Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paired histories: divergent massacres

Two posts I saw the other day have stuck in my mind since. If you're feeling emotionally fragile and pessimistic about human possibilities, maybe you should just skip over this.

One is an article from the New York Times which explores a very unpleasant subject, the fact that a certain number of German women actively volunteered to take part in the Final Solution. Here is a bit of it:
Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower. But in many cases where genocide was taking place, German women were very close by. Several witnesses have described festive banquets near mass shooting sites in the Ukrainian forests, with German women providing refreshments for the shooting squads whose work often went on for days.

Ms. Petri was married to an SS officer who ran an agricultural estate, complete with a colonial-style manor house and slave laborers, in Galicia, in occupied Poland. She later confessed to having murdered six Jewish children, aged 6 to 12. She came across them while out riding in her carriage. She was the mother of two young children, and was 25 at the time. Near naked, the Jewish children had apparently escaped from a railroad car bound for the Sobibor camp. She took them home, fed them, then led them into the woods and shot them one by one.

She told her interrogators that she had done so, in part, because she wanted to prove herself to the men.

She was tried in East Germany and served a life sentence.

There is a more unusual story from a bare-bones blog (no author info). It concerns a rather famous figure from Algerian history who in his later life did something quite unexpected. Abd-el-Kader was a young man from a prominent tribal family who when the French first invaded Algeria about 1830 became the leading figure in the resistance. He lost, and eventually ended up in exile in Damascus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Then around 1860, there was big trouble in Lebanon and Syria, and the Druze, a religious and ethnic group unique to the area, plotted with a Turkish authorities to slaughter the Christians who compete with them for the dominance of the mountains of Lebanon. Abd-el-Kader, who was already a minor world celebrity and pretty well known in the Muslim world, took it upon himself to intervene. or so our blog, depending on a recent book,says:

On July 8th, Abd el-Kader had learned the details of the plot between the Druze and the Turks, and had rode out of the city to confront the Druze cavalry before they attacked. He – and his small army – succeeding in, ahem, convincing the Druze to call off their attack. Meanwhile, though, he was oblivious to the fact that there was a mob already sweeping through Damascus.

He returned to the city on July 10th, and found chaos before him. “Abd el-Kader soon learned that the Turkish troops assigned to protect the populace had been ordered into the citadel or were lackadaisically watching as rioters were running amok, burning homes and slaughtering Christians.”

And at that moment, Abd el-Kader, the man who had led his Muslim people in a war against Christian invaders for 15 years, knew what he had to do. And that he had to do it quickly.

First he and his men hurried to the French consulate to offer safe harbor; the French were immediately joined by Russian, American, Dutch, and Greek diplomats looking to flee the scene. And then:

All afternoon of July 10, Abd el-Kader plunged into the chaos of the Christian quarter with his two sons shouting: “Christians, come with me! I am Abd el-Kader, son of Muhi al-Din, the Algerian…Trust me. I will protect you.” For several hours his Algerians led hesitant Christians to his fortresslike home in the Nekib Allée, whose two-story interior and large courtyards would become a refuge for the desperate victims.

“As night advanced fresh hordes of marauders – Kurds, Arabs, Druzes – entered the quarter and swelled the furious mob, who, glutted with spoil, began to cry for blood. Men and boys of all ages were forced to apostatize and were then circumcised on the spot…Women were raped or hurried away to distant parts of the country where they were put in harems or married instantly to Mohammedans,” wrote Churchill of the events. “To say that the Turks took no means to stay this huge deluge of massacre and fire would be superfluous. They connived at it, they instigated it, they shared in it. Abd el-Kader alone stood between the living and the dead.”

Abd el-Kader returned with his men, and every Christian they could pull away to safety, to his estate.

News spread among the rioters that the emir was protecting the Christians. The next day an angry crowd gathered at his door to protest. They were prepared to tolerate his harboring diplomats, but demanded that he hand over the local Christians under his protection. As the mob got larger and more unruly, the emir came to the door.

“Give us the Christians,” the crowd shouted after he had quieted it by his silent presence.

“My brothers, your behavior violates the law of God. What makes you think you have a right to go around killing innocent people? Have you sunk so low that you are slaughtering women and children? Didn’t God say in our holy book, Whoever kills a man who has never committed murder or created disorder in the land will be regarded as a murderer of all humanity?”

“Give us the Christians! We want the Christians!”

“Didn’t God say there should be no constraint in religion?” the emir vainly replied.

“Oh holy warrior,” cried out one of the leaders in the mob. “We don’t want your advice. Why do you stick your nose in our business?”

“You have killed Christians yourself,” shouted another. “How can you oppose us for avenging their insults. You are like the infidels yourself – hand over those you are protecting in your home, or you will be punished the same as those you are hiding.”

“You are fools! The Christians I killed were invaders and occupiers who were ravaging our country. If acting against God’s law doesn’t frighten you, then think about the punishment you will receive from men…It will be terrible, I promise. If you will not listen to me, then God didn’t provide you with reason – you are like animals who are aroused only by the sight of grass and water.”

“You can keep the diplomats. Give us the Christians!” shouted the mob, sounding more and more like Romans in the Coloseum.

“As long as one of my soldiers is still standing, you will not touch them. They are my guests. Murderers of women and children, you sons of sin, try to take one of these Christians and you will learn how well my soldiers fight.” The emir turned to Kara Mohammed. “Get my weapons, my horse. We will fight for a just cause, just as the one we fought for before.”

“God is great,” his men shouted, brandishing their guns and swords. Faced with the emir’s battle-hardened veterans, the crowd melted away bravely hurling insults.

Well over a thousand Christian refugees were housed inside Abd el-Kader’s home, making it so crowded that people could not sit or lie down, let alone use the facilities. So Abd el-Kader arranged for small groups of his Algerian men to accompany the Christians, in groups of 100, to the citadel outside the city – the same citadel that the Druze had originally planned to use to slaughter them.

There's more.

Parts of the above were quoted from John W. Kiser’s Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader. Unfortunately the italics indicating this disappeared in the copying process.


  1. Remarkable stories.

  2. This story needs to be made into a movie and shown in the West. The closing scene should be this letter,

    'Abd el-Kader was characteristically modest about his role. In a letter to the Bishop of Algiers, he wrote,

    “…That which we did for the Christians, we did to be faithful to Islamic law and out of respect for human rights. All creatures are part of God’s family and those most loved by God are those who do the most good for his family. All the religions of the book rest on two principles – to praise God and to have compassion for his creatures…The law of Mohammed places the greatest importance on compassion and mercy, and on all that which preserves social cohesion and protects us from division. But those who belong to the religion of Mohammed have corrupted it, which is why they are now like lost sheep. Thank you for your prayers and good will toward me…”