Thomas, did you learn about our own interment camps for Japanese-descent Americans?
You mean, in school? No, we didn't. That would have gone against some sort of -- understanding? speech code? -- that teachers in Germany followed when I went to high school in the eighties. (Chances are they're still following it, but I don't actually know.) The understanding was that the Holocaust was so singularly horrible that any comparison with other atrocities is frivolous and revisionist.
In my opinion, this speech code reflected two things: first, an exaggerated sense of political correctness among the teachers; second, a justified vigilance against certain shibboleths frequently used among German Nazis, old and new. This latter part takes some background for non-Germans to understand, so please indulge me for a long-wound explanation.
Just as America still has the Ku Klux Klan and its sympathizers, Germany still has an extreme-right idiot fringe of maybe 5%. Its members still think that Hitler was a great leader, and that the Holocaust either didn't happen or was a good thing. But scarcely any of them would openly say that to a stranger. Instead they use shibboleths. For example, they might say this to you: "well, the thing with the Jews was regrettable -- but man
, did Hitler do a great job on the Autobahn
s or what?" Another shibboleth you would frequently hear from them is, "well, the thing with the Jews was regrettable -- but do you know what the Russians did? Pol Pot? The Americans with the Indians? Only if you give them a positive response to these shibboleths -- indicating you're probably one of them -- would they gradually move the conversation on toward "the Holocaust was a good thing and never happened anyway" territory.
Active anti-Nazis -- including practically all teachers at the time -- had gotten very vigilant about these Nazi shibboleths by the eighties. And they carried it to a point where (in my opinion) they poured out the baby with the bath water. So they told us very
little about the Gulag, almost nothing about Pol Pot, almost nothing about the American Indians, and literally nothing about the Japanese-born Americans in World War II. (Bosnia, Ruanda, and Darfur hadn't yet happened at that time. So much for "let's teach the Holocaust so it never happens again." But I digress.)
One time, in eleventh grade, I demanded more information about some of these other atrocities. By doing so, I inadvertently triggered a huge escalation with my German teacher. To her, it was obvious that I was mindlessly repeating stuff I had heard from a Nazi in the family, or something of that kind. Why else would I want to divert the class's attention away from the Holocaust like that? Without knowing it, I had set off my teacher's Nazi shibboleth alarm, so she fought tooth and nails against what she saw as a foothold of Nazism in her classroom.
And so, I never really
learned about the Japanese-Americans until I got into a fight with cicerone impostor here on A2K. He used the word "concentration camp" for the camps the Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in (including CI himself). I thought the term frivolously paved over the humongous differences between how the USA had treated the Japanese-Americans, and how Germany had treated its Jewish citizens. CI and I have long since been on friendly terms again, and I'm a lot better informed about the story than I was before the fight. But my school had nothing to do with it.