The Slope Slips in Every Direction

On this day in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were established in Germany, stripping citizenship from Jews. Soon, Roma and those of African descent would follow. It is stunningly easy to come across revisionist history for this era and Nazi apologists, much of it overt, some of it quite subtle and seductive.

As an aside of sorts, at that time, backed by the Supreme Court, the United States was practicing eugenics, forcibly sterilizing criminals and people with mental deficiencies, which included an IQ lower than 70. In 1937 only 15% of American’s opposed forced sterilization of the “unfit.” There were even groups actively lobbying for the right to euthanize those with mental deficiencies. These are the very philosophies and supremacist positions that existed in Germany and among Nazis that led to the holocaust.

Eventually, in America, people were being forcibly sterilized for other reasons, such as being poor and black and being on welfare in the south (senate testimony) as late as the 1960s. The last state to stop practicing forced sterilization in the mid-70’s (often based on nothing more than a social worker’s recommendation) was … well, North Carolina.

It is easy to point at extremes in history and define ourselves by the contrast, by the idea that we are so far removed from what was then and there. I think the truth is we often skirt the edges of the abyss, and fall into it more often than even the most critical citizen is willing to admit. When US soldiers entered and liberated the Nazi concentration camps in 1945, they were only 80 years removed from the absolute and tyrannical enslavement of human beings as property in their own country. Just to give some perspective, 80 years past from where we are now, Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, Howard Hughes set a record for flying from LA to New York, the Golden Gate bridge is opened, Amelia Earhart vanished, and Snow White is released by Disney. Imagine, all those things are only as far from us now as slavery was from the soldiers who liberated the concentration camps.

I obsess over timelines, I know. I just think freedom is delicate and when it is attacked it is almost always disguised as a guarantee of freedom by way of security, purity, whatever. I don’t know what any one of those soldiers who entered the concentrations camps in 1945 were thinking, but I have to believe that very few of them were thinking the Nazi’s had the right idea.