Responses To Persecution
Jews are no strangers to suffering. Throughout the ages, many others have also been victims to unspeakable cruelty, but the judgement of Winston Churchill is almost certainly the definitive description of the uniqueness of the Holocaust: “The Final Solution is probably the greatest, most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.”
Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt points out two reasons why the German program of genocide remains in a class by itself as an example of evil: “It was the only time in recorded history that a state tried to destroy an entire people, regardless of an individual’s age, sex, location, profession, or belief. And it is the only instance in which the perpetrators conducted this genocide for no ostensible material, territorial, or political gain.” In fact, the Holocaust remains incomprehensible. But that is all the more reason why it must at the very least be remembered.
Hitler played heavily on the anti-Semitism already rooted within his people. He resurrected ideas that a previous king of Germany, Frederick the Great, had introduced. There were distinct categories of human beings. Essentially, the Germans were Aryans, and everyone else was sub-human. Hitler took these ideas and embellished them. He blamed the Jews for “two great wounds upon humanity: “Circumcision of the Body and for the conscience of the soul.
As Hitler gained popularity, his hatred of Jews spread and became a rallying cry.
The Nazi propaganda paper, Der Sturmer, revived the “Blood Libels.” The church would warn their constituents: “Watch your children 6-7 weeks before Passover Everyone knows that just before Passover Jews need the blood of a Christian child, maybe, to mix in with their Matzah.”
The attitude taught to the children was, “Just as one poisonous mushroom can poison a whole family, one Jew can poison a whole town or a whole country!”
Der Sturmer was running contests encouraging German children to write in. One little girl wrote, “People are so bothered by the way were treating the Jews. They cant understand it, because they are Gods creatures. But cockroaches are also Gods creatures, and we destroy them.”
Words can create an attitude. If a person says something loud enough and often enough, he creates a climate. And under that climate, all sorts of things can happen. This was one of the was the Jews where terribly and horrifically persecuted.
The German scientific community got on the bandwagon with scientific presentations. The theory was that Jewish features could be scientifically determined. Many Germans were measured to absolve themselves of the “taint” of Jewish genes. Store windows displayed a device that could be placed on a persons head. Twirl the dials, and it was guaranteed to tell whether the person was an Aryan or a Jew. Apparently, Jewish heads are round and fat, and Aryan heads are narrow and thin. A person could buy it for a few marks. Another, cheap and cruel way to persecute the Jews.
Germany was on the cutting edge of everything at the turn of the century. Education, science, technology, you name it Germany was there. And Jews were in the forefront.
From 1901 until 1933 there were 37 German Nobel Prize winners – 11 of them were Jewish. The first three atomic bombs were built by Jewish scientists. Two of them – Teller and Einstein – were people that Hitler threw out.
Up to this time, especially in Germany, Jews had seemingly been making tremendous gains in liberty and rights. Germany never built the bomb, but during the war this was a big worry. They were years ahead of anyone else in research, and they had Heisenberg. It was said that if anyone could build an atomic bomb, Heisenberg was the man.
After the war, it came out why the Nazis never built the bomb. Speer, the Nazi armaments minister, said that Hitler referred to atomic physics as “Jewish physics,” “Jewish science.” They never actually developed a nuclear program because they considered the field tainted by Jews.
Germany was starting to get bad press all over the world because of the way it was treating the Jews. The Germans, in their way of thinking, said: “Its all because of the Jewish lobby, overseas. So they thought: ” Were going to hit them where it hurts to quiet them down. Were going to hit them in their pocketbook.” They declared a boycott against all Jewish businesses.
They placed their S.A.s, their bully-boy storm troopers, in front of the Jewish businesses all over Germany for a one-day boycott. If anyone tried to go in to a Jewish business or store, he was subject to a beating or re-education in a camp.
Hitler took the sludge off the streets and gave them a stick and a salute and a brown shirt and a badge. That was the S.A. In his country of 65 million people, he had over 400,000 of these people. Another disgusting anti-Semitic act by Hitler.
Yet we must remember that the Jews where prosecuted throughout the years by a number of civilisations and acts.
One of the first major anti-Semitic massacres took place during the
Crusades. It was a period in which much of the civilized world lived under
a feudalistic government. In such a system priests, bishops, and most of
all, dukes, had power over the people. In this time, many
Christian authorities blamed Jews for killing Jesus and took the
opportunity to use that allegation to gather money for their crusades. The
Duke of Lorraine wanted to go on such a crusade, and to collect money he
spread the rumour that he would kill the Jews to avenge the death of Christ.
