This article was featured in the Rapid City (South Dakota) Journal on October 27, 2009: Rapid City couple has sold Nazi memorabilia for seven years
. If you can access the article, please do so and you, Dear Reader, will once again witness but one more example of how the most anti-Indian city in the U.S. has earned that particular distinction.
In essence, the article states ever so chillingly the following: A wide assortment of Nazi "paraphernalia" is for sale via an online business that a Rapid City couple operates from their home. Flags from the Third Reich, dolls in the likeness of Adolf Hitler in full Nazi dress, and perhaps most horrifically, reproductions of canisters of Zyklon B, the chemical agent that was used in the extermination of millions of Jews in the WWII concentration camps - along with hundreds of other collectibles from that era.
As an American Indian man, and one who monitors racism all over the country, that a "business" (and I use this term lightly) like this is located in Rapid City comes as no great surprise to me at all. Rapid City and the state of South Dakota have a well-deserved national and international reputation as a literal cesspool of extreme hatred and discrimination towards its Indian populace and others of color. Having lived there on and off for close to sixty years now, I feel that I am more than suitably qualified to make this appraisal.
In the '20s at the zenith of the Ku Klux Klan's power and glory in America (when Klan membership numbered about five million nationally), the largest cross-burning incident ever recorded in the Midwest occurred just north of Rapid City near Spearfish, South Dakota. The illumination from the giant cross that was set ablaze, as was a massive bonfire alongside it, could be seen for well over a radius of one hundred miles as the sky that night was heavily overcast. In addition to fomenting a murderous hatred towards Indians, Hispanics, blacks and Jews, the South Dakota state KKK also targeted Catholics, Italian and Greek-Americans.
In case one is woefully ignorant of the significance of Nazi Germany, please allow me to offer a brief refresher course here that I have designated "Nazi 101": Aside from the six million Jews who were put to death by various means, there were 27 million Russian deaths and nine million European civilian casualties for a grand total of 42 million lives lost that were directly attributable to Germany's involvement in WWII. This conservative estimate does not include U.S. troop losses in the European theater which numbered into the hundreds of thousands.
Why any literate, thinking and humane person alive these days would want to glorify such horrors by purchasing Nazi knickknacks, some of which are quite expensive, is something that is way beyond my ability to imagine. Can we even begin to consider what these items represent to Jewish people everywhere?
In Minnesota in the early '80s, I befriended a Sioux WWII veteran who was in the war in Europe from D-Day to the fall of the Third Reich. This man was totally disabled as a result of losing both of his legs in the final assault upon Berlin in 1945. He had also participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in the waning days of the war. I had never in all my years of travel been more horrified at an actual eyewitness account of what had taken place at Buchenwald. The veteran had been severely haunted by all that he had seen as a young soldier then, and not to describe him too harshly, he was a long-term and very bad alcoholic. He told me that he drank the way he did because he couldn't forget the war, especially the absolute carnage of Buchenwald. This warrior of our people, this kindly, soft-spoken man, died in his wheelchair in a wintry city alleyway a few weeks after he and I had met - his entire body as stiff as frozen meat.
Speaking of veterans and more specifically of Veteran's Day, I must mention something that would be considered highly unusual if not a total outrage anywhere else in the U.S. - anywhere else but in Rapid City, South Dakota.
When I last lived in Rapid City, from 1995 - 2007, I made it a point to observe Veteran's Day by watching the annual parade through the downtown area. As an honorably discharged Army veteran of the Vietnam-era, I always saluted the American flag as it passed by. And at every parade I went to over the years, I was certainly dismayed that the U.S. Seventh Calvary marched, too.
I view any modern-day re-enactor of the U.S. cavalry (in full uniform), of which there are many in the Western states, in much the same way as a Holocaust survivor (or any person of Jewish ancestry) would regard a uniformed German soldier. They are both representative of murder on a vast, incomprehensible scale.
Whenever I see reminders of Nazi Germany in terms of any and all symbolism, I behold 3000 rockets with highly explosive warheads raining down upon London; the concentration camps; the trains arriving at these locations with their millions slated for death; the ovens; the gas chambers; and the piles of skeletal corpses arranged like mere cordwood at the camps. And I contemplate a monstrous madman who plunged the world into years of ungodly darkness.
Whenever I see a U.S. cavalry "hobbyist," I envision these ghastly sights: Indian babies and children, their small heads lopped off with razor-sharp sabers; Indian elders of both sexes, disemboweled by laughing, toothless horsemen, the steaming blueness of their entrails torn from them, then held aloft as trophies of war; Indian women and teenaged girls, brutally gang-raped, sodomized with all manner of objects, their throats slit with hand-held bayonets or their heads blown off with large caliber cap and ball revolvers - their breasts cut from them, before they even died in some cases, to be made into tobacco pouches and coin purses.
And I see an entire country that simply wants to forget all about the American Indian, and to never be reminded that such atrocities and much worse actually happened.
I last saluted the American flag at the Veteran's Day parade in 2006 in Rapid City, and the cavalry was there as always. I was as close to the marchers as I could get without physically touching them. A morbidly obese, cavalryman or woman (I actually could not tell the difference) goosestepped to the deafening beat of a giant drum as he (or she) carried a Seventh Cavalry guidon (a small, pennant-like flag).
As this proud "soldier" marched by me, no more than five feet from where I stood, it looked directly at me with the most crazed, bloodshot eyes, and I saw something in those eyes I rarely see in public. I saw the killer in its eyes, deeply probing orbs filled with a horrific lethality, eyes that silently conveyed to me these words: "Yes, Chief, we are still HERE!"
Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of
South Dakota. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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