Sample Class Journal: Notes for Students

Since this is a prototype journal, I would like to make a couple of remarks on how I made it, and how it may be different from yours.

First, please note the tone of the entries: They are not addressed to anyone in particular, but they are written by a professor with his students in mind. Yours should by written from your point of view, with your teacher as a reader in mind. Thus where I tend to reflect on how I might use some event or material in teaching this course, you should comment more on how the course materials have influenced your perspective on that event.

Second, I have not written about my reactions to any of the course readings or films, for good reason-I don't want to give you a "right" response. I do hope you will include entries about the course materials themselves! Up to one entry per week can be about the readings, lectures, and films in this course. Please take advantage of that opportunity to let me know how I am doing. I am very interested in your feedback, and you will certainly not be penalized for offering your criticism!

Third, I did not check whether I wrote two entries per week, or even four per two-week period. (That was my prerogative in developing this assignment!) While there are advantages to writing down your reactions right away, inevitably you will find yourself saving things up to analyze shortly before the days the journal is due. That is not necessarily a bad thing; you are more likely to find linkages if you are working on several different issues at once. I found that I saved up a number of articles I had read-I had clipped them because I had made a mental note of how I thought they were related to the course material-and wrote several entries at one time, discarding the least interesting articles. For example, the radio report on p. 7 prompted me to sit down and write several entries about a whole series of articles I had read that day (see p. 8), which I combined in one entry. Moral: it is okay to bunch things up, but especially for reactions to course materials, it would be good to write down some notes right away, even if you develop your ideas in detail later.

Fourth, in several entries I refer to things I was doing at that time, specifically to two public talks about the Diary of Anne Frank that I gave downtown during the "Anne Frank and the World" exhibition in October and November (see entries 1, 6, 7). It is fine for you to make such references, but I think my example is not a good model in this respect. I should have given more background about the talks themselves, so that you could better understand how my reactions to the news clippings related to them. Please keep my ignorance of your current work in mind when you write your entries.

Finally, I have noted the number of words in pencil after each entry. The first 8 entries average about 540 words, while yours should average 450. If your computer does a word count and you want to include it, fine, but we will not be counting.

Oct. 19, 1997. Sunday LA Times, Opinion section
Charles Maier: "Confronting Vichy-After More than 50 Years"

Today's LA Times has an editorial by the renowned Harvard historian of the Cold War. It was prompted by the trial in France of Maurice Papon, a retired French magistrate who, during the Nazi period, approved lists of Jews to be arrested and deported to Auschwitz. After the war he served in high government posts, including the national cabinet. Maier speculates about why, more than 50 years after the crime, Papon is now being put on trial. And the issue is arising in other countries, too, with the Swiss banks' secrecy about their laundering of German gold, and the French Catholic Church's recent apology for not having done more to help Jews. Maier notes that the last French Prime Minister, Mitterand, had himself been a collaborator with the Nazis, and had helped keep such personal histories under wraps. The French have been wrestling with their collaborationist past since around 1970, when, among other things, Marcel Ophuls' film "The Sorrow and the Pity" brought the issue into the open.

Maier suggests three reasons for this rise in interest: 1) a generational transition, 2) the fact that this is no longer a partisan political issue with the left calling for a reckoning and the right defending itself, and finally 3) because of the need to create a civic culture that is accepting of multicultural diversity. Maier argues that symbolic acts such as monuments and public rituals, or monetary payments validate groups which were earlier refused public recognition. The trial of this 87 year old "nice" man is also largely symbolic, but it does signal to the public that his unquestioning zeal to perform such a criminal duty against an unprotected social group is no longer considered a "good" behavior. Rather, civil servants should apply some personal moral evaluation to their tasks, show solidarity with the group under attack, slow the repression by, for instance, throwing sand into the administrative machinery of persecution. [end of summary, now analysis:]

I think this is a good article to start the "sample" journal that I can write to show my students in Hist 133D what I want them to do for the writing assignment. It not only explicitly mentions and offers reasons for the (surprising? unlikely?) "rise" in interest in events associated with the Holocaust, but it also, in the third reason, presents what I see as one of the primary "lessons" we can learn from studying this period of history: the importance of a "civic culture" that values ALL of its members and allows them to realize their full potential. Next week, in my talk at the Anne Frank exhibition (for a group of SBCC Phi Beta Kappa students), I think I will use the German-French term "Zivilcourage" (roughly: civic courage) as an alternative to replace "tolerance" as the moral of Anne's story. Tolerance is the "accepted deviation from a norm," and thus it can be increased or decreased, or revoked entirely. Having deep convictions, especially a deep conviction in the value of human life, of every human life, can be a lasting and dependable basis for that "civic courage." The issue of what lessons to draw from the Holocaust is a difficult one that I grapple with in my research and in preparing for this course.

Maier's second reason for this apparent rise (I think it has been at quite a high level for quite some time) in awareness offers a good lesson, too: how intimately "history," that is the practice of disseminating knowledge about the past, is connected to present politics. And Maier's first reason, the generational change, is the subject of my research. What would it have been like to teach a course entitled "The Holocaust in German History" to college students in 1957, 1967, 1977? What would the students know already? What would they care about? What lessons would I want to draw? What books and films would be available?

Interesting questions to ponder…

Nov. 1, 1997. LA Times: "Pope Decries Anti-Semitism during WWII;"
"Tapes show how Nixon's Self-Image Aided Cover-Up"

Well, it looks like the French bishops' declaration a couple of weeks ago prompted high-level action. John Paul II condemned antisemitic predjudices as based on "wrong and unjust interpretations of the New Testament," but he did not address whether his Church held any responsibility for the existence of those interpretations. It was not until 1960, at the Second Vatican Council, that the Church abolished the concept that Jews held collective responsibility for the death of Christ. John Paul had previously apologized for the Catholic Church's persecution of Protestants, and its involvement in the slave trade. Many bishops called on him to tone down the self-criticism. But he had lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland himself, and he became the first pope ever to visit the sites of Nazi concentration camps (!!!!). One source is quoted as saying that the pope may not be apologizing, but that "he is telling the Jews that he wants to start the new millennium with reconciliation and friendship." I don't think that the apocalyptic date "2000" has as much to do with his declaration as his own personal feelings towards the event-and the injustices that have heaped up over the Vatican's avoidance of mentioning its co-responsibility for so many decades.

Some Jewish leaders are disappointed that John Paul's words aren't being followed by deeds: he still won't allow historians access to the Vatican's World War II archives. I can understand that: once unequivocal documents surface about how much the Vatican knew about the persecution and murder of the Jews, and about how it helped Nazis escape to the Middle East and South America after the war, then that will have a long-term impact on the Vatican's image.

If people, "the public," were more mature in their moral judgment, they would know how complicit and unsavory the Church behaved, and an apology would help to clean its reputation more than blemish it. "The public"-who is that? I mean those people who believe every pronouncement of the Vatican, who have believed its cover-up for over 50 years. They would see this as public exposure of a vulgar and sinful mistake. For those of us who see the writing on the wall, it is like the fairy-tale emperor finally admitting he has no clothes on and going to get dressed, instead of making an ass of himself pretending he is clothed.

The Nixon tapes. Now, this article isn't so immediately connected to the Holocaust, but for me it is closely linked. For one thing, along the lines of the article about the pope, the article suggests that Nixon himself realized that it was the cover-up more than the Watergate burglary etc. itself that drove him from office. Had he confessed right away, his own term in office might have been salvaged. So at least some folks agree with me that apologizing can be better. Only if we realize that the Vatican could have done more, can we ask *why* it did not. And it is better to understand *why* the Vatican didn't intervene, even if those motives were base, than to persist in the belief that institutions can be infallible?

Anyway, another connection of this article to the Holocaust lies, for one thing, in Nixon's vulgar antisemitism. I can't believe what vulgar crap that man spouted on the 201 hours of tapes. He was paranoid at best. How did he manage to work so closely with Jews such as Henry Kissinger and even his Jewish defense lawyer in the Watergate trial, while at the same time cavalierly suspecting Jews behind just about everything that didn't go his way?? Second, I am surprised at how willing all of his high aides were to go along with his obviously criminal plans. Not as anti-human as Hitler and *his* bureaucrats (Eichmann, Heydrich, … think of the Wannsee conference), but the parallel is there: people in power without concern for others are apt to find many accomplices in abusing that power. Also, Nixon's self-pity is striking. I think of the postwar Germans wallowing in self-pity at having fallen victim to Hitler, instead of admitting to their own role in, at the very least, tolerating him in power.

There I am with that word again: tolerance. We should be *intolerant* of abuses of power.

Nov. 6, 1997. LA Times, p.1
"German Judge Awards Back Pay to WWII Slave Laborer."

