Tuesday night President Barack Obama sat down with The Tonight Show host, Jay Leno. Among the several things they discussed, one regarded foreign relations. Leno leads his questioning with this: “Well, something that shocked me about Russia — and I’m surprised this is not a huge story — suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany: Let’s round up the Jews, let’s round up the gays, let’s round up the blacks. I mean, it starts with that.”
This was an interesting thing to say. For the most part, in any other context of discussion, a comparison to Nazi Germany is simply outlandish. What exactly is happening in Russia at the moment? Most recently Russian lawmakers and Vladimir Putin approved an anti-homosexual propaganda bill; a bill so vague it effectively makes being homosexual illegal. The law has gained much notoriety especially with the upcoming Winter Games being held in Sochi, Russia. More so, acts of violence against homosexuals and their sympathizers have been increasing as police intervention has been decreasing.
In his quick intro, Leno points out a timeline, one made infamous by Martin Niemöller. His famous poem reads:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
The clear allusion to this arises in Leno’s central question – why isn’t the world outraged? Is history doomed to repeat itself? Probably not, but who is to stop it from happening? Since the end of World War II, there have been other genocides. Leno’s words make us wonder though, how similar are Russia’s actions to those of the Nazis?
The end of January 1933 was a turning point for Germany. President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Not more than a month later on February 27, the infamous Reichstag fire prompted Hitler to nullify multiple civil liberties through the Reichstag Fire Decree. It is commonly accepted that the fire was blamed on communists and in response the Nazis rounded up and detained many known communists. By the end of the year the Nazi party is in full control of what is now the Third Reich.
It wouldn’t be until 1938 that government-sponsored violence would take place against the Jews. November 9-10 of that year Kristallnacht would demonstrate to Jews the very real threat that surrounded them.
Is Russia quite at that level? Perhaps not to the level of Kristallnacht but they are well on their way. The fact that the police do not intercede on violent acts against homosexuals shows that there is little regard for human life. The only comparison that can be made is to the Nazi’s SA Storm troopers. They were complicit during Kristallnacht and in some case took part and encouraged German citizens to act against their Jewish counterparts. In Russia we see the police doing little to stop the violence and if they do anything at all, it is arresting and detaining homosexuals.
Leno’s central question is huge. Why isn’t the world more outraged? Perhaps it is because a massive act, the likes of Kristallnacht, has yet to take place. Perhaps they simply don’t care. Let’s not forget the other genocides that have happened since World War II that are lost in our collective memory. To dig further, what will happen if Russia goes unchecked?
For this we can look to the past and see what the Nazis did. We all know what happened in the Holocaust – 6 million Jews were murdered for the purpose of racial extermination and purification. But what did the Nazis do to homosexuals?
Here is an often-lost story. Like the communists and gypsies, homosexuals were among the first groups of people to be put into concentration camps by the Nazis. Their story is quite unique, however. In his memoir, Heinz Heger, points out something very familiar in our discussion. He speaks about a new law that stated, “any form of ‘lewdness’ between two men was included in the offense of homosexuality. This could mean, and indeed did mean, as little as a mere kiss or embrace, or even a fiction with homoerotic content.” Violation of this new law sent people to the camps. People like Heger were often tortured to divulge names of other homosexuals before being sent away. When at the camps they would often be ridiculed, forced into a twisted system of prostitution, or raped with a various assortment of foreign objects.
Is there where Russia is going? We can see already the treatment homosexuals in Russia are dealing with. There have been accounts of publicly humiliation, cyber-bullying, physical violence, the list goes on. Jay Leno is right; the world should be more outraged by this than they seem to be. People deserve better than this. Obama should live by his words and have no patience for such treatment.
Let us not forget the old adage, “do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.”