I think there is a conceptual drift that has occurred over many years regarding how we talk about and understand Nazism. This drift has to do with how people understand the Nazis, what their mission was and the incomparable evil they embodied. While the drift and mutation has sped up in recent years, the process of change has occurred over many decades. I am not the first person to write about this, many other have before me both more eloquently and deeply. This is just a short blog post, not a book or anything extensive like that.
Often I will hear, or read people talking about something and they will bring the Nazis into the conversation. They ofter are trying to make a connection to today. Too often it seems like they end up trivializing the evil of the Nazis. I don’t think they are doing thing intentionally. They aren’t intentionally trivializing the atrocities the Nazis committed. They are trivializing the degree of evil which animated the philosophy of the Nazis.
I will get a sense people think the Nazis were just “really right wing”. There is this sense that people think they were just “really nationalist” or just “crazed and violent.” People know they hated us Jews. They know that they attempted to exterminate every Jew from earth. People know this and for the most part this is not trivialized. However, the depth of evil which animated that Jew hatred is far deeper than most people are taught to understand. These misconceptions trivialize the depth of evil which animated the core principles of Nazism. If one reads about the racial theories and ideas which set the stage for the Final Solution the evil is unparalleled. These aren’t just “extreme right wing” ideas. They are ideas and philosophies which are crimes against God. Not only were the actions hell on earth, the philosophy which existed prior to the actions was hell on earth.
Many people are very good at putting into perspective the evil and tragedy of the actions and atrocities the Nazis committed. People seem to be less good at understanding and putting into perspective the true core of the evil ideas which made the actions possible. I think this is important because when we aren’t able to understand that core and understand just what true evil laid at the core, we actually trivialize what evil existed there. We flatten it out, if confuses what existed then and what exists now, and it clouds our moral vision.
I think part of this occurs when the Shoah is universalized. I think there are Jews who do this with a good heart because they want others to relate so as to hopefully prevent something similar from happening to anyone ever again. I understand this. I think they are often times, coming from a good heart. I think also though, there are those who do this with a bad heart, whether they admit it or not. There are those non-Jews who do this so as to erase any of their own national historical culpability in a round about way which can’t really be criticized . You see this in Europe sometimes. You will see something related to the Shoah yet Jews seem to be absent. The remembrance may speak in broad language about “hate and intolerance” but Jews, Anti-Semitism or anything about the decimation of the Jews of Europe are absent. They erase Jews from this history for a reason.
While I understand those Jews with a good heart who try to take universal lessons from the Shoah so as to hopefully make the world a better place, I do not believe in this universalization. The Shoah was a Jewish tragedy and it is particular to Jews. Any universal lessons which could be learned are dwarfed compared to the Jewish particularism of this tragedy. I am not dismissing the non Jewish victims of the Nazis. I am not invalidating their stories. I will never do that. They should be told and have a right to be told and remembered. They must be remembered and they must remember their history. But, the Shoah is a Jewish tragedy, not a universal lesson to be flattened out. We Jews must not forget that.
I think some of this trivialization of the evil of the Nazis has come from the universalizing trend. The true core of evil which lays at the center reveals a very specific kind of evil hatred which at it’s true core is a hatred of our God, all moral-good and Jews, as this evil understood us to be, the physical representation and a reminder of God and all that has come from understanding the world as created by Hashem. This evil sought to destroy the world as created by Hashem – Dayan HaEmet and us, Am-Israel his people. If you take Jews out of the Shoah, you also remove the Jew hatred and from that also the deepest darkest layers of the true wicked evil which animated that hatred. You remove the deepest evil truth of that evil philosophy.
In the universalization, evil is trivialized and even forgotten. When we trivialize the evil we erase why those who were murdered were murdered and we even trivialize their memory. I pray we do not allow their memories to be trivialized and forgotten.
Am Yisrael Hai