Monday 24 October 2011

No Pink Triangles in this 'classic' work.

My third read of this hefty tome was as long ago as 1985 so a further one should be long overdue. After publication it quickly became considered to be a definitive account of World War II (including its causes and prequel) even though it was written just 14 years after the end of that war. Research since then would be expected to have given arise to revisions, corrections and amendments, but there have been none. (The author has been deceased since 1993 anyway.) However, I do remember it as being so awesomely detailed and so damnably readable. BUT.....
    The second time I read it I noticed a curious omission. The next time it had become an irritation. There is no mention at all of the gay victims of the Nazis, though there is of others. The overwhelming concentration is on the plight and fate of the Jews, which could be argued as being fair enough (the author, by the way, was not Jewish himself). But not only is there no mention of  the persecution, internement and extermination of gays, from what I remember the only times homosexuality is mentioned at all is in connection with the gay Ernst Roehm, the some time leader of the S.A., where his sexuality is perceived as part and parcel of his advocacy of Nazi doctrine and methods - in other words, "What else can you expect from such a degenerate?" And not only does Shirer display that blatant prejudice in language which leaves us no doubt where he stands on homosexuality, to aggravate this horror, somewhere in the book (I can't put my hand on ezxactly where at the moment) he lists the numbers of the non-Jewish victims of Nazism - Poles, Gypsies, Communists, Intellectuals. Liberals etc - every group excepting one!  The message I get is that "the persecution and extermination of gays isn't really worth mentioning, or if it is, it wasn't all that bad". In fact I ask myself if Shirer might even have supported it!

   I've found on the web a well-written piece by Peter Tatchell (1995) on this very subject:- 

I'm now not sure whether I want to re-read the volume now. Like so much literature (fiction as well as fact) as well as films etc of those dark pre-enlightened days, Shirer was probably doing no more than espousing opinions which were, at that time, widely held. But if that was the case and if he did change his views, why did he not amend his book later when he had over 3 decades to do it? I suppose he would have said (assuming that he did regret the omission) that it was a question of priorities. But that's only surmise.

   If I do decide to read it again I'll have a nasty taste in the mouth even before I start.


  1. I have never read the book and have been considering it lately. So thanks for your timely comments. I don't know if I really need to read yet another historical record that writes us out of history. I'll look for a more recent and enlightened account.

  2. Thanks, Mitch. Yes, I didn't really want to put anyone off, but getting through this book does require quite a large investment of time, so maybe it's just as well that you know.

  3. I've not give the book reading time and nor will I. I agree with Mitch, not wanting to read another tome that writes us out of history. I've had enough of that in the past.

    I'd say if I were on my high horse, that time should not be wasted on such a waste of paper and ink. if it was a worthy book, then it would have been added to, revised, re-edited and whatnot by now! But horse, high or otherwise, I am not on, not now anyways.

  4. I wasn't at all suprised to read you got this from Peter Tatchell. This was one of Peter's hobby-horses back in the mid to late 1990s, when he was slightly less respectable and pro-Establishment than he is now.

    The reality, of course, is slightly more complicated. For Hitler the embarrassing truth was that there were plenty of gay Nazis. Some, such as Ernst Röhm and his followers (whom Hitler had disposed of at the Night of the Long Knives), were quite open about it. Others, such as Baldur von Schirach, were closeted.

    The reason this was embarrassing for the more mainstream Nazis though was that homosexuality was already illegal before the NSDAP came to power, and indeed it carried on being illegal after the War right up until the 1960s. The reason gays were sent to the concentration camps was because the prisons were full. They were not political prisoners as such.

  5. Hello Ray:
    What an interesting point of view you raise here. Neither of us has read this particular book and it would be very difficult to approach it now given what you have shown to be a serious omission at best or a blatant cover-up at worst.

    History is rewritten so many times in so many ways depending on the individual persuasions and viewpoints of the writers. Where does Truth lie?

  6. You said this was the "definitive account of World War II", but is it still regarded as such?

  7. Cubby - No, what I was trying to say, albeit clumsily, was that soon AFTER PUBLICATION it received that revered status. I think it must have been superceded many times over by now - indeed I find it hardly ever referred to. I can't offhand think of one particular work that these days would be regarded as the 'definitive' account. Even Winston Churchill's own version of this period was soon found to be flawed within years of its appearing (exonerating his own role, blaming everyone but himself) Mind you, his standard of writing was generally magnificent, as is Shirer's. But is that enough? Almost certainly not.

  8. J & L - Exactly! Accounts of historical events change with the times, depending on the then prevailing knowledge, sympathies and prejudices (or lack thereof). And, as you say, it's almost impossible to remove the writer's own judgments from his/her own writing when attempting to be 'factual'.
    Where does 'Truth' lie? (if there really is an absolute 'truth', which is doubtful.) I'm sure that future historians will be taking up different attitudes to those which we now hold as 'enlightened'. It seems that succeeding ages, through their historians, sort of 'dance around' a focal point without that point ever being pinned down, though getting ever closer to it. At least that's what I'd like to think.

