Alex posted about Michael Savage’s most recent hateful lesbian=nazi diatribe yesterday. You know, the one where Savage refers to a woman he assumes is lesbian as “the type that stuffed ovens in Hitler's concentration camps,” who is now “pos[ing] as [a] compassionate, wonderful human being…”
Statements like Savage’s make my brain want to implode from conflicting impulses. I recognize that Savage is being hateful to score ratings points and that the more I react to him the more he's "won." But at the same time, Savage’s reflexive invocation of Nazis and the Holocaust is dangerous. It’s also personal for me, not just because I’m a lesbian, not just because I’m on my way to being a Jew, but because my father was in a concentration camp during World War II.
Dad was 19 years old and serving in the Norwegian military when Germany invaded Norway in 1940. The attack was a rout; Norway formally surrendered within two months. As did many Norwegians, Dad subsequently became a member of the Norwegian resistance, known as the underground. He was captured in 1943 by the Gestapo, spent several months in Akershus, the main Norwegian prison, and then shipped to Sachsenhausen.
Most of you have probably have never heard of Sachsenhausen. It’s not “famous” in the way that Auschwitz and Dachau are. But it’s one of the oldest of the concentration camps, and also one of the last liberated in the war. I don’t have a perfect picture of his life in Sachsenhausen: Dad’s only recently begun to open up about his experiences. I know that he spent time on farm details, often working nearly round the clock. I know that his experience as an auto mechanic probably saved his life, because he was transferred to a part of the camp that serviced vehicles for the German army and so was often able to work indoors during the brutal winter. And I know that he was assigned to Station Z at least once. Station Z was the area of the camp devoted to extermination. Did my father help “stuff ovens in Hitler’s concentration camp” to use Savage’s charming phrase? Or was his job limited to moving the bodies from one section of the building to another? Or shoveling out the crematorium? I don’t know. I haven’t asked, in part because I don’t want to think of my father as participating in the killing machine and in part I don’t want to make his experiences my personal pornography.
And that’s what Mr. Savage’s diatribe about Nazis and the Holocaust is all about: it’s verbal porn that dehumanizes its subjects—both the “lesbians” and the “oven stuffers”—for the voyeuristic pleasure of his audience.
And it’s dangerous, to boot, because it equates all disliked behavior to the systematic attempt to eradicate an entire population of people. And if approaching someone on the street to ask why they’re listening to “hate speech” is analogous to aiding the SS in their policy of systematic degradation, torture, and murder, then the reverse is true as well, yes? So it comes as no surprise that Savage’s preferred approach to dealing with people whose speech he dislikes is to “reach for my Glock.”
Savage doesn’t limit his Nazi analogy to lesbians. He’s also invoked it when discussing Democrats, especially Sen. Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and even women who wear burqas. In fairness to him, though, Savage isn’t the only person who reaches for the Nazi analogy every hour on the hour. I’ve heard lots of people do it all across the political spectrum. It’s easy to do, I think, because the image is both powerful and removed. Everybody’s heard of the Nazis and their concentration camps, but few of us actually know anyone who’s survived the experience. That’s partly because the SS was very good at its job, and partly because it’s been more than 60 years since Sachsenhausen and the other camps were liberated. Few of the survivors are still living. So we can tell stories and make facile analogies without fear of having our versions contested by the people who actually lived through the experience.
But my father is still living. And what he lived through should not be trivialized.