Thursday, May 26, 2011

Victims of Hatred

Copyright 2011, Charles S. Weinblatt

In writing about the Shoah (Holocaust), I was forced to examine human behavior during the most appalling and perfidious genocide in history. How could apparently normal people become willing accomplices in the murder of their Jewish neighbors? What persuaded German citizens, and their allies (Einsatzgruppen), along with many other Europeans, to believe that all members of the Jewish religion should be removed from society or destroyed? Why did they also accept the euthenasia of homosexuals, Roma and the physically and mentally disabled? Was it so easy to convince citizens that their healthy, friendly neighbors should be placed into forced labor, incarcerated and exterminated?

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in the world, especially in Europe, where Christianity promoted Jewish hatred for two thousand years. Millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children were murdered during the Crusades, the English Expulsion and the Spanish Inquisition. From the Dark Ages through the Reformation, the Church influenced Europe with a firm grip. Isolation and denigration of Jews was a firmament of Church philosophy.

Requiring a scapegoat to distract rebellious societies, the Church found Jews a very appropriate target. It has always been easier to hate than to trust or tolerate. Jews did not accept Jesus as the messiah. They worshipped God differently and with a different language. They kept to themselves. Jews often looked and acted differently. They observed different holidays. They held jobs deemed distasteful to Christians. Jews were forced to live in ghettos, rather than among Christians. The Church and local governments found it useful to maintain that Jews were not to be trusted or allowed to assimilate. Moreover, Jews were a peaceful group, without any military capability, unable to defend their communities from attack. In essence, Jews were a perfect scapegoat for Church leadership.

Over the centuries, European anti-Semitism became increasingly endemic. With frequent eruptions of pogroms and murder, blind hatred of Jews was never far from the surface of Christian society. Rumor and innuendo captured the minds of Europeans. They came to believe that Jews were responsible for murdering Christ, bringing plague, butchering Christian children to use their blood for matzo, and all manner of insidious, mendacious motivations. The publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a vicious anti-Semitic book filled with lies and innuendo, inflamed European hatred of Jews. First published in Russia in 1903, the text was translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally.
Not all anti-Jewish doctrine came from Rome. Luther pushed for the destruction of European Jewry as well. In Thirteenth Century England, the crown called for Jewish persecution and expulsion. The result was tens of thousands of murdered Jews. Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Spain produced the Inquisition, which resulted in the murder of about a million innocent Jews.

Decades turned into centuries. Centuries turned into millennia. Meanwhile, the Church’s effort to expel and murder Jews gradually declined. But, the latent hatred and mistrust for Jews remained, passed along from generation to generation. Very few European nations gave Jews the same rights as Christians. Hitler’s endeavor to remove and annihilate European Jews required little vigor to impose. In fact, it was a useful distraction for the Nazi regime, to combat public anger from government austerity programs and political challenges. The old mistrust and hatred of Jews easily rose to the surface, focused by incessant, vigorous propaganda. Very little effort was required to turn Twentieth Century Europe against their Jewish neighbors.

Meanwhile, Jews remained largely as they had been throughout time. They studied Torah, desired higher education, worked jobs that no one else desired, married and had children. Their values changed little over the centuries, despite near-constant efforts to isolate, expel, enslave and murder them. Jews often resisted assimilation, instead appreciating the importance of their time-honored values. Yet, Jews displayed no belligerence or hegemony. They desired no power over their neighbors. For Jews, the bitter taste of abhorrence, slavery and murder was a constant companion. Still, they desired only to live in peace with their European neighbors. This was interpreted by their enemies as weakness. Their ancestral homeland, Israel, was conquered repeatedly; their sacred temples destroyed. Throughout the Diaspora, Jews remained devoted to their religion and culture; they embraced it as they had for two thousand years, despite being considered second-rate citizens or no citizens at all. Jews threatened no one. Yet, they were despised by most Europeans. And, despite the known horrors of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism in Europe is again on the increase.
Humans are complex beings. There is a great deal more to us than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are beautiful and ugly, soothing and terrifying, brutal and caring; we love and we despise. During the Holocaust, some Nazi concentration camp guards secretly aided Jews; while some Jewish kapos were more brutal than Nazi guards. While it seems simple to assign blame to an entire religion or political group, some deserve more blame than others. Despite the narcissistic nature of Nazi propaganda, there remained individuals, families and small groups who aided Jews. Altruism for all of humanity defied the Nazi vision of a pure Aryan society, removed of all traces of "defective" genes. So while most of Europe was only too happy to help Nazi Germany rid them of their Jewish neighbors, there were some Europeans who resisted the call to remove all traces of Judaism.

