But Anti-semitism Rears Its Ugly Head in 21st Century America
People of good faith and conscience saw films of unspeakable carnage after Allied soldiers liberated Nazi concentration camps across Europe in 1945.
“Never again!” they said in genuine horror.
The films showed footage of corpse-like figures in prison uniforms stumbling along in slow motion if they could move at all. Their faces were hollow and their eyes empty.
In many cases, the backdrops to these scenes of horror were large stacks of human flesh that resembled human wood piles. Each body had once been a child of God who was gassed or shot to death for the crime of being Jewish or gay, disabled or otherwise “undesirable.”
How could it have happened? It happened slowly, one step at a time.
What About the Children?
Nazis concocted a tale about their supposed ancestors, a “superior” Aryan race, in order to help Germans feel better about themselves. Jews were the primary target of their hatred, and Jewish children weren’t spared the violence.
Remember Anne Frank, who kept a diary while she and her family hid from the Nazis in an attic? The Franks were eventually captured and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Most of them, including Anne, died in those camps, but Anne’s diary survived and was later published.
Scenes of Unspeakable Horror
My introduction to the Nazis came when my history class studied World War II. Our teacher had shared films of battles and so forth as our studies progressed through the war. When we reached the Allies’ final push into Europe, he showed films that the Allied armies shot in Auschwitz, Dachau and other killing zones.
The scenes made me literally sick. I rested my head on my desk and fought to quiet my churning stomach. How could one human treat another human with such brutality? Why did God let it happen? Why did the people of the world let it happen?
Since that day in history class so many years ago, I’ve seen other photos and films of carnage.
One of the most horrifying photos showed a three-or-four-year-old child standing on a wooden box. Her eyes were squeezed shut in terror as a German soldier aimed a gun at her head.
One of the ugliest documentaries I saw was an account of Nazis sedating children under a certain age before hanging them. (I don’t have sources for these stories, but they fit with everything else I know about Nazi terror.)
“Along with elderly people, children had the lowest rate of survival in concentration camps and killing centers,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“People fifty years of age, pregnant women, and young children were immediately sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other killing centers.”
Nazis systematically murdered the children of “unwanted” or “dangerous” groups for racial reasons or “as a measure of preventative security,” the museum said. Germans and their collaborators killed approximately 1.5 million Jewish children, thousands of Gypsy children, 5,000-7,000 disabled German children, and countless others in countries they occupied.
Murder on an Unimaginable Scale
The Holocaust museum’s website lists the numbers of people killed by group. “These estimates are calculated from wartime reports generated by those who implemented Nazi population policy, and postwar demographic studied on population loss during World War II,” it says.
The statistics indicate:
- Jews: 6 million murdered
- Soviet civilians: around 7 million, including 1.3 million Soviet Jewish civilians who are included in the 6 million Jews. Many of the civilians were murdered in Nazi gas wagons taken to areas of the Soviet Union that Germans controlled.
- Soviet POWs: 3 million, including 50,000 Jewish soldiers
- Non-Jewish Polish civilians: 8 million
- Serbian civilians: 312,000
- Institutionalized people with disabilities: up to 250,000
- Gypsies: 250,000-500,000
- Repeat criminals and “asocials”: 70,000 or more
- Jehovah’s Witnesses: nearly 2,000
- German political opponents: undetermined
- Homosexuals: Possibly thousands, who may have been included in the Repeat Criminals/Asocials group
And let’s not forget that Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator during this time period, killed millions of his own people, including Jews. You may learn more on the Stanford University website (click here.) or by reading Stalin’s Genocides, a book by Stanford history professor Norman Naimark.
Why the Jews?
Hatred of the Jewish people dates back centuries. In biblical times, Jews generally refused to associate with non-Jews and would not worship the pagan gods of their neighbors. They were obeying God’s commands, but it created ill-will and even hatred.
