So, based on some quick research, the term, “Aryan,” is described as “a term originally used as an ethnocultural self-designation by Indo-Iranians in ancient times, in contrast to the nearby outsiders known as non-Aryan.” This does NOT suggest to me the blue-eyed, blond-haired, rather Nordic looking type which is commonly believed to be the Nazi “Aryan ideal,” as I don’t think of “Indo-Iranians” as having these characteristics. I could be incorrect in this thinking, of course, but this is not what comes to mind for this description.
I confess that I am also frequently confused over what is meant by the terms, “Jewish,” “Hebrew,” and “Semitic.” I’m probably wrong, but I always thought that “Jewish” primarily referred to one who was an adherent of a particular religion. That is, I always considered someone to be a Jew if they identified with Jewish religious and cultural traditions.
While I still like that idea, my very limited research suggests that there does seem to be a DNA heritage which is common to at least the major groups which are identified as being Jewish. On the other hand, I have always thought of “Hebrew” as being, primarily, a racial identity, so this DNA evidence would merely suggest that a large number of “Jewish” persons are of “Hebrew” extraction.
Now, “Semitic” refers to “… a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic and certain ancient languages such as Phoenician and Akkadian, constituting the main subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic family.” Hence, it also can (and is) used to refer to those people who descend from ancestors who used these languages. “Hebrew,” as I understand it, refers to “a member of or descendant from one of a group of northern Semitic peoples including the Israelites.” Thus, “Hebrews” are a subset of Semitic peoples and, logically enough, DO tend to have some degree of biological ancestry in common.
So far, I would suggest that things are complicated, but fairly clear. I find, however, that the situation is made even more difficult by the fact that it is possible to “convert” to Judaism (become Jewish) as, for example Sammie Davis, Jr. (an African-American) and Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married a Jewish man. I suppose one could suggest that she dyed her hair blond, as her father has done, to better fit the Nazi model of an “ethnic Aryan,” but that clearly is a matter of speculation.
Since one can convert to Judaism suggests to me that being “Jewish” can be, and often IS, seen as a religious rather than a racial-ethnic definition. I would think that, if it’s a religion, available to all ethnicities, then the definition isn’t exclusively racial/ethnic. But many seem to suggest that it’s one way for Jews, but quite different for Christians, since ANYONE can become a Christian through an act of religious expression and it seems that one can also do the same with the Jewish religion (unless you’re a Nazi?).
So how did “Jewish” become a racial thing? Well, as I indicated, there DOES seem to be some common genetic linkage back to the ancient Hebrews, but it’s also true that (after the Diaspora), at least in modern times, Jews from distinct geographic regions vary greatly in their diet, language, dress, and folk customs. Most pre-modern Diaspora communities are divided into four major ethnic groups: Ashkenazi, the Jews of Germany and Northern France (many of whom eventually migrated to Poland and Russia); Sephardic, the Jews of Iberia and the Spanish diaspora; Mizrahi (Oriental) Jews of Middle Eastern (Syrian and Iraqi) descent; and Ethiopian Jews. Note: this information suggests at least a loose biological (racial) connection, but significant ethnic differences. The information I have found is that the majority of American Jews are of Ashkenazi descent and are about 80% European in their DNA, but some Hebrew ancestry is, generally, common. It would seem, however, that (as was true of the “one drop of Black blood theory) ANY Hebrew DNA is enough that one COULD be racially identified as Jewish, at least by some.
I confess that I find all of this especially confusing since the term often used for acts and/or speech which is viewed as anti-Jewish is described as “anti-Semitic,” but “Semitic” refers to both several languages and all of the people who descend from those who used those Semitic languages, which include Hebrew, but also Arabic and Aramaic. I have certainly encountered discussion suggesting that Jesus probably actually spoke primarily Aramaic, so being “anti-Semitic” would suggest that one was supposed to be anti-Aramaic, which would suggest anti-Jesus, an idea which is certainly not emphasized. Nor were the German Nazis, often referred to as being Anti-Semites, particularly Anti-Arab (see the history of World War II). I suspect that it’s true that a “good” Nazi would be unlikely to find one of Arab extraction to be among his/her equals, but there is no evidence I have encountered suggesting that the Nazis made a concerted effort to wipe out the Arab community. What I have seen suggests that they were actually supportive of the Arabs because they were anti-Jewish.
I also wonder about the idea that the entire Holocaust experience is often identified, at least by those sympathetic to the Jewish community, as having been almost exclusively, a Jewish phenomenon. This is apparently incorrect. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Holocaust was "the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.” But, the same source also notes that 11 million members of other groups were murdered during the "era of the Holocaust”. Those others included something like 5.7 million Soviet civilians (excluding Jews); 2.8-3.3 million Soviet POWs; 1.8-3 million Poles; 300,000-600,000 Serbs; 270,000 disabled persons; 130,000 - 500,000 Romani (Gypsies); 80,000 - 200,000 Freemasons; 20,000 - 25,000 Slovenes; 5,000 - 15,000 homosexuals; 3,500 Spanish Republicans; and 1250 - 5000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Yes, it IS true that the Nazis did set out on a deliberate campaign to eliminate the existence of Jews from “their” land. So, one CAN argue that the Jews of Europe were a major intended victim of the Holocaust. But the Nazis also murdered a substantially greater number of non-Jewish people during this timeframe. It’s also worth noting that these numbers do NOT include combat casualties. None of this, of course, solves the riddle as to whether “Jewishness” is a racial, ethnic, or just a religious designation, or whether such a distinction even has meaning. So, let me try to explain my own take on the idea.
