Nazi Anti-Semitic ideology was based on a distortion of Christianity; it was anti-Christian, because Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples had come from the Jews. Nazism developed Christian anti-Semitic traditions, such as the legend about the world Jewish conspiracy, which is being revived today by radical Islamite ideologies. Christian anti-Semitism stemmed from the struggle in the ancient world between Christianity and Judaism over the souls of
the Romans and Greeks. Accusations became murderous when Christianity became the state religion and used the power of the state to enforce its ideas. In the course of time, other inventions and forgeries were added, such as the blood libel accusation, which accused the Jews of killing non-Jewish children to use their blood for their food – a deadly superstition which is spread today among the same radicals that promote world terrorism.
But Christianity and Islam never planned genocide of the Jews. That was left to the secularized, anti-Christian world of groups of European intellectuals frustrated by the crises induced by revolutionary economic and social developments.
Nazi ideology, then, was the force that motivated the German desire for war; pragmatic considerations certainly existed, but they were secondary. It is no exaggeration to say that World War II, and the death of tens of millions, the destruction of countries and cultures, the torture and death of children and adults, was caused in part by hatred against Jews. To all those who today hesitate to act against anti-Semitic propaganda, wherever it comes
from, the question must be posed: have you not learned your lesson? Do you not know that this is a poison that kills, including those who propagate it? Some of us, such as the 55 OSCE countries (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), who are committed to fighting anti-Semitism, appear to understand this.
Auschwitz has become a symbol for evil rightly so. For the Jewish people, it is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, a cemetery without graves. But what was murdered in the death camps were not only a people, as though that were not enough; but as part of that, an attempt was made to eradicate Jewish culture, a civilization, a tradition that provided one of the foundations of modern civilization.
There are two aspects to the genocide of the Jews which we call the Holocaust. One are the specifics of the Jewish fate, the other are the universal implications; they are two sides of the same coin. The Jews were the specific victims of the genocide. But the implications are universal, because who knows who the Jews may be next time.
Yes, it is true that the Holocaust was perpetrated at the very center of European and world civilization, and that the main perpetrators came from the same places from which some of the most wonderful cultural achievements of the human race had originated. The German people had produced Kant and Hegel, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, Dührer and Planck; unfortunately, these were not the names of the people who ran Germany in the nineteen thirties
and forties. The fact of this tragedy happening at the center of supposedly advanced civilization was unprecedented. The Holocaust was accomplished utilizing the best available technical means at the disposal of the perpetrators, which has been repeated in other genocides.
One American political scientist has argued that in the twentieth century 262 million civilians and unarmed prisoners of war were murdered by governments and political organizations. In addition, some 34 million soldiers died in all the wars of that period, including the two world wars. That means, at least seven times more civilians than soldiers were killed. Of those 262 million, more than 38 million died in what the UN Convention for the Prevention
of Genocide defines as genocides, and of these, he says, close to six million Jews died in the most extreme case of genocide so far. Why is the Holocaust the most extreme case? Why do more and more people show an interest in this particular tragedy, why is there a flood of fiction, theater, films, TV series, art, music, and of course historical, sociological, philosophical, psychological, and other academic research, a flood that has rarely if ever been equaled in dealing with any other historical event?
The reason is that while all the elements of ‘each genocide’ are repeated in some other genocide’s, there are elements in the Holocaust that cannot be found in genocides that preceded it. There are five of them that were without precedent, in addition to the fact that the Holocaust happened at the center of human civilization.
One: The perpetrators tried to find, register, mark, humiliate, dispossess, concentrate and murder every person with three or four Jewish grandparents for the crime of having been born a Jew. There was no precedent for that.
Two: This was to be done, ultimately, everywhere in the world, so that for the first time in history there was an attempt to universalize a genocide (exterminate an entire people group).
Three: There was a very unusual ideology. We know of course that every genocide is rationalized by an ideology based on some pragmatic factors, be they economic, social, political or military. Thus, in Rwanda, a Hutu supremacist ideology developed from the pragmatic background of a real power struggle within the Hutu establishment and a real military struggle against an invading force manned largely by people of the persecuted Tutsi minority.
