Why the Holocaust is different than other genocides

There is a story of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement during the 1700’s, who was traveling with his disciples in a wagon.  In those days, when a Christian passed by a church, they would cross themselves. This particular wagon driver who was carrying the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples passed a church and did not cross himself.  At the next stop, the Baal Shem Tov told his disciples to leave the wagon. Why? Because in Europe, which was dominated by Christianity, this wagon driver did not cross himself as he passed his house of worship as was the norm in those days, and someone who does not show respect for his religion is not to be trusted.

There is much to argue against in this story, because we all know the disturbing, bloody history of Christianity’s treatment of Jews, in the name of their religion.

The Jewish people have been victims of tremendous slaughters over the centuries.  From the Chmielnicki massacres that almost extincted European Jewry, the Inquisition, the massive bloodbath under Stalin, the carnage of Jews in Arab countries, from which they all had to flee, and now to the most current genocide of this era, the Holocaust.

The Shoah stole the lives of 6 million.  That is 2/3rds of European Jewry. Yet, something about the Holocaust is different than all the other genocides of our people, and throughout history. No finite human brain can grasp what ‘6 million people’ looks like.   Imagine the millions upon millions upon millions of lives that do not exist today due to the immense slaughter of our people. The millions upon millions upon millions of families that could have been.  It is hard, if not impossible, to digest.

There were other horrific genocides in history.  Let’s take, for example, the Rwandan genocide.  In an uncontrollable 100 day bloodbath, the ultimate goal was complete elimination of all members of the Tutsi community. The entire world was silent. Yet, we have an international Holocaust Remembrance Day, making sure that year after year our young people never forget the 6 million.  Something about the Holocaust triggers us all.

What makes the Holocaust different, that we need to remember their stories?  Why does it bother us when we hear statistics saying that 2/3rds of millennials cannot identify Auschwitz?  I can safely assume that most millennials also do not know about Rwanda’s bloody history. Many do not know about Stalin and the terrors of communism.  Why this, and not that?

Hear me out.

The Sentinelese people, for example, live on a remote Indian island, and have had no contact with the outside world for thousands of years, minus a few incidences of attempted outreach.  They walk about unclothed, and use sticks and stones for hunting. They act barbaric to anyone who gets too close. No one seems to hold the Sentinelese people accountable for their beastly murders, because, well, I guess you would expect that of a people who live in a primitive, animalistic society.

On the other hand, Germany was a highly educated society.  The Nazis were not your ordinary street thugs that banded together because they felt a lack of a future.  Before joining the SS and wearing military garb, these people wore suits and ties, they had families, jobs, and were your everyday, average and above average Joe Shmoe’s.  Joseph Mengele, may his name be erased, had doctorates in anthropology and medicine. Himmler studied agronomy before joining the Nazis. They were cultured people, people who enjoyed music, sports, and held a respectable occupation.

Point being, the hatred for Jews under Nazi Germany that led to their dehumanization, torture, and murder did not stem from a religious ideology that led to another massacre as is so common throughout our history in Europe.  Nor did it come from an underprivileged, fringe group of violent people from abusive or neglectful homes. They reasoned, through science and logic, that Jews were an inferior race and therefore needed to be exterminated. They kept immaculate records and had an organized system for the annihilation of the Jewish people.  Jews were not only murdered, but were starved, tortured, in inconceivable ways that one would never expect from an educated society. Under Nazi Germany, G-d was taken out of the picture completely, and in came science and education. And without a belief in a Higher Power, all morality goes down the drain.

The Holocaust was different because it shows how anyone, taking into account their lack of respect for their faith, and an education that boasts purely research without morality, (by the way, two major problems that are currently happening among our youth!!!) anyone can become the next Hitler (yimach shmo), anyone can become a Nazi, and anyone is capable of doing horrifying things to others.

Which goes back to the Baal Shem Tov story, who was not trusting of the wagon driver who did not show respect to his faith.  G-dly morality is loving and eternal, in contrast to human morality, which changes at the behest of whatever logic is used to create it. Being an educated person does not mean one is automatically more kind-hearted.  We can talk ourselves into anything, if there is a research paper to prove it.

“Never again” is the slogan most often used when talking about the Holocaust.  We mean it. Never again. Unfortunately, there is a trending ignorance being taught to our children, with many who have now grown up into what are called “the millennials,” who cannot identify Auschwitz, with more generations coming.  They have no idea the utter horrors that can happen when an educated man in a suit come about, preaching socialist ideas, devoid of any respect for their faith. So I ask you this…how are our children learning about the concept of morality so that a Holocaust truly never does happen again?

About the Author
Chana Voola is journeying the homeschool journey with her husband and four children. She runs a YouTube channel, called Jewish Education at Home, where she shares weekly insights, family vlogs, information, and spirituality into the most important aspect of Jewish life - the home. Chana is an artist, and sells her art on society6.com/chanavoola. She also has a Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University.
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