A Polish woman who was forced to work in a German munitions factory near Auschwitz for a year in 1944 was given $8500 in back wages (at the going rate in 1944!) plus interest since 1992. The German government will appeal. What is going on? The article really doesn't tell the background, but I know it from my own work. The German government has paid out about $55 billion since the early 1950s in compensation payments in a lump sum *settlements* to various countries and a Jewish organization in order to eliminate future claims against it for injustice committed by the Nazi regime. That may sound like a lot of money, but it is completely insignificant compared to what the German government paid out to former Nazi bureaucrats and state employees in compensation for, guess what, them having followed a criminal regime and losing their jobs after 1945 because of it (essentially all who were still under retirement age were rehired by 1955 anyway). The pensions to the wives and children of big Nazis (Heydrich's widow, Himmler's daughter, …) alone amount to huge sums. In this case the court ruled against the German government because the plaintiffs lived in Poland-in the Soviet bloc-after the war and were thus excluded from these lump-sum payments to organizations (Jewish) and governments.

Why is the German government going to appeal? Because this could be the tip of a huge money-berg. The same reason it has been so reluctant to open up to other groups of claimants as well. In the 1950s, when millions of claimants were still alive, payment would have really crimped the German style. On the other hand, if the Swiss banks had turned over the gold back then, when it was so desperately needed, there would have been lots to go around. Money may not "make good again" (the literal translation of the German word for compensation), but it can ease the hardship and pain.

Nov. 7, 1997. LA Times p.5 editorial:
"Neo-Nazi Tape Brings Scrutiny of Germany's Men in Uniform."

The German cable station SAT-1 aired a 1994 video of Germany's 571st Alpine Battalion featuring far-right songs, stiff-arm salutes, and denunciations of Jewish "imperialism." Taken by itself, pretty pathetic stuff, but more alarming when combined with recent incidents in which German soldiers beat foreigners with baseball bats, set a refugee asylum on fire, and filmed themselves staging rapes and executions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the discovery of the use of the internet to recruit neo-Nazis into the army, to gain critical mass. The soldier who made and leaked the tape describes himself as a "reformed neo-Nazi" who was ultimately so sickened by the rampant neo-Nazism in the army that he decided to blow the whistle. Now the Defense Minister is denouncing him as a "right-wing extremist dirty rat," discharged him for "lack of aptitude," and is suing him while claiming that the army is clean.

The internet incident shows that, in some ways, compulsory army service does have positive aspects: if everyone *has* to serve, neo-Nazis wouldn't gain representation beyond their strength among draft-age youth. But now, with conscientious objection becoming more common, there are fewer left-wing peaceniks (anti-neo-Nazis) in the army.

This raises the question: Can "society" democratize the army, or does the army militarize society, as many historians think happened in Germany in the decades before World War I? That probably depends on the public image and valuation of the army-are traditional military values such as blind obedience (instilled through degrading and brutal training) presented as models for society, or are democratic structures from civilian life, such as grass-roots consensus building, or election of leaders, used as models for running the military. Although for some levels of authority some armies may have provisions for soldiers to elect their officers, I can't imagine that anyone has ever tried to build a truly "democratic" fighting force. It would be an interesting experiment! A whole army would have to be convinced that what it was doing would be worth the risk it was taking.

Nov. 8, 1997. LA Times, "The Red Fades from a Russian Holiday"

Nov. 7 was the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the revolution in 1917. It's not a big deal in Russia anymore, says the article: most people are happy they have the day off from work, but don't care to pay political tribute to the ideals of their forebears. Instead, Yeltsin recalls the "sufferings of millions of our countrymen, the grief and trouble which the revolution brought." He ordered a new monument to commemorate both the revolutionary "Reds" and the counterrevolutionary "Whites." Why? "To simply remember everyone who died in the civil conflict, … and forgive those who made a fatal historical mistake by placing a utopian ideal above human life." He is right: truly utopian ideals should not be *above* human life, they should *include* it. But still, I am disturbed by Yeltsin's commingling of victors and victims. The Germans (and Austrians!) try to do the same thing: portray themselves as victims of Hitler, or of the Allied bombings, as if that were on par with their own systematic annihilation of the Jews. But who are the "they" in "their own victimization"? Indeed, the ones with their fingers on the triggers and their hands on the gas canisters are most likely to consider themselves victims. I'm not alone in my discomfort: a Russian poll found that 47% disapproved of Yeltsin's abolishment of Revolution Day, and there are protest rallies throughout Russia.

Socialism, or Marxism, did indeed have human beings at the center of its vision, but in the hands of some leaders (Lenin and Stalin, to name names…) the attainment of that vision took priority over humanity. The Soviet Union thought it realized the vision, but it was forever scarred by the brutality of its birth. In Germany, where the revolutionaries shied away from bloodshed, the revolution failed, and a violently racist, anti-human Nazi "utopian" vision was almost realized.

