Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Post #79 - What We Should Learn from the Shoah

I thought that before I went further in a discussion of Israel/Palestine, it would be good to review the "take-away" that all of us need to glean from the historical event usually known as "The Holocaust" -- the program of the Third Reich to dispose of those elements in European society that it deemed either culpable in some way or useless to their thousand-year project. Since that term has a connotation of "sacrifice," it can be a bit problematic. The term that is more often used in Hebrew is "shoah" or "catastrophe."  A colleague said, about one of the concentration camps:  "...the barren, diabolical (and precise) evil of the place reeks through time and space, assaults the senses, twists the soul. The spirit recoils, intuitively knowing it has had a momentary glimpse into the heart of Satan, that there indeed exists a merciless logic in the universe that would kill God, if it could, and make it seem like nothing." So, for anyone who has been made aware of that period and its atrocities, what does it teach us?

1. The "Banality of Evil" Lesson: The enemy is us.

Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem
The Adolf Eichmanns of the world, it turns out, are plain, pedestrian and plentiful; in truth, many of us are capable of great cruelty -- if it is properly introduced, through appeals to our fear, self-interest, patriotism or other strong drivers. If any of us is silent at those times, we are complicit.

2. The "William Faukner" Lesson: The past is never dead; it's not even past.

Jews were killed by the Romans in proportions similar to what happened in 20th Century Germany. Massacres occurred during the Middle Ages, and in czarist Russia. The first organized murders of Jews took place thousands of years before Hitler. As Santayana said, "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it."

3. The "Wasn't Born Yesterday" Lesson: History never just starts on a given day.

The degradation of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus
Origins of the Shoah include anti-Judaic or anti-Semitic actions, writings and statements of St. Augustine, Charlemagne, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernard, Torquemada, Martin Luther, Voltaire and Karl Marx. Before there were gas chambers, there were "blood libel," The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Dreyfus Affair.

4. The "Survival of the Fittest" Lesson: Real history is no match for the powerful present.

Jesus has been depicted for some time now as a Northern European; Romans are most often played by British actors; first-century Jews are represented by swarthy and exotic figures. All of them -- in their own time -- were Southeastern Mediterranean peoples. At one and the same time, Jews have been stereotyped as controllers of the world, and as sub-human; as both responsible for communism and for the worst kind of capitalism. We see the past -- and the future -- through our own present-day eyes.

5. The "Power of Dogma" Lesson: If two belief structures are incompatible, something's gotta give.

The beliefs of Judaism and Christianity are not identical. The more powerful group most often gets to decide how that plays out. As one writer points out, for some Christians, "just by continuing to exist, Jews dissent."

6. The "Don't Mess with My God" Lesson: Deicide is the unforgiveable offense.

Westboro Baptist Church protestor
Many Christians, through history, have seen Jesus as God and Jews as the people who killed Him. The Bible is quoted: "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" Until we deal differently with the New Testament record on these points, the tension -- and the terror -- will persist.

7. The "Get Your Priorities Straight" Lesson": Humanity is rarely valued as it should be.

In the concentration camps, one saw erudition and aesthetic accomplishment, individuals transcending anger, bitterness and grief, and noble acts of kindness and self-sacrifice, in those who were doomed. Baseness and cruelty were also seen, but those attributes were most clearly seen in the ones who fashioned themselves "the master race." All of us must resist attempts to distort the meaning of humanity, whether by validating greed or justifying brutality.

The lessons must be learned anew in each of us, now and every day. Faulkner also wrote that wherever our symbol -- cross or crescent or magen david -- "that symbol is man's reminder of his duty inside the human race."

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