Wednesday, August 8, 2007

RIP Raul Hilberg

I've only been occasionally checking my academic emails as of late, but one of those emails was a notice from INOGS that one of the pioneers of genocide studies, Raul Hilberg had recently passed away. There's an obit over at NYT that will give the reader some idea of what he was about. This passage in particular is worth passing along:

In his landmark work, “The Destruction of the European Jews,” Mr. Hilberg said the Holocaust had been the result of a huge bureaucratic machine with thousands of participants, not the fulfillment of a preconceived plan or a single order by Hitler.

As uncountable separate instructions were passed on, formally and informally, to a range of actors that included train schedulers and gas chamber architects, responsibility became ever more diluted, he argued, even as the machinery of death churned inexorably ahead.

“For these reasons, an administrator, clerk or uniformed guard never referred to himself as a perpetrator,” Mr. Hilberg said in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1992. “He realized, however, that the process of destruction was deliberate, and that once he had stepped into this maelstrom, his deed would be indelible.”

Of course, this is quite similar to the point made by Hannah Arendt in her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem - indeed Arendt's writing for that book was deeply indebted to Hilberg. It's also a point featured in some of Ward Churchill's subsequent writings (see the book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens)¹, with the additional point that any such "machinery of death" will have the potential to produce blowback, and that we really shouldn't be all that surprised when the some of the victims - individually or collectively - fight back with whatever means they might have at their disposal.

¹ As Charley Arthur at the Try-Works states: In other words, those, even at relatively low levels, who willingly participate in processes that know to result in, as Churchill puts it,“the mass immiseration and death of brown-skinned ‘Others’” are NOT “innocent.”

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