Story Of The Real Live Nazi

At the Archeological Museum in Van, a day before I met the Nazi

It was in the slightly Russian-esque city of Kars, located at the heart of a beautiful rainy pseudo-steppe in northeast Turkey, close to the Georgian border and even closer to the magnificence of Ani, that I was compelled to make the acquaintance of a certain friendly taxi driver for the express purpose of getting back and forth to that ancient Armenian city. In general the Turks despise the Armenians—every ethnic group seems to hate every other ethnic group in that area of the world—and don’t care for monuments to the glorious past of that foreign culture. The Romans, the Byzantines, the Sumerians, were all bred out of existence, but the Armenians are still right on the Turks’ doorstep and a constant reminder that despite what Ataturk says, Turkey is not the homeland of the Turks anymore than America is the homeland of the majority of the population that currently resides there.

So this results in Ani (and other beautiful non-Turkish historical sites) being in a state of neglect and disrepair. In this form the Armenian genocide continues. Likewise, the government cannot admit to the presence of an amazing, foreign, and enemy civilization inside their borders, so they deny it. The few poorly-translated information signs at Ani all claim that the place was built by Seljuqs when, in fact, it was destroyed by the Seljuqs (and almost destroyed again by the Turks in 1921); the population was so thoroughly massacred that you could not walk the streets without tripping over piles of corpses. Today this means there is no public transportation, so you have hire a taxi driver to get you there and back for a rather decent chunk of change. A regular dolmus might set you back a few dollars but I may have blown as much as fifty on this peculiarly Nazified excursion.

My taxi driver was an everyday Turk: friendly, gregarious, talkative, hospitable, and very eager to get to know me as best as he could with the limited High School English he possessed. Our enthusiasm for conversation was really unlimited during the long trip outside of the city of Kars. Barış, a mustachioed, pudgy, but handsome bright-eyed 34 year-old man revealed to me that he was not observing Ramadan because of a sore throat and proceeded to gobble down a number of individually-wrapped chocolates, tossing the wrappers out the window one-by-one with a nonchalance that set my leftwing hackles on edge; nonetheless the entire country is something of a giant garbage dump and I had been there for two weeks so I was used to such rampant idiocy. He showed me a picture of his baby son on his cell phone and was fond of discussing the benefits and drawbacks of various foreign cars. Later in the day he helped get me some tasty köfte and practically organized my entire trip to Ardahan, the leaping-off point for those crazy enough to get to Georgia overland from Turkey. He invited me to tea several times.

Kars, photographed while in the Nazi's company

The revelation that an otherwise normal-seeming person is, in fact, a bloodthirsty Nazi is really no different to discovering that a good old friend was really a reptilian shapeshifter, a vampire, or an admirer of Glenn Beck all along—it often comes as a complete surprise. During a lull in the conversation he suddenly asked me: “You know who is Number One?” I said no. I didn’t know who Number One was. “Adolph Hitler!” he replied.

Now I had been warned about this by my Turkish friends in Busan—don’t tell anyone in Turkey that you’re Jewish. I’m helped by the fact people generally don’t know who I “really” am unless I say so—while Jews are often depicted by their detractors as befitting a certain monstrous style, most of us really look like anyone so it’s easy enough to blend in with the rest of you meshugganas as long as we keep the money and the sacrificed catholic babies stuffed in our pockets and out of sight. I also noticed, during my travels around the country (Istanbul-> Cannakale-> Selcuk-> Antalya-> Urfa-> Van-> Kars), that at about three different bus stops there were small bookshops with at least one Turkish volume about Adolph Hitler, complete with the usual charming portrait of the man at full scowl, prominently displayed. Nevermind that the archetypal fucking Nazi would have exterminated every last person in Turkey if he had been given the chance. The obvious is not always so obvious to everyone.

Barış explained to me very casually that he loved Adolph Hitler specifically because he had killed so many Jews. He mimed a machine gun during this lecture, perhaps because he was unaware of the real way most Jews met their end during the Holocaust, while I was forced to contain my profound hatred for him as we were driving alone in the middle of nowhere; I hid my self beneath my smile as he continued and declared that all Jews deserved to die thanks to their treatment of Palestinian children. I laughed and agreed with every further point he espoused. My interactions with him were polite and totally devoid of all true emotion but I am fairly certain he had no idea of the truth of how I felt. His ease and candor suggested to me that his opinions were shared by many of his fellows.

