Tag Archives: Ellie Wiesel

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020, the Liberation of Auschwitz at 75 Years: To Forget is to Kill Twice

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-five years ago today the Red Army’s 100th Division liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. There were somewhere between 7000 and 9000 prisoners left in the camp. The crematoria had been destroyed as well as most of the gas chambers. The SS had evacuated by forced march to railhead miles away from the camp, in order to take them to other Concentration Camps deeper in Germany; Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbruck, and others.

Auschwitz was liberated, the Nazis continued to exterminate Jews at other camps and conducted forced marches in freezing winter weather to keep them from being liberated, marches which were both deadly and inhuman. Actions that even Heinrich Himmler had forbidden. Many of these actions were the work of Adolf Eichmann.

Even Rudolf Höss the former Commandant of Auschwitz, who admitted to killing over one and a half-million Jews, was appalled by the senseless brutality of what he saw. Höss, the meticulous killer of millions, was shocked by the columns of emaciated and Jews, with no winter clothing or in many cases not even shoes that Eichmann marched from Budapest and other cities and camps to Austria and Czechoslovakia in late 1944 and 1945 to keep the Russians from liberating them, even against the orders of Himmler.

There have been many episodes of genocide in human history, but none were more pointedly directed at a single group of people based on race hatred than the Holocaust of the Jews. While it is true that the Nazis exterminates millions of people than the nearly six million Jews they dispatched during the Holocaust. This is important, as the late Christopher Hitchens noted:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

Hitchens was right, without the primary Nazi hatred and determination to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth, their other atrocities would never occurred. Today, that rabid anti-semitism is again raising its evil head in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States.

It is impossible for an objective person to deny this fact. Hate crimes against Jews are blossoming around the world like toxic mushrooms. The new perpetrators are the descendants of the former perpetrators, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and secularists who embrace the same social Darwinism that motivated many of the Nazis.

Or course the non-Muslim opponents of the Jews today also despise dark skinned minorities, non-Christians, not to mention atheists and secularists; thus what Hitchens says is still as accurate as it was when he wrote those words.

So here we are, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2020. The question is, will we allow it to happen again? The late Iris Chang, who documented the Rape Of Nanking noted: “to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.” Sadly, I believe that without a sea change in public opinion and knowledge about the Holocaust, genocide, and anti-semitism we will see it happen again.

But will we allow it to happen again? I would hope not, but I have to say that human nature and the course of events is leading me to believe that it will happen again, maybe even in our lifetime.

That may be difficult to accept, but it is reality. What is the alternative to telling the truth? Except to perpetuate a lie, except to take the side of the perpetrators, and those who would do the same today. That includes many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians who while outwardly allying with Israel, only do so in that their interpretation of Biblical prophecy might be fulfilled. That interpretation is that Christians will be raptured from the earth, and during a seven year Great Tribulation the Anti-Christ will conquer his foes and that in the end over two-thirds of all Jews will be killed, while the survivors convert to follow Christ.

Honestly, I cannot deem such politicized and racist theology to be Christian, or respectful and considerate of the elder brother of the Christian faith, Judaism, without which Christianity wouldn’t exist. Let me repeat that. Without Judaism Christianity would not exist, and the treatment of the Jews by the Christian Church has been shameful for the majority of its existence. I say that as a Christian.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis created the euphemism the Jewish Question in order to remove the aspect of humanity from their policy. It wasn’t about human beings, it was about people that they considered sub-human minority that they were able to demonize to expedite their elimination. Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

Thus, once one labels the Jews, or for that matter any other despised minority a question, or a problem, we place ourselves on the path to Trump administration and his followers have done that since 2015 regarding Mexicans and other Hispanics, Arabs, Haitians, Sub-Saharan Africans, and too many others.

That is why I cannot be silent. I have to proclaim the words of Ellie Wiesel:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Silence it not an option, and to again quote Wiesel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

We must bear witness, for if we do not it will happen again. Humanity is the one constant in history, and there are no exceptions once one begins down the path to labeling the fate of races, nations, and peoples a question or a problem which they can resolve with a solution, the more comprehensive, total, or final, the better. There are certainly plenty of people, including Trump’s closest advisors who would make draconian laws in order to enable the government to commit genocide.

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

In the wake of an number of situations that I have seen and have watched in morbid fascination be debated on my Facebook, and Twitter timelines, as well a potential Holocaust Denier who commented on my blog yesterday, I realize that with the prevailing attitudes being stoked by men like President Trump, his media supporters, and sadly, far too many Conservative Christians, that it will quite probably happen again.

I will fight it, butI have no doubt of the power, passion, and petulance of people consumed by race hatred under the guise of patriotism.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

“An Exercise in Exceptions” Faith in the Evil Age of Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. The unwavering support of Evangelical, Charismatic/Pentecostal, and other conservative Christians for Trump, people who believe that anyone who opposes Trump is an enemy of God demonstrates that.  Our founders realized how easily it could happen, and they warned us about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted.

How can it not be. This is nothing new. In discussions with aides concerned about the more onerous provisions of the Patriot Act renewal, President George W. Bush became aggravated and shouted: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,… It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Personally I, believe that Bush uttered those words in a time of stress and anger. Could he have been reacting emotionally to resistance from his staff? I think that is a real possibility that is the case. On the other hand, it could have been what he really thought of the Constitution, especially in light of the fact that of many of his staff, cabinet, and advisors had all been convicted of crimes during the Reagan administration. Many would influence Bush’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003. But I digress.

Many followers of the current President are far more dangerous than Trump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible. A prime example is the heretical and money grubbing Paula White, who is now the President’s “spiritual advisor.” Likewise they are true believers in authoritarian, theocratic government, and are no better than the Taliban, the Iranian Ayatollahs, or the Saudi Mullahs.

Trump is a problem, and he needs to be impeached and convicted, or voted out of office, I personally believe him to be malfeasant and evil, but some of his action and behaviors could be related to some form of dementia, that has only made his narcissist tendencies worse.

But his supporters should know better, especially the ones who claim to be Observant Christians, or Jews. How anyone who supposedly studies the Jewish and Christian scriptures and traditions, yet supports and defends Trump is beyond me. It is more about faith than politics for me, though mine do often intersect. Being “pro-life” means much more than being “anti-abortion.” Being “pro-Christian morality” means more than being “anti-gay.” Being pro-Religious Freedom means more than being more than supporting policies that only benefit Christians, and I am a Christian. Some may take exception to that, Conservative Christians especially, but those of other religious as well as non-believers as well. However, it has been my experience that Atheists and Agnostics, as well as others that do not subscribe to my faith hold the Constitution in higher regard than most of the Christians that I know, or for than matter Muslims who have grown up as citizens in this country, and serve in our Armed Forces.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Nothing is Easier than to Denounce an Evil Doer; Nothing is more Important than to Understand Him” The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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                                                  The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, nazi germany, Political Commentary, racism, world war two in europe

A Day at Temple Israel: Passover and the Holocaust

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I had the distinct honor today of being a guest speaker at the end of the final Passover service for Norfolk’s Temple Israel Synagogue. They are a Conservative synagogue that is quite active in the community here. I met their Rabbi, Michael Panitz last year at a Navy Exchange Command Diversity Celebration. In the months following we have become friends and as I remain in the area after I retire from the military hopefully become close colleagues in the fight for religious rights as intended by the Bill of Rights.

I spoke on the topic of Bearing Witness in an age where the witnesses to the Holocaust are passing away and Holocaust Denial and anti-Semitism are rising, with a commensurate increase in anti-Semitic and racial base. Even today as we were finishing the service in Norfolk a synagogue in The area of San Diego came under attack by a gunman armed with an AR type assault rifle. He killed one and wounded three worshippers before surrendering to the police. In the hours before his attack the terrorist had published an anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant manifesto.

Truthfully I was worried about something like that happening in Norfolk today, thankfully nothing like that happened, the Norfolk Police had officers stationed at both entrances. I don’t know if anyone in the local area was thinking about or planning anything, but you never know. I was just grateful that nothing happened here.

I have to say that today was most interesting. It was the first time I have attended a Jewish Passover service and despite the fact that I couldn’t understand half or more of the service because it was in Hebrew, I still found it fascinating. In it I could see where Some of or Catholic and other liturgical Christian traditions come from, and I could not help but to reverence the Scrolls of the Talmud as they were processed down the aisles of the sanctuary and taken back to the Tabernacle; the psalms and songs led by the Cantor, scripture readings and prayers, including for the prayers for our ancestors who have died was for me fascinating. Of course through my study of liturgy I knew this, but for the first time to see it was very humbling. As a Christian I could see the debt that we owe to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

What I talked about was received well, many of the congregation members came up,to me afterwards to thank me and tell me how much they learned and how it affected them. Likewise, they encouraged me to keep teaching, writing, and making pilgrimage to the sites that I have not yet visited.

We live in very dangerous times. We have to heed the words of Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

As I mentioned last night this will be part of my post military mission, to teach, to write, and to take people to these places where millions were murdered by the Nazis and their allies.

As Ellie Wiesel noted: “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.”

I must bear witness.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Bearing Witness: My Mission

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The words on the polished stone in the hall of remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum are as much as a somber warning as a command:

Only Guard Yourself and Guard Your Soul Carefully, Lest You Forget the Things Your Eyes Saw, Lest These Things Depart Your Heart All the Days Of Your Life, and You Shall Make Them Known to Your Children and to Your Children’s Children.

Last May I visited the United States Holocaust Museum. Since I study the Weimar and Nazi period, the Holocaust and the war crimes trials this was important. While in Germany I have been to the Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, the T4 Euthanasia Program Center at Hadamar, the Palace Of Justice in Nuremberg where the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (as well as the Nazi era Nuremberg laws) were prosecuted, the Wannsee House where the Final Solution was implemented, the Memorials to the German Resistance in Berlin, the Sophie Scholl White Rose Museum, and the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism; this visit, in the United States was important. I will be continuing to visit Holocaust sites in Germany when I go there this Fall, but last year I finally was able to stake out the time to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The museum is important and despite having been to places shown in it and knowing more about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust than the vast majority of Americans, I found myself overwhelmed at times as I walked slowly through the exhibits. Many I recognized, knew about, or had been to, but that did not make them any less emotionally difficult to see. But there were others that drove home why this museum is so important in our day and time.

I think that the one that hit me the hardest was the pictorial Tower of Faces from the Polish shtetl of Ejszyszki. That town was home to some 4,000 Jews and the pictures had been taken over the preceding decade by local photographers. They were pictures of everyday family and community life; men, women, children at work, at play, at rest. Worshipping, working, studying, the old and the young, the well off and the poor, the religious and those not as religious at all phase of life captured in photos for eternity. For 3500 of them their lives ended on September 21st 1941 when the Nazis rounded up the Jews at their Synagogues on the eve of Yom Kippur and executed them by firing squad in mass graves at the town’s Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Only 29 of those who survived that day lived through the war. That Jewish community had existed for 900 years and was exterminated in a matter of hours.

I looked at those pictures and I could not get over all of those innocent lives cut short. Each face was the picture of an individual or individuals, families, friends, schoolmates. They were not abstract numbers or statistics but real flesh and blood people like you and me. They had hopes and dreams, but because they were Jews they were exterminated, like nearly six million other Jews who also were real people with hopes and dreams that would be destroyed by the Nazi racial war. Of course the Nazis targeted others, but none with the relentless anti-Semitic racial hatred propagated by Nazi ideology. Thus they condoned and executed by people who would have ordinarily have been considered upstanding and moral citizens. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

But then this is not abnormal as the great American theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.”

The problem is that what happened during the Holocaust and to the people of the shtetl of Ejszyszki is not just an aberration, it is all too much a part of human nature; even that of people who call themselves Christians like those who exterminated the Jewish people of Ejszyszki. It is not simply an artifact of history that we can ignore. It can happen again and if we are not careful it will happen again. The spirit of the ideology that allowed normal law abiding people to massacre millions of people, either up close and personal like at Ejszyszki or in death factories like Soribor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Auschwitz is still alive today in Russia, Europe, and even in the United States. Of course it exists elsewhere in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. But I think that it is most frightening when it exists in the nations which claim to be inheritors of Christian civilization or the enlightenment, especially among the people who claim the words of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

Honesty when I see the President of the United States and his most devoted followers follow the script of the Nazis and other race supremacists I get concerned and I remember the words of historian Yehuda Bauer:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

As for people who might be neighbors, coworkers or even friends today who for whatever reason either support, dismiss, or ignore the peril of the racial, ideological, and religious animus of the modern authoritarians and anti-Semites I can only recall the words of Yale historian Dr. Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

Today, more than at any time in his Presidency, I truly believe that under President Trump that the United States is just a Reichstag Fire moment the usurpation Of the Constitution and the beginning of a dictatorship. I believe that, the Muller Investigation and the Democratic Party House Majority notwithstanding, we entering a phase of history when not only Trump supporters, but even some Trump opponents would do nothing in a crisis and either become willing participants in tyranny, bystanders to it or victims of it. As I walked through the museum and remembered all of my visits to Holocaust and other sites in Germany I realized again that it can happen again.

When I finished with most of my visit I went to the Hall of Remembrance and sat for a long time in silence, a silence facing the words on that stone, and that made me realize again just how easy it would be to happen again, and the choices that all of us must make if it is not to happen again in our time.

