World War II Oppositional Decoding

Jews resist SS Guards supremacy

By now most, if not all, of society have heard or seen something about the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. Social media helped construct the situations in Ferguson to the point where Twitter established its newsworthiness. According to Marfo in “Why #BlackTwitter was Essential to Media Outrage Over Ferguson,” this was in part due to Black Twitter adding their voices to media coverage since 39% of users were Black, based on a 2013 survey. But, I am not here to discuss this recent event. Instead, I will explore the issue surrounding Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1940s.


WWII SS guards search new arrivals.

WWII SS guards search new arrivals.

We are aware of the atrocities that occurred at concentration camps, but there is one story, in particular, which sheds light on the idea of oppositional decoding. Oppositional decoding is when the reader’s connotative reflection of the hegemonic reading contradicts hegemonic meaning and leads to acts of resistance.


Prisoners at the Treblinka Death Camp, in Eastern Poland, had arrived. Out of 800,000 to one million prisoners, 90 percent were killed within two hours after arrival. SS guards claimed the prisoners’ work of cleaning up pits for bones within the ashes tired the Jews so much that no uprising would occur. The date was Aug. 2, 1943. Half of the remaining prisoners, approximately 750, invaded the armory building after three Jews stabbed guards. The now armed Jews opened fire on the SS guards while others lit kerosene inside of each building, despite watchtower guards shooting back. Eventually almost 600 men and women prisoners fled the camp. Unfortunately, only 40 were never found while the other 560 were recaptured and executed shortly thereafter.


The coordination amongst the Jews to achieve such a massive victory across Camps I and II is evidence to the power of communication. Hall argues communication is a “complex structure in dominance.” This example shows how the population of Jews interpreted the supremacy of Nazi Germany differently. Although the SS guards had more access to weaponry to maintain their power status, the Jews were a larger population and could overtake them. The Jews were aware of the risks for acting out of line, but they resisted further exploitation through action. According to Gladwell, joining an activist group depended on one’s network involvement. If I knew friends and family who were in the group, then I was more likely to get involved. This is a simple example of the bandwagon approach where most of the Jews fought back so if I’m a Jew, then I should fight back too.


In the 21st Century, however, society typically does not actively participate in public demonstrations. Instead social media has created a platform in which anyone can contribute and feel connected to an issue anywhere in the United States and even the world. But, the so called “Twitter Revolution” is supposed to give a voice to groups with limited access due to societal barriers. Still, this passive interaction with issues frames social media as a power tool to instigate change due to the agenda setting function of equal voice for everyone. I am not denying the power of social media although there is a stark contrast that needs to realized. When there were sit-ins and marches during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, activism occurred without the help of social media. People were united in the streets with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers to fight for their right to equal access to education, work and housing. Now, social media created weak ties amongst people via a platform like Twitter. These protests and pleas for activism rarely result in social change since online activism is not as high-risk as historical activism.


It is this distinction that society must realize hinders social activism. Although Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and any other social media platform are a form of activism, it cannot be the only one. Without a personal connection with the issue, it is harder to create a movement against a social injustice. The Jews used interaction and collectivism as tools to riot the camps and fight their oppressor. Today, society may use social media as tools to initiate awareness on an issue, but the final step of taking action will never change.


4 thoughts on “World War II Oppositional Decoding

  1. Social media is a powerful tool that has allowed people to express their opinions on sensitive issues. Social media also allows people to express their feelings from anywhere in the world and it can come in handy for people who physically can’t express their feelings. However, social media can be a bad thing to have in society. The reason why is it gives people a sense of false power. For example, people think they can say anything on social media and not worry about it because they are not saying it in person, which ultimately makes them feel powerful. Social media has also taken away the true meaning of expressing your opinion. For example, it takes away the united power of being with friends and family, as you stated. Overall good post.

  2. Anonymous thank you for your post. I think you bring up a point about the power of social media. However, I don’t think social media is completely a bad thing. Since society is able to express its opinion, people are able to rally others who support their stances on an issue. Overall, the weak ties may hurt activism, but there is a new form of activism society has never seen before.

  3. I don’t believe that using social media will ever solve worldly issues. Social media is nothing more than another way for people to get the word out other than television. I think people feel comfortable hiding behind a technological device to voice their stand on an issue. However, it can come back to get you. For example, I know there was an employee that used Facebook to express their opinion on something. Apparently, it was seen by someone and it was reported to the boss. I’m sure the boss then spoke to the employee about the post as well as sending out a company wide email warning others to be cautious about postings. However, I do think that the employee was expressing her freedom of speech. Also, it is hard to determine the meaning behind a computer. What I mean by this is that the reader may take the meaning out of context and be offended. If world issues are to be solved, a face-to-face communication is the best way.

  4. robrienco thank you for your comment. I think you bring up a good point about the safety and anonymity for online users. Still, I agree with your assessment about social activism involving physical action amongst peoples. Without the personal element, I don’t feel like the social injustices are as apparent via electronic platforms. The weak ties society creates on social media sacrifices pathos, to some extent, which is typically a determinant on whether an individual will speak out on an issue. Therefore, I think the frequency of resolving social issues will become fewer and farther between.

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