October 10th, 2011

Here’s Donald Duck as a Nazi, culled from WW2-era propaganda. Click on this link to see a ladies’ hockey team decked out in swastikas, when the symbol stood for Native American Sanskrit healing. Now that I’ve properly insulated myself with some humor, let’s talk Nazis. I can’t speak for all Jews, and certainly, as someone whose family was scarcely affected by the Holocaust, I’m in a privileged, if attenuated, position when it comes to El Reich. This stuff is only ever so real to me.

That said, Nazi imagery and iconography was an integral part of Jewish collective memory well before Schindler’s List, and Bill Clinton’s “Year of the Holocaust” pronouncement. I don’t care if you think collective memory is a crock. Jews make use of it the best we can, even when, as I said, some people don’t need to resort to linguistic mumbo-jumbo to find their place in it. Part of that is growing up with Nazis on the brain. As mass-slaughter, the Holocaust is unfathomable. But it wasn’t just that. Somehow, one of the worst human undertakings of the modern era was attached to an ideology, and extended fan club, that was chock full of silliness and outright aestheticism. The significance of Germany, or the Germanic ideal, was buried long ago; what remains, as both a magnet for present-day racists in search of a look, and an object of fascination for those who can’t help but confront them as historical fact. Arch-fiends, through their actions, suggest a kind of purity. Beyond that, we also all know about their banality. Yet the irony that continues to serve as the hook, and the lure, is that Nazis also set high watermarks for kookiness, eschatological blather, camp, and fright-as-art.

None of these are good things, but with the shoah internalized and absorbed, they do start to peal away and take on lives of their own. I have had Holocaust flight dreams as far back as I can remember (thanks, EC!). Nazis, on the other hand, are a curiosity, albeit one that must be handled carefully—a boundless source of material that, if anything, is the unapologetic plunder of every Jew. The least we could have is a good laugh, or hard look at, the organization that tried to wipe us off the face of the Earth.

So yes, I was a little surprised to find this passage in Chuck Klosterman’s eulogy for Al Davis:

What is one to make of a Jewish person who is fascinated by Adolf Hitler? How do we comprehend a man who goes out of his way to study the most hated thing he can imagine? In 99.9 percent of all possible scenarios, such paradoxical absorption would be dark and meaningful. It would be twisted and bizarre, and it would be perceived as the ultimate manifestation of self-loathing. Unless, of course, the Jewish person is question was Al Davis. Then it makes perfect sense. Of course Al Davis was interested in the Nazis. Of course he was. Somehow, it would have been more surprising if he hadn’t been. 

I am sorry if anyone, in any office, takes this as a hit piece. It’s just unfathomable to me that a Jew, especially one fascinated by power and image, would not fixate on the Nazis. While I’m sure it galls white supremacists, that history, the legacy, is ours now. It’s why The Producers or the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm exist. And though comparing folks to Hitler is like bringing a corpse to a knife-fight, the Nazis as a whole left behind plenty of material to work with. You just have to be Jewish for it to not come off as a hate crime.

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