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A Culture of Genocide
A Culture of Genicide
By Charles S. Weinblatt
In writing about the Shoah (Holocaust), I was forced to examine human behavior during the most appalling and treacherous genocide in history. How could apparently normal people become butchers of innocent families? What persuaded German citizens and their allies (Einsatzgruppen) to believe that all members of a religion should be destroyed? Why did they accept as appropriate the euthenasia of the physically and mentally disabled? What precipitated a perfect storm of blind hatred sufficient to elicit these “normal” people to murder their former neighbors? Why was it so easy to convince citizens that Jews and others deemed “not sufficiently Aryan” should be exterminated?
Anti-Semitism has deep roots in the world, especially in Europe, where Christianity promoted Jewish hatred for two thousand years. Millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children were murdered during the Crusades, the English Expulsion and the Spanish Inquisition. From the Dark Ages through the Reformation, the Church influenced Europe with a firm grip. The isolation and denigration of Jews was a firmament of Church philosophy.
Requiring a scapegoat over time to distract rebellious societies, the Church found Jews a very appropriate target. They did not accept Jesus as the messiah. They worshipped God differently and with a different language. They kept to themselves. Jews looked and acted differently. They observed different holidays. They held jobs deemed distasteful to Christians. The Church and local governments found it useful to maintain that Jews were not to be trusted or allowed to assimilate. Moreover, Jews were a peaceful group, without any military capability or a capacity to defend their communities from attack. In essence, Jews were a perfect scapegoat for Church leadership.
Over successive centuries, the seminal existence of anti-Semitism became endemic and rarely far from the surface. Over centuries, the Church’s effort to expel and murder Jews gradually declined. However, when Hitler pushed for the extermination of Twentieth Century Jews, he met little resistance. His endeavor to remove and annihilate European Jews required little vigor to impose. In fact, it was a useful distraction for the Nazi regime, to combat fiscal and political challenges. The ancient mistrust and hatred of Jews easily rose to the surface, spurred on and focused by incessant and vigorous propaganda.
Meanwhile, Jews remained largely as they had always been throughout time. They studied Torah, respected higher education, worked jobs that no one else desired, married and had children. Their values changed little over time, despite near-constant efforts to isolate, expel, enslave and murder them. They resisted assimilation, instead appreciating their time-honored values. For Jews, the bitter taste of slavery, blind hatred and murder was a constant companion. Even their ancestral homeland, Israel, was conquered repeatedly; their sacred temples destroyed. Still, Jews loved their religion and culture; and they embraced it, as they had for two thousand years.
Humans are complex beings. There is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise. Despite centuries as victims, bearing the brunt of mendacity and vicious brutality, Jews remained loyal to their God, Torah and culture. They continued to find joy in a life of obedience to their time-honored civilization. For Jews, life has never been good or bad, but good and bad. Throughout history, Jews found few moments of peace within an eternity of harassment, punishment, expulsion and slavery.
Holocaust victims experienced the widest breadth of perfidious experiences and conditions. Within the fetid trains and barracks of Nazi-occupied Europe, lovers dreamed of being together, rabbis tried to keep faith alive and parents worried desperately about their lost spouse and children. The Jews of Europe emptied their devotion of tradition into the gas chambers of Nazi death camps. Deep within the fear and panic of the Holocaust were decisions about ethical behavior and morality. The culture of Nazi Germany was abducted by the illusion of a horribly tarnished morality; one which approved of the extermination of Jews and euthanasia of the disabled and undesired. This was cold, calculated genetic manipulation, in order to produce a Europe that was Judenrien, or free from Jews.
Meanwhile, a complex palette of emotions churned within the minds of Shoah victims and their Nazi rulers. Some Jewish kapos were more terrifying and brutal than SS guards. Some SS guards and camp workers were gentle and compassionate. Into this churning crucible of horror, lovers, parents, children and grandparents were deposited. Yet, their passion for Judaism did not disappear. Ironically, within a culture of death emerged a passion for Torah and life. Most Jews did not abandon their faith in God; instead, they carried it into the darkness of brutality, torture, sickness and death.
Powerful infatuation and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to faith and God. Nazi Germany could remove every article of wealth from the Jewish people, but not their love of family, Torah and devotion to a two thousand year-old culture. This is the cement that holds the Jewish people together. At the very end, naked and cold, Jews carried their history, tradition, values and faith into gas chambers and certain death; a tapestry of ancient wisdom, coupled with ritual devotion and a fervent need to connect with each other meaningfully.
The world is seldom seen in black and white, or even shades of gray. During the Holocaust, in the midst of terrible anguish, beauty existed. That beauty was surrounded by despair. Lovers secretly met in fervent passion. Clandestine weddings were held. At some concentration camps, such as Theresienstadt, Jews created schools, hospitals and clinics, orchestras and choirs, political organization and literary groups. There were even some births, hidden from the SS for as long as possible. Here, deep within the dread of impending death, surrounded by sickness, death, brutality and murder, we find love, compassion, creativity, education and deep faith.
Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as affection, compassion and devotion also exist there. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine these vastly disparate portions of our psyche.
Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Shoah must reveal torturous cruelty, violence, brutality, rampant sickness, forced labor and death. It’s fair to say that Holocaust survivors lost most or all of their loved ones, their sacred objects, wealth and homes. However, despite the starvation, forced labor, inhuman conditions, disease and malice, the incarcerated Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion, their traditions and their belief in God. They kept faith and culture alive. Their very survival became a victory of Jews over Hitler. Today, the existence of their progeny cements this Jewish victory. Like a fabulous phoenix, Holocaust survivors’ grand and great-grandchildren rise above the ashes of the Holocaust; a treasure of Jewish endurance. Here, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage
Charles S. Weinblatt was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1952. He is a retired University of Toledo administrator. Weinblatt is the author of “Jacob’s Courage” and “Job Seeking Skills for Students.” His biography appears in the Marquis Who’s Who in America. Weinblatt writes novels, short stories and articles. He lives in Ohio.
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