The holocaust and apartheid: similarities and differences: a comparative study

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In recent years it has become fairly commonplace to make comparisons between the Holocaust and Apartheid. This dissertation explores similarities and differences. It acknowledges that both systems were rooted in ideas of race, but while the tools used by the Nazis in Germany and the apartheid government in South Africa are superficially similar, their very different objectives brought about radically different outcomes once their policies were enforced. The dissertation opens with a discussion of the methods used by each of the different systems to define the victim races, and justify their inferior status. In Germany the reasons given were the desire to preserve the pure Aryan volk and protect the volkisch culture. In South Africa the stated premise was that each 'ethnic' group would best realise its full potential if it was encouraged to preserve its integrity and promote its own culture. In both countries separation was followed by deprivation of citizenship. Under German rule Jews were rendered stateless and expelled as far as possible from the Reich. In South Africa 'blacks' were made citizens of 'ethnic homelands'. Unlike the German Jews, South African 'blacks' had at least some kind of nominal right to equality in their designated 'homelands'. Freedom of movement was restricted and residential segregation enforced in both countries. Jews, previously prominent in the cultural, academic and economic life of Germany, were impoverished and dehumanized. 'Blacks' in South Africa were locked into their role of unskilled, manual labourers, a position that they had occupied since the beginning of 'white' settlement in the Cape. Initially Jews were confined to ghettos, eventually to labour and death camps. In South Africa people of colour were forcibly removed to rural 'homelands'. However the demand for cheap labour eventually necessitated their admission to the urban industrial areas, and although they were restricted to living in 'townships' their exclusion was never total and their physical destruction was never contemplated. In both countries government controlled local authorities kept tight rein on the administration of the residential areas that were demarcated for the disadvantaged. In Nazi Germany the SS appointed Judenrate (Jewish Councils) to administer the ghettos. These councils were used to secure the peaceful acquiescence of Jews en route to the death camps. Eventually the councillors were killed together with the people they were supposed to govern. In South Africa town councils were established for local government in the townships, but these councils were unsuccessful because they were government controlled and illegitimate. Their purpose was to administer the separate development areas, not to pave the way for eventual extermination of their inhabitants. In neither Germany nor South Africa did churches play an active role in preventing discrimination and injustice. In Germany this was simply a continuation of the traditional attitude of anti-Judaism nurtured by the refusal of Jews to convert to Christianity. In South Africa missionaries worked hard to convert 'blacks' to Christianity, but Dutch Reformed Church ministers believed that it was God's will that 'black' and 'white' should be kept separate, church services were strictly segregated, and this was in keeping with the apartheid ideal. With regard to the media, both Nazi Germany and the apartheid regime backed those sectors of the media that promoted negative images of Jews and 'blacks', while censoring those that were more liberally inclined. The fundamental differences between the Holocaust and apartheid became most apparent in their terminal stages. Whereas Nazism led to genocide, the leitmotif of apartheid was cheap labour, not planned extermination. The Nazis created death camps and designed advanced technology especially for the purpose of speeding up mass murder and body disposal. Apartheid killings in South Africa were carried out by traditional means on an individual basis and not by large-scale extermination techniques. The killings in South Africa were directed only at opponents of the regime and not for the purpose of exterminating a specific ethnic group. This dissertation presents two case studies of racist ideology which promoted discrimination and the elevation of a 'superior' race at the expense of the disadvantaged. In Germany this resulted in a programme of genocide whereas the apartheid system in South Africa, though intended to service the material interests of the ruling group, nevertheless proved dysfunctional and sowed the seeds of its own demise.

Bibliography: leaves 170-173.