Despite enduring centuries as victims, bearing the brunt of falsehood, deception and vicious brutality, Jews remained loyal to their God, Torah and culture. They continued to find joy in a simple life of obedience to their time-honored traditions. For Jews, life has never been good or bad, but good and bad. Throughout history, Jews have found few moments of peace within an eternity of harassment, slavery expulsion and murder.

Within the fetid trains and barracks of Nazi-occupied Europe, lovers dreamed of being together, rabbis tried to keep faith alive and parents anguished desperately over lost loved ones. Into this churning crucible of horror, lovers, parents, children and grandparents were deposited. As they disembarked train cattle cars inside of Nazi death camps, husbands and wives were separated. Then children were pulled away from their mothers. Most were quickly gassed or shot to death, including 1.5 million children. The survivors were starved, beaten, had medical experiments performed upon them and were placed into slave labor for German industrialists and the Nazi war machine. Yet, even in this life of pure hell, their passion for Judaism did not disappear. Ironically, within a culture of death emerged a passion for Torah and life. Most Jews did not abandon their faith in God; instead, they carried it into the darkness of brutality, torture, sickness and death. Into the gas chambers of Nazi death camps, the Jews of Europe emptied their faith, love and tradition.

In search of a pure Aryan society, the culture of Germany was abducted by a tarnished morality; one which approved of the euthenasia of undesired people. This was cold, calculated genetic manipulation, in order to produce a Europe that was Judenrien. Repugnance, despair and darkness exist within human nature; just as affection, compassion, tolerance and devotion also exist there. We learn nothing about ourselves if we do not examine these vastly disparate portions of our psyche.

A complex palette of emotion and behavior churned within the Shoah. Powerful infatuation and tender love also existed during times of horror and despair. So did a deep commitment to faith and God. Nazi Germany could remove every article of wealth from the Jewish people, but not their love of family, adoration of Torah and devotion to a two thousand year-old culture. Tradition is the cement that holds the Jewish people together. At the very end, naked and cold, Jews carried their tradition, values and faith into Nazi gas chambers; a tapestry of ancient wisdom, ritual devotion and deeply personal connection.

The world is seldom seen in black and white, or even shades of gray. During the Holocaust, in the midst of terrible anguish, beauty existed. That beauty was enveloped by despair. Lovers secretly met in fervent passion. Clandestine weddings were held. At some concentration camps, such as Theresienstadt, Jews created schools, clinics, orchestras, politics and literature. There were even some births, hidden from the SS for as long as possible. Here, deep within the trepidation of impending death, surrounded by sickness and brutality, we find Jewish love, compassion, creativity, tradition and deep faith in the God of their ancestors.

Holocaust survivors lost everything, but perhaps gained something as well. Certainly an honest examination of the Shoah must reveal torturous cruelty, violence, brutality, rampant sickness, forced labor and death. The survivors had to go on living without all of their family, friends and loved ones.  Victims who survived were faced with a deep, unrelenting depression.  It's fair to say that Holocaust survivors lost not just their wealth and property, but everyone and everything they loved.  However, despite the starvation, brutality, slavery and inhuman conditions, despite the disease and malice, the incarcerated Jews of Europe continued to practice their religion and their traditions. Many never lost their belief in God. By maintaining their faith, tradition and culture, survival became a victory of Jews over Hitler. Today, the millions of survivors’ progeny and the state of Israel proudly proclaim this Jewish victory. Like a fabulous phoenix, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Shoah victims rise above the ashes of the Holocaust; a treasure and emblem of Jewish endurance. Here, one can feel hope for the survival of the human spirit.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Each Passover, Jews retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. This is a story of a people who emerged from slavery to freedom and from oppression to liberty. The Passover story gives us pause to reflect upon a spiritual adventure that began with Moses and ended in the promised land of Israel. It fabricates the basis of contemporary Judaism and Christianity. The Passover story describes the Jews’ seemingly insurmountable victory over a vastly superior enemy, a tale of wandering in the wilderness and of redemption with God’s Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments lie at the heart of contemporary Judeo-Christian beliefs. They are the groundwork of our morality and the foundation of desired ethical behavior. And, when the Jews wandered for forty years in the wilderness – when they became idolaters and lost their moral compass, it was the Ten Commandments that brought them back, figuratively and literally.