The creation and rise of Christianity created more discord. The Jewish people killed Christ, Christians said. Many Christians continue to hate Jews for this reason. It doesn’t matter that Christians believed – and still believe – that Christ’s death was God’s will or that the Savior rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
By the Middle Ages, anti-Jewish sentiment had grown to the point that Christians in power passed anti-Jewish laws and promoted violence and expulsions. Many of these restrictions ended in the 19th century, but Nazis used centuries of anti-semitism to paint Jews as a dangerous race that should be exterminated or at least separated from 20th century European society.
Yet, it would have been difficult for anyone to foresee a world war and genocide of the Jews. Nevertheless, it happened.
From Boycotts to Annihilation
All-out war against the Jews “began with a simple boycott of Jewish shops and ended in the gas chambers of Auschwitz as Hitler and his Nazi followers attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe,” according to the Genocide Education Project, a non-profit that provides teaching guides and other resources to educators teaching about human rights and genocide.
Of all the groups of people targeted by the Nazis, only the Jews were chosen for complete extermination. The Nazis targeted them, isolated them in ghettos and finally, sent them to concentration camps where most died. Learn more here.
The world reacted with horror at the anti-semitism and carnage associated with it, but despite good people’s intentions, genocide has occurred again and again in the years since 1945. Among them:
- Cambodia (1975-1979)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina in Europe (“ethnic cleansing” campaign began in 1992)
- Rwanda in central Africa (beginning in 1994)
- Darfur region of western Sudan (ongoing since 2003): Recognized as genocide by President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress
None of these wars specifically targeted Jews, but they are still examples of humanity at its worst.
“Never Again” Is Now
Anti-semitism hasn’t died. Not by a long shot. More than 75 years after Allied armies marched across Europe and ended Hitler’s reign of terror, incidents of anti-semitism are rising in the U.S. and around the world.
“The United States seems awash in antisemitism, and it isn’t just the usual suspects like the White supremacists and the avowed hatemongers,” says CNN. “Now it’s spouting forth from its superstar musicians and athletes, as well as its politicians, and it appears to be trickling down.”
CNN names names — specifially Kanye West and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving. The news organization’s post points out that Adidas and Twitter (in West’s case) and the Nets and NBA (in Irving’s) procrastinated before doing anything about antisemitic actions.
Donald Trump criticized U.S. Jews, saying they should “appreciate what they have in Israel before it is too late,” which many Jews saw as a threat.
“Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake endorsed an antisemitic legislative candidate before rescinding her backing,” CNN says in the post. “It’s been widely reported US Senate candidate Mehmet Oz delivered a fundraiser speech in front of Adolf Hitler’s car, on display at a California museum.”
“Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has repeatedly involved Hitler and the Holocaust in political comparisons, said last month in Arizona that millions of immigrants ‘are on the verge of replacing you, replacing your jobs and replacing your kids in school and…replacing your culture,’” the post says.
CNN quotes the Southern Poverty Law Center as saying such efforts depend on “’stoking fears that a nonwhite population, which the (great replacement) theory’s proponents characterize as ‘inferior,’ will displace a white majority.
“It is also antisemitic without being explicit. Instead, they blame powerful Jewish individuals such as financier and philanthropist George Soros or use coded antisemitic language to identify shadowy ‘elites’ or ‘globalists.’”
Antisemitic attacks have almost tripled since 2015, when the Anti-Defamation League reported 941 incidents as compared to 2,717 in 2021, CNN says. To read its post, “America Has an Antisemitism Problem and Victims Cannot Be Left to Fight It Alone, Rabbi Says,” click here.
How Do We Combat Antisemitism?
Educate yourself and vote
Learn about the Holocaust and keep track of current events. I continue to stay abreast about what’s happening in my community, state and country and vote for political candidates who support my values. Consider becoming politically active in your community.