I’ll leave you with the warning of Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I cannot be a bystander. This Saturday I will be speaking on the topic of bearing witness to the Holocaust as the last witnesses pass away and the Holocaust denial industry ramps up and gains supporters in the high reaches of governments around the world. It is entitled, Lest We Forget: Walk, Remember, and Bear Witness at Temple Israel in Norfolk. The premise is that In order to bear witness today the those who want to prevent genocide today need to study it, and then go to the places hallowed by the blood of the victims in order to internalize it and speak for those whose voices cry out from the grave, “never again!”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Holocaust Remembrance 2019: “To Forget a Holocaust is to Kill Twice”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-four years ago today the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although Auschwitz was liberated, the Nazis continued to exterminate Jews at other camps and conducted forced marches in freezing winter weather to keep them from being liberated, marches which were both deadly and inhuman. Actions that even Heinrich Himmler had forbidden. Many of these actions were the work of Adolf Eichmann.

Even Rudolf Höss the former Commandant of Auschwitz, who admitted to killing over one and a half-million Jews, was appalled by the senseless brutality of what he saw. Höss, the meticulous killer of millions, was shocked by the columns of emaciated and Jews, with no winter clothing or in many cases not even shoes that Eichmann marched from Budapest and other cities and camps to Austria and Czechoslovakia in late 1944 and 1945 to keep the Russians from liberating them, even against the orders of Himmler.

There have been many episodes of genocide in human history, but none were more pointedly directed at a single group of people based on race hatred than the Holocaust of the Jews. While it is true that the Nazis exterminates millions of people than the nearly six million Jews they dispatched during the Holocaust. This is important, as the late Christopher Hitchens noted:

“We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.” 

Hitchens was right, without the primary Nazi hatred and determination to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth, their other atrocities would never occurred. Today, that rabid anti-semitism is again raising its evil head in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and even in the United States.

It is impossible for an objective person to deny this fact. Hate crimes against Jews are blossoming around the world like toxic mushrooms. The new perpetrators are the descendants of the former perpetrators, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and secularists who embrace the same social Darwinism that motivated many of the Nazis.

Or course the non-Muslim opponents of the Jews today also despise dark skinned minorities, non-Christians, not to mention atheists and secularists; thus what Hitchens says is still as accurate as it was when he wrote those words.

So here we are, Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2019. The question is, will we allow it to happen again? The late Iris Chang, who documented the Rape Of Nanking noted: “to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.” Sadly, I believe that without a sea change in public opinion and knowledge about the Holocaust, genocide, and anti-semitism we will see it happen again.

But will we allow it to happen again? I would hope not, but I have to say that human nature and the course of events is leading me to believe that it will happen again, maybe even in our lifetime.

That may be difficult to accept, but it is reality. What is the alternative to telling the truth? Except to perpetuate a lie, except to take the side of the perpetrators, and those who would do the same today. That includes many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters, Evangelical Christians who while outwardly allying with Israel, only do so in that their interpretation of Biblical prophecy might be fulfilled. That interpretation is that Christians will be raptured from the earth, and during a seven year Great Tribulation the Anti-Christ will conquer his foes and that in the end over two-thirds of all Jews will be killed, while the survivors convert to follow Christ.

Honestly, I cannot deem such politicized and racist theology to be Christian, or respectful and considerate of the elder brother of the Christian faith, Judaism, without which Christianity wouldn’t exist. Let me repeat that. Without Judaism Christianity would not exist, and the treatment of the Jews by the Christian Church has been shameful for the majority of its existence. I say that as a Christian.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Nazis created the euphemism the Jewish Question in order to remove the aspect of humanity from their policy. It wasn’t about human beings, it was about people that they considered sub-human minority that they were able to demonize to expedite their elimination. Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

Thus, once one labels the Jews, or for that matter any other despised minority a question, or a problem, we place ourselves on the path to Trump administration and his followers have done that since 2015 regarding Mexicans and other Hispanics, Arabs, Haitians, Sub-Saharan Africans, and too many others.

That is why I cannot be silent. I have to proclaim the words of Ellie Wiesel:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Silence it not an option, and to again quote Wiesel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

We must bear witness, for if we do not it will happen again. Humanity is the one constant in history, and there are no exceptions once one begins down the path to labeling the fate of races, nations, and peoples a question or a problem which they can resolve with a solution, the more comprehensive, total, or final, the better. There are certainly plenty of people, including Trump’s closest advisors who would make draconian laws in order to enable the government to commit genocide.

Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

In the wake of an number of situations that I have seen and have watched in morbid fascination be debated on my Facebook timeline, I realize that with the prevailing attitudes being stoked by men like President Trump, his media supporters, and sadly, far too many Conservative Christians, that it will quite probably happen again.

