Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
– Elie Wiesel –
Abrahamic Religions, taught by Professor Mathews, is three parts–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As the name suggests, these three monotheistic religions all trace their origins back to one man: Abraham. During our Judaism unit, which we just finished, Professor Mathews went into detail about many events where Jews were persecuted and killed. One such one was the Holocaust, which killed six million Jews.
Abram was a man, likely of the Apiru, who lived around 2000 BCE. He was called by God to follow Him. The two entered into The Covenant, upon which he became Abraham, as we know him. Abraham’s descendants, after many centuries, had well-established the religion known as Judaism, rooted in the belief of God, Torah, and Israel. Persecution and targeting Jews can be traced back to the Greeks, was rampant in Medieval Times, and began to grown and gain traction in the late nineteenth century. Scientific Racism was used to target Jews and support a rise in Anti-Semitism. Jews were minorities in any country they lived in, supporting conspiracy theories that they were egotistical, self-focused, and aiming to rise up and take over the world.
Jews–many Orthodox–were concentrated heavily in the Pale of Settlement, a region of Eastern Europe that consisted of some Germany, and Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. (There was no coincidence that this is the same area Snyder termed the “Bloodlands.”) They were legally allowed to live here, in small communities that were devout, followed Talmudic law, and emphasized Jewish culture.
After the devastation of World War I, Germany was in economic and political shambles. Officially the German government had to accept blame for the war, and they chose to push that blame onto their Jewish citizens. They called them things like “economic parasites”, “cultural degenerates”, the reason Germany lost the war, and the causes for the Bolshevik takeover in Russia, which became the Soviet Union.
The systematic targeting of Jews, through Nuremberg Laws, forced ghettos, and preventing Jews from having certain professions, escalated quickly in Kristallnacht, in November of 1938. Jews were beaten and killed, synagogues were burned, and windows smashed (hence the name, “Night of Broken Glass”). While 3/5 of the population of German Jews had left the country by the following year, many remained. Tasked by the Nazi regime to remove them, Heinrich Himmler called it a “glorious historic task.” Here, like with the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, Nazi Germany was faced with a “Jewish Question.”
Ultimately, the initial plan of mobile SS killing squads was not as quick or inexpensive as the Nazis hoped. Concentration camps, like Auschwitz, became the way to solve the “final solution.” Most camps were located in and around the borders of the Pale of Settlement, and they were near railroads. Jews were treated like cattle, herded into rail-cars, and driven to places that would either kill them immediately, or work them until they died. The Nazi goal of completely eradicating the Jews through intimidation and fear (to reduce resistance), was sped up after they sensed their defeat. 2/3 of the deaths were carried out after this critical point.
After the Holocaust and the death of six million Jews, many decided to re-evaluate their faith. Their big question was, “How can you believe in God after this happens? How can He be acting in history?” Rubenstein, author of “After Auschwitz,” said that the Holocaust destroyed any belief of God acting in History. Fackenheim called for people to reaffirm their belief. His theory was that if you do give up Judaism, then Hitler essentially wins…he gets rid of all the Jews. Others said that this was nothing new in terms of challenges. It was a test in morality and ethics. There’s also, still, a chance because not all Jews were killed. In the beginning of this post, I quoted Elie Wiesel. Author of “Night,” he asked everyone–not just Jews–to remember the past. “What does being a human mean?” he asked. “When do we all choose to leave humanity behind?”
While writing this post, I found myself thinking back to our class discussion on the Snyder Thesis versus the Holocaust Thesis we are all taught in middle and high school. In a sense, this was definitely a Holocaust Thesis, but perhaps only because the class is about religion, about Judaism. But what about the Polish Catholics? Other religions targeted within the Soviet Union’s reign? Will we talk about them, or will they disappear under the shadow of the Holocaust Thesis?