Which was the better alternative? Would the German socialist utopians have been more successful without the burden of the Versailles treaty, without the chaos of the Great Depression? What would have happened in the Soviet Union had not Stalin, but Trotsky succeeded Lenin? We will never know, but it would be important to think such questions through-in order to make more informed decisions about how radical to be when fighting injustice in the future. Too much violence breeds more violence, not enough violence will not succeed. (There is a great passage on the former in Toivi Blatt's memoir of his escape from Sobibor-I should include it in the course reader!) Against the latter, Gandhi thought otherwise-he used civil disobedience as a non-violent way to combat violence, and the overthrows of governments in the Soviet bloc in 1989 were peaceful (except for Romania).

11/14/97 LA Times "She Opened Their Eyes and They Opened up Their Lives"A story about a "preppy looking" 23 year old teacher at Long Beach's Wilson High School, a rough-and-ready school that achieved notoriety when one of its students raped and then strangled a 7-year-old at a Nevada casino last year. Inspired by the Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic's Bosnian diary, Erin Gruwell has published "An American Diary: Voices From an Undeclared War," a collection of works by her students. But that is far from all. She has started a non-profit foundation that will help put all of her students through college-and all of them have gotten in somewhere. Her amazing initiative started when she intercepted a note containing a "crude and demeaning caricature" of one of the boys in the class. She blew her stack, saying that such stereotyping was *exactly* the kind of thing that led to Jews being killed in the Holocaust. Whereupon she discovered that none of her students had any idea what the Holocaust was. So she took them to the Museum of Tolerance and then to see "Schindler's List"-at a cinema in upscale Newport Beach. She wanted to show that not all inner-city kids were as insensitive as the Oakland class that laughed after a screening there was rumored to be. (Why "rumored"? I think there are many reasons for laughing that have nothing to do with insensitivity: embarrassment, for instance.) When the paper reported that her students had been pat-searched at a grocery store and refused service at a restaurant in the upscale neighboorhood, white supremacists made hate calls to her. The paper reported on that as well, and "Schindler's List" book author Thomas Keneally, a visiting professor of writing at UC Irvine, read the article and contacted the group. The next year teacher Gruwell was hired full time to teach English to five 9th grade classes. She had her students read Anne Frank's diary, and they began corresponding with Miep Gies, the woman who helped feed the Franks in hiding. They raised money to bring Gies and Filipovic to Long Beach. A local high-tech millionaire read about the effort and helped them at a parent-student basketball fundraiser to benefit Bosnian children-by renting the arena, and playing surrogate father for students who didn't know where their own fathers were. And on and on.

What does this story tell us? That teachers who care can make a difference in their students' lives, a big difference. And that having someone, anyone who cares about you is very important. That is an important lesson of the Holocaust: that we should *care* about what happens to those close to-and far from-us. The shooters and gassers clearly didn't care for the people to whom they dealt horrifying death. And neither did the Germans who watched their downtown train stations turn into deportation camps for their (Jewish) neighbors. Nor did the Americans who were complacent enough to keep their immigration quotas low to make sure that no threatened people could come and "threaten" their idyllic lives.

Fear, arrogance, apathy, and lack of empathy are the emotional roots, in my opinion.

And beyond general inspiration of this story for me as a teacher, the use of Anne Frank's diary is interesting to me, since I just gave a second talk at the "Anne Frank and the World" exhibition downtown. My talk was smoother and more to the point than the first one for SBCC students, which already went well. I think I'll add a lecture to 133D on "teaching the Holocaust," in which I present some of that research and those thoughts to my students. What goals do teachers who teach about the Holocaust try to realize? And what methods are suitable for realizing them? Are "myths," distortions of the "real" truth, acceptable? I think, to an extent, yes, if they are a special kind. Hitlerism was a "myth," but also a distortion of authenticity (as one author in a book about Anne Frank that I read recently put it). Myths that retain an authentic relationship to the past are ok, the author argued. But I am getting too theoretical and will bore my students who are reading this as an example of the assignment. (And I will take my punch line away for that lecture.) So save the thought for then; keyword "Dialectic of Enlightenment."Nov. 22, 1997. National Public Radio "Morning Edition" story about the conflict over water between Israelis and Palestinians

This is a problem sure to outlast the peace process and negotiations for Palestinian self-government. The Israelis are using their technology and capital to hog all the water in the region. They have the most advanced computerized piping system in the world (already siphoning off water from the Jordan up-river), and they dig deep wells that run the older, shallow wells of the Palestinians dry. The Israelis use ten times as much water per capita as the Palestinians. The I's have swimming pools and use drinking water to irrigate their crops, while many P's don't even have fresh water for drinking, never mind washing clothes (or hands-an important element of Muslim daily ritual). The old Palestinian farms have turned to desert, while the Israelis have made former desert bloom.

