Like many Jews my age, I was raised with extreme Holocaust consciousness. Every year during Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) we would have a survivor speak to us in my Jewish day school. Most of my friends went on the March of the Living, a trip where people walk the terrible two mile trek from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where so many Jews marched to their deaths. I have attended countless lectures on the Holocaust, read books and articles on the subject, and watched films.
As part of the visceral identification with the Holocaust, I have grown to loathe using Holocaust related terms about matters that are quite different in nature. I have rebuked people for referring to political candidates they dislike as Nazi or Adolf Hitler. “Has this person expressed a desire to round up a particular ethnic or religious group and exterminate them man, woman and child?” I have asked. “Because if not, then he is not a Nazi and not comparable to Hitler.”
I also strongly object to the bandying about of the term “genocide” when it isn’t warranted. There are many terrible things in this world that deserve to be excoriated, but genocide is a specific terrible thing and should only be used accurately. Erroneous use of this term offends human decency and is an affront to the millions of dead who suffered from Hitler’s genocidal war.
For these reasons, when I hear about actual cases of genocide occurring in the world, my blood freezes. There is one happening right now.
As most readers know, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is in the midst of one of the most brutal and bloody “infidel” purges the world has seen. The numbers are staggering and the killing is programmatic. These are not pogrom style raids on minorities (as terrible as those were), nor are they local clannish or tribal conflicts.
The Islamic State intends on becoming just that: a centralized Sunni Islamic power that will enforce its particular form of radical Sunni Islam on all its inhabitants. Such an intolerant regime is horrifying enough even for its compliant citizens, but what will happen to all those people who are not Sunni Muslims and will not conform to the ISIS way of life? Sadly, there is no need for guesswork or speculation here. It is already happening.
In Iraq, the almost two millennia old presence of Christians in Mosul has effectively ended. There are reports of forced conversions, of persecution and of systematic killing. The entire community has fled ; those who survive are now refugees.
The Yazidi, an ancient group of Kurds who practice a unique form of Zoroastrianism, have been declared a rogue “devil worshiping” sect by ISIS, and the slaughter of these “infidels” has already begun. There are reports of mass graves, eerily reminiscent of the early Nazi practice. What happens with the women and girls who are captured? The answer is as vile as it is obvious.
As I write, a group of around 40,000 Yazidi have fled to the top of a mountain near Sinjar, with nothing but the shirts on their backs. The U.S. has airlifted water and food, but this is no long-term solution. The Kurds are attempting to rescue this group, and I pray they succeed; otherwise these refuges will either starve to death or be butchered by their pursuers. The same fate awaits the rest of the half a million Yazidi whom ISIS has already threatened with extermination.
Reading Holocaust books like The Deafening Silence and The Abandonment of the Jews brings painful and frustrating revelations. Not only did the world watch as the Nazis rid the land of the “Jewish problem;” the world was complicit. Hitler did not begin his persecution of Jews with the Final Solution. In the earlier part of his reign as Führer, when the persecutions were just beginning, Hitler did not yet have a clear idea what he would do with the Jews.
He knew that he wanted them gone, that he wanted Germany Judenrein, but, at first, there was the possibility that the rest of the world would take them off his hands. There was talk of shipping all the Jews to Madagascar, but this proved too costly and impractical. There were hopes that the Jews would just all leave, but this proved to be impossible since no one would take them.
Attempts by Jews to enter Palestine failed since the British government blocked this with its infamous 1939 White Paper. The United States tightened its own immigration rules and quotas, as did most other countries. There was nowhere to go. It was only when Hitler realized that no country wanted his Jews, that he decided on extermination as the simplest route.
In my understanding, the “Never Again” mantra is partially fueled by our deep-seated anger at those who stood by as Jews were shot and gassed. The world failed us; it is a painful truth, but one from which we have learned.
The pragmatic lesson was that we need our own country with our own military, so that we need never again rely on others to save us from slaughter. But there is a moral lesson as well. Never should we become apathetic to genocide just because it isn’t us being slaughtered. Doing so dishonors the memory of the six million. This is why we need to do more that just talk about the Yazidi and the Christians from Mosul. This is no time for eulogies.
I hope that the United States and NATO will take action against ISIS and stop the killings. Until such time, the world must at least offer asylum and think creatively about how to get the Syrian and Iraqi Christians and the Yazidi into safe places.
Although I hope the United States and Europe will take many of them in, I want to specifically encourage Israel, the Jewish homeland, built in the shadow of the Holocaust and two thousand years of persecution, to invite the Yazidi and the Christians of Syria and Iraq to settle in its land. I want Israel to offer them asylum and allow them the opportunity to build a new life for themselves away from the madness, the death and the barbarism.
Maybe this means Israel airlifting people from Iraq as they did for the Jews of Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet; maybe it means cooperating with other friendly powers to extricate the refugees from their positions. It may even require some limited military involvement and exposure. I am not sure what it entails, but we dare not allow their pleas for succor to go unanswered.
Never again doesn’t just mean never again to us, but never again to anyone! Not on our watch, not when we can help. The world failed us in the 1930s; we should not make the same mistake now. In the words of the Torah (Lev. 19:16), let us not stand idly by over the blood of our brothers.