Tonight we remember Europe’s decisive action to purge itself once for all of the Jews, and of all that they represent. Advisedly I say Europe acted, not merely Germany. In many of the countries into which the Nazis moved the general populace was willing, sometimes passionately eager, to cooperate in gathering, betraying, torturing and murdering their Jewish neighbours. I well remember the words of one of the many survivors we have photographed. He explained that it was not that the Germans were more hateful than the Poles or Ukrainians. It was that the Poles or Ukrainians would kill with pitch forks or their boots. The Germans, however, applied themselves to the task. The developed an industrial machine for efficient disposal of Europe’s Jews.
Europe acted, to be free once and for all of the Jews, and of all they represent. And in large measure Europe succeeded. Of the Jews of Poland, 3 million strong prior to the war, 90 per cent were murdered.
And now, over 70 years later, elements within Europe appear ready to complete the task. Even within the last year the upsurge in European antisemitism has been breathtaking. Many of the remaining Jews are leaving Europe.
And as Europe cleanses itself of Jews, and of all they represent, Europe may succumb to a force that in many ways is their antithesis. The demographics of a number of European nations indicate an Islamic majority within decades.
It seems Europe may see, and taste, the full fruit of its rejection of the Jews, and everything they represent.
Over the past two millennia the Jews have experienced more than 100 expulsions from regions around the world. But it is not merely the physical presence of Jewish people that has been the subject of irrational antagonism. There has been an ongoing attempt to purge or redefine Jewish ideas, identity and history.
In my own area of interest, Christian theology, there is the peculiar effort to purge the Scriptures of their Jewishness. Usually this takes the form of a theological alchemy in which it is argued that the church is now Israel. Presumably such churchmen were rather quiet about their new identity as Jews when the cattle trucks were being loaded for Auschwitz. Sadly the theological sophistry that calls the church Israel has not been laughed out of the room as it should have been. It is only growing in its influence and it is taught here in Auckland.
Another group active in Nazi Germany was The Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life. It was a group of theologians, professors, bishops and pastors dedicated to de-Judaizing Christianity and redefining Jesus as a non-Jew, an Aryan. In 1940 the institute published a dejudaized version of the New Testament. And today we see an upsurge in theological activity that is not dissimilar. Even here in Auckland a major Christian institution has published work referring to Jesus as “a Palestinian under occupation”.
History has shown us that what begins with the destruction of the identity and heritage of Jews often ends with the destruction of Jews.
Antisemitism historically targeted Jewish individuals, Jewish families and Jewish communities.
Within a few years of the Holocaust the Antisemite had a new object for his hatred. In addition to individuals, families and communities there was now the national entity, Israel. Of course strong criticism of a nation state can be, in itself, an acceptable and legitimate practice just as strong opposition to individuals can be appropriate when there is just cause. But when the movement against Israel, in order to further its case, relies upon disinformation, demonization and double standards, it becomes clear that anti-Zionism is often merely a flimsy cover for antisemitism.
History has shown us what happens when Jewish individuals, families and communities are assailed by disinformation, demonization and double standards. It can lead ultimately to their destruction. Let there be no doubt about the ultimate goal of many of those who assail the Jewish State with disinformation, demonization and double standards.
In the West it generally remains politically unacceptable to express animosity for individuals, families and communities. Less so, when that antagonism is brought to bear against a State. By depersonalizing his hatred, dressing it in the garb of human rights militancy, the antisemite may now freely spew forth against Israel, the Jew among the nations.
The vacuous nature of the human rights charges against Israel can be seen by considering the plight of Christians in the Middle East. While the ancient Christian communities in many other Middle East nations are being persecuted, slaughtered or driven out, Christians are safe in Israel.
None of this seems of interest to the anti-Israel human rights movements. They have relatively little to say about the murder of Christians and Moslems in surrounding states. They reserve their best energy for the only Middle East state in which Christians and Muslims are fully protected.
Antisemitism, and the Holocaust in particular, is the subject of vast quantities of scholarly material. But for the most part the material is of a documentary nature. While various factors have been suggested as triggering latent antisemitism, seldom has there been presented a viable theory as to why a people group so numerically insignificant has been the subject of millennia of hatred.
According to popular Jewish commentator Denis Pragar, of all the material he has examined virtually none of it attempts to provide a universal explanation of Jew hatred.
Whatever conclusion one reaches concerning the nature and ultimate cause of antisemitism one must at the very least acknowledge its power. Its power to transform the apparently normal citizens of Europe into moral monsters, who in many cases surpassed even the Nazis for brutality. Or its power to drive Hitler in the closing stages of the war to prioritize the murder of Jews over the supply of resources to his troops on the front lines.
Antisemitism’s power to so muddle the thinking of educated people that they readily accept absurdities. Moral absurdities such as the inference that there is some kind of moral equivalence between suicide bombings on the one hand and the building of homes in Judea and Samaria on other.
Critics will point out that the Jews are not the only group to suffer discrimination. That is true. But, consider the following:
It is not Africans, Argentinians or Australians who, in many cities of the world, avoid wearing any identifiable cultural item lest they be recognized and harassed.
It is the Jews.
It is not Iranians, Italians, or the Irish whose graveyards and places of worship are often defaced and vandalized.
No, it is the Jews.
It is not generally Poles, Portuguese or Palestinian students who are intimidated and vilified on many campuses, even in USA.
For Jewish students, on some campuses, that is becoming the norm.
And to those who blame the conduct of Israel for the plight of the Jews throughout the world we say this: antisemitism has been a constant for centuries. It plagued humanity long before the rebirth of the State of Israel.
Daniel Boyarin is Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California. In the context of writing about the early relationship between Christianity and Judaism he makes the observation:
“There is perhaps one feature that constitutes all as members of the Judeo-Christian family, namely, appealing to the Hebrew Scriptures as revelation.”
It is to those Hebrew Scriptures that I wish to refer tonight, for insight into the unrelenting war against the Jewish people. In the 12th chapter of Bereshit, or Genesis, we find an account of Abraham, the forebear of Isaac, Jacob, the twelve sons of Jacob and ultimately the Israelite nation. Bereshit describes God’s statement to Abraham (his name at that time was still Avram). The account reads, in English:
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In those few short phrases the words bless or blessing are used five times. According to this Hebrew account God’s intention is that Abraham and his descendants will be blessed and a blessing to the world. I could speak for the rest of the night about the blessing the Jewish people have been to the world.
But, our interest tonight is antisemitism.
The text references the reaction of the Gentile world to Abraham and the Hebrew nation. Two groups of Gentiles are mentioned – and only two. Those who bless Abraham’s people and those who curse Abraham’s people.
And there, I believe, is an ancient metanarrative, a lens through which the tragic experience of the Jewish people can be viewed.
During the Holocaust this stark dichotomy was on display. Those that would bless and those that would curse the Jews. We are here tonight because those willing, those eager, those consumed and driven to curse the Jews were innumerable.
And those willing to bless the Jews were few.
There were Righteous Gentiles willing to shelter Jews, to rescue Jews, to risk everything for Jews, and even to die for Jews.
But they were few.
Scandalously, too few.
In the 1930’s, as the Jewish people were increasingly marginalized and demonized, many ordinary European citizens were simply passive. They did nothing as the plight of the Jews became increasingly perilous.
Their passivity, over time, became complicity.
These are the 1930’s.
Tonight I appeal to non-Jews to reject passivity and to stand with Israel and the Jewish people as they are increasingly marginalized and demonized.
And we dedicate the work of Shadows of Shoah to the struggle against this vicious, resurgent antisemitism.
The preceding was a speech given on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand.