If I had read that title as a child, it would have made me furious. Nazi Germany was the darkest, most evil society in the history of the world, and comparisons with Nazism should be used very sparingly. The Confederate South was no evil society.
Jews in the holocaust were crowded onto trains, packed like sardines without explanation. That didn’t happen to Africans, did it?
Jews in the holocaust were torn from their families, with no regard with keeping parents with children or husbands with wives. Nothing like that happened in the South, surely.
Jews were tattooed or branded, made to work back-breaking labor, living in constant fear, in poor living conditions and hunger. Quite different from slave conditions certainly.
Gentile Germans themselves faced reprisals and often death for helping Jews, but the South didn’t repress abolitionists or white Civil Rights workers.
The Nazis created an elaborate system for noting who was and wasn’t a Jew, involving one’s family history and physical features. The South did not create such a system, and it did not have words for people of varying degrees of African descent.
The Nazi ideology considered Jews to be rats or vermin, less than human. The United States never determined black people to be less than fully human.
Nazi Christians devised an entire theology devoted to the Cause: chucking out the Old Testament, saying that Jesus wasn’t a real Jew, blaming Jews for His death. Southerners never used Scripture to defend their peculiar institution.
In Nazi Germany, Jewish heritage was said to travel by the mother. In the South, a child born of white and black parents carried the status of the mother, who was black.
In Nazi Germany it was called the Jewish problem; Americans called it the Negro problem. “You have your lower classes, but we have our lower animals.”
Were they identical? Of course not. Not all black slaves faced conditions like those of a concentration camp. Most notably, the end-game differed: Nazis really wanted to kill the Jews, while American whites (in the North and South) profited from the free labor of blacks and had no intention of killing them off, not in mass anyway. Money was more important than mere racial theory.
There is another difference too, however, one more sinister. Children in West Germany (the history of East Germany being more complicated) have been taught, ever since the end of World War II, that Nazism was evil. An entire program of de-Nazification was undertaken by the English, French, and Americans. True, there are Neo-Nazi groups, and far right groups in Europe are growing larger, but as a whole, the German people shudder to think of Nazi ideology and actions. The Nazi flag is a sign of shame, and Holocaust denial is a crime.
This afternoon, I saw a Confederate flag – an actual flag, not just a bumper sticker – flying on a truck. It made me remember when I told a friend that I was proud of my Confederate ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War (we called it the War Between the States). It made me remember the signs around town in my childhood: join our chapter of the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy! It reminded me of when Georgia changed its state flag to remove the “stars and bars,” and the hatred people expressed for our governor. How dare they defy our heritage.
Imagine if towns in Germany had chapters of the Sons and Daughters of the Third Reich. Imagine if individuals hung Nazi flags on their houses and cars and argued vehemently that it had nothing to do with being anti-semetic, because they were just celebrating their history. Imagine if school-children in Germany didn’t learn about how horrible the camps were, didn’t learn the numbers of those gassed. Imagine if every lesson about Nazi Germany included a piece about the good Nazis, and the ones who treated Jews not so badly in the camps.
In my Southern school, we didn’t learn about the Civil Rights movement in our town. We didn’t learn about the teenage girls who were kidnapped by police, without a word to their parents, and chained in a shed without toilets or food, for the crime of marching in a protest, in the 60s. We didn’t go to our town’s Civil Rights museum or learn anything at all about local history.
Simple ignorance would have been bad enough, but we were fed false information as well. It was hinted in my family that the first KKK, the one started by Nathan Bedford Forrest during Reconstruction, was actually good because it was defending white women from black criminals. (If you’ve seen Gone with the Wind, you’re familiar with this historical revision). It was just the renewed KKK in the 20th century that was bad. Reconstruction, we learned, was oppressive. In fact, it was a precursor to modern liberalism that tried to tell state governments what to do.
I am a Southern white who thinks Confederate flags have no place in any government buildings ever. I am a Southern white who knows that the Civil War was not a war over tariffs or states’ rights, except for the states’ right to own human beings as property. And I carry a heavy burden knowing that my own people perpetrated the greatest evil in American history. If you grew up in the South, don’t be afraid to research. It sucks, and it will give you sleepless nights, and it will make you want to argue with your relatives, but it’s better to know. Those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it.