to African Americans whose ancestors were slaves will not fly.I realize the effort today is being made as much about racism and reparations for it all of which has occurred post slavery but again not a popular answer among the main stream of America,despite all Democratic presidential candidates endorsing reparations when asked by the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Macbloom (California)
This author is mired in contradiction. “A nation that erects a monument of shame for the evils of its history in its most prominent space is a nation that is not afraid to confront its own failures.” While a museum dedicated to the African-American experience has opened in the heart of Washington...”
MLChadwick (Portland, Maine)
@Macbloom After the "..." in your selective quote from this essay come the words: "recent expressions of racism not just from the highest office in this land but also from many politicians, pundits and ordinary people suggest that America’s confrontation with its legacy of slavery and racial hatred is far from complete."
Tony (Truro, MA.)
Never conflate the horrors of slavery with genocide. If looking for payouts, based on past events, go to the original source; African-Africans selling captured men, women, and children from neighboring factions within Africa itself. Go after the Cartels, of their day, that was supplying ..............and stop this special identity politic polls
Oron Brokman (New Jersey)
...and lets not forget the past and present injustice towards the American Indians...
Josidalgo Martinez (Queens)
This past month I visited the Auschwitz museum and memorial in Poland. It was a heartbreaking experience that haunted my thoughts for days and led me to rethink my role as a public school history teacher, the nature of discrimination and my life as an immigrant father of two boys in the US. When on the plane back home my wife introduced me to a quote from Trevor Noah’s book that in many ways parallels the thinking of this piece, I raised reservations about the German approach ever being effective in America. The reality is different historical experiences produce different outcomes. As I communicated to my wife, I doubt the Germans could have ever confronted the Holocaust as directly as they did, had they still had a large Jewish population mostly living in poverty and a conservative front making a political living out of blaming the members of that community for their present social conditions. While the German effort is indeed commendable and a more explicit approach regarding the history of slavery and its aftermath should be part of the solution in America, any strategy should also confront the current problems that poverty, discrimination and cynical politicians perpetuate. Ideas and education can only be so effective when these problems persist.
Josidalgo Martinez (Queens)
This past month I visited the Auschwitz museum and memorial in Poland. It was a heartbreaking experience that haunted my thoughts and emotions for days and led me to rethink my role as a public school history teacher, the nature of discrimination and my life as an immigrant father of two boys in the US. When on the plane back home my wife introduced me to a quote from Trevor Noah’s book that in many ways parallels the thinking portrayed in this piece, I raised reservations about the German approach ever being effective in America. The reality is different historical experiences produce different outcomes. As I communicated to my wife, I doubt the Germans could have ever confronted the Holocaust as directly as they did, had they still had a large Jewish population living mostly in poverty and a conservative front making a political living out of blaming the members of that community for their present social conditions. While the German effort is indeed commendable and a more explicit approach regarding the history of slavery and its aftermath should be part of the solution in America, any strategy should also confront the current problems that poverty, discrimination and cynical politicians perpetuate. As long as these problems persist, education and direct confronting can only be so effective in the US.
I am a white man, born and raised in New York State who chose to be a career officer in the Air Force. I was stationed in the segregated deep South in my early years, but even DC was in many ways a southern city. I found segregation to be repulsive. What still mystifies me is that southern whites believed they exemplary Christians. Segregation was defended from the pulpit. The experience terminated my belief in any religion. I went on to earn 5 degrees in physics and engineering including two masters degrees from MIT. Science seeks truth; Organized religion defends fairy tales. That said, I still have deep respect for the main message of Jesus Christ, which I interpret as treatment of others with respect, compassion and charity. Jesus was indeed a wise philosopher, but still as human as Einstein, Newton, and Galileo. I agree with Dawkins that the god found in the Old Testament was one of the most unpleasant creations to found in fiction. The United States was founded as a secular Nation. Let's keep it that way.
Sagi (Connecticut)
@JSK After being repelled by Christianity you reject the “Old” Testament because you have a rigorous truth seeking orientation and this country was founded as a secular nation. If Christianity repulsed you, reject the “New” Testament. Have you read any state constitution? There is no support for the proposition that this country was founded as a secular nation. There is some evidence the federal government was founded as a secular institution. MIT’s philosophy and history department could use some sprucing up. Stick to math.
Middleman MD (New York, NY)
Slavery didn't just exist in the continental United States, but also in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Brazil, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Iraq, Iran, Ottoman era Turkey, sub-Saharan Africa and until 1952, Saudi Arabia. There is a good argument to be made for reparations, but it's starting point should not be a comparison between the United States and Nazi Germany.
Mike Westfall (Cincinnati, Ohio)
@Middleman MD And, what, I ask, is a good starting point? How can anyone attempt to compare one atrocity to another? What point of view is the most important? Our goal should be to make certain the atrocities are not forgotten. No one should suffer. History shall serve as an example. None shall subjugate another for any reason whatsoever. Not so lofty a goal.
shirls (Manhattan)
@Middleman MD It must start with each one of us! To wait for others to begin is justice denied. How long dear Lord? How long?! PS: You omitted The Dominican Republic!
quentin (atlanta)
it was used to justify segregation even till the late 60s unlike all the other countries u listed. So ya it should be the starting point to talk about....
Sandra Belcher (Oakland, CA)
The problem is unless you have black skin you will never understand the constant racism that we experience. It is in America's DNA. Most whites are in denial. Whether subtle or overtly you guys practice it with a scientific precision. I point it out to my white friends all the time. White guilt is a burden so denial and avoidance tend to be the chosen remedy. The only way to fight racism is to see past one's color. This is difficult because of the need to feel superior. As a black woman, I believe black people need to help each other heal. We need to hold the Black church accountable for stealing trillions from our communities, never reaching out to help when crack devistated our neighborhoods. Gentrification is a false narrative. The Black church didn't attempt to buy the property in our communities when they could have. Yet, in "gentrified" neighborhoods the black church thrives. Black people need to restore the black church with purpose. White people have to deal with their own demons as you can't make them feel something they don't feel. We know that America was built off the backs of slaves. Reparations is a word that bothers many. Let's replace it with two words. Equal. Treatment.
anne (Rome, Italy)
@Sandra Belcher Hear, hear Sandra!
cannoneer2 (TN)
Comparing Nazi Germany and the Confederacy is false equivalence. A more apt comparison might be the post Civil War conquering of Native American nations in the west by the U.S. Army, and its attendant genocide.
Travelers (All Over The U.S.)
Native Americans slaughtered and enslaved each other, stole each others' lands, raped each others' girls and women. Don't make them victims. They did the same thing to each other that was done to them. It is human nature--basically evil and brutish.
Dr W (New York NY)
It is interesting how the issues of American slavery and Nazi government are juxtaposed in this book review. I have no problem with this overlap, however I suggest that the connection between them -- which is briefly noted in the book review by Ms Lipstadt and by the book's author Ms. Neiman, goes far deeper than either apparently realize or present. Rather than expound, let me quote directly from an Amazon book review of James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” (Princeton). "Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by “excluding certain races from naturalization.” " Whitman chronicles visits to United States legislators, judicial icons and attorneys at law that were made by German legislators and lawyers in the 1930's -- during their period of formulating the Nuremburg laws to be imposed in Nazi Germany regarding undesirable elements of the German population alluded to in Mein Kampf. This reveals a deep connection between American racial law and Nazi jurisprudence -- as practiced -- that should not be ignored.
RD (New York)
@ DrW. Completely agree. The Nuremberg laws used the Jim Crow laws enacted exclusively by Democrat legislatures and local governments in the southern states.
Teed Rockwell (Berkeley, Ca)
Also worth mentioning that "Gone with the Wind" was Hitler's favorite movie.
Igor dumbadze (Cincinnati ohio)
I don't disagree with need for attempts to deal with the consequences of slavery, I do struggle with the idea that we continue to ignore what we did to the native Americans. we killed them and took their land. we can not and should not forget or ignore this horrific genocide and land grab
RD (New York)
American indians are not a critical voting block for democrats and can't be used to attack conservatives so we might be waiting a while
CitizenTM (NYC)
White European invaders tried the same in Australia, Asia, Africa ans South America. Often they grabbed - aided by superior weaponry - the riches of the lands, which they forced locals into servitude to produce for them. A false evil narrative of superiority instilled in them, those invaders did not consider themselves evil.
With regards to reparations, slavery ended 150 years ago, but it was followed by 100 years of legal, codified discrimination. At the same time America was fighting Nazis it was lynching African Americans. Unlike discrimination against Irish And Eastern European immigrants , discrimination against blacks was codified in American law until the Civil Rights Acts superseded these laws. Any African American over the age of 50 was born in a country where redlining, employment discrimination, unequal access to education, and voter suppression( poll taxes, literacy tests) were legal. While some African Americans have benefited from affirmative action, the majority have not.
Benjamin (Richmond)
Any white person over sixty who grew up or lived in the Southern states, lived in a police state for African Americans. This was true in other parts of the USA as well — but most obvious in the South. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, when there were white terrorist attacks on African Americans (Tulsa, Wilmington, NC, and Chicago for example) the police forces (of “law and order”) stood by and watched the burning, the massacres, and the bombings. Then there were the lynchings, sanctioned by local press, advocated/supported by white politicians — all to strike fear and make submissive to segregated scout those — white and black citizens — who raised a voice or sought equality under the law.
nero (New Haven)
@The Buddy It was easier for the Germans because the war ended. One look at the stats on criminal justice, education, employment rates, housing discrimination, and even health outcomes like life expectancy, and maternal mortality will show that American descendants of slavery ("ADOS") live in a different country - a third-world country - within the richest nation in the world. And if the data doesn't do it for you, just turn on the tv. Look at how many unarmed black people have been killed with impunity, on camera, by "peace officers". How can there be a reckoning when the war on ADOS is ongoing? 08.30 10:01 PM
RD (New York)
In 2017 (i dont have the 2018 data) 17 unarmed black men were killed by the police. That same year, 25 white men were killed by the police...can you name one? even after an internet search of the news? Also in 2017, 20 people in the US were struck and killed by lightning. These are the statistics freely available in the FBI crime statistics data.
@RD - You described the 17 unarmed black men, but you neglected to mention whether the 25 white men killed were unarmed. Perhaps that is a necessary distinction. 20 people died in a boat accident in California. What does "lightning" deaths have to do with this discussion? (nothing)
Tamza (California)
Any such comparison MUST include the native/first people of the Americas and the colonies.
MTA (Tokyo)
This discussion is relevant around the world. When discussing Korean-Japanese relations, I frequently refer to two pictures. There is a 1984 photo of Kohl and Mitterand standing together hands held tight in Verdun. That gesture is what made today's Franco-German friendship possible. Can Korean and Japanese leaders do the same? Or does Moon believe unification requires the South to dig up past grievances against Japan to please China and the North? Then there is the 1970 photos of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling in Warsaw and in Israel. It was a profound gesture etched into many people's heart. Could Japanese diplomats place a warm scarf around the statue of the 'comfort lady' girl placed in front of their Seoul embassy? No they had to ask for its removal. American here who is half ethnic Korean and half ethnic Japanese
CitizenTM (NYC)
You are - I assume - the fruit of love between historic enemies. May there be more of you.
Like millions of Americans, I am a direct descendant of Civil War soldiers who fought for the north. One fought at Gettysburg, the other left a family behind and died as a prisoner of war after the Battle of Corinth. It’s time to move on. Civil war memorials erected in the South may well have had an element of Jim Crow to them, but it makes sense that many were erected after 1900. Take a look at the civil war monuments in Iowa; many, if not most, were erected after 1900 as local veterans were dying off.
