Opinion | Why We Remember the Holocaust

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A gold star, the kind Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, is cradled in someone's hands
SandraMatic / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Marc Stier

The point of remembering the Holocaust is not to say that it was an utterly distinctive event in human history. Every historical event is distinctive in some ways, but systematic genocide of a people has, sadly, been found at many times and places in human history.

The point of remembering the Holocaust is not to give Jews a claim on the attention or sympathy of others. The point of remembering the Holocaust is certainly not to assert that our sins have been redeemed by our suffering or that of others.

The point of remembering the Holocaust is to ensure that it never happens again to anyone and any group.

We live at an extremely dangerous time. Some of us see parallels between the Trump movement and the fascism of the 1930s. And we see parallels between concentration camps in which immigrants are being held and those of the earlier time. We, of course, know that Trump is not yet Hitler and that concentration camps are not death camps. But we know that the worst of fascism didn’t arise overnight. And we also know that the worst happened because too many people didn’t have the imagination or foresight to believe that it could happen.

And so we keep pointing out the dangers even though some of you call us “unhinged” or “hysterical” or say we are “disrespecting the Holocaust,” all of which people said to me in the last couple weeks.

But, frankly, such folks are blind. They are like the interwar enlightened Polish Jews a friend told me a couple of months ago. They believed they were living in the best of times. And they were. As a result, they couldn’t see the dangers in front of them. Most of them wound up in death camps or were shot down in the street.

The hardest thing to do in political and social thought is imagine discontinuities and rapid change. And that’s why I’m going to keep warning about the tendencies in our political life that by my lights seem truly frightening.

I’d rather warn people of where we are going and be wrong than see a country I love despite its flaws come apart at the seams, more and more people wind up in concentration camps, and, even worse, the ideals we’ve never lived up to be destroyed and lost for centuries.

And if our warnings help prevent the worst, and some of you laugh at me in 10 years, I won’t care. Because the danger you can’t see is real today and I’m doing the right thing by warning about it.

Liberal democratic political communities that embrace diversity and tolerance are not as fragile as political theorists once thought. I wrote a paper a number of years ago that showed that they actually tend to stay in place longer than authoritarian regimes. But the habits of mind that sustain liberalism can be lost. I see them being lost every day — and not just on the right.

Most of us who live today have no idea how much better off we are than human beings in almost any other time and place. And we think it can’t be lost.

But it can be. And if invoking the Holocaust is one way to slap people in the face and get them to understand the danger we are in, it would be disrespectful to the memory of that dark time not to do so.

Marc Stier is a writer, teacher and political activist from Mt. Airy and a member of the board of JSPAN, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! A Jew doing what the anti-Semites are attempting to do, negating that the Shoah was exactly but exactly what it was before it even started planned to exterminate the whole Jewish nation worldwide. This was the plan. The Nazis succeeded only in exterminating one-third of our nation’s 6 million Jews. Anti-Semites point out that Poles, Russians, Gypsies died, too, in their effort to negate the the Shoah. By the way, we call it the Shoah for a reason. My parents and all my relatives part of the dead 6 million were not a sacrifice, a Holocaust. This article smell like the writer would feels sorry for “the poor Palestinians under occupation” ignoring that they and they alone are repeat murderers supporting Islamic terror against the Jewish state I need to remind him. Yuck.

  2. It was good of Marc Stier to concede that President Trump is not yet Hitler. But I wonder if he would have said that about previous presidents who excluded Jews from entering the United States when these Jews were in much more dire, life-threatening situations than are the present-day migrants at the southern border.

    I am talking about Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose administration kept out hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who could have been saved if his administration had opened the doors to these refugees. In fact, Germany had a large immigration quota, but FDR’s State Department did not let it be filled even in the critical years of the 1930s. Polish Jews had even less luck than German Jews in finding refuge in the USA.

    Roosevelt, who is considered a great liberal, showed no mercy to the mass of Jews in distress — neither before nor during the war. Besides, he put Japanese Americans into concentration camps, which were not at all like the German concentration camps, but still camps. Yet liberals and Democrats still celebrate the memory of FDR at a dinner every year.

    More recently, President Obama, an admirer of FDR, pressured the government of Israel not to let Jews move across the 1949 armistice line in order to reside in what is called the West Bank or Judea and Samaria. Thereby Obama denied the right of Jews to live in that area, a right recognized in international law by the League of Nations.When it comes to excluding people from entering a certain territory, Stier might voice a complaint against leaders of liberal and progressive movements in the USA who thought that it was perfectly okay to exclude Jews.

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