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Lebensraum: Genocide, Slavery and Ethnic Cleansing in the Nazi expansion campaign

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Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Hitler’s idea of Lebensraum–or, literally, creating more “living space” for Germany and the Germanic people by expanding to other areas of Europe and the Soviet Union through ethnic cleansing, deportation and genocide—was not original. This essentially colonialist concept had been around since the Middle Ages, while the term itself was coined in the early 1900’s by the German ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel. However, in his implementation of Lebensraum, Hitler transformed colonialism into a process of pillaging and mass murder of unprecedented proportions, with tragic consequences for humanity. Claiming that the Germanic people didn’t have enough room and natural resources to sustain their growing population, Hitler wanted to build an Aryan empire by conquering large parts of Europe and the Soviet Union, including Poland, the Ukraine and Russia. In order to achieve this goal, Hitler intended to kill hundreds of millions of their inhabitants and enslave the rest, annihilating and subjugating entire populations whom he considered “subhuman” or, at any rate, far inferior to the Aryan master race.

To prove the so-called inferiority of the conquered nations, Hitler inverted, in a characteristic move, cause and effect. He began a ruthless policy of terror, starving the captured people, humiliating them, killing them, and imprisoning them in labor and concentration camps. This mistreatment dehumanized the victims, often reducing them to animal-like behavior in their hopeless struggle to survive. Hitler then launched a propaganda campaign that “demonstrated” the behavior of the conquered people was abject and animalistic, to prove that they were inferior to the “civilized” German race.

The WWII historian Antony Beevor documents in his magnificent book, The Second World War (New York, Little, Brown & Company, 2012) that, following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, “By February 1942, 60 percent of the 3.5 million Red Army prisoners had died of starvation, exposure or disease” (418). A quarter of the population of Belarus perished due to the Germans’ savage oppression. In addition, millions of Jews were rounded up in conquered cities and villages and shot by the Einsatzgruppen, or incarcerated in ghettos, concentration and death camps. Hitler aimed to achieve his top two, interrelated, goals simultaneously: to create more living space for the Germans by clearing vast areas of their native, “undesirable” people.

Although they agreed on the basic principle of Lebensraum, top Nazi officials disagreed about how to best achieve it. Vying for influence, they offered competing proposals. According to Beevor, Alfred Rosenberg, the minister of the Eastern territories, wanted to secure the cooperation of former Soviet nationalities, such as the Ukraine, in a joint struggle against the Soviet Union. Initially, many Ukrainians welcomed the German invasion and collaborated with the Nazis. The tide began to turn, however, when they realized that they were mistreated by the Germans as much, if not more so, than they had been by the Soviets. In Germany, the most “radical” views about how to achieve Lebensraum prevailed.

Herman Göring, appointed President of the Reichstag (1932-1945) as well as Minister (Reichminister) of Economics and of Aviation, preferred the method of starving out the native populations and bringing in German and Germanic people on those lands. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichführer or Chief of German Police and Commissioner for Strengthening the German Nationhood, opted for the most brutal method: ethnic cleansing through mass murder, either by shooting or gassing. In the end, Germany adopted all three strategies, focusing in particular upon the ruthless solutions proposed by Göring and Himmler, which were most closely aligned with Hitler’s racist ideology and sociopathic tendencies.

Both Hitler and Himmler envisaged an idyllic German empire stretching to the Urals, built upon the blood and sacrifice of those they considered to be “subhuman races” (Untermenschen): including the Jews, Slavs and Gypsies. The notion—and practice—of creating more Lebensraum for the German people inseparably combined utopia and dystopia by turning a mad fantasy into an all-too-real nightmare. As Beevor elaborates, “Nazi ideas for the future constituted little more than a grotesque fantasy… Himmler dreamed of gemütlich German colonies, with gardens and orchards built across the former killing grounds of his SS Einsatzgruppen. And to provide a holiday center the Crimea, renamed Gotenhau, would become the German Riviera” (418). The result of this so-called utopic vision of an Aryan master race dominating most of Europe and the Soviet Union was the horrific abuse and death of tens of millions of innocent people, the devastation of entire cities and villages, and the destruction of natural resources that would take years to replenish.