Elise mills (Ca)
In addition to enslavement - largely of people from Africa, there’s also the shameful history in the US ‘settlers’ and slaughter and discriminate against native Americans. We need to make sure our schools are teaching the full history of the United States - internment of us citizens during World War II, the fight for the civil rights in the US, the United farmworkers history, and other things. I was not taught these things in K-12 school. Why is that? Are our children being taught these things now? Why not?
RLE123 (Nashville)
@Elise mills. Thank You!!
Gary (Connecticut)
If contemporary Americans are not appalled and ready to make reparations for the evils being committed right now and in the recent past (from job and housing discrimination, underpayment, and redlining all the way to cold-blooded murder) in our names against people of color and decendants of slaves and native peoples, they are certainly not going to be interested in making amends for the sins of their forefathers going back 400 years. I think that only by developing empathy and compassion for our fellow citizens in the present can we touch people's hearts enough to have them consider the evils in the past that led to them.
Oron Brokman (New Jersey)
“Empathy and compassion” is the key. Unfortunately, greed wins these days.
West Coast (USA)
Excellent review and I "look forward" to reading this book. With regard to reparations and how to address our sordid history, we cannot consider slavery of people from Africa and their descendants the only "original sin" of this country but must also include the devastation of American Indian people. If slavery is considered worse than outright annihilation of a people and stealing their land (etc.) be assured that Americans from Europe managed to enslave many American Indians too. We have left our devastated tribes out of the discussion.
EKB (Mexico)
Reparations would be just, but the effort to create a means to determine who, for what, how much, would likely cause so much dissemsion and anger that I am not sure they would be worth the effort. On the other hand, truth commissions a la South Africa, held across the country with participants representing the persecuted and ignored and held down as well asthose who took part in doing the persecution, the ignoring, the denying of access, of rights, might serve a unifying role in our country as we learned to listen to each other.
Rex Nemorensis (Los Angeles)
I think that this is a case in which timing and circumstance matter a great deal. Germans largely avoided confronting their role in the Holocaust for about 20 years, and then confronted it very directly for the next 50, and now are showing signs of feeling, well, pretty much done with that phase of their history. High school kids in Germany right now can truthfully say "My grandparents weren't even born yet..." Keep in mind too that the USA, unlike Germany, was both the liberator of slaves and the perpetrator of slavery since ours was a civil war. Winners make their own rules; Germany lost WW2 and so was forced to accept whatever was imposed upon it. We are now 150+ years beyond the end of actual slavery in the USA; I seriously doubt that downtown Berlin will still be so visibly full (I was there 2 years ago) of Holocaust reminders in the year 2100. Maybe there is a little something to be learned by comparison here, but the differences seem to really limit it as a subject for comparison.
Oron Brokman (New Jersey)
Coming to term with the wrongdoings of the past never has the “statue of limitations”. We should learn from the past regardless of how “old” it is. The “Never forget” is a prerequisite for the “Never repeat”.
Dale C Korpi (MN)
The 1619 Project is also relevant to this discussion but it brings up another overlooked aspect of American history. The colonists were also busy displacing Native Americans and post America's formation by treaty and then after 1871 by legislation continued to do so. We are a Nation burdened by a tragic colonialism history stained not only by slavery but also the violent dispossession of Native lands, resources, culture, and even children. The cruel Dred Scott decision contained the following on Native Americans relative to enslavement and Dred Scott's plight The situation of [descendants of slaves] was altogether unlike that of the Indian race. The latter, it is true, formed no part of the colonial communities, and never amalgamated with them in social connections or in government. But although they were uncivilized, they were yet a free and independent people, associated together in nations or tribes and governed by their own laws. Many of these political communities were situated in territories to which the White race claimed the ultimate right of dominion. — Dred Scott v. Sandford 60 U.S. 393
Someone (Somewhere)
The timing is different. Germany confronted the horrors of the Holocaust while the 1940s generation was still living. The American Civil War is now over 150 years past. Perhaps the US should have responded just after the Civil War as the Germans did after WWII, but that is no longer possible. Americans today had nothing to do with slavery from 150 years ago, and it would be an injustice to blame them for that injustice. Sometimes, by letting water go under the bridge, you avoid dealing with the pollution. This is, it should be noted, still the American strategy. The US intends to do nothing about the crimes committed by Americans in the invasion of Iraq; it will let Bush II and Cheney die in peace. Then, in fifty years, when nothing can be done, textbooks will be written regretting what had happened. But by that time, there will be again no more chance for justice. Righteousness needs to be timely. The American generation of the present has done enough evil - the Iraqi invasion for one, global warming for another - where remorse would do some good. And that, I guess, is why we won't see any.
HapinOregon (Southwest Corner of Oregon)
@Someone Yes, the Civil War is over, but there are many who lived through and remembered the Jim Crow days which, IMHO, were as abominable and hateful as the slavery days. In its way Reconstruction was a timely response. It just didn't have universal popular or political support. And, to make matters worse, when the former CSA residents and their children moved North for the newly developing industrial jobs, the new arrivals brought their old biases and prejudices along.
Eric (NYC)
@Someone Perhaps we should allow a large number number of those still living under the effects of slavery and injustice to African Americans to tell use when time has run out on America’s duty to redress those centuries of savagery? It’s interesting you’re concern is for those who might be unjustly blamed- but not for those who might be justly helped.
Mollycoddler (Stockholm WI)
@Someone, The ultimate horror of slavery was the rationale used to justify it. If all men are created equal, you cannot enslave other people, breed them, sell them, kill them. Therefore, to justify all of that, you must convince yourself that beings held as slaves cannot be fully men. They must be something less. I remember the Civil Rights protests. They were not protesting slavery. They were protesting the still extant slavery justification. We need to acknowledge and face the subliminal, structural and obvious continuation of that justification. It isn't 150 years ago, it's not even 150 hours ago.
Jim Tokuhisa (Blacksburg, VA)
Atonement and reconciliation are the responsible actions of a civil society. West Germany achieved that with the Holocaust and The United States of America should with Slavery. I fear that the focal point of reparations will be the money. But if the process of reparations for the incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII tells us anything, more important and lasting for everyone will be the narratives, archives, and the virtual and physical memorials coming from the systematic documentation of slavery then and now.
Dean Browning Webb, Attorney at Law (Vancouver, WA)
Deborah Lipstadt's extraordinarily incisive review and probing commentary addressing Susan Neiman's "Learning From The Germans - Race and the memory of Evil" is both compelling and instructive. Redemptive efforts - not revisionist history - is critically important to understanding and recognizing the dual inimical atrocities that occasioned Germany and America. Germany tried, painfully, to directly address the Holocaust through minimal efforts. The post-war nation readily cast the net of blame solely upon the principal architects of the Third Reich. Expressing shock, credulity, and surprise that the coordinated, mass industrialized production liquidation apparatus existed within miles of quiet villages and active metropolitan areas, German nationals readily disavowed any connection with the sophisticated, institutionalized murder complex. Only in light of the Nuremberg trials did the light of truth blind them to reality. Subsequent decades revealed a sincere effort to achieve redemption and offer amends. Contrast these actions with America consistently engaged in sanitizing, revising, and denigrating the institution of the nation's original sin. In 2019 reparations are a farcical irritant to be summarily jettisoned as ludicrous. The Senate Majority leader simply denigrated the idea, stating that no Americans today owned slaves. Another example of self denial of the austere vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow, and lynching. Neiman's book is timely, especially now. Race matters.
sheila (mpls)
@Dean Browning Webb, Attorney at Law There goes Moscow Mitch again taking the most regressive stand on an issue that begs to be examined by the country.
Tony (Truro, MA.)
@Dean Browning Webb, Attorney at Law,I found your last sentence, "Race matters.", highly antagonistic and a stellar example of why this country cannot get out of its own way. We, as a nation, should be focusing on ability and strengths that any individual can offer up. Race and color aside.
Dean Browning Webb, Attorney at Law (Vancouver, WA)
@Tony Please kindly recognize and readily admit and accept the irrefutable, incontrovertible fact that America's original sin is the foundation and the platform that influenced and motivated how this nation addressed, grappled, worried, and fought over the racial issue. Call it Dred Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Reconstruction, lynching, voter suppression, or racially premised discriminatory practices enshrined by financial institutions, universities, mortgage lenders, or professional association, "race matters." Comprehending and understanding the multifaceted, intensely complex contexts of multi racial dimensionalism is compulsory to deal with the affects of institutional racism. Marginalizing and discounting this especially significant issue reflects the shallow naiveté of persons who erroneously believe America now experiences a post-racial world when in fact the opposite is true. The advocates of such supercilious, patently absent of serious thought position are those whose Caucasian white skin privilege readily afford them the luxury to state that those of colour have achieved more than enough of success and should be satisfied. This dangerous mental state only serves to incite, foment, and encourage intense minority backlash, and rightfully so. Those who never experienced discrimination lack standing to voice what is and what is not satisfactory to those who have endured vicious racial demagoguery and institutional racism. They don't have a clue. Race matters!
Bill George (Germany)
The comparison can be taken further: the British class system with its unjust distribution of land ownership and the resulting class structure was founded on the conquest of the native population by the invading Normans. In a few decades there will doubtless be huge celebrations of a thousand years' domination by their descendants. The conquest of most of the Spanish peninsula by the Moors or Arabs was less enduring, but still kept the native Spanish people subjugated for centuries. South and Central America also saw the native peoples wiped out, or at best enslaved by the "Conquistadores". What happened to the North American Indians has been brutally documented, for example by the harrowing film "Soldier Blue". The main point which American slavery and Nazi oppression of the Jews have in common is the cold-blooded efficiency of execution and the pervasive belief that God, to borrow Dylan's words, was "on our side". Cynical US slave-owners even kept their prisoners quiet with the promise of a better life in Heaven ... In short, there are no lengths to which people will not go in order to justify their exploitation of others and to make their own lives more comfortable.
Mak Dem (Alaska)
It seems like native genocide and its near complete omission in elementary and secondary history courses would have been a far richer 'redemptive comparison' to post Nazi Germany. Even today people don't understand the barbarous crimes committed against indigenous people. Speaking from personal experience, 'oops-- slavery' and 'yay--civil rights' was beaten into our heads from an early age but all I remember about history of native peoples was 'trading land for beads' and 'Thanksgiving' and 'woohoo Freedom of Religion American Heroism!' Absolute nonsense. We should also demand a more accurate portrayal of American history, and a culture of respect towards the original nations of North America and THEIR contributions to our current nations.
BothSides (New York)
It frankly ticks me off that neither Ms. Neiman, nor Ms. Lipstadt pay any attention whatsoever to the plight of American Indians as the *actual model* and inspiration for Hitler's establishment of death camps, along with the practice of assigning numbers to his prisoners. Both of these practices were modeled on the Indian reservation system here in the United States, where tribes were imprisoned in heavily guarded fortresses, forbidden to leave and assigned "enrollment" numbers. So if the premise here is "comparative redemption," then she has missed the boat entirely by ignoring the First Sins of this country.
