Silverstein: On the Matter of Which Lives Matter

by Gerry Silverstein

The late David Wyman who received a PhD in history from Harvard and taught at U Mass-Amherst for 25 years wrote a book in 1966 entitled “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945”.

Details of important events in human history often get lost with the passage of time. That is unfortunate as details of past events often provide context for current events.

In late 1942 the Administration of Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) obtained ironclad evidence that a program known as the Final Solution implemented by the Nazis to exterminate all European Jewry was underway.

Little if anything was done by FDR’s Administration for more than a year to try to mitigate one of the greatest, if not the greatest, episode of barbarism the human species has ever engaged in.

Dr. Wyman conveys the ultimate reality of what transpired when he states in the preface: “The Nazis were the murderers, but we were all too passive accomplices”.

The brutality employed by the Nazis is difficult to revisit.

In Chapter 1 Dr. Wyman details special mobile units of the German army known as Einsatzgruppen that rounded up Jews and killed them in mass shootings during the Nazi invasion of Russia.

A German construction engineer provided eyewitness testimony: “I saw one family of about six, all already stripped naked and waiting for the order to get down into the grave.”

A father tried to console his son of about 10 or 12, while his wife stood next to an older woman who was softly singing to a baby in her arms.

“Then came the order, “Next ten!” and the family started moving round the mound of earth to climb into the grave.” And then the sound of guns firing.

The German engineer saw that some victims were still moving so he called out to the S.S. man, “Look they’re not all dead!” to which he (the S.S. man) replied:  “Ach! Tonight the grave will be filled with rubbish and so it’ll all be finished”

The Einsatzgruppen are reported to have killed more than 1 million Jews.

The Nazis used more than bullets to kill human beings on a massive scale. Most individuals know of the gas chambers that used Zyklon B crystals that generated cyanide gas.

Cyanide acts as a metabolic poison and it only takes about 15 minutes in an enclosed space to kill as many as 1000 human beings.

As long as the cattle cars rolled into the concentration camps with their cargo of human beings destined for extinction, the Nazis operated the gas chambers and crematoriums with barbaric regularity.

Less well known was the Nazis also used gassing vans for mass extermination, packing victims into enclosed trucks and then filling the space with carbon monoxide exhaust.

In total about 6 million Jews (and many other non-Jews) were killed.

Tragically hatred of Jews (anti-Semitism) remains a reality today in the US and worldwide.

The human species is the product of tens of million of years of mammalian evolution and 6 million years of hominid evolution.

The functioning of the human body requires the coordinated action of trillions of biochemical reactions every day allowing multiple organ systems to act together for a common good.

The complexity of events is coordinated by the human brain, an organ whose abilities are more appropriately aligned within the realm of science fiction than science fact.

Yet the human species has faults, very serious and grave faults, as the Nazis’ attempt to accomplish the Final Solution exemplifies.

How can the human species evolve into one where genocide, gender violence, slavery, racism and other types of barbarism become relegated to a distant past in a human history textbook?

The path forward requires a focus on what all human beings have in common, what we all share, for what we have in common is far greater than our differences.

This is not to say that the differences between individuals are of no value, or are unimportant, for certainly they have value and are important. But the foundation of who we are is what we have in common and that is what should unify us.

If All lives do not matter equally then our species will never forsake the barbarism that has been an all too common component of its evolution.

Gerry Silverstein lives in South Burlington and has studied human biology, human health and disease, and human evolution for more than 5 decades.  He taught at UVM from 1985-2007.

Categories: Commentary

15 replies »

  1. If a certain set of people Start acting like the Nazis, The US is done for!!!! these people are following the German extinction plan to the letter. For those who do NOT remember, Hitler had the FINAL SOLUTION. Blame some one else,, then KILL them off. Will History repeat itself?

      • I was referring to those on the Far Left who are using the SAME Tactics as HITLER used. DIVIDE and CONQUERE to attain HIS GOALS. .Then it became RULE BY TERROR. : AKA : Am I NEXT on his list?

  2. Mr. Silverstein, I have been preaching this for years. I will note that Jewish losses were overemphasized, which contributed to much of the atmosphere in these troubled times. Now an overemphasis is placed on an “us vs. them” mentality. This has led to increased divisiveness.

    • A little history for you, sir.

      To say that the eradication of Jews during the Holocaust is ‘overemphasized’ is a curious and questionable characterization of events. While it is estimated that 50 Million civilians died during WWII (at the hands of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hirohito), no other single group of people had been targeted for extermination over such a short period of time. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, for example, between 1525-1866 (a 341-year period), 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World as slaves, and 10.7 Million survived the journey. To put that in perspective – Six Million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis alone between 1933 and 1945 (just 11 short years).

      • My point still stands. While I was growing up, there was almost no mention of the massacre of Poles and Gypsies, etc. I never denied the facts which you state. They are quite standardized.

      • Your ‘point’ doesn’t ‘stand’ by any measure.

        Yes, the Romani gypsy genocide occurred too. But that you were not made aware of that as you were growing up only validates the conclusion that bigotry is often the product of revisionist history indoctrination.

        Speaking of ‘overemphasis’, consider the Poles: Auschwitz was the deadliest of the Nazi concentration camps. It was located Poland. And 90% of its 1.1 million victims were Jews. In comparison, an estimated half a million Romani, between 25%-50% of the European population, were killed, while 10 times as many Jews, fully 60% of the European population, met their collective fate.

        The lesson here is that we must all maintain a legitimate perspective when considering the current revisionist history put forth by the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory. A perspective that equates the worst circumstances of our past human condition exclusively with today’s American experience. Those points don’t ‘stand’ either.

    • Jewish losses to the Holocaust were not over-represented. The loss of European Jewry was staggering. The Nazis wiped out the Jewish community of Europe. There is no argument that others such as Romani, the disabled, political enemies etc ere also targeted by the Nazis but Jews were the number one target. Minimizing the losses or Jews or insisting that it wasn’t as big a deal as many say it was is a common tactic of antisemites.

      • VTIndependent: And putting words into someone’s mouth is Libel. I clearly stated that the idea is that the deaths of so many others were ignored. I didn’t argue that Jewish losses were exaggerated, did I? You have misquoted me. You’ve also ignored the entirety of what I did state. Also, I don’t hide behind pseudonyms.

  3. We all know the debate over ‘which lives matter’ is a political contrivance. Everything depends upon who is addressing what group at any specific time or place. And perspectives change as quickly as Vermont’s weather. After all, as reported in VT Digger this week, Vermont’s 1st director of equity appointed in Winooski says: “My aim is to use the equity director position to ensure that every human within the Winooski community has what they need, to feel like they belong, and to know that their voice matters.”

    ‘Every human’? I guess it’s okay to say ‘all’ lives really do matter. Just be careful to whom you’re speaking when you make the declaration.

    • But that is exactly my point. If we had been better informed over the years, White Supremacists would not have this as an excuse. Sheer numbers, percentages, etc., aren’t my point.

  4. Officer Tatum, Denzel Washington, Larry Elder, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Sowell, and many other black Americans deride the lefts race baiting

  5. I have read many dozens of books on the holocaust and the vile treatment they endured. I don’t believe that too many people have really read about it. Of the books I have read, these three were the most profound: The Black Book, The Unknown Black Book, and the one that puts you closest to first person as it happened is Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetzov. It’s an eye-opener.

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