Updated: Sep 6
Before reading this blog post, please note, this blog post raises subjects such as racism, genocide, and other sensitive issues. There are also images some may find disturbing. Please click back if you do not wish to see this.
The Second World War, to most, will include the subject of the Holocaust. The genocide took the lives of six million Jewish people (cite), as well as the mass executions of The Nazis also claimed that Romany (Gypsies), Slavs (Poles, Russians), and physically and mentally disabled people (THE NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM, 2017). A question that arises from the event is how could this happen? The simple answer is that the Nazis dehumanised these groups of people.
Dehumanization is actually an extension of a less intense process of developing an "enemy image" of the opponent (Maiese, 2016). The concept is to allow the audience to perceive a group as non-human, to remove all empathy for the target of dehumanisation. With the Nazis, a series of characters of the Jews, with exaggerated features, such as big pointy noses and claw-like hands was common in their propaganda. This goes further with other propaganda depicting the Jewish as rats.
With comparisons to imagery, you can see through the character from humans with exaggerated features to animals. This collection of Nazi propaganda posters demonstrates how Jewish people can be seen as de-evolving from human to rodent.
The rat is a powerful image to portray, as rats are often associated with filth and disease (Vocabulary.com, n.d.). During the First World War (1914-1918), the German army command spread the myth that the army had not lost the war on the battlefield, but because they had been betrayed. By a ‘stab in the back, as it was called at the time (Anne Frank House, 2019). The blame was laid on the Jews and Communists. The disease being the control of government and economy.
Der Stürmer was an anti-Semitic "tabloid-style" newspaper published by Julius Streicher from 1923 almost continuously through to the end of World War II (Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, n.d.). The paper regularly produced cartoons depicting Jewish people in non-human form. This was not exclusive to the form of rats, as this one example shows a Jewish man as a spider about to collect its Aryan prey.
The spider, a creature that has the honour of being one of the more common fears in people, is Arachnophobia. Other words you could associate with the spider are ones like a predator, patient and cunning. These are all carefully illustrated, with our Jewish spider patiently waiting for its unsuspecting victim who will soon fall into his trap. The use of imagery of the woman. The imagery could be suggesting that the Jewish man is looking to capture the woman with the intent of breeding with her and diluting the master race.
Other cartoons from Der Stürmer, as mentioned before depict the Jewish as rats, this example below shows a Nazi Soldier killing a rat by a tree with poison. It is a cruel irony that the chemical used in the genocide, Zyklon-B, was a chemical for killing vermin (PHILADELPHIA HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE FOUNDATION OFFICE, n.d.). The use of
rat poison to murder Jews would help to reinforce the idea that the Jewish people were vermin in a human form.
Although most dehumanisation comes from the association of a group of people (usually a minority), there are cases of humans being dehumanised to commodities. Between 1672 and 1689, ships are believed to have transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas (Parkes, 2020). As inhuman as it is to force people into slavery, The slaves were also reduced to nothing more than a commodity for the consumers of slaves. The slaves were also branded with RAC, for the Royal African Company (Parkes, 2020). This can be seen in the same way Bosch would brand an appliance, a seal of quality to the consumer. A reminder to both slave and owner that the slaves are nothing more than a product to be used as the owner saw fit.
My research into Nazis and dehumanisation, lead me to discovering more about the idea. Kteily and Bruneau’s study, lead me to understand that not only is dehumanisation still happening today, but also that that had studied people from western countries on the subject, which uncovered that there were people that would rate other cultures as less evolved than themselves, using the Ascent of man scale.
In November 2015, the Daily Mail published a cartoon by Mac, (Grenoble, 2015). This cartoon is a depiction of the refugee crisis in Europe. The cartoon details refugees entering Europe. Notable imagery within the drawing shows a woman wearing a hijab, which denotes the religious aspect of the people crossing. A man with a rifle, suggests that they intend to bring terror or war to Europe. And rats, which symbolise that the people are pests or vermin. The cartoon intends to create fear and resentment in those looking for safety subconsciously, depicting them as lesser than the residents of European countries. In its publication, the cartoon was closely compared to cartoons published in a Viennese newspaper by the name of "Das Kleine Blatt" in 1939 (Grenoble, 2015), depicting Jewish people as a swarm of rats,
Throughout modern history, leaders and media have created scapegoats to justify issues. Blaming others may be unfair, but it calms passions because it identifies the problem with an external source and makes it easier for nations to put up with its consequences because they cannot control the behaviour of that source (Sushentsov, 2020). Picking a group as the source of blame elevates the people who are in place of the responsibility of the issue and media propaganda will attempt to persuade their audience, that the anger and frustrations should be directed towards the group(s) of people elected as the source of blame.
One of the most recent examples of this is COVID-19, where, then President Donald Trump and right-wing media, focused the blame of the global pandemic on China. Using the social media platform, Twitter, before he was banned in 2021 for using the platform to insight unrest (CITE).
Made tweets referring to the virus as the China Virus, while at the same time pointing out how he had made the decisions to protect the people of the United States. One study suggests that former President Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric around the coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in China, helped spark anti-Asian Twitter content and "likely perpetuated racist attitudes" (Reja, 2021).
The scapegoating of China for the outbreak was also portrayed by right-wing media. The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, run stories to not only suggest that blame on the pandemic must be focused on China, but also that China had created the virus in a lab.
COVID-19 'has NO credible natural ancestor' and WAS created by Chinese scientists who then tried to cover their tracks with 'retro-engineering' to make it seem like it naturally arose from bats, explosive new study claims (Boswell, 2021).
In the same way, Trump's tweets and press conferences are shown to have created prejudices towards the Chinese, publishing articles, based on theories and hearsay could have the same effect or even worse, when suggesting that the virus was created on purpose. These sorts of ideas and allegations, help to enforce mistrust and dislike of those of different cultures or appearances.
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