Bumpercar (New Haven, CT)
@BothSides Good point. In fact, Hitler also studied Jim Crow laws and other US behaviors so he could legally persecute Jews. See "Hitler's American Model" by James Whitman
Alan Richards (Santa Cruz, CA)
@BothSides Many comments cite James Whitman's excellent book, "Hitler's American Model," with good reason. Hopefully, people will also read C. Kakel's "The American West and the Nazi East," which makes explicit comparisons between our crimes against American Indians and Nazi crimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Dawn Helene (New York, NY)
"Germans almost uniformly rejected any suggestion of a comparison. They considered what they did far worse than slavery." If we ever get to the point where we feel that way about slavery and everything that has followed in its wake, we will finally be on our way
Electrifying thoughts. “A nation that erects a monument of shame for the evils of its history in its most prominent space is a nation that is not afraid to confront its own failures.” I'm awaiting the Japanese to learn from this German experience, about is atrocities in China, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Burma, Micronesia and other territories it invaded and destroyed. I'm awaiting the Americans to learn from this German experience, about its mass murders in Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as indirectly promoting killings by selling weapons of war to the world.
bu (DC)
"Learning from the Germans'. The title pays homage to the Germans that did much since the Holocaust to redeem themselves accepting guilt for the genocide(s) [not only Jews, political resistors/dissidents, many other minorities as well] the Nazi-Regime perfidiously perfected and paying reparations, are Americans willing to "learn from the Germans" and should they. America committed her own genocide (against the indigenous tribes) - and exploited African slaves. Slavery is an ancient and also modern practice in many cultures and on many of the continents and the use of slaves in American history starting 400 years ago was abhorrent as are many of the historical effects after the abolishment of slavery, i.e. the persistence of racism as individual and general hatred and structural impediment. But - Americans should turn to their own anti-slavery and anti-racism traditions and efforts to overcome the legacies of this horrendous inhumanity in American history to this day. The museum on the mall in D.C. is a monument that helps the collective memory to remember and respect African-Americans and their great contributions to the country's history. It probably won't change the ugliness of still existing racism, white supremacy, and the disadvantages that many African-Americans still suffer in a society that needs to alleviate the legacies of slavery. Reparations? Needed more legislation&money for greater social justice and progress of the descendants of slaves and the black poor
Steve (West Palm Beach)
As an American, I don't necessarily agree with the interviewed Germans who said that the Holocaust was far worse than American slavery. American slavery and oppression of black people crosses four centuries; the Third Reich lasted twelve years. I'm told that young Germans are required to visit Holocaust-era concentration camp sites. I wish that every American high school student were required to visit former slave cabins and auction houses. Having said that, I would remind Deborah Lipstatdt and Susan Neiman that there was no "D-Day" in the 1860s when Prussian, German, British, French, or Russian soldiers came ashore on the U.S. East Coast to liberate the slaves and crush the Confederacy. The Union did that, led by Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Abraham Lincoln - who paid for it with his life.
Jean W. Griffith (Carthage, Missouri)
Unlike the people of Germany, you do not see the same sort of guilt concerning slavery in the South today. I doubt if you ever will. A great part of the reason lies in the fact most of the old Confederacy is the Bible belt in which racism has become institutionalized supported by culture. News of segregated junior-senior high school proms, one for whites the other integrated, in Georgia outside Atlanta still resonates in my mind as evidence racism may never die in the South.
Alisa A (Queens, NY)
The reparation package negotiated in 1952 by Adenauer and Ben Gurion did not derive from a sense on the German side of indebtedness to the Jewish victims. In fact, when Adenauer explained the necessity of the reparations agreement to the (West) German public, he said that “the Jews still retain real power in the world.” The German motive was diplomatic and came entirely from the top (e.g., Oscar Schindler, who testified against some war criminals, was shunned by his neighbors and was unable to find employment in Germany). Two generations later, young Germans felt embarrassed by the sadism and psychosexual strangeness of their grandparents and wondered if this stuff was coursing through their own veins. Only then did they turn to penetance. They had caught their grandparents tiptoeing out of the wrong pornography store, and they were ashamed. The Jews are still disliked, resented now for harping on their genocide.
Ken (St Louis)
Slavery and Jim Crow are not our only national sins. The United States is a great country, but we've done some terrible things over the course of our history. We did some of them to the indigenous people of this continent. We did some of them to other people in other places. We did some of them to our environment. We have not faced up to any of them. We should face up to all of them.
Philboyd (Washington, DC)
I'm coping very well, thank you. I wasn't born until a hundred years, roughly, after ancestors of mine fought the only war in human history to free another race of people. I also had ancestors on the other side -- poor farmers without slaves who went to war after their state borders were crossed and their families at least indirectly threatened. By the way - my mixed race wife who can trace her ancestry on her mother's side back to slaves in Virginia is also coping exceptionally well. She wants you all to know you are free to enjoy your lives without some ludicrous century-old guilt dreamed up by liberal masters of the art form of useless and pointless guilt.
Tony (California)
As the son of a shtetl-born Polish Jew much of whose extended family was murdered in extermination camps, I think it's interesting that people make these distinctions. Only people who were in the camps. Well that takes care of a LOT of potential plaintiffs. Only actual slaves. Well, 160 years later, how many of them are left? Only Native Americans who were actually put off their native lands by pioneers. Well, a casino or two. (That's one of the great ironies of history: genocide in exchange for casinos.) It reminds me of the old Winston Churchill joke. Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?" Socialite: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... " Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?" Socialite: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!" Churchill: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.” Perhaps it's not very dignified to combine genocide and slavery with that joke, but it seems to me that people who are saying---only actual death camp survivors, only actual slaves, only this and that: those people are accepting the moral argument but haggling about the price.
Apowell232 (Great Lakes)
@Tony Ok. Would you give your "reparations" to anyone who is: (1) black (slave ancestry or not), (2) partially black (including whites and other non-blacks)?
JH (Switzerland)
It has more to do with comparing how certain specific events were later addressed and less with the general actions of countries. Germany's reparations concerning the Holocaust are in stark contrast to their handling of the genocide in Namibia. I guess it also depends how far back you want to go.
bl (rochester)
A big difference between the two responses to acts of national evil is that education in Germany is a national responsibility. So, the federal government is able to design curriculum and place it in secondary schools. What had been taught prior to the mid-late sixties was correctly perceived to be incomplete, which led to federal efforts to redo how the nazi period was taught. It also helped to have federal leaders such as Willy Brandt with moral gravity and weight lead the country in this reeducation. There is nothing comparable in this country, and in the south in particular. There is no federal interest in designing a curriculum suitable to address all the issues around slavery, especially its relevance to post reconstruction and jim crow south. Even if there was, the authority under which schools would be obligated to adopt the curriculum simply doesn't exist so that it could be done easily or uniformly. Local control of schools is a cultural phenomenon that is as sacred as the 2nd amendment. Its adherents share a fondness for both, and they would strongly resist any effort by "the feds" to tell them how they should teach their kids about slavery. This is essential in understanding why it's so hard to teach the subject honestly, completely, and in all schools. The disinterest many have in connecting it to the present is due to that. MSM disinterest in addressing post reconstruction failures, jim crow, and redlining doesn't help either.
Michael c (Brooklyn)
It seems to me that one of the big differences between slavery and the Holocaust is that Germany, in many political forms and physical boundaries, had existed for a long time before Hitler and the Holocaust. It was a society that changed very rapidly in the 20s and 30s into something horrifying. The USA, by contrast, began with the "conquering" of Native Americans, and became a powerful and wealthy nation partially based on the work of slaves. Inherent in the foundation our [blind?] democracy was genocide and enslavement. Germans could look back on their pre-Nazi civilization and see the contrast between good and evil, and understand the where the guilt was, but white Americans look back and see the beginning of our country, with good and evil so tightly bound together that they can't be separated and examined, and don't see what the problem continues to be.
Vision (Portland, OR)
I find it striking how many of the comments strive to distinguish the slavery imposed on African-Americans from the Holocaust imposed on European Jews. They are different, but mainly now because the practices of slavery continue, while the practices of the Holocaust have ended, for Jews. The American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. Most lynchings of African-Americans occurred after the Civil War. Race riots in northern cities occurred in the 20th century. Redlining, segregation of schools, imprisoning of black males, discrimination in employment, theft of black owned land --- all occurred in the 20th century and many still occur. If any of you readers who are white think that slavery, and its derivative practices, are over, you are sadly uninformed and grossly mistaken. Reparations do not just acknowledge what happened up to the Civil War; they would acknowledge that this American society continues to be racist and continues to uniquely deny civil and human rights to African-Americans. By the way, I am American, I am Jewish, and I wholeheartedly support the concept of reparations toward my fellow Americans who are black. It has nothing to do with perpetuating victimhood. It has everything to do with justice.
Arthur T (New Jersey)
My God! This is such a informative article. I learned so much reading it.
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
Just because she wrote a book does not mean she is correct. A Jewish woman is hardly going to elicit truthful answers from former Nazis or Southern racists in an interview. Germany supposedly has successfully come to terms with its "guilt" for the Holocaust? What guilt? Like it or not, it is confirmed documented fact that Hitler's extermination actions were military secrets. Hitler's secret police were putting citizens in camps or executing them just for criticizing his judgement and actions. Remember Hans and Sophie Scholl? They were guillotined just for distributing leaflets on a university campus. The author is a populist moralizer. She's not addressing evil. She is just rehashing old arguments that are surfacing in modern day politics. If she is addressing a nation's guilt and evil then where is her discussion of My Lai? Perhaps she believes the official line, the official explanation? But it was American popular opinion that caused Richard Nixon to pardon the war criminals put on trial for that war crime and there were many more war crimes that were not put on trial. Is a nation guilty then when popular opinion, freely expressed with no threat, demands that war criminals be exonerated?
bl (rochester)
A big difference between the two responses to acts of national evil was the federal responsibility for education in Germany. This allowed the federal government to design curriculum and place it in all secondary schools once there was sufficient political will to do so. What had been taught prior to the mid-late sixties was correctly perceived to be very incomplete, which led to federal efforts to redo how the nazi period was taught. It also helped to have national leaders with moral gravitas, such as Willy Brandt, lead the country in this reeducation. Nothing comparable exists here, in the south in particular. No federal authority exists to design and implement a national curriculum that addresses all the issues around slavery, especially its relevance post civil war. Even if authority existed, it could not be done uniformly. The principle of local control of schools runs deep. Its adherents would strongly resist any effort by "the feds" to tell them how they should teach their kids about slavery. This is a basic reason why it's impossible to teach the subject honestly and in all schools. The disinterest, if not hostility, many have in connecting its horrors to the present stems from the failures of secondary education to do that. MSM indifference in addressing post reconstruction failures, doesn't help either. Insistence upon coddling ignorance, not promoting knowledge, is a strong inertial force. Would Ken Burns focus on this?
Karekin (USA)
Germany was defeated, the US was not.
Don (Florida)
I agree that the Holocaust is worse than slavery. But slavery was awful in its own right. Just read about the misery on the ships that picked up Africans on the coast of Africa and transported them to the New World. Read about the families that were broken up and sold off in pieces as if they had no human connections. Read about the miserable working conditions on the plantations (forced labor camps) and the racism that faced black people after they were "granted freedom." Read about the fact that even today black families wealth is only on tenth that of whites, etc.,etc.,etc. We have a long way to go to make things right. Reparations is one means to a just end if there can ever be one.
Regards, LC (princeton, new jersey)
Ms.Lipstadt begins her review by referring to our country’s “unsavory past”. She ends it by citing Faulkner’s observation that the past is never past. Which is it? It’s clear that while slavery was abolished, vitriolic racism with all its hateful and violent accoutrements is alive and well in our country. Indeed, based upon the neo-fascists actions and statements they’ve been able to get away with since this man became president, if they could, they’d bring slavery back. Those of us who followed, learned and was shocked by this paper’s recent 1619 project, it may very well be that Germany has come to grips with its nazi past with for more candor and honesty than have we with our racist past...and our racist present.
HapinOregon (Southwest Corner of Oregon)
The Holocaust was about killing people for whom they were, no more no less. Slavery was about getting, and keeping, the cheapest labor possible, no more no less. In essence, Jews were without value while African slaves were valued as was any important property.
