The study travel trip that a colleague and I planned for Poland didn’t happen, for various reasons. However, one of the students who registered for the trip asked if I could do a directed study based on the Poland trip. I agreed to lead the directed study this summer, and I’ve been thinking, over the past few weeks, how to expand and make the most out of a summer long directed study. So, today, I want to share with you my first thoughts for a special topics class entitled “Jim Crow and the Holocaust.”

Course Overview

Herman Rauschning’s The Voice of Destruction appeared in 1940, and his book details conversations had Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1934 when Rauschning was briefly part of the Nazi Party. Rauschning relates that at a dinner party in 1933 Hitler told advisors who sought for him to get the United States on his side that the United States was in “the last disgusting death-rattle of a corrupt and outworn system” that has been on the decline since “the Southern states were conquered.” Hitler saw the South’s defeat during the Civil War as the first notch in the downfall of the United States. He said, “The beginnings of a great new social order based on the principle of slavery and inequality were destroyed by that war, and with them also the embryo of a future truly great America that would not have been ruled by a corrupt class of tradesmen, but by a real Herren-class that would have swept away all falsities of liberty and equality.”

Hitler saw the Confederacy as a fascist, totalitarian state not governed by democracy but rather governed with an iron fist. While not known specifically, Hitler may have even looked to the Ku Klux Klan, along with fascists on the European continent, as an example for the Nazi regime. Robert O. Paxton notes that perhaps “the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: the Ku Klux Klan.” He continues by pointing out that the Klan’s appearance following the Civil War “constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate concerns.”

Even though we don’t know the direct impact of the Klan on Hitler and the Nazi’s ideology, we know that the ideology the Klan supported and sought to uphold, white supremacy through Jim Crow segregation and terrorization, did inform their laws and positions. James Q. Whitman points this out clearly in Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law where he details the ways that laws in the United States South specifically influenced the construction of the September 1933 Preußische Denkschrift, the Prussian Memorandum, the National Socialist Handbook and Legislation from 1934–1935, and the Law on the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, the Reich Flag Law, and the Reich Citizenship Law.

During the war, some in the United States saw the direct correlation between the Jim Crow South and Nazi Germany. Lillian Smith wrote about it in Killers of the Dream, “The White Christian and His Conscience,” and other works. The Black press noted it too. As Roy Wilkins wrote in 1938, “The South approaches more nearly than any other section of the United States the Nazi idea of government by a ‘master race’ without the interference from any democratic process.”

Following the war, the United Nations held the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide where they explicitly defined genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Segregationist rejected this convention and the UN as a whole because it challenged white supremacy and Jim Crow. However, groups such as the Civil Rights Congress took the definition and pointed out how the United States actively engaged in the genocide of African Americans based on the UN’s definition. In 1951, they presented We Charge Genocide to the the UN where they pointed out that the United States took part in the genocide of over 15,000,000 of of its citizens.

In this course, we will look at the connections between Jim Crow and the Holocaust. We will look at graphic novels that engage Jim Crow or the Holocaust and we will use these texts as a springboard to look at historical documents such as We Charge Genocide. This course cannot be all encompassing, because no course can really be all encompassing. However, it will provide a firm foundation highlighting the links between Jim Crow and the Holocaust, examining the ways that we need to think about history and literature not in terms of binaries but rather in terms of multifaceted connections with no clear determination of one side or another.

Primary Texts:

  • Johnson, Mat and Warren Pleece. Incognegro
  • Krimsten, Ken. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth
  • Morales, Robert and Kyle Baker. Truth: Red, White, and Black
  • Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus
  • We Charge Genocide

Secondary Texts:

  • Feig, Konnilyn. “Introduction” from Hitler’s Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness
  • Grill, Johnpeter Horst and Robert Jenkins. “The Nazis and the American South in the 1930s: A Mirror Image?”
  • Paxton, Robert. Selections from The Anatomy of Fascism
  • Smith, Lillian. Selections from Killers of the Dream
  • Yerby, Frank. “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”

Assignments:

Conference Proposal and Paper—This assignment will require you to write a proposal for an academic conference and paper to present at the conference. The hope is that you will write a proposal for this conference and submit it. The paper will be a conference length paper, between 5 and 7 pages, and will focus on one of the themes and texts that we discuss in class.

Co-Authored Academic PaperFor this assignment, we will collaborate on writing an artciel for submission to an academic journal. We will determine possible journals to submit to and base our essay on their submission requirements. This assignment is meant to help you see that writing is a collaborative exercise and to assist you in acquiring the skills needed to continue your academic path in graduate school.

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