Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

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alitheiapsis
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Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby alitheiapsis » Mon May 18, 2009 4:07 am UTC

My geography teacher mentioned, quite a while ago, that he believed that the Jews under the Nazis (in power for ~15 years) underwent more suffering than all of the Africans enslaved (lasting for several centuries). At first, I laughed because I thought he was joking. He was completely serious. His reasoning was that beyond the first generation of slaves (new slaves continued to be brought to the US into the 1800s, if I have my history straight), there was not as much suffering: they knew what to expect.

This reasoning seems seriously flawed. I am far from good at US history (I'm excluding slavery in all other places to keep things clear), so I really can't say what conditions were like for the average slave. It seems untenable that whatever conditions they endured (disclaimer: all I know about conditions during slavery is from reading Roots) for hundreds of years can even be on the same order of magnitude as the atrocities felt by the Jews.

I understand it's hard to quantify "suffering"--perhaps my teacher and I simply used different metrics? The question does seem a bit silly. It's been months since my teacher brought it up; I doubt he remembers anymore. But it still bugs me, and I really want to know. How bad were conditions under slavery? Were they comparable to the inhumanities of the Holocaust (and other Nazi policies such as the Nuremberg laws)? Or are they just apples and oranges?

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harpyblues
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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby harpyblues » Mon May 18, 2009 4:22 am UTC

Well, you have to take into consideration that it's not just the Holocaust the Jews went through. In Europe, they've got a real history of getting chased/pillaged/scapegoated/thrown out of almost every country at some point for over a thousand years. Pogroms, getting blamed for the plague, etc, etc. Slaves were at least valuable then and expensive. Jews, on the other hand, were just plain undesirable to most people (especially in Spain).
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alitheiapsis
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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby alitheiapsis » Mon May 18, 2009 4:40 am UTC

He specifically referred to the Holocaust. That was the oddest part. I would have much more trouble dismissing his claim if it compared the travails of the Jews over all of history to the enslavement and oppression of Africans over all of history. But even after being asked, he said he was talking about the Holocaust alone.

That also brings up something I hadn't considered previously. The Jews weren't completely free of discrimination prior to the Nazis. Of course, it wasn't to the same scale, but anti-Semitism wasn't totally unheard of either.

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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby Bearboy » Mon May 18, 2009 6:18 am UTC

Can anybody estimate the amount of slaves in America there were? I reckon the larger group would have suffered the most even though there are lots of other factors.

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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby Kizyr » Mon May 18, 2009 6:40 am UTC

Bearboy wrote:Can anybody estimate the amount of slaves in America there were? I reckon the larger group would have suffered the most even though there are lots of other factors.

About 4 million at the start of the Civil War, less than 700,000 at the start of the Revolutionary War. If I had to guess, given the average lifespan was probably in the 30s-40s, maybe 5.5 million total? (Wikipedia / US census records)

During the slave trade, about 12 million Africans in total were taken to the Americas--if you're bringing up slavery, then you can't forget the millions who were taken to the Caribbean and South America.

The original question is a rather ridiculous one anyway... Comparing suffering doesn't work through some pseudo-mathematical equation, where "concentrated" suffering is worth X times as much as less concentrated suffering over a longer duration of time. I'd tend to be suspicious of anyone who brought up that question in the first place, since it sounds geared towards proving that a certain group "had it worse" than another. KF
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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby BeerBottle » Mon May 18, 2009 10:04 am UTC

I agree with Kizyr that it is impossible to quantify such an abstract and subjective concept as suffering in this way, especially when the circumstances are so very different. Even if every detail of the life of every slave in America and every Jew in Germany was known, would we be able to state for certain which group suffered more? The whole question is pointless, and smacks of a hidden political agenda.

alitheiapsis wrote:That also brings up something I hadn't considered previously. The Jews weren't completely free of discrimination prior to the Nazis. Of course, it wasn't to the same scale, but anti-Semitism wasn't totally unheard of either.
That's something of an understatement. After the Catholic conquest of Spain, which concluded in 1492, Jews were forced to convert or be expelled. Later, even those who had converted were expelled. Around Europe Jews were by law confined to living in certain, always undesirable, areas (the original Ghetto is in Granada, Spain) which were locked at night time to keep them in. They were banned from many professions, and in many areas they had to wear distinctive clothing and Jewish places of worship were strictly controlled. Not everywhere was the same. Catholic Spain was particularly bad, England not so bad, but pretty much everywhere in Christian Europe, anti-semitism existed. It certainly wasn't the the Nazi's idea.

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Re: Suffering: Holocaust vs. Slavery

Postby Azrael » Mon May 18, 2009 11:23 am UTC

This is not a game we're going to be playing.


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