Joshua M. Greene taught Holocaust history at Hofstra University. Recently, he wrote, “The further the Holocaust recedes into history, the more we witness a dangerous trend toward substituting generic commemoration for the specifics of what occurred. A lighting of candles, a recitation of names and a promise to never forget are the staples of Days of Remembrance commemorations this week.”
Over 30 years of research, Mr. Greene has screened 200 hours of survivors’ testimony. His concern is the oversimplification of the Holocaust, a recitation of the resilience of the human spirit when in fact, the atrocities and cruelty of the Holocaust are its most salient features. The nightmares are as much a part of history as the bravery and sacrifice.
“According to a survey conducted in 2020 by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, nearly two-thirds of Americans between the ages of 18 and 39 do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.” (LA Times, 4-4-21) There are other troubling numbers like the number of people who think the Jews caused the Holocaust: way to blame the victim. This is a problem. Why? Because, among many other reasons, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
Paying attention to the failures of humanity was edited out of the history books in my education. And today, we are told that if students learn the horrors, they won’t have pride in their country. That’s a poor excuse for lying, for lack of transparency. Better to be honest and have real conversations. There is something to be proud about: Living in a country where we can face our hurts honestly, seek healing, and celebrate the gifts we share.
Christians played and play a part in the perpetuation of anti-Semitism. We are seeing it even now emerge in acts of violence and outward disdain for Jewish people in our own country, perpetrated by people who claim to follow Christ. It is imperative that Christians of good will acknowledge the horrors of the past and commit to righting the wrongs committed by Christians in the past and the present. It is our sacred call to shine a light on the animosity that Jewish people continue to be subject to in our country.
Maybe you’re wondering what’s the big deal since you don’t hear about this much. If you are Jewish and active in a congregation, you do know the real threat of physical violence. Mr. Greene writes, “There are substantial issues that deserve inclusion in commemorations, many of them relevant to recent events, such as the inflammatory power of demagogues to radicalize an entire population, the misuse of media as propaganda and the depths of depravity to which humans can fall when fueled by fear and anger — and most troubling, the steady increase in anti-Semitism.”
Christians were the vast majority of the population in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Over half were Lutheran and 40 percent were Catholic. Catholics eventually were in the crosshairs of the Third Reich. Being Christian is no guarantee against the rise of evil and its seductive appropriation of the faith.
I wonder if we can see Jesus, the rabbi, the Jewish rabbi, in the lives of our Jewish forbearers, our Jewish elder sisters and brothers. I wonder if we’d think about speaking up for Jesus if he were here, now.