The holocaust was one of the historical events that would inherently embed the minds of many generations and the spillage of consequences and stereotypes at present. Zygmunt Bauman’s thesis was considered to be a tool to aid our understanding on the relationship between modernity and the holocaust. However, it was rumored to spark controversy among renowned historians, especially those with feminist views may stress that the holocaust symbolize the oppression of women and hamper spaces for female empowerment. In contrast, those with Marxist views may argue it illustrates class exploitation of proletarians by members of the ruling class. This essay compares Bauman’s work to my narrative journey at the holocaust exhibition and asks whether modernity is an incomplete project and how does it connect to the holocaust.
When I attended the exhibition, I discovered there was a persistent level of resentment against the Jews. It began with the accusation made that they (Jews) were responsible for killing Christ, which was seen as a motive for vengeance by Adolf Hitler. These acts of Antisemitism had stripped the Jews of their rights and freedom to be civilized and were left with two choices: be killed or be coerced into Christianity. An arson attack on the German Parliament gave Hitler a reason to capture thousands of Jews, political opponents, gypsies, blacks, homosexuals, mothers of young children, expectant mothers, unwed mothers and those with physical and mental disabilities. In 1543, Martin Luther, the originator of the German Protestantism published a book About the Jews and their lives turned strongly against the Jews and loathed them with passion after numerous failed attempts to convert them with Christianity. In 1761, Jews began to campaign for equal rights in which they succeeded in 1871 throughout the New State. In the 1500s, Poland became the largest Jewish community and is speculated to be the largest at present. From the years 1648 to 1689, the massacre of the Jews was seen as an outcome of the war and unrest in Poland which could be shaped by the pre-modern perception of Jews as the killers of Jesus, which stems from the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of his twelve disciples and that modernity was argued to play a partial influence on the development of machinery, science and technology in the uses of weapons, and railways which was considered to be cheapest form of transport to transfer Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camps where they were eventually killed.
The holocaust exhibition revealed hidden problems which cannot be explained and clarified in Zygmunt Bauman’s work such as the role of bureaucracy in Germany in great detail. From my experience, the German bureaucracy is rare and was granted the task to exterminate the Jews since Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of the German government (Bauman 1991: 104). The Nazis viewed the Jews as the ‘germs’ to the German society that needs to be washed off with bleach. Many historians argued that bureaucracy did not mark the anxiety of racial contamination, but created the holocaust. The Museum provided visual sources of information about bureaucracy, such as the role of the members in the Nazi party. Zygmunt Bauman reported that bureaucracy started with a method of an exact definition of the object, which was violence and social engineering on the basis of race, age, disability and sexual orientation and then register those who do not into the Nazi criteria (1991: 105). Callinicos (2008: 175) noted that Weber explained the failure of the German Reich foreign policy before and during the Great War which motivated political decision-making by the German bureaucrats who lacked the means to work on their own initiatives and were not risk takers and preferred to be in their political comfort zone. The exhibition revealed that the spread of propaganda through the modern means of communication was the key to Nazi success and the launch of its dictatorship.
It was believed there were motives for the disease of Anti Antisemitism in Russia as Jews were known as loan sharks. The main reason is that Max Weber could explain that Jews who give money are kind and considerate who acknowledged the teaching of reciprocity. However, those with Anti – Semetic views already see Jews were sinful for killing Christ and therefore, assumed to be sinful for being financially deceptive and greedy. In his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism signifies the first study on the process of rationalisation, Weber identifies that the spirit of capitalism is all about making money to enjoy the freedom money delivers and some writers could argue that the Jewish society revolved around money. This led to the stereotypical perceptions of Jews as money -orientated and careers in the finance industry help shape that stereotypical image and are likely to obtain a millionaire status. However, they exploit money for their own means through deception of those who are poor to save their own skin (Callinicos 2008: 161). Those with the Weberian lens may argue that Anti – Semitism in Russia illustrates the notion of karma against the Jews for killing Christ and the holocaust evidently proves to be that example. Georg Simmel argues that money symbolises as an economic key to unlock the Jews from their slave status and simultaneously, serves as a vaccine against Anti – Semitic oppression (Wolff 1950 cited in Callinicos 2008: 184). From the holocaust exhibition, Jews were described as “blood sucking capitalists” who use their greed and betrayal as their way of achieving status.
