More than 60 years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust remains a defining chapter in our global history.
Among global tragedies, the Holocaust stands alone for its deliberate orchestration of political power, public will and a massive technology spread out across vast distances — all focused on the destruction of a religious-and-cultural minority. Human beings must never forget the scope of what happened.
You may think that’s a tired old history lesson — hardly worth repeating in the inspirational pages of ReadTheSpirit. But, if you think that, then you’re not watching events this week around the world.
The Vatican’s announcement just days ago of its plans to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, and the near collapse this caused in Vatican-Jewish relations, is fresh evidence that the Holocaust remains truly “a defining moment” for the world. It is simply unacceptable for a willful provocateur like Williamson to be honored by anyone — let alone Pope Benedict XVI. (Care to read more on that? Follow the links at the end of today’s story.)
TODAY, we have invited an author who cares passionately about Holocaust education to write a guest column for us. ReadTheSpirit focuses on “spiritual connection,” so this is our kind of response to these news events.
We asked Holocaust author Charles S. Weinblatt to tell us what moves him to keep these memories and lessons alive in his own work. He has written:
Why We Must Always Speak of the Holocaust
By Charles S. Weinblatt
Author of “Jacob’s Courage”
We spell it with a capital “H” because it represents the single most devastating example of genocide in history. It was not “a holocaust,” but the Holocaust. The German government, at that time, spent years systematically exterminating more than 6 million Jews. In addition, this regime murdered millions more “undesirables” (gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, Russian prisoners, etc.)
But here, let’s focus on the plight of European Jews — the major focus of this genocidal campaign.
Because of the way they praised God, 6 million innocent people were exterminated like insects. Women, the elderly, the sick and frail, and children were often the first into the gas chambers. Hardy men and women were kept barely alive as slaves, laboring for the military and German industry. When there was no more work, these too were murdered. Some of those German companies exist today, although often under different names.
My mother experienced brutal anti-Semitism as a child in Russia. I heard many stories about the brutal Cossacks who persecuted Jews in the towns and villages of the Ukraine. My mother and her sisters barely survived, and then flourished in America. However, most of her remaining family perished in the Holocaust. So, the Holocaust’s tragic lessons are as close as my own family — as close as my own heart.
The Holocaust is a cumbersome stone attached to my soul for eternity. My ancestors cry out for justice. They want you to know what happened to them and their children. But, as a writer, I cannot tell this story without revealing the Holocaust in every possible way. That is why I wrote a novel about people caught up in the Holocaust along with all of the many heroes and villains of that era. I called it, “Jacob’s Courage.”
I wrote the novel precisely because I had to continue reaching people with this story. The major challenge we all face is this: Why would anyone want to continue thinking about the Holocaust, particularly when we can turn up our iPods and tune out the world?
The answer is: We must remember so that we can help to prevent future genocides.
I am not demeaning the importance of other genocides. Innocents were murdered in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur — men, women and children who were just as blameless as the Jews caught up in the Holocaust. We must work against all of these tragedies. We must continue asking: When will we learn to value the differences among us, rather than fear them? When will we stop ostracizing people because of their religion, race or ethnic heritage?
As a writer and a reader, I appreciate books that offer a frank, emotional and mature examination of morality. Humans are not good or bad — we are good and bad. We surround ourselves with romance and comedy, playing to the healthier parts of our emotional identity. Yet, repugnance, despair and obscurity exist within human nature, as well.
We are complex. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring. We love and we despise.
Within the Holocaust, people faced crucial decisions about ethical and moral behavior. In “Jacob’s Courage,” my characters explore the human response to terror, as well as the alluring beauty of love and the driving power of religious devotion.
Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps somehow gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Holocaust must reveal the brutality and death. This horror led some to curse God. Yet within this almost incomprehensible abyss, many Jews continued to live out their faith, to practice the religion as best they could and even to teach their children to love one another.
In the midst of this despair, there was life, love, passion, desire, religious fervor and the excitement known only to children. Even in such hopeless desolation, there was love of God, infatuation, romance, passion and longing for all of the things that humans crave. Jews refused to allow the fabric of Jewish society to be completely destroyed. Some of the most ardent examples of constructive human nature can be found in these terrifying Holocaust stories.
The human spirit strives for freedom, of course. Yet, if one is to search for a fuller understanding of human nature, then one must descend into the depths of this chapter of history.
We must always tell the stories of the Holocaust. Such stories represent the very worst and sometimes the very best of the human spirit. Some Holocaust stories can teach us how to be a good person. These stories also can teach us to recognize the worst examples of humanity. As long as we teach our children about the Holocaust, there is hope that it will never happen again.
CARE TO READ MORE?
You may be wondering about fiction vs. nonfiction in the effort to properly remember the Holocaust. We have written recently about the “Angel Girl” controversy
— a story originally presented as Holocaust “fact” that turned out to be a
deliberate fabrication. Weinblatt has written a novel about the
Holocaust and has properly presented it as fiction, reflecting on these historic events — in a decades-long tradition of powerful Holocaust reflections
written as fiction. These novels stand beside the many essential nonfiction works on the Holocaust to flesh out the full meaning of the experience.
Also, you can read one of the latest New York Times stories on the Vatican-sparked controversy. (A Times registration may be required.)
Among the wonders of modern digital media is the speed of Wikipedia to keep up with unfolding historic events. There’s already a fairly in-depth Wikipedia page on the notorious Bishop Richard Williamson that includes more detailed information about his Holocaust denials.
Here is one transcript of some of Williamson’s remarks on the subject clearly indicating that he is well aware of the provocative nature of his denials of Holocaust history.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)