Ani's modern inhabitants

The visit to Ani belongs in another post, but I will say that after everything Barış and I parted amicably. His aleikum salaam was extraordinarily warm; mine was pretense. I debated whether I should reveal my sick, true nature to the man, as a means of perhaps letting him know that for all their money-grubbing world-dominating follies Jews are actually relatively normal—even dashingly handsome and charming—human beings, but I held off. How do you tell someone that you are a member of an ethnic group whose extermination he gleefully, even boyishly, advocates? What do you expect? Could such an ignoramus ever achieve the sort of paradigm-shift a revelation like that ought to cause? Would he simply treat me coldly? Or try to murder me? The risk was too great. I was tempted to say, by the way, I’m a Jew and I’m damn proud of it (you fucking Nazi), but I let it go. The man is doubtlessly still there and easy to find as the city is small and taxi drivers are few.

Afterward I was afraid that every friendly person I encountered would randomly reveal to me, in a moment of friendly candor, their adoration of Joseph Goebbels—I prayed to my inward household gods that they would think once or twice before doing so. Barış remains the only actual Nazi, to my knowledge, I have ever met.

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4 thoughts on “Story Of The Real Live Nazi

  1. Gid says:

    It is kind of alarming when you deal with people from the Near East and surrounding areas and inevitably find that most of them take anti-Semitism and ethnocentricity, though many of them also try to put spells on each other too. Because those who leave usually adopt very different views – or at least learn that their racism is not a polite topic with outsiders – and like racists from anywhere else they can often get along with individuals on a day-to-day whose background they claim to despise so much, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering whether pluralism is an intellectual luxury at least as hard to afford as polio vaccines and public sanitation. Further, even educated Europeans typically reserve some kind of hatred or at least disgust towards those from developing countries, especially North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

    I definitely appreciate growing up not despising outsiders, but calls for tolerance are the exceptions throughout the world rather than the rule. However, I think you ought to evaluate how you reacted to this man’s racist diatribe. While your own identity and your education make you better-prepared to function in the modern world, by not confronting him at all you affirmed that his identity and desire to explain how he saw the world was strong enough to scare you out of disagreeing with him. Many racists and sectarian proponents are willing to die and kill for what they believe. Fewer advocates of open-mindedness exist about whom one could say the same (which is a good thing for civil discourse). There’s no real way to conclude that, it was just what I thought while I was reading what you wrote above.

    The reasons your driver loved Hitler so much are more obvious, like the causes for Idi Amin’s seemingly contradictory infatuation with the late chancellor. His culture values honor and self-importance, which is easy for some individuals to confuse with brutality. Because the Holocaust and horrors of the Second World War are far enough removed from his own experience both by time and geography, he can safely regard Hitler as a symbol for what he values without ever having to live with the reality of what the tyrant did. It’s analogous to you being fascinated with Tamurlane, because many feel noble when discuss heroes from history, while reverence for one’s contemporaries comes across as transparently childish.

    I would like to hear more about Turkey. I hear Marmaris is gorgeous, though that may be true for the whole country.

    • hiddenconnections says:

      Well like I said I considered telling him once we got back into town but my hotel was right next to the taxi station and I had rather frightening visions of the entire populace rising up and storming the building in search of the region’s only self-declared Jew. There are many excuses. It’s also possibly a point of culture. What right do I have to impose my beliefs, or myself, on a foreign person or a foreign culture when I happen to be a guest to the area? I also suspect that ignorance is itself a cultural quality, and that when a child learns to read, for example, she begins a process of absorbing knowledge that her parents never had access to, and when she grows older (or when her children grow older) she may abandon certain aspects of her culture that seem quaint or old-fashioned to her in favor of western ones. Racism, casting spells, general superstition, are all cultural qualities, and while they seem to be negative ones to us we also have to remember that no culture is better in any sense than any other. So perhaps that’s a more abstract defense of my behavior. To tell the taxi driver not to be a Nazi is little different from telling him to eat only at McDonald’s.