But with the Nazis, the pragmatic elements were minor. They did not kill the Jews because they wanted their property. They robbed their property in the process of getting rid of them, first by emigration, then by expulsion, and in the end by murder. They killed Jewish armament workers when they needed every pair of hands after the defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943; they murdered the people in the Lodz ghetto in 1944 who were producing almost 10% of all the clothes the German Army was wearing; they murdered Jewish
slave laborers while they were building roads for the German military. If they had followed modern, capitalistic, cost-effective economic practice, they would have robbed Jewish property and then utilized Jewish slave labor for their own purposes, as they did with the Poles, for instance. But no, they had to murder the Jews because that was where their ideology led them. Nazi ideology had the character of nightmares. They believed in a Jewish world conspiracy – a mirror image of their own desire to control the
world. That ancient fabrication was reawakened and developed in the notorious forgery called the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, produced in the early part of the 20th century by the police in Tsarist Russia, which was used and adapted by the Nazis, and which is being propagated to this day all over the globe by anti-Semitic movements and regimes. They believed in the accusation of ritual murder of non-Jewish children by the Jews – again, a nightmarish legend that is still poisoning the minds of many in
parts of the globe. The genocide of the Jews, then, was based on nightmares that turned into ideology, and that was without precedent.
Four: There was the utopia of a global racist hierarchy which had one real satanic enemy, the Jews, who had to be eliminated. There are no races; we all are originally from Africa. Australian aborigines, Russians, Americans, Chinese, Albert Einstein – we all come from the same stock. The Nazi racist pseudo-science projected a utopia which led to the murder of the Jews. And
Five: The Jews are the last surviving remnant of the original three pillars of what is inaccurately known as Western civilization, namely Athens, as the originator of aesthetics (principles of beauty), poetry, literature, architecture, philosophy; Rome, which gave us the idea of an orderly state, and also developed a literature and an architecture from which modern civilization has learned. And Jerusalem, with its prophets and their ethics,
representing the aspirations of humanity. Modern Greeks and Italians do not speak ancient Greek or Latin; they pray to different gods and write different literatures. But the Jews still speak the ancient language, and their civilization is a direct continuation and development of the ancient culture. The Nazis very consciously opposed all the values of European civilization such as liberalism, democracy, socialism and humanitarianism, and wanted to destroy them. They saw in the Jews symbols of those values which
they wanted to eliminate; the destruction of the people symbolizing them followed.
What have I told you here? I have just told you that during the Holocaust Jews rescued a non-Jew whom they did not know, at the risk of their lives, and then the non-Jew and his comrades rescued Jews most of whom they did not know, at the risk of their lives. Certainly, the Holocaust shows the depth of human depravity; but on its margins, there are the peaks of human self-sacrifice for others. It is that that shows us that there is an alternative,
that the attempts made at prevention of genocides, as for instance by the office of the Special Adviser for genocide prevention of the U.N. Secretary-General, and by various NGOs and governments, are not a hopeless task. But the failure, so far, of the international community to deal with the ongoing genocide in Darfur shows how tremendously difficult it is. Nazi Germany could easily have been prevented from expanding, starting a war, and committing genocide – not because of the beautiful eyes of the Jews, but
in the interests of the great powers, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the US. They did not do so, and they paid, not only with the industrial murder of close to six million Jews, but with the deaths of tens of millions of their own citizens, and the destruction of Europe. If today they do not stop the genocide in Darfur, it will spread, there will be more genocidal massacres, and the price for the world will be heavy indeed. Economic interests are one of the prime factors in preventing prevention; but people
should realize that it is much cheaper to prevent genocide than to pay for the reconstruction later on. The fact that in many, if not most genocidal events the leaders of the murderers escape scot-free is yet another scandal that the international community is called upon to rectify. Impunity encourages more genocidal massacres. After the Holocaust, some of the top leaders of the Nazi regime were brought to trial, and a number of others were sentenced in the sixties of the previous century, mainly in Germany.
But thousands of mid-level criminals were either not brought before a judge, or escaped by various stratagems. An effective international consensus should be sought to make all potential mass murderers realize that there is a heavy price to pay for disregarding basic moral principles.
We are all one human race, interconnected and interdependent. Politics that are not based on moral considerations are, at the end of the day, not practical politics at all. It is out of these considerations that I beg you to permit me to repeat here what I said, exactly eight years ago, in a speech to the German Bundestag: I come from a people that gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Let us agree that we need three more, and they are these:
thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a victim; and thou shalt never, but never, be a bystander.
In Their Own Words – Remembrance and Beyond