Claudia Moscovici

Literature Salon

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Remembering the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ivy by Gansforever Osman

Ivy by Gansforever Osman

Review by Claudia Moscovici, author of Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019)

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076187092X/ref=ox_sc_saved_title_3?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

I learned about the Holocaust from my family, from school and from history books. The Holocaust was so horrific that we hoped humanity as a whole had learned something from history and would never commit such atrocities again. Yet I watched with my own eyes, on TV, as it happened again and again, only on a smaller scale: which, of course, didn’t take away from the suffering of the victims. It was the early 1990’s. Between 1992 and 1995, I followed with horror the news reports about the atrocities committed by Serbian soldiers upon ethnic Bosnians in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the span of a few short years, Bosnian Serb forces backed by the Serbian Yugoslav Army attacked Bosnian Muslims. They raped and tortured countless women and girls. They forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. This campaign of “ethnic cleansing” led to the deaths of 100,000 Bosnians. At the time, it was the worst genocide since the one perpetrated by the Nazis during WWII.

Surprisingly, these atrocities happened during an era in which Europe was filled with hope. By the early 1990’s, we had recently celebrated the anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe and the end of the somber Cold War. There was an atmosphere of renewed hope—and faith in democracy–throughout Europe, but particularly in the former communist countries. Yet with the death of totalitarian leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, and the end of the communist rule, the former Yugoslavia disintegrated into tension. It became a place of ethnic struggles and hatred rather than one of burgeoning democracy.

By 1991, the population of Bosnia included about 40 percent Bosnians, 30 percent Serbs and 20 percent Croatians. Tensions built between the ethnic Bosnians and the ethnic Serbs in the region. Under leadership of Radovan Karadzic, the Serbs in Bosnia created their own entity, the Serbian National Assembly. The problems began when the Bosnian Serbs sought to incorporate–by force–Bosnia into a Greater Serbia. Bosnia declared its independence. The U.S. and the European Community recognized Bosnia’s independence in May 1992: a well-intentioned diplomatic move that proved to have disastrous political consequences.

Soon afterwards, Bosnian Serb forces led by the ruthless nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital. This beautiful town, which many of us remember as the picturesque place of the 1984 winter Olympics, became in 1992 a place of death: murder, rape and “ethnic cleansing,” or the forcible expulsion of ethnic Bosnians by Serbian forces.

Although officially the policy of “ethnic cleansing” may not have the same goals as genocide—the physical eradication of a people—it often employs the same inhumane and destructive methods: rape, torture, even murder. Unfortunately, the U.N. refused to intervene and restore peace. This emboldened the Serbian nationalists and worsened the crisis in the region. In 1995, Bosnian Serbs attacked Srebrenica, a Bosnian town, and began a bloody campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. Serbian soldiers separated men from women and girls. They often shot the men in the forest while beating and raping the women and girls. About 8000 Bosnian men were massacred and about 30,000 civilians were expulsed from their homes.

I will never forget one particular incident from the massacre in Srebrenica that was covered on the news in the U.S. What troubled me most was a true story about a Serbian soldier who apparently “saved” a Bosnian girl from gang rape by fellow Serbs. He removed her from the dangerous situation, fed her, protected her and talked to her reassuringly and tenderly for several days. Once he secured her trust, gratitude and devotion, he raped and killed her himself. Afterwards, he boasted about his exploits in English, on an interview on the international news. This degree of psychological sadism exceeds even that of the brutes who raped and killed women without initially faking niceness and caring. What he did to her was more insidious, duplicitous and perverse.

Unfortunately, his action was not an isolated incident. This widespread cruelty was made possible by the cruelty of soldiers pushed to an extreme by misplaced nationalist feelings. It was made possible by a national policy led by unscrupulous leaders that encouraged one ethnic group to view another as, somehow, less than human. And it was also made possible, indirectly, by the U.N.’s lack of intervention until it was too late for tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

 

Claudia Moscovici, Literature Salon

 

 

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