The Holocaust

October 2009

For many years I read numerous books about the Holocaust. I was reminded again of this mind boggling event in two ways this week.

1st, I became a fan of the Auschwitz Memorial / Muzeum Auschwitz Facebook page. I’d encourage you to check this out.

2nd, I read an article about a doctor who hid Jewish men and women in the Netherlands. See-

I remember as a young child watching a documentary about the holocaust. I still vividly remember a scene in which nazi soldiers are marching and the thought came to me, “What in the world is so wrong with us Jews that a nation would attempt to exterminate us?”.

I remember as a teenager walking on the beach in Oregon with my uncle Robert… a very intelligent man- a Phd. in chemistry from MIT… I remember asking him why he did not believe in God… He said the main obstacle for him was the holocaust… He could not conceive of a God existing who would sit idly by when such an atrocity took place.

I remember the scene in the mini series, “The Holocaust”, in which a young man says to a Rabbi…

“With all that is going on how can you believe in God?”… to which the Rabbi replies… “With all that is going on how can one not believe in God?”.

I remember bumping into the book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion and the Final Solution in Poland.

The book suggests that the men responsible for murdering Polish Jews were not monsters… they were ordinary people like you and me.

I wrestled with this until I read Maus…

Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of the author’s mother and father during the holocaust. In the book Germans are portrayed as cats and Jews as mice. In reading this book I realized that if a human being sees a people group as less than human (mice, cockroaches) then murdering them is not much more difficult than exterminating “lesser” life forms…

This is well illustrated in the Rwandan genocide…

See, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families…

While I’m a fan of the notion that mankind learned something from the holocaust… that such a deed would not be seen again in the world… Rwanda, Serbia, and Darfur suggest otherwise.

What is one to do with all this conceptually and practically?

I’m reminded of Pascal’s comments upon human beings… he talks about the amazing enigma man and woman are in their dual capacity for good and evil… he also says…

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal

Conceptually- Recognize the capacity within each of us regular human beings to do horrendous things… simultaneously, recognize our capacity to be empathic, self sacrificing and brave.

Practically- Recognize the dangers of certitude and maintain a fundamental belief in cherishing tentativeness and openess. Pray, that placed in the wrong circumstances (Serbia and Rwanda for example, in which men and women were given the choice of slaughtering their neighbors or watching their families be slaughtered), that we are beings capable of courage and doing the right thing.

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