SCIENCE AND THE HOLOCAUST


Following is an edited version of Prof. Rudolf Vrba’s address at the honorary doctorate ceremony. He began by acknowledging “my friend Alfred Wetzler, with whom I escaped from Auschwitz, [who is] not with us any more, and I wish to remember him on this occasion.” Noting that he has worked with German public prosecutors in regard to the Holocaust and also lectured on his field of academic research (the brain) at times in the same city in Germany, he professed himself “intrigued by the fact that the public prosecutors and the public press never noticed my work…in connection with my academic life…and my professional colleagues in Germany mostly knew nothing about my activities in the German courts of Justice.”

This separation of Justice and Science is not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact my lecture here today will deal with the unhappy times when German Justice and German Sciences were unified under the flag of Nazism into a system that stoked the fires of the Holocaust. Lecturing about the Holocaust in Germany at the present time has made me more aware of the important connection between Science and the Holocaust.

In 1997, the anniversary day of the liberation of Auschwitz, January 26, was proclaimed a kind of Memorial Day of the Nazi-organized genocide.…After one of my lectures in Berlin on that occasion, a student asked me whether I personally felt a need to talk about this topic. Beneath this question was hidden the suggestion that the time has come to shelve all these “disturbing past events.” Indeed there is a trend in Germany and elsewhere suggesting that we should devote our efforts for the creation of a better future for all instead of raking up “forever” the tragic past of Jews under German rule in occupied Europe.

I had to re-define my view of the purpose of presenting the facts of the Holocaust to a German public…. It is a common experience that many members of any nation do not know their own recent history, and [so] the Holocaust…is now a permanent part of German history rather than of Jewish history. The words “Germans” and “Jews” are commonly used although we know without ambiguity only what the word “Germans” means. Therefore, the Holocaust will forever remain a part of German history, as de facto at present we do not even have a generally accepted definition of the words “Jews” and “Jewish.”…

Attempts to define the Jews [in terms like race, religion, caste, status, fraternity]…do not appear to be of great practical importance, because no matter which definition of a Jew I would have chosen during the Nazi period, the consequences for me under German rule would be the same. Likewise, today, whichever definition of a Jew I would prefer is of little importance for my survival in a free society.

On the other hand, an exact definition of a Jew under Nazi rule was of crucial importance for every German citizen and, indeed, for every citizen in German-occupied Europe. At that time, the same fate was de facto legalized for all those with “Jewish blood” (as opposed to those with “Aryan blood”). Virtually all Germans accepted as natural that every person with “Jewish blood” should be exposed to a general discrimination. In practice, this was visibly combined with … unlimited humiliation and terrorization, … [which] culminated—not overnight, but systematically, step-by-step under a cover of war measures--in the Holocaust. Almost every Jew within the realm of German power was robbed of absolutely every worldly possession, to the last handkerchief or gold-crowned tooth, and finally murdered in front of or together with their children and aged parents in an abhorrent, slow, and painful way, under conditions of unprecedented dehumanization. Only those who could prove absence of “Jewish blood” in their veins could claim immunity from anti-Jewish measures.

These measures are today sometimes described as “the twisted road to Auschwitz.” This elegant phrase does not do justice to the wily, treacherous, and insidious administrative measures used by the Germans to delude the Jews as well as the whole civilized world…. All these quasi-legal measures and procedures were and obviously still are far beyond the imagination of most people without a Nazi education…. The theory presenting European Jewry as sheep and, thus, inferior in comparison with non-Jewish Europeans is…nothing but a new version of antisemitism. Sometimes such opinions also reflect an inverted antisemitism rooted in the belief that only a “nationalistic renaissance” will make a Jew quite human again, with all the appropriate human reflexes. This “theory of sheep” is designed to deprive the European Jews of their human dignity, by presenting them as a kind of degenerates who became victims of the Holocaust because they lost the normal defense reflexes in the face of mortal danger.

On the basis of my experience and direct observations, I never believed that the alleged passivity of the Jewish masses during the Holocaust can be explained by their “inferiority,” as the Nazis once claimed, or by “their inability to comprehend the truth,” as some contemporary historians still claim. The relative lack of resistance of Jews during the Holocaust, so contrary to every biological urge for self-preservation, was solely the result of the application of unprecedented bestial administrative ability, skillfully used by the Germans during the preparation and execution of the Holocaust. This included recruiting collaborators of all shades and colors from all dark corners of humanity and rewarding them in manifold ways…but always at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust.