I grew up in Evanston, IL, a Chicago suburb which is next door to the even smaller suburb of Skokie, IL, which has had a large Jewish population (whatever THAT means) especially since the end of World War II. Now, the way school districts in Illinois are established (as I remember it from middle school history) is that much of the Midwest was divided up into “townships” each approximately six miles square. This was based on the fact that federal ordinances passed in 1785 and 1787 gave substantial acreage of federal lands in trust to new states entering the union, as long as the states agreed to set aside a portion of these lands for the support of public schools. These federal “land grants” not only supported the creation and maintenance of schools in each of the townships carved out of former territories, but also helped to build stable communities across the country, each with a local government and education system. (While it was later, this idea also accounts for the Land-Grant Universities which exist in every state to teach agriculture, the mechanical arts (engineering), and, as a side issue, military training, which is where the R.O.T.C. came from.
Anyway, the Evanston Township School Districts, #65 for primary and middle grade schools and #202 for Evanston Township High School, provided the schools I attended as a child. Those districts included a portion of what became the Village of Skokie. While I was growing up, we had “neighborhood” schools, so, while there certainly were African-American families in Evanston Township, they didn’t live in my neighborhood (and were probably deliberately excluded through “redlining”), so I didn’t go to primary school with such kids, nor with kids from Skokie (perhaps because the neighborhood lines were drawn to exclude them, as they were more likely to be Jewish?).
However, all of that changed when we went to Junior High (Middle) School (7th & 8th grades during my time). So in a sense, I grew up with Black and Jewish kids, although I did not live in the same neighborhoods as they did, but I did attend classes with them, was in many of the same activities, etc. I’d like to think I had friends among both the Jewish and Black populations of my Junior High School (and the High School when we got there). Were there individuals within both of these groups whom I didn’t care for very much? Sure, but I wasn’t fond of some of my “White” acquaintances, either, so I’d like to think that it wasn’t prejudice, just that there were some people I became friends with and some I didn’t much care for.
I came to believe later in my life that the then highly touted notion of desegregation by school busing was largely doomed from the beginning because the problem of segregation was more a problem of the parents than of the kids and was really an outgrowth of concern over property values, employment discrimination based on perceived “class,” differences in religious practices (Sunday morning seems always to have been the most segregated time of the week and, probably still is), and historically based educational and employment discrimination.
Somehow, I think I lived through all of this and ended up relatively free of prejudice against any group, except the stupid. I confess that I have little tolerance for people who don’t pay attention to facts or accept that they may not have all the answers. I think I am very much a follower of the idea expressed by Sam, the diner owner, in The Muppets Take Manhattan when he said (as he does more that once) “Peoples is peoples.” I take that to mean that all people have a right to be respected, listened to, debated with, and to draw their own conclusions based on the facts of the case, whatever they may be. NOTE: facts are what is important, not unverified statements from any media, social or otherwise, or just the loudly repeated statements of political figures, no matter what their agenda. I would suggest that ALL people have the same RIGHTS, and they are absolute, not subject to popular opinion.
Even so, their rights end where they try to force their beliefs and/or opinions on me because THAT is NOT their right. I think it’s worth remembering Andrew Shepherd’s words from The American President:
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause
it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let's see you
acknowledge a man who's words make your blood boil, and who's standing center stage
and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing
at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol
of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens
exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that,
celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of
I think much the same thing has been attributed (apparently incorrectly) to Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” To which I would only add the words of Laurence Olivier, “Have a very good reason for everything you do.” Sir Larry, of course, was discussing acting at the time, but I think the idea has merit in most fields as it suggests that one shouldn’t do much of anything without considering the facts, implications and consequences of any decision/conclusion one reaches.
I think that those who wish to lead have a special responsibility to follow Olivier’s advice. After all, the decisions which they make may well have a profound effect on the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of others. I don’t think that’s a responsibility which should be taken lightly. Apparently I’m not the only one who has considered some of these ideas. The British Parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, said that, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
So, how does this all fit together? I have no idea! I’m no nearer to thinking that I am comfortable stating that The Holocaust was, or was not, essentially racially motivated than I was when I started. As is true in many cases, it depends on how one defines things. If “Jewishness” is defined by race, how can one who “converts” to Judaism actually be a “Jew”? That’s only possible if “Jewishness” is defined by religion. And, whatever the outcome of THAT discussion, to be “anti-Semitic” would seem to require that one also be anti-Arab, since Arabic has Semitic roots just as Hebrew does, which would seem to suggest that the Arab peoples and the Hebrew people should both be against anti-Semitism, which does NOT always seem to be the case! And, I haven’t begun to address the issue of Aramaic being a Semitic language!
I do think it may be true that we all should be careful about defining The Holocaust as being just a “Jewish” experience, given the fact that the Nazis took action against a lot of other people as well. Based on my quick study, I think one could draw the conclusion that Whoopi was correct (or at least not incorrect) in suggesting that the Holocaust was not racially motivated, unless we are sure to include ALL of the "races" they attacked. (Are Russian or Polish "races"?) The Holocaust was NOT limited to what happened to the Jews. We should include the over 8 million Russians, around 2 million Poles, and well over a million others killed. Let’s face it, the Nazis didn’t like lot of people very much and took actions against many groups they disagreed with. Nazism does NOT seem to lead to debating societies. Probably because debating societies don’t tend to respond well to the Nazi tactics of “Believe (and do) what I say or I’ll beat you up!”
Oh, well, perhaps the notion of civil debate will eventually return to our country. I think I’d like that. All things considered, Dumbledore had it right! (See below.)
Maybe next time, I can get back to my more usual drivel, but this really bothered me and I needed to try to clarify my own thinking about it a bit. I’m not sure that I was very successful in doing that, but I did try.
See you soon, hopefully with some somewhat lighter material,
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” ―Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows