I am writing this letter to Nicky Campbell in response to the BBC programme “The Big Questions: Is The Time Coming to Lay The Holocaust to Rest?”.
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I say the road back to Hell is paved with compromise. The answers to the existential questions human beings ask create a moral roadmap we follow to a desired end, in theory at least. It’s why we aspire to peace for all mankind, love for our neighbour, respect for life, and having enough food and resources for all. It sounds utopian and post-modern, but how this can all of it be achieved if we compromise our core values? Why have so many civilizations forsaken the very values we fought so hard to develop? What good comes from the ashes of our mistakes? When I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties the term The Slippery Slope was common to describe the process by which each moral debate and subsequent moral compromise led to an ethical conundrum from which there is no backtracking or easy escape, if at all.
When historically significant events take place, they shape our common understanding, our goals, and our failures. We take lessons from them. Some examples are: The fall of the Roman Empire, The Dark Ages, European Imperialism, The French Revolution, The Civil War in America, WWI, WWII, the Holocaust, The Cold War, The Gulf War, and many other examples too numerous to mention. These events shape human history, and we like to think we are more enlightened, or somehow more civilized than our ancestors, but are we really? In searching out the answers to the existential questions we find, rather uncomfortably, and some times humbly that we are not so different from our ancestors. Civilizations build and then degenerate. What is left is a lesson that is adhered to for a time, the memory of it lasting for a few generations at best. History goes on to tell the story of the victor and leaves the moral musings to philosophers and religious leaders. The point is this: the monumental mistakes in human history always began with compromise of some kind. Compromising values, beliefs, morals, and even the safety of our fellow man. One small step at a time; each time becoming easier to compromise again, and again until you no longer recognize yourself. Greed, selfishness, hunger for power, they all contributed to each bloody encounter.
This leads me to the debate on “The Big Questions: Is the Time Coming to Lay The Holocaust to Rest?”. What strikes me about how this discussion evolved is that the abortion debate (for the disabled or otherwise, and with it the debate for Euthanasia, was at the forefront. It’s interesting because these subjects keep cropping up, intertwining themselves with the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi’s, as well as a jumping off point in analyzing The Holocaust. Also notable is that Roe vs Wade was passed less than forty years after The Holocaust. Since then we are left to wonder if any lessons from The Holocaust were at all recalled during the entire case. We could analyse why it passed for another four decades, but that is not the point. The point is, it happened! It happened with all of the moral and ethical considerations that should have made more of a difference after all of the suffering in the twentieth century. You might say one has nothing to do with the other, but yes, it does because we are still killing the undesirables as they did in Nazi Germany. We fool ourselves by saying it is a socially accepted response to unwanted children since abortion is legal, but the truth is, the only difference is that we don’t have to physically look at it. It’s easy to participate in something that goes against your moral grain when you do not have to get your hands dirty. To put that into modern context in light of your question of “should we lay The Holocaust to rest?”, is, how far will we fall as a result of each moral compromise? Where will it end? How can we say that one person’s life is worth more than another’s? How can we stop ourselves from perpetrating another such genocide? Tom Lawson commented that recognizing other victims should not be the focus, but preventing more genocide should be. I agree that is important, but so is remembering who the victims were. I also disagree with Tom when he says “To declare The Holocaust, and to declare the genocide of the Jewish people unique is to actually make it rather less important, because in a sense it is to remove it from history…if something’s unique, it has no lessons, actually, because if it’s unique in a sense it never will in that reality never happen again. To this I say no, remembering such a massive event, one in which a civilized people could perpetrate a genocide on such a massive scale, how is remembering it going to remove it from history? History is here and now, it is the happenings of humans and their collective response to it. If you have enough people that want to commemorate the victory over such a brutal regime, then why is that such a threat? In remembering, we are taking the part of the victors. We remember what they were fighting for, that is, freedom. Freedom to exist in peace without prejudice. To me, that is the universality, the drawing point for all people.
You mention more than once how there may be a danger in focusing on the Jewish aspect of The Holocaust because it may result in a hierarchy of victims, and we may not be doing enough to recognize the suffering of other victims of genocide throughout the world. To this I reply that the importance of The Holocaust is more than just what happened! It is our perception of what happened, also our response and feelings toward it. It is intensely personal and that is why The Holocaust carries with it such a unique and heartbreaking story. It is both historical and modern in the sense that there are those who seek to annihilate Israel, and the Jews today. This is why remembering history and the atrocities played out in Nazi Germany on days like Holocaust Memorial Day is so important. It is the result of the passion of the people who suffered through it, like Iby Knill. Her response to whether or not justice should be pursued by prosecuting a ninety-three year old Auschwitz was fantastic. She asked, “As far as this guard is concerned, the question I would like to ask him is what has he done with this life since then? How has he lived? Has he done anything to redeem his action(s)? And the other question is why did he do what he did? What was it?” You see this is the crux of the whole debate! We cannot force a group of people to respect another group of people.
In order to accomplish such a feat the entire world would need to submit to an international body that would govern all nations, implementing a set of core values. An international police force that works for the common good of all mankind would need to be installed. I think we can agree that the current UN falls short of this strange Utopian/Orwellian/Autocratic world. Such a drastic change does not seem feasible given the current world political climate. So what are we left with then? Well, I believe it begins with each family teaching values like forgiveness and peace, and the sanctity of life to the next generation. It would also mean finding a common ground with those different from us and working together.
On that note Eve Garrard brought up a great point when she said, “Hatred and contempt for what the Nazis did is perfectly reasonable. It’s a perfectly appropriate response to what they did. It’s not the only available response…I think there is a case for forgiveness, but a case that’s hemmed around with a lot of qualifications” In the case of Corrie Ten Boom we see that forgiveness is possible. Her story, written as a biography in 1971, is a perfect example of how a person could suffer through the Holocaust, and lose so much, and come out of it a forgiving person who gave back after it was over! I would like to say we, human beings, should not look at other genocide differently when the real issue is a lack of compassion for our fellow man. Deeming “the other” as deserving of our respect, even in war, and acknowledging that their worth as a human being is not for us to disparage. You know, nobody is denying that a genocide happened in Rwanda, or in Syria, but there are people denying the Holocaust. Why? What is at the bottom of Holocaust denial? Hate.
Hate speech is criminal in Canada and I believe it should be everywhere. Why differentiate between Jews and other people who suffered during the Holocaust, carefully demonstrating that other groups of people suffered, but then turn around and ask why it is not a criminal act to deny that such a terrible event took place? It is wrong in this society to outwardly hate gay people and disabled people, so why then should it not be a criminal act to deny the Holocaust in the context of Jewish suffering? Holocaust Denial incites hatred and that can lead to violence, period. Let’s be honest here, the people denying the Holocaust are not doing it because they hate gays and disabled people, they are doing it because they hate Jews.Tell me, who is perpetrating acts of violence against the Jews? I’ll tell you it is both the people who deny the Holocaust and those who do not, but do celebrate it. In answer to the man who asked why Holocaust Denial is not different from passages in the Bible, well, to him I ask, why are you attempting to justify the denial of mass extermination? The Jewish faith today, and the Christian faith today are not at war with anyone. They are not proclaiming death to anyone. There are radical people, sure, but those radical people are not representative of Jews and Christians. Find a source outlining the tenets, the foundation of both of these faiths and then tell me that love is not found there? If we are to find a universal truth, barring even religion as a basis, then it is going to start with LOVE. Love, not hate, not denial, not disrespecting those different from us, and certainly not ‘my pain is worse than yours therefore that gives my hurting you a twisted justification’.
So the question I ask you is this: in light of everything written above why would you ask such a question as “Is the time coming to lay The Holocaust to rest?”. What possible motivation could there be for even positing such a question? I propose instead the question should be, “Why Should We Never Lay The Holocaust to Rest?”.