Phil G (Berkeley)
Germany came around slowly to the realization that it had, on a collective level, perpetrated the Holocaust and that reparations were due to the surviving victims and their families. The concept of German collective guilt started at the academic level with the Historikerstreit — the historians’ debate — in the mid 1980s over attempts to relativize the Holocaust and “historicize” it as one of a number of genocides perpetrated by different cultures at various times. We in the United States have yet to have a robust Historikerstreit. Certainly academics debate the question of reparations, but in the wider culture the topic remains tangential. The Democratic contenders for President rarely raise the subject anymore, perhaps understanding the electorate thinks reparations “unrealistic,” or unwarranted. In any case, advocating for reparations is seen as political suicide, for now. Like the Germans, however, we need a real reckoning with our historical and present-day inhumanity. Saying other societies had slaves and that slavery isn’t as bad as genocide is a cop-out. Germany after the war banned all public displays of Nazi sympathy. Statues were torn down. Streets named after Hitler were renamed for Social Democrats and Nazi victims. It’s time for Americans to do the same. Tear down the Robert E. Lee statues and ban the Confederate flag. Germany has very strong freedom of speech, but it learned the hard way where hate speech leads: to the gates of Auschwitz.
Middleman MD (New York, NY)
@Phil G If it were as simple as "hate speech" leading to genocide, we would have seen a genocide directed in the United States at Catholics, Jews, Slavs, African-Americans, homosexuals, African-Americans, Arabs, and a host of others. Instead, what we have are instances of hate crimes, sometimes starting with incitement perpetrated by figures like Al Sharpton, but mostly hate speech leading to little more than hurt feelings. Let's not sacrifice the first amendment in the service of preventing people from being offended.
Dr W (New York NY)
It is interesting how the issues of American slavery and Nazi government are juxtaposed in this book review. I have no problem with this overlap, however I suggest that the connection between them -- which is briefly noted in the book review by Ms Lipstadt and by the book's author Ms. Neiman, goes far deeper than either apparently realize or present. Rather than expound, let me quote directly from an Amazon book review of James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” (Princeton). "Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by “excluding certain races from naturalization.” " Whitman chronicles visits to United States legislators, judicial icons and attorneys at law that were made by German legislators and lawyers in the 1920's and 1930's during their period of formulating the Nuremburg laws to be imposed in Nazi Germany regarding undesirable elements of the German population alluded to in Mein Kampf. This reveals a deep connection between American racial law and Nazi jurisprudence -- as practiced -- that should not be ignored.
Sara (New York, NY)
For those interested in the topic, Susan Neiman will be discussing her book at the Goethe-Institut New York, 30 Irving Place, on September 26, 7pm. Check for more information.
Mr. Prop Silk (Wash DC)
I wish people would keep the forcible removal of native American Indians and the genocide that accompanied that, in their thoughts as well. That is every bit as recent as these other two horrors. Why are the native Americans always left out of the conversation?
WolverineBaldwin (San Francisco)
@Mr. Prop Silk I could not agree with you more! Good Job!
Isadore Huss (NYC)
The people the Germans truly owed an apology to are no longer here to accept their apology, so it is just words, a balm to those uttering them and not to the actual vanished victims and their lost generations.
SFR (California)
I thought of Nieman when I read, recently, how the people near the place where Emmet Till was killed still respond to his memorial. They shoot bullets at the marker and spray signs saying, "We here are sick of Emmet Till." The latter is not the exact wording I read, but I was so disturbed that I blanked out on the quote. It is close enough. The sign was worse than the bullets. To write a public message to say "we here" is so inclusive, it denies that blacks have any part of "we"or "here." I wished I were reading an apology to Till's family and to all blacks for this horror. I thought of Germany, when I visited with a Jewish friend, and heard young Germans talk about what Germany should do to redeem itself. If that were even possible. Those discussions were redemptive. In 2014 I published a book that took place in 1981, in which a black friend's land was stolen from her illegally, and there was nothing she or I or anyone could do. A friend has recommended a publicist, since the time for such a book seems ripe, but I have not called him because he is from North Carolina. I am, in short, afraid of these people among whom I once counted myself. We all have so very much work to do to become decent human beings. But white Southerners have the added burden of coming from people who do not yet, and may never, see the pain they caused or the need for forgiveness.
Bunbury (Florida)
None of us are as good as we think and we are worse than we will ever admit.
Robert Campbell (Atlanta)
I think a big difference in the way Germany and the U.S. deal with the past is that there are not many Jews left in Germany. Here the legacy surrounds us, so particularly in the south they have more ‘skin in the game.’ The the south’s acknowledgement of the continuing effects of the horror of slavery would (rightly) have serious ramifications on their politics and life. The Germans have no such consequence.
Diane L. (Los Angeles, CA)
This article brings back memories when I traveled with my kids to Germany and Austria almost 20 years ago. Sadly, the following is what I remember most about that part of our trip. The B&B we stayed at in Salzburg had a photo album on the coffee table filled with pictures of Adolph Hitler. The cover page was so disconcerting as the picture was of him smiling which gave me chills. I don't know if it was the picture itself or the fact that it was displayed like a trophy. We also took a tour of the salt mines. As we took the bus up a hill, the tour bus operator pointed out the "Eagle's Nest" which was Hitler's summer home and other things like where Goebbels (or one of his other sycophants) had his garden. Though it was long after the war, it just seemed so inappropriate and made me very uneasy. I do not remember feeling this uneasiness in Germany. They appeared to make an overt effort to recognize the horrors they perpetrated and to pass strict laws against antisemitism. The country I live in under Trump is like being back in Austria.
Philip Richman (New York City)
What terrifies me is that these large scale atrocities may foreshadow even more massive cruelties to come. Once unsustainable exploitation shrinks available resources and habitable land these people have already anticipated how they will react. This is why Trump and his ilk are so eager to add viciousness to their anti-immigrant policies. Clearly, they intend to chose aggression and repression over cooperation and sustainability. It is not that they are blind, it is that they want to excuse the even greater evils that they contemplate.
RPW (Jackson)
Not just many, but most Southerners like my Confederate ancestor fought for the Confederacy although their families did not own slaves (my great grandfather was a country dentist; most Confederates were the children of small farmers without slaves). When I asked why he fought, the answer was, "Because we were invaded." For for my ancestor who was a private, slavery was not the issue. The issue was that the State leaders of the time, who he trusted, said that the "invasion" had to be repelled, that it was his duty to do so as a citizen, and that there was nothing in the US Constitution that had made succession illegal. It clear, though, that many Southern leaders had used young, loyal State citizens (the primary allegiance) like my great grandfather, to try to preserve slavery (80% of the Succession Convention members in MS were slave holders). Fortunately for me, my great grandfather quickly learned in the "ditches" to duck; hence I am here! Many Southerners fought out of loyalty to their State, and not from any personal stake in slavery. Yes, they were used. As an historian said to me, "Don't you wish we could go back and counsel our Confederate ancestors"? Yes, but to counsel to take the family back to England to avoid conscription?--In which case his progeny might have ended in WWI or dying in class-ridden English poverty, which would have meant: I wouldn't be here! Glad he at least he knew in the ditches of Vicksburg and a dozen other places how to duck!
Linda (out of town)
I'm glad the reviewer brought up the example of Poland's efforts to expunge history. It's even more so in today's Russia. I took a trip to Siberia once, where many many of my relatives perished in the gulag. What gulag? The gulag has been totally dismantled. Germany made a museum of Auschwitz, lest we forget. The gulag, in contrast, never happened -- what 40 million victims? I'm very much afraid that America is endorsing the post-Soviet model. Get rid of all the Confederate artifacts. From my perspective, it would be much more instructive if we left the statue of the Confederate general in place, and hung a placard around its neck documenting how many slaves he owned.
@Linda - From your perspective leaves out the perspective of those that suffered under slavery. When will you take their perspectives into account? How ugly to list how many slaves there were. These Confederate statues were built decades after the Civil War precisely to remind Black Americans of their "place."
Jack Frost (New York)
Germany may have admitted its guilt but it has NOT accepted it. There is a difference. Germany still, more than 70 years after the holocaust cannot find a way to reconcile, understand or grasp the meaning of what the Nazi regime did to the Jews of Europe. Discussion of the Nazis in Germany is a shadow history of shame and pride that many Germans today fail at every level to give meaning and credibility. In other words Nazis may well have been mythological figures but could never be truly German. The same goes across Europe where Axis powers willfully joined Nazis in the slaughter. And therein lies the problem. Nazism and slaughter of the Jews, other minorities and races across the battlefields of Europe, is not just a German problem. It is a European and in part a Russian problem too. The Russians committed atrocities against Poles and even their own people throughout World War II. The massacre of thousands of Polish army officers was committed by the Russian, not the Germans. The rape of Berlin was committed by Russians as was the explosion of Germans from all over Eastern Europe after the war. Not to forget the starvation and killing of hundreds of thousands of German prisoners from 1945 until 1956. No part of the bloodbath of World War II whether by Russians, Poles, Slovaks, Austrians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians or everyone else recruited by the Germans is admittedly guilty by any of the nations of Eastern Europe let alone by Germany.
Lisal (Brooklyn, NY)
...a society built on injustice...-not just slavery and Jim Crow, but Indian Removal/massacre also.
Steve Griffith (Oakland, CA)
As evidenced by James Whitman’s book “Hitler’s American Model: America and the Making of Nazi Race Law,” the link between American slavery and the Nazis in general, and the Holocaust in particular, is a lot closer than many people would care to admit. Not only did Hitler derive a great deal of his “inspiration” for his dastardly genocidal plans from our nation’s Jim Crow laws and dehumanization of African-Americans, but he admired notorious anti-Semites like Henry Ford, and even awarded him with the highest accolade of the Nazi Party. This recognition and acknowledgment make Susan Neiman’s “Learning from the Germans” all the more poignant, as the Germans, nearly a hundred years ago, based on Whitman’s evidence, learned only too well from us.
Noah Rosenfeld (New York)
Why is there a constant, almost relentless need to compare trauma's? Can't we talk about the Holocaust separately from slavery and and slavery separately from the Holocaust? The comparisons are always WAY over simplified, and try to find similarities in EXTREMELY different circumstances. Comparing trauma's is just an easy way to get across a typically sensationalized (and often not factual) argument. Let internment camps be interment camps, and gas chambers be gas chambers. When it comes to mass tragedies every personal story is unique, let alone every genocide. Study tragedies, fight modern ones, don't compare them.
Ellis (Left Coast)
The act of comparison *is* studying.
Jay (Florida)
Europe, Germany and Russia refuse to admit their guilt. There is not much to learn from the Germans if the French, so-called allies, who allowed their Jewish citizens to be transported to the gas chambers can't even bring themselves to understand their complicity in mass murder. Nor can anything be learned from the Russians who raped and pillaged long after the war ended. The criticism and so-called learning from the Germans is misleading and false. We're dealing with peoples of nations across an entire continent who refuse even today to admit to the atrocities they helped perpetrate or looked away from. There is nothing to learn from the Germans. And they can't learn from their past either. In the 1990s the Eastern Europeans of Bosnia and Serbia participated in war that dissolved into genocide when more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were slaughtered by the Serbians. All of Europe looked aside and yet we expect Germany to learn from it's past while it and the rest of Europe can't deal with new mass murders even now. Not one European nation raised an eyebrow when the massacres took place. There is nothing we Americans or anyone else can learn from Germany or Europe. Except that if there's hatred, genocide and mass slaughter, well, then that's the way it is. The next war in Europe should be avoided by the Americans at all costs. Let them destroy themselves. We have our own bloody history to learn from. We don't need theirs.