The Jews of the Rhineland paid him 500 pieces of silver as ransom, but some
refused, and crusaders slaughtered Jews of Rouen and other cities in
Lorraine. An estimated 8,000 Jews were massacred in France and Germany for such purposes. Although most of the people were anti-Semitic,
some did protect the Jews. One of them was King Richard, but when he left
on his own crusade, the anti-Semitic crusaders in England assembled and
attacked Jewish Communities. Some Jews were able to take refuge in King
Richard’s castle. However, those Jews who did not reach the castle were
killed. The English burnt down the quarters of Port of Lynn in Norfolk,
and murdered the Jews there. In York alone, 1,500 Jews were massacred.
Many other cases of extreme anti-Semitism took place in the crusade period,
and the Jewish population took a death toll of as many as 46,821.
In Benediction 12 of the New Testament, one can find the statement,
For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant Kingdom soon
be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the minim perish as in a
moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may
they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the
arrogant. The choice of words in the passage is by many people
considered anti-Semitic because the renegades refers to Jews, who refused
to believe Jesus was the Messiah. It states that these renegades should
be rooted out or killed. Abelard Reuchlin, in his The True Authorship
of the New Testament, says, More vengeance was wrought by Piso by his
picturing of the Jews, in successive gospels, as increasingly evil. In
Matthew, chapter 23, Piso has his character Jesus’ repeatedly call the
Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and vipers. Abelard also wrote, The New
Testament pictures the Jews as the enemies of Jesus, of Paul, and o f the
message of the Gospel. (Duran)
Another example from the bible that refers to the Jewish people,
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of
circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were
committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall
their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let
God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be
justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.”(Rom
3) also could be contemplated to be anti-Semitic. The statement says that
on the day of Judgement, Jews will not be allowed in heaven because of
their disbelief (Davies 57). Although these statements generally or are
not intended to be anti-Semitic, many people have interpreted them that way,
and used the Bible as an excuse for killing the Jews. Hitler was thought
to be a good Roman Catholic and used these lines from the bible to justify
his views of the Jews, which ended in the biggest massacre ever know to
Lastly, the greatest anti-Semitic movement other than the Holocaust
took place from the year 1881 to 1917. Medieval tradition isolated the
Jews as an alien economic and social class. An example of prejudice in
Russia, are the measures that had been taken to prevent Jews from owning
any land and to admit Jews to only occupy three to ten percent of an
institution’s enrolment. The persecution of Jews in East Europe came to a
climax in a series of well-organized massacres, known as the pogroms
(Rosenthal). These pogroms caused one of the major emigrations in Jewish
history in which four million Jews fled to Western Europe and America.
However, there too, Jews were restricted and suffered from the old
accusations. Many laws were written to take away the freedoms of the Jews,
and not until the start of the Great War (WWI) were they abolished.
Although, the main reason they were revoked was so that the Jews could
fight for Holy Mother Russia in the War. Grand Duke Sergei, Commander-in-
Chief of th e Russian armed forces ordered the relocation of all Jews so
they could serve the army. 600,000 were forcibly transported to the
inferior of Russia. An estimate of 100,000 of them died from exposure and
starvation. Later, 200,000 more were murdered in Ukraine during the
October Revolution in Russia and the ensuing civil war.
In my opinion a central pillar of Jewish belief is that nothing happens without a meaning from god. History has meaning, oppression has meaning, suffering has meaning. Jews are a people whose essence is meaning. Its the lifeblood of who they are and what they stand for as a nation.
If this is true and the Jewish people have fought to preserve this truth for 3,500 years then the Holocaust must have meaning as well. Beneath the suffering and pain of the Holocaust lie the seeds of understanding our unique mission as Jews even today.
This is not to suggest that I believe any one explanation will ever fully help us to come to terms with the persecution and murder of millions of innocent people.
Still, it does mean that we must try to contend with the Holocaust on a number of levels. For with every victim an entire world was lost(1), with every survivor, a new lesson must be learned. In this light, the meaning of the Holocaust is as varied.
But we must also wrestle with the Holocaust from a larger perspective, a perspective that includes the history of the Jewish people. For the Holocaust is the story of the Jewish nation under siege. It was a war to destroy the Jewish people and the message the Jewish nation has been trying to bring to mankind for some time now.