Like the victory of the Hebrew Maccabi, the exodus from Egypt seemed impossible. Yet, somehow the Jews survived. In every generation, the enemies of the Hebrew nation have attempted to annihilate them. Time after time, the Jews have been defeated, evicted and enslaved. Yet, each time, they manage to survive as a people. Each time, they return to Israel from the Diaspora. The rallying cry at each Passover Seder is, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Every Jew is bound to retell the Passover story each year as though it was happening to them. And the physical focus for this goal is always the land of Israel. Despite the fact that Jews are less than 2% of the global religious community, they somehow manage to survive and maintain their hold upon this tiny fragment of land. Today, surrounded by enemies, the Hebrew nation is in the same predicament. How do they survive? How does their spirit continue through pogroms and genocide? And, what is the true meaning of Passover?

Persecution is intensely malevolent and pervasive. Humans are particularly wicked with each other. Three thousand years ago, Moses pleaded with Pharaoh to free his people from persecution and slavery. The ten plagues that followed forced him to release the Jews. Yet even after the worst plague of all, the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt, Pharaoh pursued the Jews into the Red Sea, where his soldiers were swept away. Evil can be just as powerful a motivator as love is. During the Spanish Inquisition, anyone suspected of being a Jew was imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Nazi Germany systematically annihilated millions of Jews. What purpose is served by inflicting pain and suffering upon innocent people? What promotes such evil hatred? Why is animosity aimed at the Jewish people? And, how do the Jews manage to survive repeated attempts to destroy them?

Like Easter, Passover occurs each year in the springtime. The concept of renaissance is ubiquitous. From sacrificial lambs to the presence of an egg on the Seder plate, the symbolism of devotion and rebirth is palpable. While the overriding message of Passover is freedom, gratitude and spiritual devotion, the concept of renewal allows each of us to observe the holiday by perform acts of kindness. From generation to generation, Jews retell the Passover story and revel in the miracles that led to their redemption as a people. The Passover Seder requires that each Jew place himself or herself in the position of being a slave in Egypt. Every Jew must experience the plagues and walk through the wilderness. The Seder brims with imagery and metaphors. But what does this mean for us today? Can we identify with our three thousand year old ancestors?

Good and evil exist in the world. We don’t need to look very far to see it or feel it. The exodus of the Jews from Egypt is an example for us to follow forever. Yet, humanity continues to enslave, maltreat and murder the innocent. One might have guessed that the Holocaust would put such immorality to an end. Surely humankind should be repelled by the vast horror and the murder of millions of innocent people. Yet, holocausts continue unabated. Since the Nazi Holocaust, we have experienced holocausts in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Anti-Semitism is again growing throughout the world. Why don’t we learn? When will it end? Why do the Jewish people play a significant historical role as victims in genocides? And, what can be done to stop it? What can any of us do to reduce religious persecution?

Prejudice, bigotry and racism create an environment in which persecution thrives. This Easter and Passover, each of us can vow to promote goodwill and acceptance. The foundation of freedom lies in our value for liberty and unity in the face of hatred and intolerance. Instead of waiting for a miracle, let us create our own. Let each of us retell the story of the Passover as though we were personally a part of it. Moreover, as we retell the Passover story and celebrate Easter, we can place ourselves in the minds of current victims of genocide, slavery and intolerance. We have the power to defy fanaticism. We have the courage to fight for freedom. This is the meaning of Passover. We can make our own miracles by fighting to free the oppressed.

Humans are not God. But we have the power of choice. We can use it to enslave or to liberate. We can persecute or accept others. This Easter and Passover, let us vow to use our power of choice to fight for mercy, justice and liberty. If the meaning of Passover is spiritual redemption and rebirth, then let us be reborn to stop prejudice. Let us promote tolerance and encourage everyone to value the differences among us. In this way, the spirit of Passover will live on through our progeny. As we enjoy Passover and Easter this spring with our families, let us pause for a moment to ask what each of us can do to eradicate the evil that surrounds us. The rebirth of this spirit is the true meaning of Passover.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, “Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Having devoted almost three years researching the Holocaust for my novel, "Jacob's Courage," I have assimilated enough religious hatred for a lifetime. This has been made all the more real by the persecution and murder of my own family in the blazing fires of Nazi death camps. I tell myself, "It's all a part of the past. It won't happen again. Humankind is more mature, more tolerant. Societies are more peaceful. Killing over insignificant differences is over.” But, that's not true, is it?