I will fight it, butI have no doubt of the power, passion, and petulance of people consumed by race hatred under the guise of patriotism.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Justice and Life as an Exercise in Exceptions: Faith in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The English Mathematician and founder of Process Philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

Religion carries two sorts of people in two entirely opposite directions: the mild and gentle people it carries towards mercy and justice; the persecuting people it carries into fiendish sadistic cruelty…” 

I find much truth in Whitehead’s words. Those who follow my writings know how much I struggle with faith and doubt on a daily basis. I believe, but as the man told Jesus when he asked Jesus to heal his child “I believe, help my unbelief.” I no longer believe in the “absolute truths” that I once believed.

Of course to some this makes me a heretic or worse. That being said, as a Christian, I have faith in a God I cannot see or prove. I have faith in a God who Scripture and Tradition clothes himself in human weakness and allows himself to be killed based on the trumped up charges of corrupt and fearful religious leaders aided by fearful politicians. For me this is part of being a theologian of the Cross in a post-Auschwitz world.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who wrote the book The Crucified God answered a question about believing in God after Auschwitz:

“A shattering expression of the theologia crucis which is suggested in the rabbinic theology of God’s humiliation of himself is to be found in Night, a book written by E. Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz:

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’

Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference.

(Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274)

In answer to the question “How can we believe in God after Auschwitz he responded:

“In whom can we believe after Auschwitz if not God?

Likewise, Rabbi Emil Fackenheim noted:

If we abandoned our faith in God after Auschwitz, we would give Hitler a posthumous victory.

And as long as we know that the ‘Sh’ma Yisrael’ and the ‘Our Father’ prayers were prayed in Auschwitz, we must not give up our faith in God.”

Thus, while I believe, I have a problem with Christians or members of other religions try to use the police power of state to enforce their beliefs on others. In this belief I am much like the great Virginia Baptist leader, John Leland who was a driving force behind the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights who wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

When it comes to God, I believe, but my doubts are all too real. Frankly I cringe when I hear religious people speaking with absolute certitude about things that they ultimately cannot prove, and that includes the concept of justice, which cannot always be measured in absolutes.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) noted in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode Justice: 

“I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible. But the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”

I have found and learned to accept that life as we know it “is an exercise in exceptions.”  We all make them, and the Bible and the history of the church is full of them. So I have a hard time with people who claim an absolute certitude in beliefs that wish to impose on others.

True believers frequently wrap themselves in the certitude of their faith. They espouse doctrines that are unprovable and then build complex doctrinal systems to prove them, systems that then which must be defended, sometimes to the death. Eric Hoffer wrote:

A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Henri Nouwen, the Priest who wrote the classic book on pastoral care, The Wounded Healer, and many other works wrote:

Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” 

No one can be competent in God, I certainly am not. I am sure that even well meaning people who claim to be are hopelessly deluded, and those that those that use their alleged competence in God to prop up evil are far worse, they are evil men masquerading as good.

Those men and women that speak of absolutes and want to use the Bible or any other religious text as some sort of rule book that they alone can interpret need to ask themselves this question, “When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?” The Bible is not a rule book, but a story of imperfect people trying to understand and live an experience with a being that they, like us, can only imagine and often misunderstand.

Sadly too many people, Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others apply their own misconceptions and prejudices to their scriptures and use them as a weapon of temporal and divine judgement on all who they oppose. However, as history, life and even our scriptures testify, that none of us can absolutely claim to know the absolutes of God. As Captain Picard noted “life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” 

It takes true wisdom to know when and how to make these exceptions, wisdom based on reason, grace and mercy. Justice, is to apply the law in fairness and equity, knowing that even our best attempts can be misguided. If instead of reason we appeal to emotion, hatred, prejudice or vengeance and clothe them in the language of righteousness, what we call justice can be more evil than any evil it is supposed to correct, no matter what our motivation.

But we see it all too often, religious people and others misusing faith or ideology to condemn those they do not understand or with whom they disagree. It is happening again.

When such people gain power, especially when the do so supporting a leader who is they tend to expand that power into the realm of theocratic absolutism and despotism. As Captain Jean Luc Picard noted in the Start Trek Next Generation episode The Drumhead: 

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

It is happening, all around the world, and it could easily happen here. Our founders realized how easily it could happen, they warned about it; but they are dead, and neither Trump or his followers give a damn about them or the Constitution that they crafted. In fact, his followers are for more dangerous thanTrump, because they will outlast him by a generation, or more, always waiting for the chance to grab power by any means possible.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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