Gun Control and the Holocaust
Gun-rights advocates cite Nazi laws in their defense of the Second Amendment. Is the comparison fair?
Regardless of one’s view of Napolitano’s broader defense of gun ownership, his invocation of the Holocaust is factually and logically flawed. First, only around 20—not 300—Germans were killed during the Warsaw Uprising (historian Peter Longerich estimates that the Nazis “suffered several dozen fatalities”), while approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto, and the 50,000 surviving captives were quickly deported to concentration camps. Second, it is optimistic to think that revolt from poorly armed, poorly trained, and undermanned citizens against the mighty German military would have substantially altered the fate of German or Eastern European Jews. (Curiously, Napolitano’s footnote for his section on the uprising cites French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson’s article “The Warsaw Ghetto ‘Uprising’: Jewish Insurrection or German Police Operation?”).
Gun-rights advocate David Kopel, who has written extensively on the issue of Nazi firearms laws, rightly points out that Jewish partisans and prisoners periodically managed to cobble together arms—often stolen or crudely manufactured—to resist their oppressors, belying the myth of Jewish passivity. But he too vastly overstates the effectiveness of a tiny minority resisting a genocidal machine. When some of the 600 remaining inmates of Sobibor revolted in 1943, killing 12 German guards, the death camp “was put out of operation forever,” Kopel writes. It was “violence [that] solved Sobibor,” he continues, again claiming that it was “put out of business early” by armed rebellion.
The rebellion—which began when a prisoner attacked an SS man with an ax, not a gun—was one of the reasons that the Germans closed Sobibor, but the brave prisoners cannot alone claim credit for scuppering one of the Holocaust’s most notorious killing centers. Himmler had already ordered the camp transformed from a death camp to a concentration camp in 1943 and was keen to destroy evidence of mass killings as the Soviets advanced from the east.
The heroism of those who resisted the Nazis in Warsaw and Sobibor is undeniable and should be honored. But these actions were taken after it became undeniably clear that the “final solution to the Jewish question” was mass murder; what these examples prove is that against-all-odds resistance is often attempted when desperation demands it. Indeed, as Longerich noted in his biography of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, “Under the impact of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, from April 1943 onwards the SS accelerated the bloody liquidation of those ghettos that still existed.”
The ordeal of deported and imprisoned Jews in 1943 simply isn’t comparable to that of those who, in 1938 during Kristallnacht, witnessed the first spasms of mass anti-Jewish violence—a state-sanctioned pogrom that was presented as a spontaneous outpouring of violence from the German public. An armed response could have made matters even worse given that Jews made up only around 1 percent of the total German population. And it’s curious that those who invoke restrictive Nazi guns laws don’t actually provide figures for how many guns were actually seized from “non-Aryan” homes. Was the disarmament of Jews a largely symbolic act, or was a previously armed group rendered impotent by the 1938 law?
Napolitano, Kopel, and others are surely correct that if a tyrannical government is determined to eliminate a race or class of people, such a goal is best achieved by stripping their quarry not only of political rights and civil liberties, but of any means of self-defense. An unarmed population is undeniably more passive. But whatever gun legislation Congress is formulating in the aftermath of the barbarism in Newtown, there will be no Gestapo knocking on doors, rifling through attics and closets, requisitioning handguns. America isn’t Nazi Germany, and it cheapens the experience of Holocaust victims to suggest otherwise. By all means, let the debate on gun control roil, but for once, let’s leave Hitler out of it.
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It’s the Jewish state’s gun culture, not its laws, that prevents mass shootings like the one in Connecticut