On June 7, the United States House of Representatives passed H. R. 129, a bipartisan piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), urging Germany to reaffirm its financial commitment to address the health and welfare needs of Holocaust survivors. This legislation passed unanimously with a vote of 363-0.
According to the bill’s summary, this legislation was needed to ensure “that all Holocaust victims live with dignity, comfort, and security in their remaining years.” It calls on Germany “to reaffirm its commitment to this goal through a financial commitment to comprehensively address the unique health and welfare needs of vulnerable Holocaust victims, including home care and other medically prescribed needs.”
The irony that lies in this situation is the fact that Adolf Hitler studied many of the United States’ policies implemented against American Indian people, as models for how he would deal with Jewish people. He studied the plans of Bosque Redondo, the concentration camp where over 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were sent after the Long Walk in 1864. According to, John Toland, Pulitzer Prize winning author, in his book Adolf Hitler (pg. 202) wrote: “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”
Hitler studied how the Native population rapidly declined due to starvation and disease when placed on reservations. There are so many parallels one can draw from Nazi and American Indian history– including death marches of Jewish people to concentration camps and the Navajo Long Walk and the many Native American Trails of Tears. The parallel of Nazis destroying Jewish art, music and books and burying people in mass graves and the Wounded Knee Massacre where generations of people and their knowledge, were also buried in a mass grave. My aunt Ethleen Iron Cloud-Two Dogs once said, “We can never measure the loss of language, stories, and culture we experienced when our relatives were buried that day”
David E. Stannard, author of American Holocaust, argues that the genocide against the American Indian population was the largest genocide in history. Though it is hard to pinpoint an exact number of American Indian deaths since Columbus’ arrival, it has been estimated at anywhere from 10 million to a little over 100 million.
I am elated that the United States government has urged Germany to take responsibility for its history and further the care for Holocaust survivors, but I wonder when will the United States do the same for the victims of its’ own genocide campaign, and their descendants.
There is no question that the multitude of social problems currently faced by tribal communities stem from the Historical Trauma our ancestors and relatives experienced and that continues today. We know that because of the boarding school era, many of us don’t know how to parent. Because of the rampant sexual and physical abuse experienced in boarding schools, tribal communities across the U.S. have the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Now science is validating the fact that trauma has a profound physical effect on us, changing the way the blood and brain chemistry work at the genetic level, causing an epigenetic transfer through our genes that continues until a true healing can take place. That healing should be supported, rather than perpetuated by the continual neglect of the United States to accept “acknowledge its responsibility for its own past actions resulting in trans-generational and other continuing effects.”
In her statement before Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said “Germany needs to show its leadership and do the right thing by fulfilling its commitments and obligations to all survivors by taking action to provide mental health, medical and home care needs for all survivors directly and immediately. Time is of the essence and survivors can no longer afford these delays — they should get to live out the remainder of their days in the dignity and comfort that they deserve.”
I believe it is time the United States begins to recognize its own true history, rather than the popular myth of manifest destiny, and “do the right thing by fulfilling its commitments and obligations to all survivors” and descendants of the United States Holocaust.
Elicia Goodsoldier is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and also belongs to the Spirit Lake Dakota people. She is a board member at the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and co-chairs the Denver American Indian Commission. She resides in Denver.