What shocked me most were the interviews with hard-line Israelis. Such amazing arrogance. Exactly the lack of caring for others I was thinking about in my last entry. It brings to mind statements by Primo Levi and Ruth Klüger, two survivors of Auschwitz, who wrote that people somehow expect survivors to be more moral, better people, than everyone else. They note that Auschwitz wasn't the place to learn good manners or nurture idealistic behavior. But the Israelis aren't survivors of Auschwitz-well, by now only a tiny fraction of them are still alive. If they want to prevent "Auschwitz," they should realize that this kind of behavior is dead wrong. What good has all of the education about the Holocaust done? Israel is surely one of the places where more is taught about it than anywhere else.

I don't have an answer-this is something to ponder for my course. I do think of the article I wrote on the revival of Holocaust awareness in 1968, and the interviews with Israeli soldiers after the June 1967 Six-Day War. Some said that they went to museums about anti-Nazi partisans before going to battle; other said they felt like Nazis when they saw treks of terror-stricken Arab families fleeing down the roads.

Teaching the Holocaust to teach the necessity of armed, violent resistance to violent injustice, that is probably what is (has been) done in Israel. This is the position of Bruno Bettelheim that I criticized in my Anne Frank talk: that the Franks should have armed themselves and practiced guerrilla tactics, and killed a few Germans when they were discovered. It has a grain of truth-I know I wish those treks of Jews to Babi Yar had broken ranks and stampeded their murderers into the ravine. But ultimately, murdering murderers is not the answer. The film "Escape from Sobibor" that I showed last year has a good message: resist, but give all a fair chance to escape; concentrate on getting free and saving as many lives as possible (caring for all!), not killing the highest number of persecutors.

Nov. 22, 1997 (still). Three more articles in today's LA Times:

… about a skinhead who shot an African to death at a bus stop in Denver, then shot and severed the spinal cord of a 36 year old mother of two who tried to help the dying man; about the trial of a *former* UC Irvine student whose jury couldn't reach consensus on whether his e-mail vow to kill 59 Asian students (sent personally to each) was serious or not; and a report about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit in Indianapolis this week.

Just a brief thought on each: the woman, interviewed in the hospital, said she didn't regret that she tried to help (even though it was futile), and would do it again, while the skinhead said "I don't like some blacks. I guess it's sort of a thing that I love my own people and I'd like to see a place where just we could be. … I thought how he [the African] really didn't belong where he was, and I thought how easy it would be for me to take him out." Whew: "take him out." Nice euphemism. That woman had the kind of courage to stand up for her humanitarian convictions that the world needs. The skinhead lacked the "caring." But his quoted explanation to the press reminded me of the article on Netanyahu: not a word about the peace process (or the water issue…), just about the Orthodox rabbis' monopoly on determining who is officially considered Jewish. Sounds frighteningly similar to the Nazis' fanaticism about "racial purity"-1935 Nuremberg Laws and determining "who is a Jew." Inclusion into a community of all people, not exclusionary groups, is what we need. And full acceptance (not "tolerance") of each individual's uniqueness and difference.

Finally, the former Irvine student. He had flunked out because he couldn't concentrate after his brother was shot dead in LA gang violence, and received failing grades. He didn't want to let his family know he had been dismissed, and let another brother drop him off at school each day, where he spent his time in a computer lab surfing the net and sending e-mail. The message in question was pretty "chilling," as the paper put it: "every Asian should leave UC Irvine" or the sender would "hunt all of you down and kill your stupid asses. I personally will make it my life's work to find an kill every one of you personally." Was he really just bored and looking for "dialogue," as his defense lawyers argued, or was he out looking for a scapegoat or revenge? Hard to say. What is the moral of the story here? Should UCI have made an exception, helped (counseled) him more before dismissal? Is our system too bureaucratic and cold-hearted? How can you make exceptions and still be fair? On the other hand, isn't it necessary to punish him-think of the students who received his mail-I would have trouble concentrating on my studies after receiving anonymous threats like that …

On another note, I must say I think this journal assignment is an excellent idea for the writing assignment for Hist 133D, as a way to help relate the course material to today and think through some of the thorny moral issues involved in these stories. I certainly have come to some insights myself, seen things much more clearly by virtue of writing the "sample" journal. I have to think of some way of using folders or notebooks to keep the journals. Maybe spiral notebooks with the articles and journal entries pasted in. How to deal with the length question…