Thoughts on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today was Holocaust Memorial Day.

After reading some articles on the shocking number of people that have never heard about the Holocaust before or even believe it’s reports have been exaggerated, I am heart-broken and have decided to write this little opinion piece. At this stage I’m not even sure I will post it anywhere, but the emotions I am feeling right now compel me to at least write it. So excuse the less than ‘slickness’ of this – it’s really just a vent, an overflow of my thoughts and emotions right now.

Reading all these articles, I am reminded of a quote I read whilst visiting the NMAAHC in Washington D.C:

‘Why must we remember? Is this but a counsel of vengeance and hate? God forbid! We must remember because if once the world forgets evil, evil is reborn.’
The Crisis, 1919

The stats I read today honestly shook me to my core (sources at the bottom of the article).
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Germany and we were taught about the Third Reich, the Holocaust and WW2 every year at least once in history class and it’s practically impossible not to know about the history going to german school.

Maybe it’s because I know my great-grandfather fought in the german military – and deeply regretted it later – and my grandpa in turn spent many years trying to reconcile the harm done by our people in his own ways and taught us much about it, as well as instilled in me a love for jewish culture and tradition.

Maybe it’s because I have spent some time studying political systems and their history.
Either way, the fact that many today live, knowing little and some nothing(!) about the atrocities of Nazi Germany devastates me.

It devastates me not because I think we remember just for remembering sake. Or even for blame and finger pointing sake. I don’t even think we must remember in order to hold the descendants of those who committed those crimes hostage to their ancestors past.

Like the quote says, I fundamentally believe that we must remember, because if we don’t, we put our future and the future of those to come after us in jeopardy. If we don’t remember correctly, we allow evil to be reborn.

It’s like when you forget the last time you broke your strict ‘cheat day’ rule and the pounds you put on from all the chocolate and your trousers suddenly didn’t fit anymore. You go back to working out, eating well and before you know it, you’re right back where you started, thinking ‘a little bit of chocolate on days other than cheat day ain’t never hurt nobody..’ You forgot and you enter the cycle all over again. (Okay this might just be me, but you get what I’m trying to say) You forget how hard it was to loose the extra pounds, how much hard work you had to put it. Your memory somehow manages to make it all seem only half as bad and not that hard at all…no harm done remember. Until you go again. And the only way to avoid the cycle, is by remembering correctly. Giving yourself reminders so your memory wouldn’t play the same tricks again…

Memory is a powerful thing…And I believe collective memory is just as powerful as my own personal one.

Last year I spent a few days in Washington D.C.. On my visit, I spent significant amounts of time in both the National Museum of African American History and Culture – where I found the quote above – as well as the Holocaust museum. Even though I had learnt about it all and knew so much about what had happened in Germany between 1933 and 1945, and had even visited the concentration Camp in Dachau as well as read countless books and seen countless movies about this mass genocide, I was still shaken for the duration of my visit and beyond.

I remember vividly standing in the part of the exhibition that commemorated the american response to the refugee crisis of those days. I stood there, read excerpts of articles and listened to voice recordings of radio shows of the time and started crying. It was one of those experiences I will never forget. Everything around me turned into a blur and I wanted to scream:
‘CAN NO ONE ELSE SEE THIS?? It’s happening again and it’s happening on our watch!’

The war in Syria, the crisis in Sudan, Yemen, Congo… the list goes on.

At this point, the UNHCR reports around 25.4 million refugees globally, a total of 68.5 million people forcibly displaced. By July 2018 over 1000 people had died trying to cross the mediterranean sea… Theses are only figures that come to mind off the top of my head (and google) – no doubt more research would open up even more horrific numbers.

So there I was, standing in this exhibition having to stop myself from spiralling into despair. How did we get here? The sign above the entrance to the Holocaust museum reads:

NEVER AGAIN

….yet somehow I couldn’t help but feel like we had failed them…

During World War II the different countries sent numbers of refugees back (see image below) and the ones that were taken by various nations were only the ones who fit the criteria of being ‘beneficial’ to the nations economy, culture etc.

Some Jews that tried resettling before the real atrocities became public knowledge were sent back to face death:

img_6194

And there I was looking around at those horrific facts some 70 years later and couldn’t help but feel like there will one day be a museum exhibiting stats about the thousands upon thousands that died during the biggest refugee crisis in our history…on our watch. On my watch.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I have a solution on the big scale. I don’t. And this isn’t me pointing fingers at governments per say either. This is a challenge. A personal challenge to me and those who might be reading this, a challenge to us as humanity.

You see, the Holocaust didn’t start when the concentration camps first opened their hellish gates.
It didn’t start when Hitler introduced the ‘Aryan paragraph’ that by law excluded jews from pretty much all normal social activities and interactions.

It didn’t start when every Jew had to start wearing a yellow star so they’d be identifiable as Jew straight away and for it marginalised, mocked, humiliated and abused wherever they went.

