Can we take a break from the political changes occurring in the United States? What about a break from the pandemic, from being vaccinated and from issuance of “green passports”? Unfortunately, opting not to talk about them doesn’t negate their existence or the consequences of the decisions that are made and the effects they will have on us. They’ll all still be there to talk about again after considering other matters.
Three days ago, January 27, 2021, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is one day during the year when the world is not asked, but urged, to remember the Holocaust – a special event in world history. While 16 European countries, as well as Israel, have laws against Holocaust denial, some countries that are considered bastions of democracy allow it as protected speech, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Dr. Robert Rozett, Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, in an article entitled: When Denying History is Incitement to Violence, wrote in 2006: “In a perfect world, one who denies a clearly proven historical fact, like the perpetration of the Holocaust, should be considered a laughing stock. He should be no less an object of scorn than one who insists that the earth is flat or the sun revolves around the moon. The denier need not be fined or jailed for being ridiculous. Rather people should make him feel so mortified that he should want to hide in a deep, dark cave, and for a very long time be too ashamed to show his face in the light of day. But we don’t live in a perfect world, or anywhere near one….Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, and antisemitism in our time still frequently incites to violence against individual Jews and against Jews in general.”
One would be hard pressed to disagree with the clear consensus in most locations around the world that anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere. There was a time in not-too-distant memory, when expressions of anti-Semitism were widely condemned, when the world as a whole understood the horrors of the Holocaust, when photos of concentration camp ovens, corpses of those hung on make-shift gallows and emaciated survivors spoke a thousand words. It was a brief time when the expression “Never Again” was understood almost in its fullest sense. However, with the passage of time and the passing away of survivors whose final days were in different countries around the world, the task to never forget commands that we should always remember.
We must all accept the past, as we are all affected by it. This does not mean that we have to agree with what happened. Nor can we come to terms with it, as we cannot change it or undue it. All we can do is remember it, and in remembering, make efforts to resist repeating it. The slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust is etched in our memories.
A dear friend wrote to me earlier this week, saying that Holocaust Remembrance Day reminded him of my post a few years back when my wife and I were in Poland. We were hosted by a couple who love and pray for Israel and the Jewish people, whose tears joined with ours as we saw historical evidence of some of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people of Europe, which accomplished the murder of one third of the Jewish population that existed at the outset of WWII. During that visit, the first from any member of my family in 80 years, we also experienced different forms of anti-Semitism, through both verbal and non-verbal communications of others.
We cannot legislate against anti-Semitism. There will always be a “legal loophole” that will make one’s statements and behavior subject to interpretation of third parties, whose unspoken prejudices will determine whether expressed hatred and violence against Jews and Israel falls into the category of anti-Semitism.
Can people be taught the necessary lessons of the Holocaust? I’m not simply talking about academic instruction that treats the Holocaust as a universal model of the consequences of dealing with the evils of prejudice and blind hatred. It is not simply a visceral response that evokes sympathy for the victims, while at the same time ignores the attacks and threats against Jews today and the struggle of the nation of Israel to defend herself against a host of enemies, national, organizational and individual. It is not glossing over the events that led up the Holocaust and relating only to the civic and moral implications of man’s evil inclinations against his fellow man. Historical knowledge is essential to generating a proper understanding and relation to the Holocaust. If the world doesn’t learn from the often-ignored facts of history, because those facts are not understood, it is bound to repeat it. This is particularly true regarding the second and third generations born after the shock and disillusionment of WWII and the revelations of the horrors of the purposed, planned, concerted and focused devil-inspired efforts to eliminate a particular people, the Jewish people, from the earth.
The Holocaust is not just an historical event that happened “then” to “them”. Each generation, irrespective of ethnic background, needs to confront it, to try to get a handle on how it happened and who the actors were, in order to act to prevent it from re-occurring. Remembering and understanding the darkest hour of recent human history are essentials for the times in which we live. It is not unreasonable to conclude, as did one comprehensive article dealing with the subject, at pages 39-40, that most of the post-WWII generations are “profoundly unaware of the geographical scope and scale of the Holocaust and typically [do] not appreciate that its execution required the complicity and collaboration of tens of thousands of individuals and localities, regions and nations all across Europe.”
After the passage of 80 years and widespread teaching about the Holocaust, on the whole such teaching has failed to curb the expressions of anti-Semitism that is experiencing worldwide revival and increased adherence today. We should not be surprised. Although the term “anti-Semitism” is relatively modern, in practice, its roots are in antiquity and it has developed and expanded during the last two millenia.
As noted by Raul Hillberg, in The Destruction of the European Jews, Volume 2, at page 7, appearing in The Holocaust, Origins, Implementation, Aftermath (Edited by Omer Bartov), at p. 25: “Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation….The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect; You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.”
This Blog is not the place for a lengthy discussion of historical anti-Semitism. But, it is the place to call out the need to understand that the Holocaust didn’t simply jump up out of the pages of history. Seeds were planted in ancient times for the destruction of the Jewish people. It developed over time, over millenia, through reigns of kings and rulers, religious and secular. The singular event of the Holocaust has roots going back to the time of the Book of Genesis and its tentacles continue to reach out today, to poison the hearts and minds of today’s generation across mountains, valleys and oceans, from the high-ranking politician to the common person on the street. Some outwardly accuse the Jews for every evil under the sun, while others shift their emphasis to the nation of Israel. Anti-Semitism has learned how to use and manipulate the mainstream media as its adherents attempt to exonerate the perpetrators and to accuse the victims of causing their own demise.
Proper education about historical anti-Semitism will help to provide a greater, but not complete, understanding of the Holocaust. Having a proper understanding of the events leading up to the Holocaust will help us to identify anti-Semitism when we experience it in our own lives. It doesn’t matter if one lives in a community where there are only a few Jews, or even no Jews. Anti-Semitism is taught … and learned and is the result of blind hatred and an ignorance that seeks to exalt itself above the knowledge of God. We can all play a part to negate anti-Semitism. Lies are negated by truth. Darkness is eliminated by light.
Indeed, we are all affected by the past and its consequences. How we relate to them will determine the course of our lives and our future.
“How odd of God to choose the Jews. But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews.” (William Norman Ewer and Leo Rosten) For a clear and simple, but straightforward explanation regarding God’s eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel, see here.
Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the starts for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me”, declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31: 35-37)
Have a God-glorifying week.
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.