Should Oskar Schindler be cancelled?

Should Oskar Schindler be cancelled? June 23, 2020

Should a man who:

was a member of the Nazi party,

pressured ghetto-confined Jews to sign over title to their factory,

used ghetto-confined Jews as labor without paying them a wage, and

sold wares to the German military,

be honored as a “righteous man,” not merely by means of a statue but a movie celebrating him, a movie used to teach the Holocaust to schoolchildren?

We all know the rest of the story — that Oskar Schindler came to see the injustice of the Nazi treatment of Jews, and his care and concern increased from small acts of humanity in his factory to the construction of a subcamp to protect his workers, to the rescuing of an entire factory’s worth of workers, and even a trainload of Jews near death, in such a fashion as risked his own life.

But the new “one drop” rule, as applied to Americans in history, erases that history.  Yes, in the same way as “one drop” of African ancestry-blood was deemed sufficient to deem one “black” and subject to all applicable Jim Crow laws of discrimination, so, too, one act of discrimination or one connection to slaveholding suffices to erase any other good one may have done.

And, no, I’m not even speaking of the legacies of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but of Ulysses S. Grant and Albert Pike.

Here’s the reporting on Grant at the Mercury News on Saturday:

Protesters in Golden Gate Park toppled statues of Fr. Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key and President Ulysses S. Grant on Friday night, spurring a national debate over the complex legacies of those historical figures amid a broader movement to remove what critics say are monuments to white supremacy.

A group of roughly 100 people pulled down the monuments displayed in the park’s Music Concourse near the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences, an eyewitness said. Police were called to the area just after 8 p.m., and said people in the group threw objects at the officers. The crowd dispersed around 9:30 with no arrests or reports of injuries. . . .

With that backdrop, the toppling of Grant’s bust in particular had by Saturday morning garnered national attention, with even some who supported removal of Confederate monuments questioning whether it was appropriate to do the same with Grant. As president, Grant supported the 15th Amendment giving Black Americans the right to vote — though that right could not be exercised in many Southern states for nearly another century — as well as other pieces of Reconstruction-era legislation meant to stop the white supremacist terrorism that followed the Civil War.

But before the war, Grant had married into a slave-holding family and briefly owned a man named William Jones, who Grant emancipated in 1859, according to the American Civil War Museum.

I will also observe that this article was revised since I first read it on Saturday morning; in that original version, the article simply said, “Grant was a slave-owner before the war.”

But even this revised version, with its attempt at being even-handed, isn’t.  Even a simple read of Wikipedia reveals that Grant came from an abolitionist family but married a Missouri slave-holding family not as a sign of support for slavery but because a West Point classmate happened to have had a sister.  He served in the Mexican-American War but “wrote that the Mexican war was morally unjust and that the territorial gains were designed to expand slavery.”  After the war, in 1854, he left the army but had no trade with which to support his family.

In 1855, Grant farmed, using Julia’s slave Dan, on his brother-in-law’s property, Wish-ton-wish, near St. Louis. The farm was not successful and to earn a living he sold firewood on St. Louis street corners.

In 1858,

Grant acquired a slave from his father-in-law, a thirty-five-year-old man named William Jones. Although Grant was not an abolitionist, he was not considered a “slavery man”, and could not bring himself to force a slave to do work. In March 1859, Grant freed William by a manumission deed, potentially worth at least $1,000, when Grant needed the money.

In 1860,

He was torn between his increasingly anti-slavery views and the fact that his wife remained a staunch Democrat.

Does this prewar history truly merit condemnation as tainted by slave-holding?

And after the war, Grant’s legacy was that of strong support for the newly-freed blacks in the South. He destroyed the Ku Klux Klan. During the Reconstruction period the former slaves were not only granted the right to vote but did indeed exercise it effectively — the Mercury News gets this wrong — and only lost it when the Reconstruction period came to an end, that is, when Republican rule in the South was overturned and the federal government had grown weary of intervening (yes, in much the same way as American forces are now preparing to leave Afghanistan, resigned to the fact that, however much injustice Afghan women will face upon our departure, our best efforts to impose a more just system have failed and we cannot continuously occupy the country).

And what of Albert Pike?

Never heard of him?

Yeah, I hadn’t either.

Here’s the report in Politico, again on Saturday:

Protesters toppled the only statue of a Confederate general in the nation’s capital and set it on fire on Juneteenth, the day marking the end of slavery in the United States, amid continuing anti-racism demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Cheering demonstrators jumped up and down as the 11-foot statue of Albert Pike — wrapped with chains — wobbled on its high granite pedestal before falling backward, landing in a pile of dust. Protesters then set a bonfire and stood around it in a circle as the statue burned, chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and “No racist police!” . . .

The Pike statue has been a source of controversy over the years. The former Confederate general was also a longtime influential leader of the Freemasons, who revere Pike and who paid for the statue. Pike’s body is interred at the D.C. headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which also contains a small museum in his honor. . . .

A proposed resolution calling for the removal of the statue referred to Pike as a “chief founder of the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan.” The Klan connection is a frequent accusation from Pike’s critics and one which the Masons dispute.

The local CBS affiliate similarly reports that

Pike was also pro-Indian, representing a handful of Native American tribes in settlement cases against the government. That lead him to be named the commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War, where he was then named a brigadier general.

His time as a general in the Confederacy lasted a little over two years before he was charged with misappropriating funds and letting his troops mutilate Union soldiers in an 1862 battle.

Arguing with other Confederate leaders after being accused of treason, Pike ultimately mailed in his resignation letter and retreated to Tennessee — where civil rights leaders said he was rumored to have wrote the rituals of the Ku Klux Klan, although various history blogs have said this was not certain.

In fact, Wikipedia reports that he was commissioned as a brigadier general in November of 1861, where he led three regiments of Indian cavalry; the charges of mutilation were accusations that the Native American troops he led had scalped soldiers in the March 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge.   In any event, in May 1862, he was ordered to send troops to Arkansas, but refused (being unwilling to oblige the troops under his leadership to leave Indian Territory) and resigned in protest, then deserted upon being charged, as above, resigned from the Confederate army in July, was arrested in November, and released and his resignation accepted in November.  Given his prewar service as lawyer to the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw, it appears that his loyalty at the time was more to the Native Americans whom the Confederates had promised their own state, than to the Confederate cause itself — though, to be sure, this is based on the Wikipedia write-up rather than further research.

Given this history, does the Pike statue actually warrant removal?  Would it matter if Freemasonry were still a part of American civic life or if Pike’s postwar achievements were in some other field — honored for advances in medicine, for example?  What if, rather than directing his energies in another direction, he had resumed advocacy for Native Americans?

This is all very much a mess, as, increasingly, opposition to racism has produced outcomes which promote ignorance and fundamentally reject an understanding of history in order to, instead, engage in a black-and-white, good-and-evil categorization exercise, which does no one any good.

So I ask again, should Oskar Schindler be cancelled?

Browse Our Archives