Sagi (Connecticut)
@Jay I disagree with your comments about having nothing to learn from the Germans. While I thoroughly reject the proposition of comparing the American and German experiences (America fought to free the slaves and liberate the concentration camps), the Germans have demonstrated that it can be helpful to the perpetrators of an atrocity to make a public amends when they have failed to do so. President Reagan, recognizing that, acknowledged the wrong of the Japanese internment camps and had reparations paid. In the case of slavery, reparations were paid. Half a million Americans died in the civil war, a freedman’s bureau was set up to help the freed slaves, and countless programs/laws were set in place to help the descendants of slaves. What people are obsessing about today, is not slavery. It is the results of ordinary prejudice that exists across the world. Nations, do not prostrate themselves for forgiveness when their conduct is normal. Prejudice, though wrong, is a norm in every society including African societies and African American society. The appropriate reaction, one better than accomplished by most, is to try to bring it to an end. No grand federal gesture will make that happen.
jim emerson (Seattle)
Not to compare evils, but we should also deepen our awareness of the genocide European immigrants committed against Native Americans. They are the only non-immigrants in America today. We are a nation built on double Holocausts of genocide and institutional slavery. Are we going to face up to our real history, or continue to fool ourselves into thinking that "patriotism" means not taking a knee during the national anthem at football games? Our grasp of our own history is pathetically weak.
What can be compared to the Holocaust? To me, it would he the forced removal and caging of 120,000 Japanese-Americans behind barbed wire for 4 years during WWII. I am surprised that there was no mention of it in this article. Perhaps the author did not know about this fairly recent event in American history. Many Americans do not, as the only states with a mandate to teach it in their schools are in those states where it occurred, WA, OR, CA. You would be surprised how many Americans outside of these states have never heard about this "past evil." Thus the problem is not in how it is remembered, but the fact that it was never taught. It is often not included, or made nothing more than a footnote in the curriculums of U.S. history classes even today. Much of American history taught in our schools is still simply white washed away.
Sagi (Connecticut)
There is one clear parallel between the evils of Nazi Germany and Confederate slavery, both required about half a million Americans to die the be brought to an end. How many Germans died unseating Hitler? How many German troops came to rescue anybody ever? They wrote a check to the people they actually tortured. The US had a freedman’s Bureau.
db2 (Phila)
A reckoning...We don’t like to be bothered in these parts. Just gussy it up and make it frilly. “I come to you man, see all this ruin, what are you doin?” N. Young
In America, it took a civil war to free an enslaved people. What followed was not pretty. Germany enslaved and murdered their neighbors and it took a world war to stop them. There were few Jews left to free. Both horrible, but apples and oranges
A (Portland)
Thank you, Professor Lipstadt, for bringing this study to a wider audience and doing so in a way that is informed by historical knowledge and an unusual moral depth. There are moral absolutes as well as moral ambiguities and complexities in both situations discussed here, and it is always wise to recognize that.
Dan Styer (Wakeman, OH)
The German "confrontation with history, while hardly complete and now under attack from right-wing forces, remains far more extensive and honest, Neiman says, than anything that occurred in the United States regarding slavery and discrimination." And, it must be added, regarding the treatment of Native Americans.
Robert David South (Watertown NY)
History itself cannot be repaired. Only its effects on the present can be repaired. One difference between the German and American situations is that the time scales are different. Another is that Germany was forced to end its atrocities from outside, while America fought a civil war over it.
Moses (Eastern WA)
This country began with intolerance and superstition and developed with violence that has continued to this day. I believe only when we have experienced what Germany did in the 1930s and 40s will we finally face a moral reckoning, that has been long overdue. I lived and studied in Germany in the 1970s when evidence of the destruction of WWII was still evident and yes, among young people, antisemitism and it’s past were never discussed. But it opened my eyes to my own country’s serious limitations and problems and my only mistake was not staying.
bkbyers (Reston, Virginia)
How different from Germany is the American historical denial of slavery and genocide. As we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia, it is appropriate to review the massive efforts that went into preserving the “Noble Cause” in Virginia and other states in the Confederacy. These efforts aimed to direct Americans’ attention away from slavery and all of its economic and social ills and to deny the inhuman subjugation of Africans and their descendants in our country, north and south. Much about these efforts can be gleaned from the pages of the “Confederate Veteran”, a monthly magazine “in the interests of Confederate veterans and kindred topics”. From 1893 to 1932 its pages were filled with reports about fund drives and other efforts to erect monuments to Confederate leaders and heroes of the Civil War. All of these were aimed at expanding public awareness, especially among younger generations not yet alive during the war, of the “Noble Cause” and the perfidious invasion and destruction wrought by Union armed forces in the Confederate states. None of them resulted in monuments commemorating slavery. In fact, this publication and many others like it were aimed at ignoring slavery and blaming the outcome of the war on the U.S. government. We are still trying to come to terms with the mythology and legacy of the “Noble Cause” and of all of the manifestations of official racism and “white power”.
David (Pittsburg, CA)
I hope there are reasonable solutions forthcoming about the legacy of slavery. But the fact is you had a profound civil rights movement that did much to overcome that legacy. That period should be studied much more than the slavery era. People who didn't grow up during that time don't understand how intense the issue was. I don't feel the same intensity with this new attention on the subject. There is a lot of white guilt, black anger. And questions of justice and inequality are right to raise to try and solve. One difference between the US and Germany is that this country, as people like to point out, is a "nation of immigrants." And since 1865 wave after wave of immigrants have come into this country and each wave is fairly aspirational and wants nothing to do with the past. The past is treacherous for people who are coming here looking to get some root. The new immigrants develop this profound new layer of optimism and hard work and rock bottom values and are always looking to the future. They really instill new vitality and don't want to be bogged down by old crimes. That's in our DNA too. The problem of course is that African Americans are not recent immigrants and came here against their will. So this tension is present and I don't know how it will be solved. Individual people can come to some resolution about race and slavery but a whole society that has an enormous mixture of different types and experience? I know guilt and anger won't solve it.
JBW (California)
My mother was a child in Germany during those times and was schooled in all the dehumanizing notions that made it possible to persecute and harm "the other". My father grew up in the Deep South- Mobile, Savanah and Jacksonville at the same time - Jim Crow time. He learned the same. My mother never carried those terrible notions into her adult life- as the wife of an American soldier she raised us brats with kids of every shade- white, black and brown dads- moms from Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and the U.S. We grew up with a different sensibility about the worth in the differences people bring to the world than had our parents. My mom's country had been destroyed because of the hate it grew. She wanted something different for my brothers and me. My father has carried his birthright- the racism of his Southern upbringing all his life. In his talk especially. There have been movements to end racism in his lifetime- but they never required a true comeuppance on our part - the kind of comeuppance my mother's people had to make to face the evil they had put into the world. Lived in Germany for many years as an adult and was always intrigued by markers on cobblestones in all the old cities showing where a Jewish family had lived before the horror. Traveled the South as well. Lots of markers for Civil War battles. Slavery built this country for over 200 years. It ended 150 years ago. Our comeuppance is slow and painful.
Patriot (Maine)
America will eventually have to face a reckoning. When that time comes it will be too late.
william matthews (clarksvilletn)
@Patriot We are NOW and have been facing a reckoning for over 300 years over slavery.
Emily Klenin (Pennsylvania)
Thank you for this incisive review of a book I intend to read ASAP and share with as many others who may be willing as I can find. Comparisons between the Shoah and US slavery are not new, but this analysis, broadened to include “and then, what?”, is clearly an important work for our time. I hope that it will exert the influence that to judge by Professor Lipstadt’s review it ought to.
bernard (washington, dc)
Recently the NYT ran an article about the far right resurgence in what was the DDR (East Germany). I studied in Berlin for a year, 1965-66, and traveled quite a lot in eastern Germany. I visited a number of places in Germany again in 1992. Both times, I was struck by how "unreconstructed" the east was compared to the west of Germany. The government of the DDR was completely unwilling to acknowledge that anyone associated with "socialist" Germany ever had anything to do with the Third Reich. That historical difference -- the West trying to understand its shameful past and the East in full-blown denial -- has been playing out ever since, and is behind today's headlines. It seems as though this bifurcation in "Germany's" effort to come to terms with its history is not part of Neiman's analysis.
Natasha - (California)
Rarely does a book review bring me to tears, but this one did. We have so far to go! And we seem to be distracted on our way. We need reparations, yes, of course we do. We need to confront our original sins, the destruction of native cultures upon our arrival and slavery. How can we sleep at night?
KJ Peters (San Jose, California)
When slavery was abolished we had a golden opportunity as a country to begin the process of taking the victims of slavery and including then fully into the American experiment in freedom. It was always going to be difficult but if we had truly embraced the concept of "All men are created equal" we could have sorted it out by now. The history of what is called reconstruction is the most tragically ignored portion of our history. It is when the defeated leaders of the confederacy were able to, through a system of violence, laws, and fear, snatch victory from the ashes of defeat. They couldn't restore chattel slavery but they were able to produce a system close to it. They first removed the ability to vote . Through segregation and the Jim Crow laws they made sure that the former slaves would never be able to become full citizens. They made sure that they could never rise above their proper place(the bottom) of society. In these discussions you will often hear people complain "slavery was over 150 years ago, why do you keep bringing it up"Imagine that it wasn't even till the middle pf the 20th century that we were able to pass anti-laws and it wasn't until the fifties that they became rare. The ability for all African Americans to vote didn't even start until 1965 and we are still having issues with voter suppression. Read any recent history of reconstruction and you will not be shocked why race relations are in the state we currently deal with.
Susan RJ (Colorado)
@KJ Peters If Lincoln had lived some of that would have happened
Tony (Truro, MA.)
The Germans are a excellent example of of confronting their past atrocities. This is also, or was after the war, much more recent than the slavery that ended in our country 150 plus years ago. In other words you could compensate the actual aggrieved parties and not the the ten or 11th generation. Has there been any discussions on African tribes that enslaved and than sold their brethren?
ARL (Texas)
@Tony There were buyers or the African tribes would not have enslaved and sold their brethren. One does not excuse the other.
loni ivanovskis (foxboro, ma)
@Tony The Civil Rights Act was only approved in my lifetime. I went to high school in the Deep South in the 70's and 80's and there was still a shocking amount of everyday racism both from persons and institutions. Even today our justice system makes a mockery of equality. Any reparations paid would hardly be to the eleventh generation. And who cares who sold the slaves to the slavers? We are talking about our willingness to make right the incredible wrong that made this country what it is today. Should Germans care that the death camp guards were Latvian or Polish? Does it diminish their responsibility toward truth and reconciliation?
Winston Smith (USA)
With slavery, "The Half has Never Been Told", the title of a 2014 book by historian Edward Baptist. He recounts how cotton export led the rise and investment structure of 19th century American capitalism. Cotton production rested on the exploitation of slaves who were bought in the east and marched overland in chains to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Baptist relates the methods white enslavers used to drastically increase the speed of cotton harvesting (done by human hands), the slowest step in cotton production after the advent of the cotton gin in the 1790s. The efficiency of cotton production expanded ten fold, along with the profits, from 1800 to 1850. He notes slavery was anything but inefficient the way it was practiced in the cotton fields of America. "For many southwestern whites, whipping was a gateway form of violence I that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism. In the sources that document the expansion of cotton production, you can find at one point or another almost every product sold in New Orleans stores converted into an instrument of torture: carpenters’ tools, chains, cotton presses, hackles, handsaws, hoe handles, irons for branding livestock, nails, pokers, smoothing irons, singletrees, steelyards, tongs. Every modern method of torture was used at one time or another: sexual humiliation, mutilation, electric shocks, solitary confinement in “stress positions,” burning, even waterboarding. "
Lester Arditty (New York City)
As an American Jew, I've spent much time to learning & understanding the horrors of being & becoming victimized by hateful people who hide behind institutions to mask their complicity & guilt. The evils African Americans & European Jews have endured & suffered are parallel evils throughout history. The origins of the Holocaust didn't begin in 1939 or even with the Nazis coming to power. It was centuries in the making. Likewise, the stain of enslavement of African Americans & continued control over their lives didn't begin with Slave ships in 1619 or end with the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The pain inflicted still resonates with both communities. German reparations have been paid out not only to actual surviving victims but to their offspring as well. However, there are many victims & their relatives who haven't received any form of reparations for their losses. Reparations to African Americans is both just & warranted. The nature & form of reparations may be debated, but it is the most important first step that needs to be taken in order to heal the wounds created by the oppression of African Americans. That first act of reparations is admitting the crime of slavery & its aftermath. This together with dedicated learning to respect our fellow human beings regardless of our differences will help heal past transgressions. The treatment of Native Americans & other groups is an important & worthy topic to confront. However it isn't the subject of the article.