Bauman’s work was believed to be subjected to criticism, particularly ignoring the impact of the Great War and its destructive effects, socially, economically and politically, such as the loss of innocence among young soldiers, the promotion of violence which remains to be at present and the abuse of technology and machinery. This can lead many academics and writers to debate whether violence shapes the attitudes of masculinity. However, Beilharz (2001: 271) argued that thanks to scientific inventions and technology, men along with women have the capability to kill another human being and carry out other heinous sinful acts without remorse. He also argued that modernity was not to blame for making people evil but, it created opportunities for people to become evil by exploiting their free will and are seen as rational human beings who are capable of making decision and therefore, be accountable for the consequences they created.
Some writers may criticise that Bauman used Weber’s notion of rationality and concentrates on the psychological and sociological impact of the holocaust rather than political and economic terms. He can also be criticized for using the theme of Marxism by concentrating on one particular area instead of adopting a helicopter view of the whole topic. Dr Arthur Gutt, Head of the National Hygiene Department in the Ministry of Interior illustrates that Nazi Policy’s main task was to preserve a white supremacist society , even though it involves killing the non – Nazis.
Genocide is defined as the mass execution of a particular group. Chalk and Jonassohn (1990 cited in Beilharz 2001: 277) defines genocide as a form of mass killing in which a state or other authorities plan to obliterate a group. Holocaust is seen as genocide that involves the killing of not only the Jews, but the homosexuals, blacks, gypsies and other groups who do not fit into the Nazi category. Feminist thinkers could argue that the Nazi subculture illustrates patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity and suggests that women were the most oppressed victims, as they felt the holocaust created opportunities for sexual violence to dominate, humiliate and degrade women and prevent them from progressing, and concurrently, to gain acceptance of Non-Nazis in the Nazi Society. Beilharz (2001: 277) noted that victims were not killed for what they have done, but were killed for being different. Back and Solomos (2008: 281) argued that racism was seen as a form of social engineering within the Nazi Policy and prejudice was argued to be a motive to force the non -Nazis are “different” into people – pleasers with intention to be accepted even if they have abandon their ethnic identities.
Bauman (1989: 92) used the metaphor “The Garden” to explain the process of the obliterating the Jews as Nazis see them as “weeds” and needs to be killed off as soon as possible to prevent spreading to other regions. The development of gas chambers was based on the Nazis’ aspirations to create a perfect clean garden and was seen as a ” garden vacuum cleaner” with the aim of vacuuming up the selected group to die by being suffocated by the contents in the vacuum bag. Some historians argue the Nazi policy was sadistic and gruesome and it revolves around the glorification of violence and suffering of the Jews for their own pleasure rather than out of resentment and revenge. They could also argue that Nazi’s ideal garden is about torture and killing those who are defenceless and vulnerable.
The final solution started soon after Hitler was appointed as chancellor of the German government in 1933. The exhibition revealed deep information about the final solution, such as the arson of public libraries where books written by Jewish writers and renowned figures, such as Jack London, brothers Thomas and Henrich Mann and Sigmund Freud were destroyed. Jews were excluded from community activities and barred from local shops and were segregated from those who are Non – Jewish (Gutt 1938 cited in Back and Solomos 2009: 281). The Jews were deprived of their rights and freedom of movement. The holocaust exhibition revealed that Germany gained superiority over Poland due to a military needs and on 17th September 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Poland under a secret agreement with Germany. As a result, Poland was vanished from the map of Europe. In 1936, Jewish teachers were barred from teaching Aryan children and Jewish children were barred from public schools few months later. Kristallnacht , night of the broken glass, an event that took place in Germany on 9th November 1938 where synagogues, businesses and homes owned by members of Jewish community were destroyed by mobs with anti – Semitic views and it was the only the large – scale pogrom that happened on the streets of German towns throughout the holocaust (Bauman 1989: 91). Bauman sees that modern genocide as the purpose and symbolizes social engineering which is about social order and conforming to the designs of a perfect society (1989: 91). The exhibition revealed that children were poisoned with hatred towards the Jews through lessons and the use of text books and literature.
