Monday, October 14, 2013

"Little Eichmanns" and the misappropriation of Holocaust terms

Adolf Eichmann was an SS officer and a staunch member of the Nazi party.  His logistical skills serve him well in his rise through the SS where he eventually came to lead office IV B4 as an expert on Jewish Affairs.  Eichmann was chosen by Reinhard Heydrich to organize the logistics behind the mass deportation of the European Jewish population to the death camps.  In 1942, Eichmann attended the Wannsee Conference as recording secretary.  It was at the conference that the details of the Final Solution were disclosed to the government agencies that would play a role in the Holocaust.  Eichmann was not a simple bystander at this conference, but instead an active participant seeking to advance his career at the expense of humanity.  To allow Eichmann to be considered any less than an architect of active destruction is to reduce his role to a simple yes man.  Eichmann would later stand trial in Israel for his crimes, and was executed in 1962.  While in custody, he admitted his work in planning the movement and destruction of the Jewish population, and his zeal for the work.  Adolf Eichmann was a man who fully understood the ramifications of his actions, and the destructive power of his choices. 

History of the phrase “Little Eichmanns”
In 1995, John Zerzan, in an essay defending his friend, Ted Kaczynski, AKA the Unabomber, used the term “little Eichmanns” to describe a member of the “establishment” who threatened the masses. 

The concept of justice should not be overlooked in considering the Unabomber phenomenon. In fact, except for his targets, when have the many little Eichmanns who are preparing the Brave New World ever been called to account?... Is it unethical to try to stop those whose contributions are bringing an unprecedented assault on life?”

Mr. Zerzan is an anarchists, and coined the phrase, seemingly, to describe people in the American system that he felt were responsible for executing the goals of the government and business.  Ward Churchill, a professor at Colorado University, Boulder, released a rant against the powers that be, picking up the phrase, “little Eichmanns” to describe the victims of 9/11 as the mindless automatons that pushed an economic system he disagreed with. 

“Little Eichmanns” in the news today
With the current government shutdown, the term “little Eichmanns” has again been misappropriated.  In this case, conservative bloggers and writers are characterizing members of the Executive branch and employees of the National Park Service as “little Eichmanns." In an attempt to understand the linkage between the historical person, Adolf Eichmann and the use of the term “little Eichmanns,” we must understand two things: 
1) What is the truth regarding Adolf Eichmann’s actions and culpability in the Holocaust;  and
2)  the final intended purpose of the misappropriation of the historical figure. 

What did Zerzan and Churchill, both extreme political leftists, hope to convey with the term “little Eichmanns”?  Eichmann’s role can not be denied.  He was instrumental in the planning and implementation of the Holocaust – the systematized murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. Eichmann's guilt as a perpetrator of the Holocaust has been substantially proven and the excuse of “following orders” carried no weight in his defense.  Unfortunately, all who misappropriate his name, including present-day extremists from both sides of the political spectrum, are suggesting that the targets of their accusations are guilty of perpetrating a CRIME akin to GENOCIDE. 

Ultimately,  the misappropriation of terms and names like “Holocaust,” “Eichmann,” “Hitler,” and to a lesser extent, the term genocide, do damage to the actual meaning of the terms.  When these words are used to make a hyperbolic emotional or political points, they degrade the true meaning of the words. 

These terms are unique, and not transferable.  They should not be appropriated for common use to manipulate the emotional power associated with the name/word.  As teachers, we must not allow ourselves to minimize or overlook the power of words.  We must teach our students the danger of misappropriation and work to protect the veracity and the strength of words.  We must teach our students to protect themselves, also, from those who seek to confuse, manipulate and control a conversation through misappropriation.  All things must be kept in perspective, and the actions of men like Eichmann must not be minimized in any way.  To reduce the term for a simple political cause is a degradation of ourselves, our culture and our history.  Our students must be taught to guard against such actions.

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