WolverineBaldwin (San Francisco)
@Lester Arditty Thank you Lester! I left California to return to Alaska to teach. I am of African American Heritage, and I am no hero. I teach in a small Native American village. Who speaks for the Native Alaskans/Native Americans?
Norma (Albuquerque, NM)
@Lester Arditty The treatment of Native Americans has never been the subject of any article. Americans keep avoiding the subject.
Lester Arditty (New York City)
@Norma Quite true. While this article's subjects are specific, it by no means closes the book on other wrongs which must be addressed with by our society-at-large.
Lissa (Virginia)
Unfortunately, folks need to agree on what is evil before they can begin the work on solutions to remember it. This is not in the current American skillset.
David Rose (Hebron, CT)
Slavery and its heirs aren't some distant memory that we can consign to an abhorrent past. The Civil Rights Act was only passed in 1964. Atonement and reconciliation are our responsibility: we need to face up to what we have done. And continue to do.
sfdphd (San Francisco)
I admire the Germans who made efforts to help their country face their crimes against humanity and the lies of the past. On the subject of reparations, it was interesting that the Germans created a system for people to prove they were in the camps and deserved compensation. Here in the U.S., since no one currently living was a slave, there probably needs to be a similar system proving that you had family members who were slaves. Unfortunately, the Germans were better at keeping records than the slave-owners. And the injustices to Black Americans continued long after slavery was abolished. In fact, institutional racism continues to exist. So we have a far more complicated problem than the Germans did. Nevertheless, I think we could learn from their willingness to confront the situation.
David (California)
What about the descendants of Americans who fought slavery and lost their lives and limbs to in the Civil War that resulted in the Emancipation of all the slaves? Are they all equally guilty? How about the descendants of the majority of Americans who immigrated to American after the Emancipation, many of whom worked in the civil rights movement? Are they all equally guilty for slavery? Is it all collective guilt, even for those whose ancestors had nothing to do with slavery?
loni ivanovskis (foxboro, ma)
@David no, but I think you could make a case that all other groups that came had advantages from the system of slavery that initially enriched this country.
Taz (NYC)
@David Are all the groups you mention guilty of having a huge advantage simply by virtue of being white in a country in which being black is a permanent ticket to inferior social status and perpetual discrimination? Yes. Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and by a predonderence of evidence.
Tenzin (NY)
@David the guilt is not individual it is collective. when you join the collective you take on a part of the responsibility. as The 1619 Project demonstrates, our form of capitalism, our judicial and prison systems, our voting laws - our culture - is pervaded by the attitudes and thinking that nurtured and sustained slavery and Jim Crow
Sagi (Connecticut)
The author seems to overlook an obvious point: The Holocaust was ended by Allied troops liberating concentration camps. Germany was beaten into submission, in large, by the U.S. Slavery was also ended by spilling American blood. I agree that Germany has done much to reconcile with its monstrous history (unlike Austria for instance), but that can not compare to sacrificing its sons to actually terminate the evil through brute force. There can be no comparison between Germany and the U.S. As the article accurately reflects, it took decades for Germans to regret. Americans, on the other hand, took up arms against their fellow countrymen and a century later mobilized across the sea - all to liberate the oppressed in real time.
Tenzin (NY)
@Sagi while they continued to oppress at home!
Eric (NYC)
@Sagi So what actually prevents you from extending your argument (it was good and right to sacrifice human lives to abolish the imprisonment and forced indenture of human beings) to include assisting the generations of people affected and ruined by slavery?
Sagi (Connecticut)
@Eric It is always good to help the unfortunate, but Americans should not wallow in shame. What other community initiated a civil war to free a foreign race? How often has America sacrificed to protect others? World history is replete with peoples oppressing other people. That is entirely common. The American efforts to do justice at great cost to its owns citizens and treasure is uncommon, if not unique.
Michael H. (Oakhurst, California)
This country's monuments to Anti-Slavery and redemption have names like Shilo, Antietam, Gettysburg. With great courage and sacrifice white boys and Black boys gave their bodies and their lives to end slavery. To a large extent, they volunteered. The Germans did not give up the fight until the Soviet and American boots were literally on their collective necks. The US amends were largely made before the fighting ended. God knows, we are not perfect. But let's not ignore the ultimate sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of our nations boys, both Black and white, many of whom had never seen a slave before the war began.
Eric (NYC)
@Michael Your comment seems to suggest Americans should stop with all the talk of how to pay for the crime that was slavery. That we’ve recognized and paid down our debt by erecting statues and in the original loss of life. That conveniently leaves out the history of Americans who continued to be lynched, oppressed, and treated like human garbage so that only very recently they had to announce -literally- that their LIVES MATTERED. They- the descendants of the enslaved -will tell the rest of America when the debt has been attended to.
Karl A. Brown (Trinidad)
As I read the comments made in reference to the book Slavery and the Holocaust,, I remain completely saddened over the state of mind of the average American making their comments. You might think that your intellectual thoughts are well place and reasonable, but they lack true depth in compassion and facts. Slavery in America was the most cruel institution ever created by so called civilized humans anywhere in the world. Yes, slavery was not new to the new world or to the world, it existed throughout human civilizations, however, in most cases, slaves could buy their freedom, become apprentices, marry out, served their time to ultimately become free people. Not in the United States of America, which had "Chattel slavery". Generation after generation, after generation for over 250 years African Americans remained slaves, and could not attain their freedom until after the Civil War 1865. The problem with the average white American, is that you have no knowledge of your own American History, and in many ways, don't want to know either. The Germans painfully confronted their evil deeds, white Americans, live in a world of complete Denial and will probably continue to do so. The evil of American slavery, has created a deep psychosis of denial/hate within the psychology of the average white mind. What to do? Read and understand the truth of your past.
Larry (PA)
@Karl A. Brown. By 1865, the United States had only existed for 90 years, not 250. Germans confronted a horror that took place in either their lifetime or recent past.
Judy Harmon Smith (Washington state)
@Karl A. Brown. Excuse me Karl, what right do you have to make such sweeping and erroneous statements?! I'm an early boomer, Caucasian, and was taught about American slavery in public schools, as were my children and grandchildren in a different state. Reading primary and secondary sources of slave history and fiction is very common among my age cohorts and others. Little information on the topic is new or different today, compared to that of my childhood. I guess some people just like to beat the drum ad nauseum, and take credit for having invented it.
Jean W. Griffith (Carthage, Missouri)
@Karl A. Brown "Slavery in America was the most cruel institution ever created by so called civilized humans anywhere in the world." More so than say what the Roman Empire did for more than 800 years in the Mediterranean?
RP (Potomac, MD)
Slavery and the Holocaust were not so long ago. Children being separated from their parents and placed in cages in the USA is happening now. The evil side of man is apparent. Where is the outrage?
Cloud 9 (Pawling, NY)
@RP Lots of us express “outrage” to our family and friends. But we do little. Maybe send a few bucks to a nonprofit helping out. Where are the leaders? Where’s Pelosi, Schumer? Why isn’t Oprah speaking out? The Obamas? Why isn’t Michelle at the border? Any religious leaders out there? Where’s the march on Washington?
ridgewalker1 (in Colorado)
Rarely do I see pundits or authors broach America's original sin of genocide. More natives were exterminated first by the Franciscan's mission system which was built by enslaved native tribes. Disease and forced labor killed hundred's of thousands of natives in what became California. Next, the Indian wars as people of European dissent spread across the land. After all this murder and mayhem came Andrew Jackson with his removal during which thousands more native peoples died. Both, the Choctaw and the Cherokee lost up to 2/3 of their population as they were forcibly removed from the south and east to what became Oklahoma. I see this nation as built over the graves of Indian People and on the backs of Slaves. Karma is a bitch America.
Steve Griffith (Oakland, CA)
@ridgewalker1 Sadly, well said! I suppose it represents a kind of perverse consistency that Andrew Jackson is the Cheato-in-chief’s hero and favorite president.
Kaylee (Middle America)
@ridgewalker1 Ummm... The Choctaw and the Cherokee are both sovereign nations today. They have their own land, wealth and justice systems. I live in Ok & my husband and sons belong to a tribe that is sovereign. We don’t live on the reservation but they both get health care benefits (100% paid for), tag, tax & title, cheaper insurance and a host of other benefits that are specific ONLY TO THEIR TRIBE! You have to be on the roll, you have to have a card. But, I’d say some of the Native Am genocide has been dealt with. You act like you don’t know any tribal laws at all. Not to mention the amount of casinos that don’t pay state tax and get all kinds of other tax loopholes and are owned by the sovereign nations. They were conquered peoples NOT SLAVES! Get your facts straight.
Ben C. (Plano, TX)
@Kaylee 1) So you say that "some of the Native American genocide has been dealt with" -- what do you think the First Nations people would say? 2) What is your proposed solution for addressing the remaining part of the genocide that has not been "dealth with"? 3) Are you implying that the "freedom" and "benefits" that the First Nations people currently enjoy outweigh the wealth and way of life taken from them? 4) Do you feel that descendants of slaves should receive their own land, wealth, and justice systems as reparations similar to the Choctaw and Cherokee nations? 5) Do you feel that it is morally ok to "conquer" a group of people? Just curious.
S. Casey (Seattle)
So grateful to read about this book--and equally grateful to see that the author of this article is teaching in the South. May we all keep learning and seeking out the places in ourselves where blindness or prejudice still hides.
seek justice love mercy (Earth)
James Baldwin said it well, too: "people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them" (Notes of a Native Son, 1955, p. 163). It doesn't help that "The War of Northern Aggression" was taught in schools in the South at least until the 1970s, maybe much later.
Alex RE (Brooklyn)
I come from a German home, my grandparents fought the war. I always remember my mother talking, when merited, about Nationalsozialismus --it was a topic explored in conversations, with a very fresh memory of it in the mind of my mom and my grandparents. I have been in the States for 10 years now. I have always find the topic of racism and slavery of great interest and historical discomfort for Americans. The fact that there are words that one group cannot say is in my mind an early symptom of totalitarianism. The relationship between language and censorship has always been fascinating to watch in the light of Amercian slavery and racism. Something happened the other day they brought all these reflections back into my mind. I was with a few of my liberal to a fault, US colleagues, and somehow ended talking briefly about the slave trade to the Americas. I remember vividly bringing to the conversation the 1619 Project of the NYT and how it has some amazing journalism behind it, and how it looks at some fascinating historical facts about slavery in the Uniyed States. And then I saw it. My colleagues were all so uncomfortable with it. They were uncomfortable talking about it, as if talking about it made us racist. Americans have a puritan tendency to not talk about this topic. And then I saw the (lack) of parallelism with Nazism in Germany. Germans have a cathartic approach to it. Americans have a puritan approach to it in which "we dont talk about that here". Therapy needs logos.
Max (NYC)
Sounds like the German reparations were provided to the actual victims. That's a lot different from slavery reparations that are being debated today. In any case, the US has paid its debt. We outlawed discrimination and enacted affirmative action and other social policies designed to help black Americans succeed. We opened our immigration policies to the third world. Confederate statues are being removed. As we speak, our mayor in NYC is trying to dismantle school admission testing and gifted programs for the sole purpose of meeting some arbitrary diversity quotas. No doubt we have a very ugly racial history but I don't accept that we haven't processed or dealt with it as a country.
