Words can be deadly … literally

Pictures at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Photo by Yang Jing on Unsplash

Sometimes words can kill: the 15 high ranking members of the Nazi Party certainly knew this when they met at a villa in Berlin’s up market suburb of Wannsee. The villa would have had an interesting history irrespective of this meeting: built by Ernst Marlier, a corrupt and violent German industrialist; sold to Friedrich Minoux (another German industrialist and swindler); and finally sold to the Nazi Party’s Stiftung Nordhav (run by the notorious Reinhard Heydrich – one of Adolf Hitler’s henchmen and potential successor).

As Professor Mark Rosen stated, the objective of this ultra secret meeting, which took place on 20 January 1942, was nothing less than a ‘signpost’ on the road to the ‘Final Solution’ regarding the Jewish People (or question as the Nazis would have posited things – language, after all, is important here).

A sobering thought, on this Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, is that many of the participants were lawyers or had some form of legal education. They certainly knew the meaning of words and that words have meaning.

Lawyers are used to jokes about their lack of integrity, but many members of the profession regard law as a noble profession, a civilising force or a discipline firmly rooted in the humanities. Precious little humanity would be shown to millions of Jewish People following the discussions at Wannsee.

During the summit, there was an almost comical incident: the participants got bogged down in what seems to be an arcane discussion about levels of Jewishness that a person might have. The discussion was deadly serious – quite literally. The outcome would decide who would live and who would die.

This was, of course, to be entirely expected: the Nazi regime (1933-1945) had already started the process of dehumisation of the Jewish People when the Nuremberg Decrees were passed in 1935. This led to the wholesale removal of Jews from the public square in Germany (and later throughout the expanded Reich and Occupied Territories). Jewish businesses and property were confiscated; Jews were forced out of the professions; they were stigmatised and ghettoised. To be Jewish in Hitler’s Germany would simply become unbearable.

The Nuremberg Decrees and the Wannsee Protocol demonstrate that there is a darker side to the law: in the wrong hands, it can be used to stigmatise and oppress certain groups of people.

At the end of the meeting (which had lasted for about 90 minutes), the participants were served Cognac, fine wines, food and cigars. Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi who chaired the proceedings, ordered that all copies of the minutes be destroyed. Some copies survived as damning evidence of the criminal conspiracy to murder an entire race.

You can find out more about the Nuremberg Decrees at and the Wannsee Conference at the links below:

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/winter/nuremberg.html

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/wannsee-conference-and-the-final-solution

Wannsee reminds us of the importance of the meaning of words and that words have meaning:

Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no one’s jamming their transmission
‘Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

(Lyrics by Gordon Thomas Matthew Sumner (or ‘Sting’); 1980 taken from the track “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”)

Further reading

The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution by Mark Roseman (Allen Lane/Penguin Press: 2002)

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/08/holocaust-denial/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/01/the-problem-with-human-rights/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 27 January 2020

The Outsiders?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

The USA is still a very racially divided society in 2019, despite the fact that it elected Barack Obama, an African American to serve as 44th US President (2009-17). Despite this, we’ve seen the growth of the Black Lives Matter campaign in response to numerous instances of Police violence towards African Americans.

Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers American Football player caused controversy in August 2016 when he refused to stand for the US National Anthem as a protest against racism.

Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King Jr’s dream that his four little children would live in a nation where they would be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character seems more remote than ever.

Teenage years can be a difficult experience for many young people. An interesting perspective on the teenage experiences of a young African American woman was recently published by the BBC.

This young person talked about not fitting in at a school where most of the pupils are overwhelmingly white. Feelings of exclusion and not being accepted by the majority (white student) population are reported:

‘I’m either too black or not black enough’: One teenager’s experience

This is what it means to be black: one African-American teenager’s experience, in her own words.

Postscript

Feelings of isolation are not just confined to African Americans. In a short film for the BBC, four young Black British men talk about their experiences of racism:

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

‘We’re judged for being black’

Four young black men share their experiences of being stereotyped and judged for the colour of their skin.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 April 2019

Segregation

Photo by Jeff Qian on Unsplash

The word segregation has very negative associations and we often think of the American Deep South before the victory of the Civil Rights’ Movement in the 1960s. In more recent times, we think of Apartheid era South Africa and its official policy of segregating the different racial groups.

Segregation on racial grounds would constitute direct discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010.

In its code of practice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has previously used the following example of segregation which would be unlawful:

Example

A British marketing company which employs predominantly British staff recruits Polish nationals and seats them in a separate room nicknamed ‘Little Poland’. The company argues that they have an unofficial policy of seating the Polish staff separately from British staff so that they can speak amongst themselves in their native language without disturbing the staff who speak English. This is segregation, as the company has a deliberate policy of separating staff because of race.

A story (first reported by The Guardian) focused on segregation at a housing development in England. The developers were not prepared to allow housing association tenants on the site to have access to the recreational facilities. Only those individuals who had purchased properties at the development were entitled to make use of them.

On the face of it, this may be another example of the (social) class divide in the UK and no amount of legislation has managed to eradicate this problem. That said, a deliberate policy of segregation as operated by the developers might be capable of legal challenge if it could be demonstrated that the policy was leading to indirect discrimination in connection with a person’s protected characteristics.

I can’t help wondering if the developer carried out an equality impact assessment study before implementing the policy? Indirect discrimination, of course, occurs when an individual or an organisation operates a policy, criterion or practice (PCP) which has a disproportionately adverse effect on a certain group of people.

In a previous Blog (Indirect Discrimination published on 21 February 2019), I discussed this form of discrimination in relation to a story from New York.

It may be the case that a higher proportion of people from minority ethnic groups or non-white British citizens or EU nationals may be tenants of the rented accommodation at the development. We could also have more single parent families living in the rented properties who are headed by a female.

Several of the tenants are looking into the possibility of raising a legal challenge. Although, by the time that the story had gained national publicity, the developer was reconsidering its position.

Links to the story can be found below:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/mar/25/too-poor-to-play-children-in-social-housing-blocked-from-communal-playground

U-turn over ‘segregating’ children at London housing development

Postscript

In July 2019, the UK Government announced plans to introduce legislation in England which would effectively put an end to the practice by developers of having separate entrances and facilities (in effect segregation) for private owners and public sector tenants living in housing developments.

In Scotland, housing policy falls within the legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament.

A link to the story about the proposed legislation as reported by the BBC can be found below:

Ministers pledge to end ‘poor doors’ in new build housing

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April and 22 July 2019