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Dingus of the Week: People Who Think Owning Nazi Memorabilia is Defensible Actually
I think if we can all agree on one thing it’s that life is short. And you never know when you will meet your end. This is why we all ought to spend our time wisely and do things like gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and carpeing all the diems. What you don’t need to be doing is defending billionaires who collect Nazi memorabilia. No one is making you defend a billionaire who collects Nazi memorabilia. No one is asking you to defend a billionaire who collects Nazi memorabilia. In fact, no one needs you to defend a billionaire who collects Nazi memorabilia. He has billions of dollars. His money is his protection. His money fluffs up his comfy little pillow and lets him sleep at night. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t love you. He loves himself, Hitler, and Clarence Thomas. And not necessarily in that order.
The world is a vast and wonderous place filled with many many topics of interest and political conundrums that could use the insight of a wise writer. In this vast landscape of ideas, landing on “defending a billionaire who collects Nazi memorabilia” is certainly a choice.
And you most certainly do not need to write in a prestigious magazine about how just because someone owns a copy of Mein Kampf signed by Hitler himself, doesn’t actually make him a Nazi sympathizer. You do not need to be like “okay whomst among us hasn’t done a little light Nazi dabbling?” You don’t need to do that. Because, we haven’t, actually. And I wish this was referring to one person, but it’s actually multiple men.
This week, ProPublica revealed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been receiving lavish gifts and vacations underwritten by Harlan Crow, a Dallas-based real estate developer. ProPublica reported:
For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.
But it’s not enough for Crow to sketchily fund a Supreme Court Justice who has been instrumental in undermining the rights of Americans (specifically voting and reproductive rights). He also loves to collect Nazi memorabilia. A story in the Washingtonian noted that Crow’s garden is filled with statues of dictators and he owns a large collection of Nazi artifacts including war medals, stamps, and napkins with swastikas on them.
Truly one of the most incredible sentences of 2023. Like what is the first sign, Graeme? What would it be other than the overwhelming presence of Nazi imagery?
Also, aren’t we asking the wrong questions here? Because, listen, if I walked into a home where a lot of Nazi memorabilia was displayed my first instinct would not be to parse out what the definition of a Nazi is. It would be to get the hell out.
Sure, okay. Maybe Crow is not an actual guard in the S.S., but he seems to like them a hell of a lot. You most certainly don’t fill your home with things you don’t like. Additionally, how is chiding people about the definitions of people who perpetuated evil versus people enamored with that perpetuation of evil helpful here? Because any student of history would understand that while Hitler was bad, he wouldn’t have been half as powerful if it weren't for the help of the people who watched his actions and did nothing. Stalin’s own genocides were covered up by wealthy pundits and ignorant journalists who believed the false promise of his lies and protestations. Men who saw the Potemkin villages and failed to look behind them to see the bodies.
In the past, Crow has explained his obsession as commemorating man’s inhumanity to man, but that is not good enough of an explanation. And I think it’s naive to take this man at his word. There are lots of ways to remember the past that doesn’t fetishize the victimizer. I mean, look, I am not rich. I don’t spend time around men of wealth and influence. So, maybe I sound like a rube, but I am pretty sure there are ways you can remember man’s inhumanity to man without wiping your mouth on a swastika.
Collecting the monuments and statues of genocidal men, even if you abhor their actions, is a way of fetishizing their power. As Jamelle Bouie wrote in the New York Times, “To gaze at your collection of tokenized evil is to separate yourself from the perpetrators and their victims. It is to tell yourself — consciously or, more likely, subconsciously — that there’s nothing you could do to ever be like them.”
In Jan Gross’s The Neighbors, he tells the story of a massacre of the Jews in the Polish town of Jewabne. The story is not one of Nazis coming in to perpetuate a genocide, but neighbors turning on neighbors. I listened to this audiobook on my way home from a trip to Poland where I toured Auschwitz. My family is Polish and questions about identity and violence hang over our history in ways that elude an easy answer. The truth that we could have been victims, but also victimizers hides in the shadows of our past. And it’s not just the story of a foreign war. In David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, he tells a similar story, this time the murder of Native Americans by their friends, family, and neighbors. Not a vast conspiracy — rather a welling up of resentment and violence in the hearts of those closest to the victims. History is filled with questions of culpability that we dodge when we erect monuments to evil. Far harder to understand are the way that evil thrives because of the ways the people foster it. So many Pontius Pilates washing their hands of blame, while turning away from violence.