E (los angeles)
@Max Respectfully I disagree. How do you measure the damage that was done by slavery and the 100 plus years of terrorism that followed? I don't think the US can ever repay the debt owed to those slaves and their decedents. Your statement reminded me of Mitch McConnell assertion that the debt of slavery was paid when Barack Obama was elected. The more I think about it, the only was to level the playing field is to eliminate all transfers of inherited wealth and address structure racism in its many forms.
Rebecca Hogan (Whitewater, WI)
@MaxA close look at the majority black population in U.S. prisons, the continued existence of segregated schools, segregated cities, income inequality and many other factors point to the continuing existence of the influence of slavery in our history and racism in our present. Max is much too hopeful that all of this is past or has been effectively mitigated. Much remains to be done.
Laurie (CA)
@Max We may have outlawed discrimination in this country - but I do believe it still exists. Changing the law doesn't mean that we are all being treated equally. As to eliminating the gifted programs to meet "some arbitrarty diversity quota" - perhaps that program is itself discriminatory. I'm looking forward to reading the book. This conversation needs to continue - no matter how uncomfortable and angry it makes us.
Danny (Cologne, Germany)
There is a fundamental flaw in Ms Neiman's reasoning, at least in regards to slavery. Until well into the 19th century, slavery was an established, accepted institution worldwide, and affected not only blacks. (The Mayans and Aztecs, for example, were especially fond of slavery, as well as human-sacrifice. ) Nor was it seen as especially cruel and barbaric (unless, of course, one was a slave). So the question can be asked whether people should be judged by the standards of their time, or those of the present. Reparations are unjustified; as someone else pointed out below, the Jews who receive reparations are those who survived the Holocaust, not their descendants. As well, why should only blacks be eligible for reparations? Why not Indians, or why not the Irish for the treatment they endured under British rule? How about homosexuals who were and still are discriminated against? In essence, almost every group could lay claim to reparations, so how does Ms Neiman propose that be handled? In sum, this book appears to be born more out of white guilt than anything else; it's not going to make onto my reading list.
diderot (portland or)
@Danny As you correctly pointed out only Jews who were victims of Nazi terror and who who survived the holocaust received reparations. No country is likely to ever seriously consider reparations to descendants of slavery or any other moral injustice. Conflating the holocaust with slavery is a category error. And while I'm not aware of any individuals or groups who deny slavery existed, holocaust deniers are still around, both in Germany and elsewhere. The issue of reparations for descendants of slavery is likely, IMO, to stiffen the backs of racists and impede the cause of equal justice and equal opportunity for all Americans.
Rebecca Hogan (Whitewater, WI)
@Danny What is the matter with White guilt? We are guilty before Native Americans, African slaves, Irish and other immigrants, Jews, and many others and many of these racial and ethnic prejudices as well as class prejudices still remain very active. There is plenty of guilt to go around and it can help activate action.
Possum (The Shire)
@Danny - And your attitude beautifully illustrates the author’s point, that many Americans are simply unwilling to confront the true brutality of our past. Ranting and raving against “white guilt” is a convenient way to distract from your fear of self-reflection and reality.
dave (buffalo)
In comparing the relative evil of the Holocaust and American slavery, a big difference is that slaves had significant economic value to their owners. So, of course, their owners were not about to murder their slaves, although slaves could be worked to an early death on some plantations where short-term profits outweighed the cost of the slave's early death. But where the Holocaust and American slavery are on the same page: Both involved legal and cultural efforts intended to dehumanize the victims, to define the victims as subhuman, so that treating them with great cruelty was acceptable to their tormentors.
Gnyc (NYC)
On the contrary, Germans extracted huge financial benefit from slave labor- including companies like Bayer (aspirin, anyone?) and Siemens, which are still around today. The Germans envisioned death through work for countless people.
Jonathan Wasserman (Brooklyn NY)
@Gnyc I believe the point of the comment you responded to was that the slave system in The Colonies and US saw a value to the slaves and did not not look to kill slaves; whereas in Nazi Germany the goal was bring about death. You own comment supports this: "The Germans envisioned death through work".
ABG (Austin)
@dave The victims of the Nazi death camps were forced laborers for German military and industry until they died.
Larry (MA)
First, and foremost, the German reparations were given only to those who were actually in the death camps. And, the Germans did not make it easy to get it (my mother was required to undergo medical exams by German doctors - think of how that must have felt after having been in Aushwitz!). So, if you want to make reparations to those who were actually slaves that would be one thing (and the same time, reparations should be made to native Americans, Japanese Americans who were internned, and many others). To make reparations to all African Americans is not comparable to what Germany did. By contrast, to work to improve the socio-economic well being of all in America, especially minorities, is something everyone can and should get behind.
Obsession (Tampa)
@Larry - that is not true. Germany paid Billions to Israel to help build that state. Even the most extremist politicians in Israel have acknowledged this.
Kate (Colorado)
@Larry You said that a lot better than I ranted it a moment ago.
Dwyane (Ga)
The comparison between what happened to generations of African Americans and Native Americans does not belong in the same sentence with what happened to Japanese Americans. Please stop. Its insulting.
American (Portland, OR)
Naziism was a German idea. Slavery was norm of human history. Not a special American notion. PS- we fought a civil war, brother against brother to end it.
Joe M. (CA)
@American I agree with the gist of what you're saying, but I think it's not quite accurate to call slavery the "norm of human history." True, slavery existed in many times and places in human history, but I think it's going too far to suggest it was the norm. Besides, it's important to recognize the many ways that slavery in America differed from slavery as it existed in other places and times. For one thing, slavery in the US was hereditary and lifelong, which wasn't usually the case. It was practiced on a grand scale that dwarfed anything in the Western world, and continued after most other developed nations had banned it. And perhaps most crucially, it was racialized, and incorporated into a white supremacist ideology that still persists in our country. And of course we have to recognize that while the Civil War ended slavery per se, the US government allowed indentured servitude, voter disenfranchisement, lynchings, and legal segregation to continue for about 100 years afterward. I agree there are important differences between American slavery and the Nazi holocaust, but I hope recognition of those differences don't require us to overlook the true nature of slavery in America.
tnbreilly (2702re)
@American not so fast american. but for the the southerners attack on fort sumner we might be still living in a land of slavery. the south had a beleif that they could win a war against the north and nearly did. close.
Kate (Colorado)
@tnbreilly Not to step on a good story, but the real power of Lincoln came from the constitutional amendment he passed through a wounded Congress. The man was a political genius. I don't know why the EP gets so much credit (you're free if you fight for me!). Anyway, there's really no reason to think it wouldn't have come regardless. The south didn't come close to winning that war. Gangrene, maybe, nearly won it. Worst case, we'd be living in half a land of slave owners anyway. The south was fighting for itself, they definitely were not going to take the whole north.
Alexia (RI)
As someone who has both Nazi's and slave owners in my immediate, and respectively older family history, even I had to google some context. The German people did not have to decide if there should be reparations, they just happened. On a personal level they perhaps too easily can acknowledge their past. No one is ousting them on FB but the history is recent enough that it could still happen. Reparations in this country is entirely different, and should have formally, symbolically, and discreetly happened a long time ago, instead it is becoming another popular media narrative the outcome are surreal.
alan (holland pa)
what the german nation did in accounting for and accepting their responsibility for the holocaust, has allowed them to move forward, beyond that moral stain. Who among us truly believes that our racial issues will ever be behind us until we accept and begin to confront our nations history towards african americans?
Tucson Geologist (Tucson)
@alan At times I just don't know what to make of statements like "accept and begin to confront our nations history towards african americans." I've read plenty about slavery. I vote for Democrats. What is a white American supposed to do? Repent and ask white-shaming moral superiors like you for forgiveness? Grovel in the dirt?
Roarke (CA)
I don't sympathize with anyone who has or continues to enforce white supremacy, but I can sort of understand, after the 1619 Project and the conservative backlash towards it, why Americans in the South specifically would have such a hard time confronting their past atrocities. When you've been fed all your life a vision of America that began as a revolution against tyranny and later spent a heroic century battling fascism/communism, it can be too dispiriting to hear or acknowledge that your ancestors embody the darker parts of that story, that America also fought them just as it fought the tyranny of the British Empire or the evils of Nazi Germany. It's tempting to assert that the Confederates were Americans too, fighting for the same rights Americans always did. I can understand why most people would want to do that. I, too, tell myself comforting lies.
Isadore Huss (NYC)
The words “I am wrong and I’m sorry”, when recited as a mantra or as a response to the demand of the world for an apology, do not expunge guilt. It simply assuages it and allows the guilty party to move on. This author, without stating so explicitly, implies that to the extent the Holocaust was perpetrated by the German nation, that nation, by having apologized, has changed. Perhaps, but apologizing so that the world will let you get back to business and rejoin the family of nations is not proof of that change. History, which lasts a long time, will be the judge of that, not self-righteous columns congratulating the German nation for stating its apologies.
Steven L Goldman (Bala Cynwyd, PA)
Americans have two evils in their past: the "holocaust" inflicted on the peoples who inhabited the land for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, as well as slavery. Any talk of guilt, righting wrongs and of compensation must begin with justice for the descendants of the native peoples-- devastated by diseases brought by the Europeans, forced off their lands, subjected to extreme violence, ethnic cleansing, forced migration, cultural humiliation, treat violations -- in addition to justice for the descendants of slaves.
Nancy (Asheville)
@Steven L Goldman. It’s called being conquered and it’s been going on since the beginning of time. I’m sure my Celtic forbearers, if they were here today, could give you an earful.
Andrew (Durham NC)
If the past isn't even past, then remembering is seeing. I'm a general contractor. Lately I've taken to cursing out loud every time I drive past work crews: blacks in the dirt and sun's heat; whites on their phones in the cabs of big pickups. White contractors for Duke U. now poach underpaid black construction workers from depleted, poverty-blasted towns in eastern North Carolina. One of them got hit yesterday by a passing car, was taken to Duke's own ED. At Duke, the uninsured sit in the waiting room for eight, twelve hours, or until they chance illness by leaving. Every consumer participates in the soft-core terrorism of American poverty. A straight, straight line backwards to enslavement.
Pam Shira Fleetman (Acton Massachusetts)
@Andrew: Shameful.
Tucson Geologist (Tucson)
All this is fine but especially for young white Southerners slavery is almost ancient history. Not so for "neo-slavery" so maybe better to focus on that for reparations.
Mkm (NYC)
The authors critique of post War germans and antebellum Southerners, which she somehow measures all Americans from, deletes how each of their crimes were ended. The German state was defeated from the outside and ultimately divided for 40 years. In the United States the crimes were ended via civil war which required us to get along and move on as one - as Lincoln so eloquently enjoined the country to do. Also unlike Germany, the US doubled and doubled again in population via immigration leaving a majority of people who had no interst in re-fighting our civil war or maintaining re-constructions era prohibitions.
Kaylee (Middle America)
@Mkm We will never ever be able to move on. The grievance industry is wayyyyy to lucrative. It always has been (read Booker T. for more explanation). Some people don’t want us united, some people like to see us balkanized in tribal groups. Both sides do really. There’s no “United” anything anymore, sadly.
G (Edison, NJ)
"If one believes German reparations were justified, how can one oppose them in America?" The two cases are not comparable. Recipients of German reparations were themselves personally the victims of German atrocities. There are no living former slaves in America. What about the descendants of those slaves ? Didn't they suffer discrimination ? Yes they did, but so did American Indians, Chinese immigrants, Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, and lots of others who came to America after the Civil War. I am not aware of German reparations to descendants of Holocaust survivors. At some point, there needs to be an end to reparations, and an attempt to move on. And if reparations were in fact paid, would that suddenly eliminate discrimination ? This continual focus on victimhood is not helping matters.
