In the presence of oppression and tyranny, by not speaking out, we lose our innocence and morality. At no time in history was this statement more true than during the nightmare of the Holocaust.
“The sad and horrible conclusion is that no one cared that Jews were being murdered…. This is the Jewish lesson of the Holocaust and this is the lesson which Auschwitz taught us.”–Ariel Sharon
Prejudice against the Jewish people has a long and sordid past. The Holocaust was not the only pogrom against the Jews, it was just the most recent one. It might be argued that anti-Jewish sentiment began around the year 70 CE, when the Roman Empire destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. This was popularly interpreted as supposed Jewish culpability in the death of Jesus. As the Christian Church became the dominant power in the Roman Empire, many Roman Emperors instigated laws designed to curtail the rights of Jews and to segregate them to the margins of mainstream society. This is a fascinating subset of European History that is well worth investigating and remembering.
Basically ill-will towards Jewish people was present in the teachings of such religious leaders from Saint Augustine to Martin Luther. Powerful theologians of those years preached against Jews and accused them as being “rebels against God”. As a result, anti-Jewish sentiment and pogroms occurred throughout pre-20th century Europe. Official Roman Catholic views of this nature were not renounced until 1965 with the declaration Nostra aetate (In Our Era) by the Vatican.
To a great many Europeans of the early 20th century, indifference or hatred towards Jewish people was the default mindset. Therefore, Ariel Sharon’s statement regarding the Holocaust seems accurate. He pointed out European indifference about this matter not as a means to create enmity towards European mainstream culture, but instead to say that such indifference allowed fascists and Nazis to get away with their horrendous crimes with very little public outrage.
Indifference and normalized hatred are not valid excuses for the Holocaust. They were contributing factors to that evil. It is important to remember that indifference and hatred occur throughout human societies and that such feelings can become default thinking when societies are apathetic or hostile towards minorities–Jewish people included. It’s important to remember that several other minorities suffered persecution and death during the Nazi subjugation of Europe. Genocide was the order of the day in those times. Jewish people were the main targets of that faulty, harmful thinking.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. We pay respect to the more than six-million human beings who died at the hands of fascist dictatorship and oppression. It’s difficult to wrap our minds around such evil. We may find it helpful to read books written by such authors as Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel in order to get an idea about the horror and trauma of the Holocaust.
Bigotry, prejudice, oppression, and genocide are all too common to this day around the world. Remembering the Holocaust reminds us that we cannot afford to be indifferent to the immense suffering still present under oppressive regimes.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes filmmaker and TV host, Max Joseph. “We’ve seen the worst that human beings are capable of. We’ve seen what happens when leaders abandon common decency in favor of rage and hate. Through the lens of history, the Holocaust happened yesterday, the civil rights movement was this morning, so we are not as out of the woods as we might have thought.”