Nancy Rourke’s Deaf Survivors of the Holocaust
Around the world commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the greatest pain of the camp where six million Jewish prisoners of the German Nazis were murdered, humiliated, suffered. and targeted, today on January 27th, 2020 is the Holocaust Memorial Day, we must continue to challenge hatred.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was on an educational tour around the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Poland, on December 6, 2019, must-have impacted her life by now. I quote, by Angel Merkel’s powerful words: “I feel a sense of shame for the barbaric crimes that were here committed by Germans—crimes that are unfathomable.”
I am struggling to get through this post because there is a problem where people interchangeably use language bigotry with what should be called hate. Hate cannot be compared to any other words. Hate is its own beast with the terrible history that should be recognized by all and the suffering of Deaf people cannot be compared to any other oppression. This is a severe case of non-compliance, and pure oppression.
Often, people use ignorance and compare it to their own oppression. This is problematic for a number of reasons. If you want to write a piece on hate, it has to be about hate. If you want to call this language bigotry, then you can call it language bigotry, you cannot call it to hate. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Jack Levin, professor emeritus at Northeastern University and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict states: “When people think of hate crimes, they think of neo-Nazis, they think of racism, they think of homophobia, they just don’t seem to think of people with disabilities as being a protected category. I call it the invisible hate crime.”
However, ‘Deaf Jews’ were murdered, Deaf schoolchildren were sterilized, and those who survived, even rendered unable to ever have children, considered themselves lucky, seen as the most notorious minority group, ‘Deaf’ were the first people to be targeted, in the name of the most barbaric thinking; Is it not unfathomable? Imagine all the execution walls.
Deaf people in the Holocaust is being treated invisible, but to focus on hearing-dominated choices, instead of exploiting Deaf people and trying to present a life that allows them to feel tolerant; However, those very Deaf people who survived the Holocaust, presents the struggles and triumphs of their lives in a human way.
Two books: ‘Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Europe’ by Horst Biesold, and ‘Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe’ by Donna F. Ryan, where I wrote an essay project for Hate Crime and Bias class 13 years ago. That opened my eyes. This assault in our democracy, leading a fight against hate.
“Yet this most stigmatized group is not often viewed through the lens of compassion and understanding, only modern forms of old ignorance. The Deaf community has gone through considerable evolution, but hate crime remains invisible in the face of society.” (Tozier, 2007)
What happened in Holocaust is forever scarred by facing a moment of the growing pain, Deaf people had been profiled by Germans and needs to be held accountable about Deaf people in Holocaust for its culturally labeled in hate and bias, because it is not enough talked about the fabrication of human civilization and their identity.
The best description of the deep feeling of admiration for the language and the culture of the Deaf, and when it comes to the Deaf, we should just respect their language and culture, full stop. When social media choose not to talk enough about Deaf victims and survivors in the Holocaust, losing respect is a tragic loss in the world.
Much like Deaf Jews being murdered, ending up on the wrong side of the hatred and bullying by expressing views seemingly on the right side of a power-hunger in cultural hegemony. The witch-hunting of the Deaf is not the answer, extensively on the social construction of “Deafness”.
There are many and many historic written articles around social media (NPR, The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, et al) about German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, none of them had mentioned Deaf Jewish prisoners as the first people to be murdered.
Merkel said in the New York Times article written by Melissa Eddy: “We are witnessing and experiencing an attack on the fundamental values of liberal democracy and a very dangerous historical revisionism that serves a hostility that is directed at specific groups”
A powerful piece by BBC where it can be found on YouTube, BBC: ‘The Deaf Holocaust’, Deaf People and Nazi Germany, of Aktion T4 survivors sharing their experiences. The trend of discrimination has been documented from the Holocaust forward. When I visited the United States Holocaust Museum for the first time, I was blown away that it was not enough documented about Deaf people. That is a good example of the invisible hate crime.
Last March 2019, a performance by Deaf actresses and actors held at George Washington University: ‘Crying Hands: Deaf People in Hitler’s Germany’ sends a powerful message: “based on interviews of Deaf Holocaust and civilian survivors, explores the fates of the Deaf and disabled in Nazi Germany, a neglected story of the Holocaust.”
When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, Hitler was obsessed with racial purity, the notion that nature had created a superior Aryan race. Persons who were of “mixed-race” and those with disabilities, chronic diseases (e.g. epilepsy), mental handicaps, and illnesses, etc, were to be weeded out of society or prevented from reproducing. Between 1933 and 1945, some 17,000 Deaf people were sterilized. The youngest was nine years old.
Hitler masterminded the barbaric attacks. The consequences were grave, nothing powerful than this. “Deaf people in Hitler’s Europe were among those who were killed by the Nazis during the Third Reich because they were Jews, others because as congenitally deaf people, they were considered “defective” and “biologically inferior” (Gilbert, 1998)
The Nazi campaign against the handicapped begun in 1933 with the passage by the Reichstag of the Law for the Prevention of offspring with hereditary diseases. The conditions were mental illness, retardation, hereditary blindness, and hereditary deafness. 17,000 out of 375,000 people were Deaf people. 28 percent of 17,000 Deaf people were under the age of 18. Nine (9) percent were women who were already pregnant.
Hitler created a secret campaign called Aktion T-4 to mass-murder disabled people because they were “life unworthy of life.” Infants with disabilities were the first victims. (Gilbert, 1998)
Reminder: Not only Deaf Jewish were targeted, but also Deaf Germans and Deaf Polish Jewish, too.
Any kind of participation would go a long way to raising awareness in the community about some of the unique issues that arise in matters involving Deaf survivors in Holocaust and to providing them examples of positive examples of how with community and support, plus the right resources, contributing to the community is possible.
We cannot ignore hate crimes that must be challenged by us all. No matter what. There were older blog posts to share with the readers. As the only Deaf lecturer focusing on hate crimes in the Deaf community, available for lectures below.
Copyright © 2020 Jason Tozier
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Gilbert, Jean (1998). Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe. Gallaudet Today, September 1998.
Tozier, Jason (2007). Negative Perceptions of Deaf Individuals in Relation to Knowledge of American Language. March 2007.
Eddy, Melissa. (2019). Visiting Auschwitz, Merkel Warns Against Danger to Liberal Democracy. New York Times. December 2019.