Hi there. I know that historical accuracy is not a good excuse for lack of racial diversity, but I’m not sure how to go about adding more diversity to my story while still keeping the historical accuracy, which I have previously checked with family members who lived through the events described. My story is set in the Holocaust-era Jewish ghettoes in Poland, and I am Jewish myself. How should I go about adding more diverse characters? I would like to have good representation.
One place to start would be to look up the demographic information for the Warsaw ghetto and other Polish ghettos. I don’t actually know whether or not Rroma people would have been in there, but that would be a way of bringing in another ethnicity since they, too were ethnically targeted by the Nazis. (Or someone who was half Rroma, half Jewish, ethnically.)
The Jews who ended up in Polish ghettos, I’d imagine they were predominantly Ashkenazim. But we don’t all look “white” (and we certainly didn’t count as white to the Nazis!) so that’s one thing to keep in mind. Another thing to remember is that the Holocaust was a very European phenomenon; in early 20th century Europe, “racial” diversity includes a lot of things that would just be many flavors of white to an American mindset. For example, if Hungarian Jews were hanging out in Poland and got roped into living in the ghettos, they’d probably be communicating with their fellow landsmen in Yiddish or Hebrew, because Hungarian isn’t related to the other European Gentile languages. They might stand out for that reason.
Also, don’t forget that there are a lot of ways to be diverse besides ethnicity. Think about the LGBTQ+ rainbow. Think about disabilities, both visible and invisible.
Anyway, my best advice would be, since you’ll already be doing tons of research because this is definitely the type of topic you have to research painstakingly to do justice to, to see what kind of diversity there actually was – Jews from different parts of Europe, Jews with a different level of involvement in Judaism itself, etc. – and make sure you’re accurately reflecting that.
Because the thing is, the reason anti-racism blogs often scoff at “historical accuracy” is that many times they’re talking about franchises that include dragons and elves. But this is not that. This is the Shoah. (If only we’d had dragons.) A fictional universe with 3,000 year old elf queens can’t say “no Black people because historical accuracy!” without earning a rather large eyebrow-lift.
The other thing is that in many settings, people of color WERE present – white people have just managed to erase them by not including them in movies set in that time period. But, again, look at the specifics of the situation you’re writing about. Supposedly, the Nazis kept ridiculously thorough records, so start there.
Historical accuracy is a terrible reason for whitewashing because it’s inaccurate to assume only white people existed in certain time periods/places. It literally erases nonwhite folk that WERE there. It isn’t a terrible reason because we believe skin-color-checklist-diversity trumps accuracy. It’s a terrible reason because the people claiming historical accuracy are terrible at research.
I think when you’re dealing with a story that’s centered on an event that has to deal with the specific oppression (and genocide) of particular groups, then it’s much more respectful to stick to the facts, you know?
If someone wrote a story on comfort women in Korea during the Japanese occupation, but felt the need to create a Latinx character for “diversity”, it would be offensive. But if they wrote in the Filipina and Chinese women who were also a part of that tragedy, I think it would make a lot of sense.
–Mod StellaOrdinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 is a book that you probably ought to read for research, btw.
I took an oath though, so I guess if I'm told to kill innocents that's what I'll do. The cognitive dissonance.
So like, you know soldiers can disobey orders if the given order is unconstitutional right? That also violates multiple international laws. Also… that order isn’t ever actually given in the modern US military and if it was it wouldn’t be followed.
I’ll give you and extreme example.
During the Holocaust, there’s multiple well documented examples of soldiers refusing to participate in the killings of Jewish people. Reserve police battalion 101 for example. Many of the men opted out of executing Polish Jews and were sent elsewhere. They weren’t threatened with imprisonment or death. They were given a choice. Some men chose to kill the civilians.
My point is that even in what we would think is the worst example of a military executing innocent people, soldiers had a choice in the matter and it really comes down to the decision of the individual soldier.
In the US military soldiers are punished harshly and typically imprisoned for life for willfully killing innocent people. I can’t express to you the seriousness that the military adopts with this issue…