  9. V of F - yes, Tatchell is in full, histrionic flow in his article here, isn't he? I don't recall reading this at the time though if I had it would certainly have caused me to sit up.

    Although I bow to your much more informed knowledge on this subject I'm a bit surprised to read that "the reason gays were sent to concentration camps was because the prisons were full." If so, does this mean that the Nazis simply felt that the already existing anti-gay laws were not being implemented fully and that they needed to be more rigorously applied? If there were not sufficient prison places I would have thought that the wearing of a pink triangle in a concentration camp would have been a signal to treat the wearer LESS harshly as he(/she?) would not have been part of a deliberate extermination programme - or did the Nazi hierarchy want to enforce the death penalty against ALL gays, despite the fact that (as you say) there was a significant number of gays within their own ranks, including at the most senior levels?

    Anyway, this blog has clearly stirred a bigger hornets' nest than I'd intended so after all this heaviness I'm looking to make my next entry a rather more light-hearted one.
    Thanks for your visit, V/F. Cheers.

  10. Jase, I've got myself into deep water on this one. Help - I'm drowning! ;-)

  11. Who says historians are open-minded and impartial? I know several who are eminent authorities, yet they have the same problems, prejudices and human failings as the rest of mankind.

    Shirer has been sitting on my shelves for a very long time (I declare an interest in the Thousand Year Reich) but I've yet to get round to him.

    There were other groups you have not mentioned (I don't know if Shirer mentions them), the mentally unstable and simple-minded for instance. There is a family story that the neighbour's young child was taken from its home, ostensibly to 'go on a free holiday'; it was never seen again.

    I saw your comment at the Hattat's and liked the idea of waiting for the Lottery to furnish you with a two bedroom house.

  12. Friko - I extend a warm welcome to you to my humble blog. Thanks for popping by.
    I so agree that all writers will tend to produce their work against a background of their own prejudices - and we've ALL got those, though we may pretend that it's not so. But an additional problem is that no two people will agree on the extent of the prejudices revealed in someone else's writing or speech because of their OWN unique standpoint. (If we agree with them - then THEY are not prejudiced!) And so it goes round in circles. I think any notion of an 'absolute' truth is probably pie-in-the-sky, because it all depends on the observer's viewpoint. The best we can do is to recognise the prejudices of both the writer and ourselves, the reader/listener/viewer.

    I wish I could find that list of victims of the Nazis among the (in my book) nearly 1400 pages, but I've flicked through three times without luck. I know it's there somewhere. But now that you mention it, I'm half-sure that it does include the number of mentally defective/ill. (Oh dear, I don't know off-hand the current PC way to label such individuals.) I could find the list but I think it'll have to wait until I read the whole thing through - and I haven't yet decided whether to undertake this long 'journey' yet again.

    My Lottery dream is much more modest than wanting a house. A reasonably large flat/apartment in a nice, safe area with plenty of culture around is all that I want. You see, I don't really ask for that much. ;-)

  13. Ray, I'm glad you are at least willing to give the book a chance for a second reading, even with the historical limitations. I'm a person that likes to read old history books or old books covering historical topics. You can tell much about the cultural influences, prejudices, and thinking of a person by their writing and what they choose to exemplify or hide. Reading old books is like having a window into a writers mind and soul frozen to that moment. To see the truth in an outdated book you may have to read between the lines, but for me that can be half of the fun.

  14. Oh Kyle, thanks for that totally refreshing P.O.V.!
    I'm so with you on seeing the original writing in its historical context. Also "reading between the lines" as you put it is so very important too. There's always a lot more than what we see in print before our eyes.
    As for the first, we've all heard about movements to re-publish Mark Twain (and many others) with the 'N' word expunged. Removing the word 'queer' from early 20th century novels and replacing it with 'gay' or 'homosexual' - unless, of course, the 'Q' word occurs in 'gay literature'. Even re-writing 'The Taming of the Shrew' and 'Merchant of Venice' are seriously suggested so that they are not so offensive to women and Jews respectively. (Some also demand that performances of these plays banned!) One can only assume that the same people would be campaigning for contemporary writings to be modified in the future to reflect that future time's sensitivities - though we don't know in which direction such sensitivities may go next.
    Your comment has re-lit my desire to read this Shirer again. I think you and I would agree that Tatchell really does go O.T.T. in calling for this work to be totally outlawed.
    Thanks for your comment, Kyle - but I really opened a can of worms on this subject, something that was not remotely contemplated when I posted the original blog.