Tony (Truro, MA.)
@G, Very well put and I agree with your points in entirety.
Harry (Scottsdale, arizona)
@G As a point, my mother and father fled Germany to the US in 1940. They were able both receive a pension from the German government for the remainder of their lives. I too benefited....having been born in the US. I was able to gain full German citizenship and also oobtained an EP passport.
Andrew Lowenstein (Montreal)
@Harry, I don't think you're entirely correct. My grandfather survived the Holocaust in Germany and received a pension from the Germany government for the rest of his life. My father was sent to England at age 13 in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport, but he could not get a pension, nor can his descendants. Having been born in the US, I also did gain full German citizenship and an EU passport, but that is not the same as reparations.
whatever (us)
"Neiman spent three years interviewing people in both Germany and the United States in preparation for writing this book. Despite her having insisted that her project was not about comparative evil but how evil is remembered, Germans almost uniformly rejected ANY SUGGESTION of a comparison. They considered what they did far worse than slavery. Americans also uniformly rejected the comparison, but for different reasons." Different reasons? Absolutely the same reasons: both Germans and Americans unanimously agree that the genocide of Holocaust was much worse and incomparable to the evil of slavery. But the author is still pushing her narrative.
Donald (Yonkers)
@whatever I’m sure that if Germans had enslaved Jews a few hundred years ago and kept them as slaves the Nazis would have been fine with that. The two crimes are different and there is no point in grading them on a scale of evil— what they have in common is a dehumanizing attitude taken towards an entire ethnic group. In one case that led to mass slaughter and in the other, hundreds of years of slavery where people were treated like farm animals.
OldGrumpyGuy (San Rafael)
@whatever Your comment is the inherent problem with a debate about two evils. People want to one up the other evil and suggest theirs was worse. To the outsider both events were despicable and reflect the evil side of humanity that is embedded in all of us. May I suggest that the author by writing the book was attempting to do the same, wanting to continue the relevance of the holocaust at the expense of the current dialogue about slavery. There are so many abuses of humanity at a cultural level, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Rwandan genocide to name a couple. This book appears to minimize those atrocities by elevating these two historical events as "more" important.
@Donald - "treated as farm animals" Do farmers whip farm animals on a regular basis? I think not. They were furniture, or less. And it is historically untrue that the Holocaust is only a recent event, and limited to Germans alone. For a thousand years Jews in Europe were dehumanized, killed, and tortured. 1492 was their expulsion from Spain after the Inquisition. German reparations did not go to Jews of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Ukraine, etc. And yet, I would not counsel comparison with American slavery, or with the erasure of the indigenous. The human psyche seems resistant to owning up to its past, and to its present.
NLG (Stamford CT)
I confess frustration with the comparison, and also with the related discussion around slavery. There is a gross and wilful ignorance of facts, logic or both. Slavery was never a crime in its time. The entire world engaged in slavery; in much of the world it continued until near 1900. The slave markets of Istanbul were still running in 1908, doing a brisk business, including in white slaves. Over 1 million Europeans were kidnapped into slavery in the Mediterranean, larger than the number of Africans kidnapped into slavery in the US. African slavery in, for example, Brazil began earlier and ended later than in the US, and kidnapped over four times as many Africans into slavery. Native Americans owned slaves; Africans owned slaves; Asians owned slaves; Polynesians owned slaves. Slavery merges into the immense group of once-common past practices we now consider revolting and criminal. But, in its context, US slavery was unremarkable. We do not generally try to go back in time and fix widespread customs of the past. "Presentism" is unacceptable, and many of our practices, including open cohabitation outside of marriage and atheism, would strike our ancestors as disgraceful. The Holocaust, by contrast, was a crime in its time. Though the Bible occasionally condoned genocide in pre-history, that practice has been prohibited since at least the Enlightenment; no one except the few practitioners accepted it, and even they tried to soften or disguise it to third parties.
Donald (Yonkers)
@NLG Much of what you say is factually wrong. The evil of slavery was starting to be recognized in the 1700’s in the US and Europe, which is why apologetics for slavery became something of a literary industry in the South during the 1800’s. So your presentism argument goes too far. There would not have been an abolitionist movement or an Underground Railroad or a 13th, 14th and 15th Amendment to the Constitution if you were right.
ricknro (Copper Center, AK)
@NLG long as everyone else was doing it, that makes slavery OK.
David Eike (Virginia)
America did not invent slavery. Slavery was, and is, an enduring abscess on the whole of humanity. The history of the world is replete with accounts of the horrors and sacrifices suffered by enslaved peoples. To treat American slavery as a aberration is to deny the hard truth of man’s inhumanity to man. Terms like “white supremacy” may be useful shorthand for characterizing American slavery, but they are inadequate for understanding and accepting the true iniquity of the practice. Humans, as a species, are innately capable of the most heinous abuse and exploitation of those they see as “The Others”. When leaders who are willing to capitalize of this to fact are allowed to take and hold power, slavery, in one form or another, is the inevitable consequence. Rewriting our history to reflect a complete and accurate representation of American slavery is necessary, but insufficient. If we are truly ready to move beyond the kind of thinking and acting that allowed slavery to take hold and flourish in America, we must first rid ourselves of divisive leaders who encourage us to deny the humanity of “The Others”.
rlschles (SoCal)
@David Eike The American version of slavery was an aberration. Not for nothing was it called "the peculiar institution." One could say that American slavery is to other forms of slavery in history as the Nazi Holocaust is to other forms of anti-Semitism.
MDCooks8 (West of the Hudson)
There are several factors Neiman may not be considering when comparing Germany’s reconciliation with their past and Americans’ with slavery, which does not justify or criticize either. First, when young Germans began to question the Holocaust in the 1960s, the war and the impacts were still relatively recent, and for some older students, they would have grown up seeing and experiencing life in the war torn cities, and question why. Second, slavery in the United States lawfully ended more than a century ago and most Americans would not have any remote experience of the impacts of slavery. It is not that Americans have little sympathy, but without any direct or recent impact, unlike many Germans during the 1960s, a comparison of the two can appear slightly overreaching.
Miriam Clarke (Lisbon)
@MDcooks8 Slavery ended but it’s impact lived and lives on. Are you familiar with the the civil rights movement and laws that were passed in my lifetime? Please also don’t think that abuses took place only in the south. There are books you can read but if you are not much of a reader, I can suggest the movie Selma, which I gave to a friend who did not know this part of American history.
Imperato (NYC)
@MDCooks8 willful blindness.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
Just excellent. The biggest difference between the Germans and Southerners: southerners believed GOD was on their side. Still do, bless their hearts. The Civil War is not past, it's not even over.
The Buddy (Astoria, NY)
It's usually unremarkable to conclude that advanced Western nations can reflect on past atrocities appropriately. What is it about the American character that makes us so obstinate on this topic?
nero (New Haven)
@The Buddy It was easier for the Germans because the war ended. One look at the stats on criminal justice, education, employment rates, housing discrimination, and even health outcomes like life expectancy, and maternal mortality will show that American descendants of slavery ("ADOS") live in a different country - a third-world country - within the richest nation in the world. And if the data doesn't do it for you, just turn on the tv. Look at how many unarmed black people have been killed with impunity, on camera, by "peace officers". How can there be a reckoning when the war on ADOS is ongoing?
David (Virginia)
@The Buddy Aren't we reflecting appropriately on slavery? The anniversary of the first elective assembly in the new world (1619) has been swept away by the publicity of the arrival of a few Africans who were headed for Spanish America and luckily for them got sold in Virginia in the same year. University history departments are chock full of scholars working on slavery, the slave trade, and the aftermaths of slavery. &c &c.
Harry (Scottsdale, arizona)
In my mind I see the two issues, slavery and the holocost as follows. They both happened and they both were horrible....saying it simply. The difference to me is that the Jews haved moved on with their lives and put what happened in the past. Life must go on, and to keep talking about what happened with a ‘poor me’ attitude will drag you down. I see the Jews as having lived through the experience and wanting to move forward with life. They don’t want a hand out or want history rewritten. I believe the issue of slavery was an injustice , but those who feel that way should get over it. Every group that came to the Unied States has had issues. The Chinese, the Irish, the Japanese and Mexican/Central American people to name a few. But all these grows have gone out and improved their lives and moved forward. They have worked hard and now live for the future and not in the past. If you want respect you have to earn it and not expect it to be given to you.
Penningtonia (princeton)
@Harry; Jews have assimilated into American society.. I am one of them. Not so easy for blacks, who are still discriminated against in many ways -- economically, educationally and by voter suppression, among others. And Jewish children are not routinely murdered by police who are almost never held accountable.
Tony (California)
@Harry I can think of ONE group who is still whining about the injustices done to them, and who can't seem to get over all the historic wrongs and the "boxcars" coming for them (see the recent Thomas Edsall piece): that's right, Fox TV-watching, Trump-voting white evangelist voters. As for Jews and black people, this is America. "Why can't black people stop indulging in this poor-me attitude?" Ummm, because they're black people in America. That's an attitude that gets drilled into you every time a white person crosses the street to avoid you, a person gets uncomfortable riding in the elevator with you, etc. etc. Come on, talk about blaming the target for standing in the way of the arrows.
rlschles (SoCal)
@Harry To pretend that African Americans have not "gone out and improved their lives" is disingenuous in the extreme. We have black Americans in positions of importance in all walks of life today, in politics, finance, medicine, science, culture, to name but a few. To even suggest they have not "worked hard" and somehow "live in the past" belies your own obvious prejudices and bias. It's frankly offensive.
Norma (Albuquerque, NM)
How convenient to leave out the history of how the USA came to be. Massacres of thousands of natives, and, for the survivors, restriction to reservations, which still dot the land.
Li Wallis (Berlin)
I write this comment as I am sitting in Kollwitzplatz in East Berlin. I was born in Virginia, and after living all across the south from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana, I believe I can honestly agree with this quote: “Neiman believes that people who live in a society built on injustice, even though they may not have created the injustice, are responsible for correcting it.” I have always felt an enormous sense of shame being who I am - simply because I was lucky to be born free and at this moment of time. Perhaps this is what drew me to work for humanitarian organizations in Africa for over a decade. I strongly believe each of us has a moral obligation to do what is right in this world and help other people and the environment as a whole. I just moved permanently to Berlin for many of the reasons mentioned in this article. I find German society to be more open, caring, less judgmental - and yes, they embrace their history so that they can move forward (not backwards like in the southern states). I invite other readers to join me in Berlin, and I look forward to reading this book!
CitizenTM (NYC)
Wonderful. I feel the same.
Tucson Geologist (Tucson)
@Li Wallis You wrote "I have always felt an enormous sense of shame being who I am - simply because I was lucky to be born free and at this moment of time." Shame? I feel fortunate for this, not shame. Why should I feel shame for things that happened before I was born? How about "feel the shame!" as a campaign slogan? Pound on whites for not feeling enough shame for the sins of America's past. That will help Democrats win elections.
Yiddishamama (NY)
Thank you for this well-written and well-considered review, and thank you to the book's author for researching and writing the book. I will be reading and recommending it to others.
Sunspot (Concord, MA)
Thank you for calling our attention to this study and to the critical work of grappling with our historical crimes. Americans who descend from pre-Civil War Americans know how deeply our history is entangled, black and white, abuser and abused, slave and master, abolitionist and rebel. Personally, I favor extensive discussions, monuments to the victims of slavery, shared awareness of our inextricably linked family-histories and creative reparations of many kinds. And I think we need to conduct similar work with Native American/European settlers history.
See also