Since the Nazi Holocaust, we have witnessed the holocausts of Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Darfur. An English schoolteacher in a Muslim country was recently sentenced to flogging and imprisonment for allowing her students to name a teddy bear, "Mohammed." People are still persecuted for religious, political and ethnic differences. In many countries, women are still persecuted solely because of their gender. Draconian religious laws create conditions in which people are treated little better than animals. Non-believers are routinely persecuted for being an "affront" to the predominant religion. Have we learned nothing from the mistakes of history? Why do we continue to butcher people for being different?

It is one thing for a nation to go to war to defend itself, or for conquest of land and national resources. Yet, we continue to displace, torture, sterilize and kill others, only because they are different. One might assume that in the shadow of the Holocaust, we would see less of this senseless killing. Instead, the thought process behind intolerance is growing. This is evidenced by the recent increase of Islamic radicalism, as well as the growth of global anti-Semitism. Governments, like Sudan, allow the slaughter of mass populations because they do not worship properly or they are considered less valuable. Throughout Europe and Asia, people continue to be branded by their ethnic or religious origin, rather than accepted as free and equal citizens of their homeland. Why is there little or no progress in the development of tolerance? How can millions of people in the 21st Century continue to assume that non-believers should be converted or killed? And, what is yet to come?

We live in a world of decreasing natural resources and increasing nationalism. All the while, religious bigotry floats just below the surface, festering like a mindless, intense evil. Yes, evil exists in our age. It hides behind the flags of nations and dwells in the hearts of corrupted people. The president of Iran wants to see Israel "wiped off the face of the earth," despite the fact that Jews lived in the place called Israel centuries before the Muslim religion was founded. Israel is a tiny strip of land, occupying a miniscule fragment of the Middle East. Yet, there is no tolerance for its existence. Nor is there tolerance for Muslims to live in the lands that Serbs deny them. Nor will communist China allow freedom for Tibetans. Even in America, there is intolerance toward minorities, foreigners and people who are not Christian.

There are, of course, many Zionists who are intolerant. There are extremists in every society. Yet, I have never heard of a Jewish suicide bomber. Jews do not teach their children to launch rockets into civilian populations, strap explosives around their waists or kidnap the innocent. They do not covet the destruction or conversion of every human who does not share their religious belief. In fact, every Arab in Israel at the time of its creation (1948) was offered equal Israeli citizenship. Yet, the Middle East desires only Israel’s destruction.

Our world will continue to teeter on the edge of global war and mass destruction until we learn to accept and value our individuality. We must not persecute, arrest or kill people who are "non-believers." We must accept that it is their privilege to be non-believers. We must stop condemning people because of their ancestral beliefs or ethnic origin. We are not inherently evil because we are dissimilar, or worship in a different way.

But, the murder, rapes, torture and killing goes on. As long as people find it easier to hate than to abide, genocide will continue. In the face of this blind abhorrence, our inaction speaks louder than words. How can we help people learn to value tolerance? How many more innocent humans must be killed in the name of archaic, ancient religious laws? How can we look into the eyes of our children without feeling shame for our lack of accomplishment?

Sadly, we cannot help those who reject our assistance. If people believe that God wants them to despise and mistrust others because they do not share the same religion or ethic background, then our children will inherit a world filled with draconian rejection and loathing. Perhaps one day, if we survive as a species, our progeny will succeed where we have failed.

This is the message of my book, "Jacob's Courage." Governments do not have the right to kill people because they are religiously different. Love can overcome almost anything, including outdated ancestral dislike. We can discover value in those who are different. A better future awaits those who tolerate rather than mistrust. We are all humans. Our presence on this planet is ubiquitous. And we have a responsibility to our progeny. One need not accept in a literal manner ancient religious documents that tell us to hate. There is more to life than archaic detestation. We must learn to share our planet in peace and mutual respect.