Empty-ness is not a good history teacher: Musings on the removal of Confederate monuments

by Walter Ziffer (Holocaust prisoner # 64,757) 

As a Holocaust survivor, the recent huge anti-slavery protests sparked by the brutal police murder of George Floyd, have deeply impressed and concerned me. One of the consequences of the protests has been the public’s demand that monuments honoring important Confederate personalities who were slaveholders should be removed from public places. As a result of these requests, officially sanctioned removal of such monuments has taken place in various localities leaving the pedestals on which these men were mounted, empty.

As a survivor of three years of daily death threatening slavery, I fully understand public outcries for the removal of these monuments. I would be shocked and scandalized seeing men like Hitler, Goering or Himmler and many other Nazi leaders publicly honored and memorialized by statuary on Germany’s streets and plazas. Fortunately this is not the case. But seeing the removal of Confederate leader statues being done by people under the influence of what seems to be a kind of mass hysteria and in a fashion akin to vandalism strikes me as unfortunate, short sighted and counterproductive.

With future generations in mind, I submit that an empty pedestal or the disappearance of a statue just is not educational. Furthermore, the removals should not only express protest about the past but also convey anti-racism education for the future.

This said, I would suggest that the statues of Confederate slave holders and advocates of this kind of systemic racism be dethroned from their physically elevated position and placed next to the pedestal that had previously supported them. This procedure would not only convey to the public how we today think about the shamefulness of supporting the institution of slavery and how we today regret attitudes held in the past.

History should not and cannot not be erased, because it happened. Trying to erase it by silencing it means engaging in dishonesty. Some of our past history was shameful and therefore must not be glorified, By proceeding as I suggest, the empty pedestal and lowered statue next to it on ground level would not only attract the eyes of the passerby and invite her or him to read the brief explanation of what happened here, engraved on the now empty pedestal, but would also provide a much needed lesson about a part of United States history then, which now we regret and condemn.


If you have any responses or comments, please email me here.

3 thoughts on “Empty-ness is not a good history teacher: Musings on the removal of Confederate monuments

  1. Hi Gail and Walter, I appreciated reading your last two postings! I also know that it means you are well. I viewed a recreation of the guillotining of the French Revolution. I viewed the crowd reacting to bringing statues to the ground. Well,…I guess better statues than people. I was impressed with the emotional reactions of the crowd in both cases! It appeared to be mindless blood list! (Although, statues don’t bleed…). As per Dickens, at the moment, we are in, “The Worst of Times”. Cindy

    Sent from my iPad

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  2. I will never forget my father’s reaction, at the age of 100, when we were talking about the recent burial of an honored person (I don’t recall who) at Arlington National Cemetery. I mentioned that the land the cemetery is on had been the plantation of General Robert E. Lee. Dad positively erupted and loudly declared, “He was a traitor!” The statues of these Confederate generals are of men who started a war to break away from the Union in order to hang on to slavery. They were traitors, but I have sometimes wished we had let them go their own way. Slavery was ending all about, in every “advanced” country. The South just might have come to its own conclusion in time, left to its own devices. In the meantime, over 600,000 soldiers died to preserve the union- and cause unending resentment and hatred and misery..
    I think a special cemetery might be established to set up these statues. The Lost Cause cemetery.

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  3. I agree. In my opinion, the removal of statues is, if you’ll pardon the word, “whitewashing” history. I think history should be taught “warts and all”

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