Introduction: Over the past year I have written a series of articles under the heading, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival. I am occasionally challenged by readers as anti-Christian, partly due to a too hasty reading, but also from a too hasty writing. How explain an idea that cuts across previous and consoling “common wisdom,” particularly as those providing the consoling explanations are often respected historians, authors and philosophers? But I leave the question of academic bias to the future.
My title suggests that I understand the Holocaust, terrible as it was, as a failed event. So far this agrees with academic history and common wisdom. Where I diverge is in viewing the Holocaust as an event in a continuum, an event in an unfolding process we call History. And according to this view the Final Solution is not an isolated and discrete event, but an incomplete effort to solve what has become known as the West’s Jewish Problem. And this means that the final Final Solution is still an event for the future.
In order to understand the Holocaust we must understand its origins, and this means acknowledging something not spoken of in “polite society,” that its origins lie in Christian scripture. Matthew 27:25 eternally condemns “the Jews” as deicides in the murder of Jesus; and the John gospel repeatedly describes “the Jews” as children of Satan, assistants to his project of destroying Christianity. These charges were explained and expanded upon by theologians for centuries and provided the inspiration for organized and individual aggressions against Jews for centuries.
Since I begin my discussion of the background to the Final Solution with Christian scripture and theology it is obvious that, offensive as this may be at first glance, that my position going forward can be read as something of an anti-Christian polemic. But I am not anti-Christian. My purpose is only to understand, Why the Jews?
A little more history by way of process: Three hundred years of Matthew-inspired Crusades singled out the “enemy at home,” the Jews,” for slaughter en route to fight the infidel in the Holy Land. In what may represent the first “organized” campaign to murder Jews entire communities were destroyed, and many thousands died by sword, fire and drowning at crusader hands.
The Spanish Inquisition first forced Jews to convert, then disbelieving their sincerity tortured, then burned them at the stake. It was also the Inquisition that first introduced the idea of “purity of Blood,” limpieza de sangre, in an effort to purge the Church’s hierarchy of “Jews.” This, five hundred years before the Germany’s Mischlinge laws of 1935.
A century later Martin Luther called for Jews to be expelled from Germanic lands; that their “talmuds” be burned, their “churches” razed; “their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more… let us drive them out of the country for all time.” No wonder that four hundred years later Nazi war criminals would claim Luther as their inspiration and justification for the Final Solution!
And that is the “religious,” the anti-Jewish foundation for antisemitism and the future Shoah. But it would take the revolution from religious to secular society heralded by the 18th century Enlightenment to provide a rationale for a solution to what would later be called the Jewish Problem.
How explain that so many rational and otherwise “liberal” thinkers of that period, Voltaire and Diderot, for example, were so irrationally critical of “the Jews”? Certainly the Jews were previously despised under religious authority. But the Age of Reason heralded the brave new world of Secularism: liberté, égalité, fraternité and all men created equal, etc. And formally the Jews were set free, were emancipated. But, and this is the key, centuries of religious anti-Judaism became so embedded in the Western imagination and culture, was so familiar in belief, part of daily vernacular as stereotypes, that criticism was not even noticed as unordinary even by the architects of secular society themselves. It was just “natural” to see the Jews as Other. And with the Enlightenment came new “sciences,” and each successively sought its own explanation of the Jewish stranger in the West’s midst: Semite, nation, race and, finally, bacillus. Within a 200 year period Jews went from conditional acceptance (Napoleon) to political and social exclusion and, finally, physical extermination.
This transformation from anti-Judaism to annihilative antisemitism is too complex to be reduced to a few paragraphs. But unless it is appreciated we are left with either continuing to deny history, or placing blame on Christianity which, while not blameless was not the direct instrument of the Holocaust; or on Christians, and while it was they who perpetrated the Holocaust, did not do so as “Christians.” What remains then is Christendom, our Western secular society inheritor of centuries of scripture-inspired Jew-hatred transformed by “reason” into antisemitism in all it manifestations.
One-third of the remnant of a once, in relative terms, far more numerous people were victim to the incomplete Final Solution. The only reason all living Jews did not also end up in Auschwitz was sheer accident: the initiator of the Final Solution lost the war. To sit back in our comfortable and familiar surrounding in the Western Diaspora accepting, as likely most of us do, that the Holocaust was a unique event or, according to Elie Wiesel, a “mystery,” may allow us to sleep easier, and it may well be that it is human nature to live by faith that what surrounds us as Reality is “real” and eternal But does that not describe also German Jewry from Weimar to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws? The difference between then and now is that for German Jewry the Holocaust was their future. For us it is our past.
Denial is a salve to ease the mind but, as with our German community, the cost is terrible. We can continue in the hope that our present home, that of our parents is indeed as we claim, “exceptional,” that such a thing cannot happen here. Or we accept the clear lesson of History that modern Western civilization (secular Christendom) is no less inheritor of that terrible historical process of anti-Judaism/antisemitism: that the Final Solution to the West’s Jewish Problem is still unfinished.