ISSUES OF FAITH: Never forget, because history is watching

NEVER FORGET. HAVE these words about the Holocaust become a cliche? There seems to be a weariness about the subject.

“Yes, it was terrible, but it was a long time ago. Can’t the Jews just let it go?”

Then in Charlottesville, Va., torch-bearing white men carried Nazi flags while screaming, “Jews, Jews. You will not replace us!”

Seeing open Nazi hate spewed in 21st-century America is shocking. Furthermore, we were told that there were many “very fine people” among these Nazis.

Claims were made of moral equivalence between them and those who opposed them, sending a clear message to all white supremacists.

There’s even been praise for a sheriff who proudly called a tent prison his “concentration camp.”

Clearly, people have forgotten.

In response, Holocaust survivors have begun posting interviews on Facebook to awaken others to the horrors they endured. The graphic, stomach-churning pictures of massacres are again being shared to remind people of what these monsters did to 6 million Jews and 3 million other “undesirables.”

People say it could never happen again, especially in our democracy. But Germany was a democracy. The German culture was responsible for some of the most remarkable music, art and scientific advances, and had the highest percentage of churchgoers in Europe.

All it took for a civilized country to descend into hell was a populace who felt left behind and betrayed, and a leader who tapped into their frustration, providing them with a group to hate.

Many citizens did nothing, either out of fear or because they weren’t the ones targeted.

The Germans haven’t forgotten. Their schoolchildren are consciously taught about the nightmare that was Nazi Germany.

There are no monuments to Hitler or his generals. It is against the law to fly a Nazi flag or spout Nazi slogans, and streets memorialize the victims, not the perpetrators.

Germans know that without vigilance, this could happen again.

It is difficult to grasp the utter depravity and horror carried out by these monsters. It’s time to revisit the face of evil.

The Nazis proudly kept meticulous records and photographs because they assumed they would win the war and be seen as heroes. Look at the pictures showing a mother and child, stripped naked, hugging, moments before they are shot by a Nazi soldier standing over them, or the beautiful toddler being held by one soldier while another points a gun at its head.

Watch the videos of skeletal bodies being thrown in a pit like so much garbage, or of several men standing at the top of a trench, then tumbling in after being shot. This is what those young men in Charlottesville represented.

In America, the Holocaust is covered in a few pages in history books as a part of World War II.

Before our U.S. history curriculum changed, I taught a full unit on the Holocaust, showing my students how it happened. They watched the grainy black-and-white documentaries of the piles of bodies discovered by American liberators, read firsthand accounts and watched “Schindler’s List.”

I framed this as a necessary warning that, though it happened to the Jews, it could happen to anyone. All it takes is to brand “the other” — Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, immigrants, refugees — as a threat and somehow less than human.

It absolutely can happen again. For decades, American synagogues have posted security guards during all their worship services and events, but the fear is growing as overt racism and anti-Semitism rise to the surface again.

We Jews live this fear. The ADL reports that, with our heightened political climate playing a role, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 34 percent in 2016 and surged by 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017.

There are not “many sides” to this issue. Elie Wiesel, who survived the death camps, warned, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

To remain silent in the face of evil is to be complicit.

Raise your voice like the tens of thousands in Boston who marched against hate. Do not let people make bigoted remarks without a response. Do not let racist incidents go unchallenged.

And never forget. History is watching.

Kein yehi ratzon … let it be God’s will. Shalom.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community.

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