“You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”(2) These are the words that describe the Jewish peoples unique covenant with God. We have been chosen to be a light unto the nations,(3) an eternal people bearing a message of Gods morality: “Love your neighbour as yourself”(4) “Justice, justice shall you pursue (5)” “Do not afflict the widow and the orphan (6)” “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (7)”
To Jews being chosen means you are different. The laws are different, the ways are different, the history is different. Being chosen means holding fast to that message through all the peaks and declines of history, for all the generations. It means living for the truth of that message and dying for the truth of that message means. It means holding themselves to a higher standard in the way we think, the way speak, the way we act, the way we dress, the way we eat.
It means honouring their Creator in the way they conduct ourselves in public as well as in the privacy of their homes. In the way they raise their children and take care of their old. In the laws they live by and the values they are trying to impart to the people and nations around them.
Anti-Semitism was born with the birth of the Jewish people. After all, it can be exceedingly irritating to be faced with the voice of human conscience when you yourself have other plans and desires. It is one of the not-so-subtle ironies of the Hebrew language that the word Sinai is closely linked to the word for “hatred” “sina”.
But the essence of anti-Semitism runs much deeper than simply the Jews and their morality standing in the way of the conquerors ambition or of mankinds propensity for lust. Anti-Semitism is part of the Jewish destiny. It is part and parcel of their covenant with God. It is the one mechanism in ever human that never lets us forget who the Jews are, never lets us forget they different, never lets us forget they have a message to bring to mankind.
One of the high points of the Passover Seder joyfully testifies to this unique phenomenon of history. With a glass of wine raised high, they declare that in every generation the nations of the world will rise up against them, to try to wipe them out and destroy the message they bear. The Jewish people are eternal, and our message is eternal l(8).
When the Jewish people live up to its potential as a light unto the nations, the moral fabric of the entire world is improved.(9) The nations of the world will see the beauty of Jewish values and will praise them and want to praise their ways.(10)
At such times, anti-Semitism may still rear its ugly head, but no power in the world will be able to harm the Jewish community, we are too weary of ourselves to let this happen.
But if that does not happen, then the moral fabric of the world quickly sinks into decay. And then it is only a matter of time before the Jews are seen as little more than an irritating reminder of an old-fashioned, restrictive morality, an enemy of the “new world order” that wants nothing to do with the Chosen People and their God.
Such times are times of national tragedy indeed. In place of the miraculous protection that once graced the Jewish people, they are left vulnerable to the cruellest whims of humanity. Hunted down, persecuted, put to death in the millions simply because they are Jews.
Such times are times of great suffering, but not of suffering in vain. The nature of their covenant means that even when they are subjected to the unimaginable cruelty of a Holocaust, the message remains the same: There must be a better way. Mankind must be taught to rise above his baser instincts. In that way, the suffering itself becomes the source of the Jewish message to the world.
Where was God during the Holocaust? The Jewish people, believe that God was right there pleading with us to pay attention, never letting us forget how much work remains to be done in this world.
After the Holocaust, is there a Jew on earth who would choose to be born a Nazi instead of a Jew? After the Holocaust, is there a Jew on earth who does not see the need for a nation of teachers? Who else will help mankind rise above its potential for such cruelty if not the Jews?
More than anything else, the Holocaust was a clarion call to the Jewish people: Remember your covenant, be a light unto the nations. Show the world what it means to be given the gift of life, what it means to be created in the image of God, what it means to live according to the values of justice and mercy, what it means to be a nation dedicated to those goals, and that is what I feel the holocaust stands for.
The book Civilization and Its Discontents was first published in 1930, while Freud resided in Vienna, Austria. Undoubtedly, Freud was aware of the happenings in the world political arena, particularly the events that were transpiring in neighbouring Germany. More specifically, he was in a position to view the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power. It is interesting to note that Vienna of the early twentieth century where Hitler and Freud lived was under the control of a mayor who was a severe Anti-Semite, who was eventually barred from running for office by the Pope.
For Freud, the greatest struggle in life was the struggle between life and death. He attributed this struggle to the societal demands placed on the individual and the individuals own instinct. According to Freud, the individual was almost certain to conform to the societal conventions through a sense of guilt. In fact, Freud himself wrote that in writing this work it was his intention to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of civilization (Freud 85). This sense of guilt held a very high place in the development of the individual, eventually resulting in the development of a destructive instinct. The main argument in Civilization and Its Discontent, according to Christopher
Badcock, the author of Essential Freud, is that the id is basically anti-
social and only civilized by the interventions of the ego (137).