      The process was just beginning in that area of the world, but in Korea westernization has progressed so thoroughly that most of the younger people are really ready to move on from everything that carries even the faintest trace of being distinctly Korean. The country is also flooded with English teachers at the moment and these relatively free-and-loose college graduates are a constant reminder to everyone that the world is very different outside of these borders. I think as a result of all this westernization Younger Koreans always complain about Chuseok, the biggest Korean holiday of the year, and I’ve been told that the endless politeness and two-faced ceremonies surrounding the dinners here are really too tiresome for people to endure. The Confucian hierarchical system is also incompatible with western ideas, particularly in the case of women and other races. Women here are treated about as well as they are in Turkey, which is not well at all, and Southeast Asians are apparently no better than animals to most Koreans.

      To my eyes some of these cultural distinctions might seem charming or interesting at first sight but they usually take on an appearance of backwardness, barbarism, and staleness, which I can’t help feeling as an outsider—but the imitations of western culture are even more unbearable. At my principal’s retirement party I had difficulty keeping my hands from my ears as I was forced to listen to two saxophone players who were so awful I really thought I could do better than them, which I’ve never thought of any live musician—they were playing along to a tacky synthesizer and everyone else seemed to love it. Seeming is important, as most of the women were also crying their eyes out while months before they were on the verge of striking thanks to this principal’s brutal and overbearing work ethic. Perhaps they were just as happy as I was to see this tall, newt-like man cease to be worshiped as a god.

      Even the language is going to change. Westerners generally discourage talking up or talking down to people (we believe in equality, at least in theory), but because for thousands of years Korea has made a habit of imitating whoever happens to be top dog at the moment, I believe that sooner or later the language will no longer change form depending on the social positions of speaker and listener, as it does now.

      The process of homogenization has already turned every Korean metropolis into a bland, ugly duplicate of a poor western city, and the language is likely to follow suit unless there is some kind of cultural revival (which is a real possibility, particularly after reunification).

      Koreans are also just as racist regarding Jews as that Turk, only they say they like Jews because they are rich and intelligent, regardless of the fact that none of them have ever met or seen a Jew with their own eyes and would be unable to name a single characteristic of the Jewish religion. I’m surprised they even have a word for Jew. I don’t know who tells them these things about Jews or about anyone who isn’t Korean but somehow they manage to absorb some of the general cultural feeling floating around outside the sphere of Asia; in general their ignorance of the outside world is absolutely stunning and makes even the worst Tea Partier resemble a thoughtful, bespectacled, pipe-chewing university professor. The older generations are illiterate while the worst that can be said of an American yokel is that his spelling is bad. And this after the endless championing of the miraculous Korean alphabet, which no one cared about until the last century…

      But enough about that—I’ll be writing plenty about Turkey, which was definitely a beautiful country, and although I never got to Marmaris I did meet a British female Lawrence of Arabia type with a summerhouse in the area. I also may be able to tell you about all of this in person if you’re in Maine around the 19th, which is when I’ll be back for a few days. I want to hear about Iraq and wherever else you’ve been and what you happen to be up to at the moment.
      And I may be interested in Tamurlane (and his skull pyramids) but I’m certainly not fascinated with him and I would never call him Number One!

      • Gid says:

        Well, I can understand that it would have be unnerving to identify yourself as a Jew, but I think the cab driver and his companions would have a firm enough grasp of the legal repercussions associated with murdering an American citizen and a tourist not to give you much trouble.

        Regardless, I hope you aren’t serious about putting ethnic hatred and cuisine in the same category. You telling him to eat at McDonald’s would have been silly and unnecessary as well as disrespectful, whereas explaining why you won’t wax nostalgic about the Holocaust might let him in on a view of the world he may not have heard before. In a way, that type of thinking discredits the need to learn about others’ perspective on their own terms. It gives ammunition to xenophobic rhetoric from commentators like Mr. Beck who also tend not to distinguish awareness of matters religion and tradition from abetting sectarianism.

        I’ve been around the island for a bit, I’ll probably be around later this month too. Let me know whenever you get back.

  2. […] Of course that same day I think I left for Van, and, eventually, Kars, where I would make the acquaintance of my first Nazi. […]

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