You might begin your education with the two “Never Again” documentaries:
- “Never Again?” follows a Holocaust survivor and a former radical Muslim as they work to educate others about the consequences of anti-semitism. As of January 2023, it’s available on the Roku channel, Tubi (free), Freevee (free), Vudu, Prime Video, Frndly TV and Apple TV on a Roku device. (This documentary shouldn’t be confused with a movie of the same name minus the question mark)
- “Never Again Is Now” tells the story of psychologist Evelyn Markus as she works “to prevent NEVER AGAIN from being now,” per IMbD. It’s currently available on Prime Video and YouTube by clicking here. Amazon offers it in the U.S. and U.K. and YouTube makes it globally available globally in English with German, French, Spanish, Dutch, German and Portuguese subtitles.
Reader’s Digest recommends these books:
- If This is a Man by Primo Levi, an Italian chemist who survived a year in the Auschwitz concentration camp
- Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered by Ruth Kluger, who was sent to a series of concentration camps with her mother
- Denial: Holocaust History on Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt, who took on a Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust and was later sued by the denier
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, who was interred in various death camps between 1942 and 1945
- The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eva Eger, a psychologist whose memoir describes her survival in Auschwitz and her healing process afterward
For a complete list of Holocaust books recommended by Reader’s Digest, click here.
Educate your children about the Holocaust
- Encourage schools to teach students about the Holocaust. Now isn’t the time to cut back on history classes, as some school systems are doing.
- Encourage your children to read The Diary of Anne Frank and discuss it with them. (You also might read it to be ready for the conversation.)
- Visit a Holocaust museum near you with your family. In the U.S., there are numerous Holocaust museums, including those in Washington, D.C., St. Petersburg, Fla., Maitland, FL, Farmington Hills, MI, San Antonio, TX, El Paso, TX, Skokie, IL, Richmond, VA, New York City, Houston, TX, Glen Cove, NY, Albuquerque, NM, Los Angeles, Terre Haute, IN, St. Louis, MO, Milwaukee, WI, Portland, OR, Dania Beach, FL, Dallas, TX, Tucson, AZ, Naples, FL, Atlanta, Cincinnati, OH, San Francisco, Palm Desert, CA, Denver, and more. To find one near you, go online and search for “Holocaust Museums Near Me”.
It’s absolutely vital that we educate our children to the evils of anti-semitism.
Take a stand
Look for ways to take a stand when you encounter antisemitism or hear about hate crimes.
I have stopped feeling totally helpless in view of rising hate crimes and am fighting back in a small way through my Patheos blog, “Woman to Woman.” I’ve written numerous posts on hatred, which you will access below this post. I don’t have the answers, but I hope to spur thought and conversation about important subjects.
You may not have the platform of a blog, but you can look for other ways to fight anti-semitism before it’s too late.
Fight anti-semitism in your church/denomination:
I pray that Christians will take a stronger stand against anti-semitism and other forms of hate than they did during the Nazis’ reign of terror. Admittedly, not all German Christians supported the Nazis, but many did.
Read more about Christianity’s response to Nazism on the Christianity Today website, click here..
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells us that the “vast majority” of Germans were Christians during the Nazi era. Germany’s largest Protestant church and the Roman Catholic church “played an important role in shaping peoples’ attitudes and actions vis-à-vis National Socialism…and the convergence of widespread and deep-seated anti-Jewish prejudice.”
Today, be an activist in the Christian church.
“First They Came…”
I’ll close this super-long post with a famous statement of conscience by Martin Niemoller. Niemoller was a German pastor who initially supported Hitler and Nazism but eventually played an important role in resisting Hitler’s interference in Germany’s Protestant churches. His efforts landed him in Nazi concentration camps from 1938-1945.
The pastor changed this statement’s language as he repeated it over the years following the war, but here’s the gist of it:
“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.”
“Then, they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Today, we might add gays; blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other people of color; Muslims, Catholics and other religious groups under attack; or victims of hate crimes in your own community. You can read the FBI’s report on hate crimes by clicking here.
The documentary title, “Never Again Is Now,” is spot-on. With anti-semitism and other hate movements on the rise, Americans need to join the fight against hatred now.