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.
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.
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.
‘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:
….yet somehow I couldn’t help but feel like we had failed them…
Some Jews that tried resettling before the real atrocities became public knowledge were sent back to face death:
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.
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:
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.
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 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?
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.