No, the Holocaust started with toxic, dangerous ideologies and rhetoric accepted by the common people, pushed by the media (we call it propaganda now) and even embraced by large parts of the german church. The ideology of ‘other’, of white ‘aryan’ supremacy, the misuse and abuse of scripture, the polarisation of the common folk, the Rhetoric of dehumanising a particular people group and sowing division among neighbours…make no mistake, these were the things that laid the foundation for the holocaust.

In the biography ‘Bonhoeffer’ (one of my personal heroes and role models) Eric Metaxas, the author, writes this:

‘The german church was in turmoil. Some church leaders felt the church should make peace with the Nazis, who were strongly opposed to communism and ‘godlessness’. They believed the church should conform to the Nazi racial laws and the Fuehrer Principle. They thought that by wedding the church to the state, they would restore the church and Germany to her former glory, before the Treaty of Versailles and the chaos and humiliation of the last twenty years. The moral degeneration of Weimar Germany was self-evident. Hadn’t Hitler spoken of restoring moral order to the nation? They didn’t agree with him on everything, but they believed that if the church’s prestige were restored, they might be able to influence him in the right direction. There was at this time a group that stood solidly behind Hitler’s rise to power and blithely tossed two millennia of Christian orthodoxy overboard. They wanted a strong, unified Reichskirche and a “Christianity” that was strong and masculine, that would stand up to and defeat the godless and degenerate forces of Bolshevism. They boldly called themselves the Deutsche Christen (German Christians) and referred to their brand of Christianity as “positive Christianity”. The German Christians became very aggressive in attaching those who didn’t agree with them and generally caused much confusion and division in the church.

(emphasis mine)

This is only ONE example and it’s an example about church, because that’s my world…but I know we could go and look at any other institution in society at the time and we’d find a similar narrative…

Can you see why we MUST remember??

Too much of what happened then is happening again now. And I’m not talking about taking political sides at this stage. I’m not even saying this is only happening in one nation or under one government. I’m not suggesting that either one political camp – whether in the U.S., here in the UK or anywhere for that matter, has a monopoly on truth and righteousness. But what I am saying is that we have to learn to let history check our hearts as people and face the hard truth, that there seem to be too many things we have let slide…not beyong repair I hope. But far enough to be very, very concerning.

So I am asking myself and I am asking you:

Where do we stand this Holocaust Memorial Day?
Where do we stand as Christians if that is what you are?
Irrespective even of your faith, where do we stand as HUMANITY?

Have we learnt anything at all?

Are we teaching our children to remember correctly and draw conclusions so they don’t make the same mistakes we’ve mades starting with the little things?

I do believe it starts there. I believe it starts by living vulnerable enough, so that we might learn to admit being wrong and do better in the small things.

I believe it starts with me, checking my response to the media – left or right wing – and filter how I view the people portrayed. Do I look at them through the lens of bias and prejudice (which by the way we all have towards different people groups to some extent), do I blindly swallow what they offer up and allow ‘them’ to shape how I see my brother or sister? Or do I check and challenge myself to do better?

So on this Holocaust Memorial Day I challenge myself.
I challenge myself to call out language that degrades another human being – in myself and in others.
I challenge myself to be intentional about making friends and building relationships with people from other faiths, cultures, opinions and backgrounds – because it’s hard to hold severe prejudices against one particular people group when the people who hang out with, share meals with, entrust your secrets to, are from that group…
I challenge myself to become a person that would treat others with the same respect, honour and dignity that I would hope to be treated.
I challenge myself to love myself – for I have learnt that often my negative emotions towards others are either a reflection of how I see myself or a projection of inner issues onto others.

I challenge myself to take responsibility for my emotions, my heart-condition and commit to not letting any root of bitterness take hold – so I may never be tempted to despise someone based on pain inflicted upon me a long time ago by someone else…

I challenge myself to raise my voice and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and challenge those who do the oppressing.

And don’t be fooled, this is not like I said about politics, about picking sides – though that is what the media would like you to believe so you get too scared to say anything because you don’t want to end up on the wrong side – this is about humanity, about being human, about accepting and acknowledging that globalisation can’t be reversed, that we’re in this together and that there is more than enough to go ‘round for everyone if we all understood that we are part of one and the same life…

As the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (another one of my all tie heroes and role models) said:

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’

So there it is. My thoughts on this Holocaust Memorial Day.

I pray that we wouldn’t let history be repeated on our watch. And whatever that takes of me – though it might be hard and I might regret saying this one day – I want to play my part.
(images from my visit to the Holocaust Museum in D.C last year)
As always, thanks for reading!
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Jess

Sources:
United States Holocaust Museum
The Guardian: One in 20 Britons does not believe the Holocaust took place, poll finds
CNN Poll ‘anti-semitism in Europe’
UNHCR on arrivals from the mediterranean sea:
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