I do not care if Crow loves Nazis or not and I especially don’t care if a bunch of rich men think he’s nice. That’s beside the point. The point is: He offers a swastika a safe harbor in his home and he has quietly and unethically funded one of the Supreme Court Justices who has slowly eroded the rights of Americans. These actions tell me more about where his sympathies lie than any of his protestations of innocence. And if you defend him, I know where your sympathies lie as well.
And Now For Something Good:
It’s spring. It’s warm. We can sit on our porches, sip beverages, smell the blooming tress, and contemplate the fall of man.
Look at this, Iowa on a list for being useful and a leader in clean energy, rather than regressive. We love to see it. Even though, we are regressive.
Also, Bug Light came out to the world and we are so happy for them. (But all joking aside, read this smart write up about the whole issue.)
Jafar addresses Ron DeSantis.
What I Am Drinking:
You may have noticed that last week there was no dingus. That is because I was on a trip to Poland and while I had every intention of writing a dingus, I went out with my sisters to an Irish karaoke bar in Krakow and got drunk while singing “Goodbye Earl” with a woman from Scotland. I was very hungover the next morning and given the time difference and our travel plans that day, I was too busy being the dingus to write about them.
It’s important to note that I am absolutely not sorry. I mean, yes, I do wish I would have said “Thank you but no thank you” when the owner of the bar bought me a shot. Yes. But am I sorry? Only 20 percent. Am sorry for getting an entire bar of English-speaking foreigners to sing “Before He Cheats”? Absolutely not.
Neither am I sorry for promising to marry a man from Estonia and then running away before I could give him my number.
What was I drinking you may want to ask? I don’t know. There was a shot of sour vodka. Some beer. And then, karaoke.
But let me tell you another story. Toward the end of the trip, my family stayed two nights in Berlin. On the second day, it was clear my dad was not feeling well. And I was sharing a room with him. And I was concerned about a certain virus. So, my sister Beka and I went out to a restaurant that was very touristy but had shockingly good pork knuckle and terrible wine. On our way back we decided to get a drink at the Holzmarkt. The Holzmarkt is an outdoor space near the Spree river, which from the outside looks a bit like a shanty town. It’s the kind of space that rarely exists in river towns, where prime real estate is sold to the biggest developers. But the Holzmarkt is part of Berlin’s sustainable urban development project. You enter through a wooden wall and emerge into a world that feels a little bit like the lost boys’ home in the movie Hook — all wooden nooks, crannies, trees, and colorful lights.
My sister and I got a beer and walked around, talking about our trip, decompressing from the events, and comparing notes on the different walking tours we’d taken. And finally, I told her, I didn’t want to go back to the hotel room. I was worried I’d get sick.
“Let’s get one more drink,” I said. She agreed. She’s a little squirrely, my sister. She doesn’t like to sit in one place. So, I let her go up and she came back with tiny plastic cups filled with clear liquor. She explained the bartender told her it was a German liquor, Luft.
I downed mine and immediately my ears were burning. It tasted like mouthwash.
Luft, is actually a German spirit trademarked in the 1950s by Sergei Shilkin, the son of Russian immigrants who came to Berlin to flee the Soviet Union. The liquor, once popular with Germans, waned when the wall fell and products from the West were popular. But now, Berliners are longing for their own identity. A 2014 story from WBUR explains:
Back in the 1950s, Sergei Schilkin trademarked the name Berliner Luft for his brand of a peppermint schnapps. The former head of the German spirits association, Erlfried Baatz, says the revived product has struck a chord with many of the young people moving to Berlin for the excitement and opportunities of the growing, reunited city.
"And Berlin air, therefore the name Berliner Luft, Berlin air is a part of this. Because air is fresh, air is open. Air gives you fresh mind. And it’s part of this revolution, too," Erlfried Baatz says.
I drank half of my sister’s Luft too and we went back to the hotel. I opened a window and fell asleep. And by the grace of Luft and the Berlin air, I didn’t get my dad’s sickness.
But this weekend, I’ll be making a Long Island Iced Tea. The New York Times has a recipe for a Long Island Iced Tea that looks like it could burn the virus out of your body. Drink with caution. The recipe is in the comments of the post.
Also, it’s April 14, Ruination Day, the day the Titanic sank, the day Lincoln was assassinated and the single most deadly day of the Dust Bowl.has a great essay about Ruination Day in his newsletter .