OK, Occam’s Razor would indicate that Barack Obama has a maternal great uncle (i.e., his mother’s mother’s brother), named Charles Payne (middle initial unclear) who served with the 355th Infantry that liberated one of the camps in the Buchenwald complex, despite previous concerns on that score.
It seems very unlikely that he would have a great uncle by that name, and that someone by that name would have had that service record, who also was an Obama political supporter, and he would put forth such a story, and that they are not the same person, despite the confusion about the middle initial. So, if we ignore the “Auschwitz” reference, and the fact that he calls his great uncle his uncle (understandable, given that he had no actual uncles, at least on his mother’s side), the story is accurate.
But it’s not that easy to ignore Auschwitz.
That’s because “Auschwitz” has become one of the most emotionally charged words in the English (well, OK, it’s not English–it’s German) language. It’s one of the most emotionally charged words in any language, for anyone who is aware of what happened there, and few educated people aren’t, regardless of their native language.
The word is significant in the context of the Obama campaign for two reasons.
First, because it has such emotional connotations, particularly for Jews, with whom Obama has had trouble closing the deal, it looks like he’s pandering to them. I’m not saying that he is, but it has that appearance.
Auschwitz was the site of the deliberate extermination of many of them (as well as Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others deemed “unworthy of life” by the National Socialists aka Nazis) and one might cynically think that an attempt to say that one of his family members was responsible for the liberation of the camp would give that constituency a warmer feeling for him, despite his many foreign policy advisors who clearly are not fans of the state of Israel (e.g., Zbig).
Buchenwald, on the other hand, while atrocious beyond normal human understanding, was merely a slave labor camp, and not historically abnormal in a time of war. The people who died there did so under the stress of work and disease, rather than as a deliberate attempt to wipe them off the planet. Which, of course, says much more about human nature and history than it does about the Nazis.
But beyond that, it is of concern because it reveals a profound ignorance of history and/or geography.
Anyone familiar with the history of World War II knows that Auschwitz (despite its Germanic name, which like Dansk to Danzig after the conquest in 1939, was a rename–the Polish name is Oswiecim), was in the occupied country of Poland, which before the war had hundreds of thousands of Jews, and after the war had…virtually none.
Furthermore, anyone familiar with that history knows that American troops never advanced past the River Elbe, in Germany, and that the Soviet forces advanced all the way across Poland and into eastern Germany, raping and pillaging as they went. Which is why there was an East Germany. Has Barack never heard of that “country,” which was a colony of the Soviet Union, of which his mother was not obviously unfond (to understate the issue)?
No one, in other words, familiar with that history, would imagine that an American soldier, under Patton, had contributed to the “liberation” (scare quotes because the Soviets never liberated anyone–they only enslaved them) of Auschwitz.
Obama didn’t know this. Nor, apparently, did anyone on his staff, since he had been spouting the same fable since 2002 and no one had bothered to correct him. Or if they had, they were ignored. I’m not sure which is worse.
Given his unfamiliarity with Jack Kennedy’s less-than-successful negotiations with Khrushchev, it makes one wonder what else he doesn’t know.
[Late evening update]
Some have taken issue of my characterization of Buchenwald as “merely a slave labor camp.”
This has to be taken in context. I’m not sure what part of “atrocious beyond human understanding” with regard to that camp the commenters don’t understand.
I wasn’t excusing it in any way. I was simply pointing out that in the historical context of war, in which civilians were generally enslaved or killed, and disposed of when they could no longer work, it was hardly abnormal. Auschwitz (and Treblinka, and Sobibor, and Chelmo, and Betzec, and Majdenek) were in a separate class, previously unknown, which gave rise to the term “genocide,” in which the intent was to wipe out an entire people. I’m sorry that some don’t get the point.
[Thursday morning update]
Well, I certainly seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest among some. Let me pick up the remains of the straw men that were strewn around and kicked apart here overnight.
For the record, I did not say, or imply, that Buchenwald was a summer camp. I did not say, or imply, that the leftist Hitler’s crimes were a “drop in the bucket” compared to the leftist Stalin’s. I did not say, or imply, that working people to death is not murdering them. I did not say, or imply, that anyone’s death (including Anne Frank’s) was less tragic because it occurred at Bergen-Belsen than at Auschitz. I did not say, or imply, that I would “smile with satisfaction” if I were at Buchenwald instead of Auschwitz.
I’m not sure how to have a rational discussion with anyone nutty enough to have managed to infer any of the above from what I actually wrote.
Also, for the record, I am not now, and have never been a Republican, or (AFAIK) a “right winger,” unless by that phrase one means a classical liberal. As for “sitting down with my Jewish friends and discussing this,” I not only have Jewish friends, but Jewish relatives by blood, or perhaps I should say had, because they include many who doubtless died in both types of camps.
[Update a few minutes later]
One other straw man. I did not say, or imply, that because of this single incident Barack Obama was unfit to be president of the United States. But it is part, albeit a small one, of a much larger tapestry.
[One more update]
To the people in comments asking me what I meant by this, or why I wrote it, I don’t know how to better explain my points than I already have. If after having actually read it carefully, for comprehension, you still don’t get it, or willfully choose to misinterpret it, I can’t help you.
OK, I’ll make one attempt, for those who think that I am somehow “minimizing” what happened at Buchenwald. Perhaps they don’t understand the true meaning of the word “atrocious,” as in the phrase I used, “atrocious beyond human understanding.”
I wasn’t using it in perhaps a more popular (and trivial) sense as “that movie or meal was atrocious.” I was using it in its most literal sense, as in a place where actual atrocities occurred. The two words are related, you know?
[Update about 9:30]
If I change the phrase “merely a slave labor camp,” which is what seems to be generating such irrational fury and umbrage, to “not a site for the extermination of a people on an industrial scale,” will that mollify people? Probably not, but I’ll do it anyway.
I’m wondering how much of the rampant insanity, straw mannery and outrage in comments would have been avoided had I merely omitted the word “merely”.
[Friday morning update]
I have one final (I hope) follow up post on this subject.