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Other holocaust victims considered

By Shirley Dang Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday September 30, 2000

Holocaust experts and activists detailed the difficulties of earning recognition and reparations for non-Jewish victims of Nazi war crimes during a panel discussion at the Castro Theatre. 

The panel was held earlier in the week as part of a screening of Paragraph 175, a documentary which recounts gay and lesbian persecution under the Third Reich.  

The Nazis labeled many groups of people as “degenerates,” said panelist and historian James Lichti of Hebrew Union College. They were sterilized, interned in camps and killed. 

The mentally and physically disabled were the first of those persecuted, he added.  

More than 400,000 disabled people were forcibly sterilized during the regime’s reign, said Shawna Parks, panelist and lawyer at Disabilities Rights Advocates in Oakland. More than 275,000 disabled people were mass murdered in camps. 

On behalf of 16 international organizations representing disabled victims, Parks and other advocates are petitioning for reparations from last year’s Swiss Banks’ class action lawsuit settlement, she said. The banks held gold and valuables looted from Nazi victims, including the disabled. 

The settlement was set at $1.25 billion, but how the funds will be distributed has yet to be decided. A federal hearing on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 20 in New York.  

As illustrated in the film, finding survivors willing to talk about their experience is difficult, said Parks.  

“The older they get, the fewer there are,” she said.  

Disabled victims who did not die in camps were sterilized and have no children to carry on their story, she added. 

Also, many of the remaining disabled are living in managed care facilities and cannot leave to testify, she said.  

With deaf survivors, the language barrier poses another dilemma, she said. In addition, the learning disabled may not be able to communicate well. 

Other survivor groups like African-Germans and the Roma-Sinti have been reluctant to come forward as well, said historian Lichti. 

About 250,000 Roma-Sinti were murdered during the war, he said. Africans and African-Germans were systematically sterilized. 

Yet these groups feel that they were not oppressed compared to the Jews, he added.  

“Why does the suffering of one group take away from another?” he asked.  

Many Orthodox Jews rail against the inclusion of non-Jews as victims, he added. 

“Please don’t take the holocaust away from us,” is a comment that the film’s producer and panelist, Michael Ehrenzweig, said he heard repeatedly at previous screenings of the film. 

One audience member, Gloria, spoke of the preferential treatment of non-Jews in the seven concentration camps she survived. 

Often, non-Jews were chosen to lead teams of laborers, she said. Many had families outside from whom they could receive care packages. 

“There’s always this tension among survivors,” said Parks, especially where money is involved. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember who the bad guys were.” 

More than 225 people attended the public dialogue to discuss the recognition of these “other victims.” 

The panel was organized and funded by the Jewish Museum of San Francisco and the German Goethe Institut. The Holocaust Center of Northern California co-sponsored the event.