Marxist writers could suggest that the massacre of the Jews was an expression of capitalism and exploitation of the proletariats by the bourgeoisies. Callinicos (2001: 391) noted that Nazis have fascist views which include ruthless dictatorship of the lower working class. Tim Mason, a Marxist Historian of the Third Reich confessed in his quote that he was emotionally and intellectually moved by the barbaric and horrific torment the victims were subjected to (1993 cited in Callinicos 2001: 388). Bauman’s work on Marxism can be criticised for being very limited and the holocaust is seen as the most severe case of modern capitalism. Ernest Mendel argues that the germ of the holocaust is to found in colonialism and imperialism’s extreme racism (1986 cited in Callinicos 2001: 386).
In December 1941, the first extermination camp was opened in Chelmo near the large ghetto of Lodz which was built on request of local Reich governor Arthur Greiser. Nazis used railways to abduct and transport people to their deaths as it was considered cheap. Beilharz (2001: 268) noted that the camps were not old human escaping dungeons but they were modern and could stay till the end of time. He also argues the concentration camps were symbols of modern invention thanks to the emergence of modernity, which could agree with Marxism as concentration camp was seen as an Anti-Semitic “vacuum” invented to satisfy the interest of the ruling class.
Inside the concentration camps, the Jews and other groups, such as blacks, homosexuals and gypsies were divided and assessed on their physical strength. Carbon monoxide was a commonly used to exterminate these groups. Other groups included pregnant women and mothers with young children were also selected for the gruesome process. The people who passed the physical tests were coercive into labour making machines that were evetually designed to kill them in appalling conditions. Bauman (1989: 92) argued that the extermination machines were designed to favour the Nazis’ barbaric interest. The exhibition revealed that people who were behind the killings of the Jews had careers in medicine, dentistry, accounting, law and teaching. Scientists carried out experiments with attempt to cure homosexual men off their homosexuality as it was sinful and deviant and prevent homosexuality from spreading.
He (Bauman) noted that there was a strict hierarchy and functional division of labour which can be applied on slave labour among the workers. It can be suggested that this type of labour was mechanical that the workers were required to share the same task and obey the same rules. Bauman felt that the Nazis exploited the divisions of labour for their own interests and also argued that the holocaust cannot be seen as a form of academic interest for two reasons. The first reason is that it changed a little about history and there is little evidence that impacted on people’s meanings and historical movement of modern civilization. The second reason is that there is more of a narrative about the holocaust than it is written by scholars (Bauman 1989: 85 – 6), who soley rely on academics and personal accounts of those being involved in the holocaust is more favorable including the diary of Anne Frank.
Jews were deported to the ghettos in Poland, because of the hostility and ignorance of Anti – Semetism where the Jewish language Yiddish was developed . The ghettos were seen as the opportunity for freedom and resilience through Jewish religion. Functionalist writers such as Talcott Parsons and Emile Durkheim could apply social cohesion in the ghettos by arguing that the ghettos were designed to create a bond between the remaining survivors who escaped Auschwitz together to celebrate peace and happiness brought by their own escape to freedom.
This essay concludes that Bauman’s work is based on Max Weber’s notion of rationality which is applied on bureaucracy rather than concentrating on political democracy. The exhibition revealed the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Jude was the core root of Antisemitism. Christianity was seen as an aid of terror used by the Anti – Semetic socity with the attempt to brainwash the Jews to forget about their identities with the threat of murder if they refused. Callinicos highlighted that modernity did not create evil people as they were rational beings prior to the enlightenment. However, modernity increased their opportunities to become evil without any remorse regardless of Sigmund Freud who could argue that humans are capable of feeling guilty. Modernity reveals the possibility of racism and scientific technology was exploited and manipulated by hands of people who chose to be evil. Marxist perspective made a good point by arguing the division of labour was exploited by the Nazis who were considered to be the ruling class.
Bauman, Z (1989) Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge, Polity Press
(1991) Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge, Polity Press (paperback)
(2009) Modernity, Racism and Extermination in Back, L and Solomos, J Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader, 2nd edition, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.
Beilharz, P (2001) The Bauman Reader, Wiley, Blackwell
Callinicos, A (2001) ‘Plumbing the Depths: Marxism and the Holocaust’ Yale Journal of Criticism
(2008) Social Theory: A Historical Introduction, Cambridge, Polity Press
Gutt, A (1938) ‘Population Policy’, in Germany Speaks (London: Thornton Butterworth)pp35 – 52
Chalk, F and Jonassohn, K (1990) The History of Sociology and Genocide: Analysis and Case Studies, New Haven, Yale University Press.
Wolff, K. H (1950) The Sociology of Georg Simmel, New York, New York Press.