Essentially what this means is that the individual in society is unsocial, but because of the presence of the ego, the individual is forced to become sociable. This conflict between the id and the ego results in the destruction of the individual and ultimately civilization.
Another area that Freud approached in his work was the issue of religion. In terms of religion, Freud quoted Goethe in saying, He who possesses science and art also has religion, but he who possesses neither of the two, let him have religion! (Freud 23). This saying, on one side draws an antithesis between religion and the two highest achievements of man, and on the other hand, asserts that, as regards their value in life, those achievements and religion can represent or replace each other (23).
For Freud, man can have either science and art with an understanding of religion or have neither an understanding of science or art, but still have religion. Therefore, religion represents both one of the greatest intellectual properties of man and the most basic form of distraction for mankind. The need for this distraction arises from the difficulties of life. As Freud noted, Life as we find it, is to hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks and that to make life easier individuals use palliative measures (23).Freud labelled three of these measures. They were, first, powerful deflections, which included scientific activity, second, substitutive satisfactions, which included art, and finally, intoxicating substances, such as alcohol, which makes us insensitive to life (23). These measures are helpful in understanding both the actions of the individual in society and how the individual deals with the everyday struggle between the pressures of society and individual
By understanding Freud’s theories concerning the conflict between individual instinct and societal pressures, it is possible to define the struggle that the Jews faced in Nazi Germany and Europe. Hitler’s rise to power and his ensuing reign of terror coincided with the worst worldwide economic depression in history. The effects that the Great Depression had on the people can be used in understanding the German peoples support of Hitler. Hitler offered the people a sense of hope during their worst despair. Moreover, he offered them a scapegoat. This scapegoat was easily found in the Jewish people, for they had been the subjects of oppression since the crucifixion of Christ. Despite the advancements that the Jewish people had made throughout the centuries, they could not extinguish the sense of guilt that was laid upon them by Christians for the death of Jesus Christ. By the time Hitler came to power, he was able to use the fears of the people to create his form of government and re-writ the history of Europe.
On June 12, 1942, Anne Frank’s parents gave her a small red-and-white plaid diary for her thirteenth birthday. Anne recorded her innermost feelings in her diary, which she named “Kitty.”
Less than a month after receiving her diary, on July 6, 1942, Anne and her family were forced to go into hiding. Though they could bring very few things with them to the hiding place, Anne brought her diary. During the months Anne lived in hiding, her diary became her best friend and confidant
In hiding, Anne continued to write in her diary nearly every day. She wrote about her life with the seven other people in hiding–her parents, her sister, the van Pels family (called the van Daan family by Anne), and Fritz Pfeffer (called Alfred Dussel by Anne), as well as the war going on around her, and her hopes for the future.
When she filled up her original diary, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, two of the family’s helpers, brought her ledgers and loose sheets of paper to continue writing. She kept these in a briefcase that belonged to her father.
In 1944, the Dutch government, which had been in exile in London for most of the occupation, broadcast a request over the radio for people to save their wartime diaries. Anne Frank then began to rewrite her diary with the intention of having it published after the war.
On August 4,1944, the Nazis raided the Secret Annex and arrested the residents. They emptied Otto Frank’s briefcase onto the floor, including Anne’s diary, in order to carry the family’s valuables.
After the residents were taken away, Miep and Bep went to the Annex, and attempted to salvage all that they could. They found Anne’s papers, as well as other personal belongings of the residents, which they took away for safe-keeping. Miep put Anne’s diary in her desk drawer, to await Anne’s return.
Anne Frank did not survive the Holocaust. Her father, Otto Frank, returned to Amsterdam after the war ended, the sole survivor among those who had hid in the Secret Annex. When he found out that Anne had died in Bergen-Belsen, Miep Gies gave him Anne’s diary, which she had hidden for almost a year.
I think Anne Frank wrote the diary to express how she felt in this situation and to show what was actually happening to the people at this time and I feel her father published her diary, so that no one would forget what happened to his daughter and the Jews on that day.
1. Sanhedrin: 37a
2. Exodus: 19:6
3. Isaiah 42:6
4. Leviticus 19:18
5. Deuteronomy 16:20
6. Exodus 22:21
7. Isaiah 2:4
9. Mesilias, Yesharim, pg. 21,
10. Deuteronomy 4:6; 33:9