It follows that the search for a definition of who is a “Jew” or of “Jewish blood” might appear today only of academic interest to some and of no importance to others. It was of crucial importance during the Nazi period of German history because, under German administration, only those “with no admixture of Jewish blood” were entitled to basic human freedoms, starting with “habeas corpus” and including any civil rights whatsoever….Therefore, the proof of Jewish or Aryan blood or the degree of their mixture was as important as the right to breathe.

It is not often realized even now, more than sixty years after the Nazis validated the Nuremberg laws, that there is no test for “Jewish blood.”…Modern laboratories can identify not only those whose blood carries syphilis or Aids, diabetes or malaria, but also those who carry in their blood the genetic markers of … Huntington’s chorea and many other mental and physical degenerative diseases. No laboratory test has ever existed, however, to identify carriers of either “Aryan blood” or “Jewish blood” or “Catholic blood” or “German blood,” in spite of all the progress of science.

…Because no objective biological laboratory test was available as a proof of “pure Aryan blood,” the German administration issued the Nuremberg laws, decreeing that persons who had four grandparents registered as being of the Jewish religion were considered as having “100% Jewish blood,” persons with two grandparents of the Jewish religion had “50% Jewish blood,” and so on. In this way, the exact degree of purity of “Aryan blood” was established and legally validated…. (“It is we, the experts of eugenics, who must decided how to keep our heritage clean and what is bad and has to be exterminated,” the professor of inheritance biology and race sciences who was…instrumental in providing the ideological backbone and “scientific” justification for murder and robbery… was quoted as saying.) By accepting the fallacy that a religion (a cultural attribute) was decisive about the quality and composition of a biological attribute (”blood”),…the former great German biological sciences discarded the basic principle of modern science, and thus were converted into a murderous scientology.

This conversion…was generally accepted as true not only by charlatans belonging to Hitler’s Nazi Party but also by non-party members, among them university professors, lawyers, medical professionals…. This new “science” was embraced and believed by virtually the whole Germannation of that time. This generalized statement is amply proven by preserved documents written not only by manifest Nazis but also by leading Germans in all avenues of human endeavor, including the “faithful” as well as “opposition” generals and [spiritual leaders], with only rare if any proven exceptions.

There were many … who continued to teach at German universities [after the war] in spite of their pernicious pseudo-scientific Nazi past. These are surprising facts, and no doubt the philosophers and educators of the time to come will ponder these incredible facts and their meaning for the future.

When we look at the Germans today, should we hate them? Certainly not, for a number of reasons. One is that most Germans who are alive today were either not alive in 1945 or were so young—say, 12 years old or under—that you cannot blame them for anything that happened during the Holocaust. Some 85 percent of the German nation today are people who are too young to be blamed directly. If we were to transfer the guilt of their fathers to this new generation, we would believe in “genetic guilt”—we would be Nazis ourselves. We must not do that. It is not our tradition in any case to believe that guilt for criminal acts is inheritable. On the other hand, the new German generations have certain moral duties in this connection. One of them is to face up to that past and to know what their parents and grandparents were doing in their attempt to become the Master-race.

Knowledge of our history is an important feature that makes us different from animals. When neo-Nazis try today to tell us that there was no Holocaust, they hope they will be able to enter politics again through denial of the Holocaust. The “neo”-Nazi underworld is today conspiring again and, with the help of Goebbels-type propaganda, tries to mislead the world, and also the German nation, by falsifying their own history.

I remember well how the onslaught of Germans into Russia was presented to the Germans as a campaign of a Master-race to deprive the “Russian sub-human” of any rights…. Today, more than half a century later, you can buy on every main street in German or read in every university library books claiming that the German Wehrmacht marched into Russia “to liberate the Russians from Bolshevism” and to defend “the West and Western cultural values.” This relatively widely spread attitude is very dangerous. If these new demagogues succeed in depriving the German nation of its own specific history, then the first step toward the new bestialization of the nation has begun.

So, when we today analyze and remember the Holocaust, we are not thinking of the past in order to teach hatred against anyone or anybody. We are in reality trying to understand, and thus prevent, the always dark forces from repeating the politics of murder and robbery as practiced by the Germans and their armies during the Nazi period. Therefore, continuous, thorough research as well as teaching of the Holocaust as an integral part of German history is in the interest of the whole world, including Germany and the Germans.

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