Jewish Journal


April 10, 2013

Lessons of the Holocaust


Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager

This week, Jews around the world observed Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day ought to be universally observed, because the lessons of the Holocaust are universal. Here are some of them:

1. The Jews are the world’s canary in the mine.

When Jews are murdered, it is a warning to decent non-Jews that they are next. Because Western nations dismissed Nazi anti-Semitism as the Jews’ problem, 50 million non-Jews ended up dying. If the world dismisses Ahmadinejad’s Iran as primarily the Jewish state’s problem, non-Jews will suffer again. Jew-haters (or, if you will, haters of the Jewish state) begin with Jews but never end with them.

2. People are not basically good.

At any time in history, the belief that people are basically good was irrational and naïve. To believe it after the Holocaust — and after the communist genocides in China, Korea, Cambodia and Ukraine; the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians; and the mass murders in Rwanda, Congo, Tibet and elsewhere — is beyond irrational and naïve. It is stupid and dangerous, and therefore inexcusable.

3. Making good people is society’s most important task.

That is why the most important task for any society is to devise ways to make people good. By “good,” I do not mean people who do not murder or steal. People who don’t murder or steal aren’t good people; they are simply not criminals.

It is therefore worth pondering: With the collapse of America’s Judeo-Christian moral foundations, how exactly will American society make good individuals? Those who equate goodness with economic equality and with support for a welfare state do not ask this question. But the rest of us are very worried.

4. Lies and victimhood make evil possible.

Most evil is not committed by sadists. Most evil is committed by people who hold evil ideologies. And in modern times those ideologies have emanated from two primary sources: lies and victimhood.

Lies about Jews built Auschwitz (just as, for example, lies about blacks enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade). And along with lies, it was the Germans’ sense of victimhood that built Auschwitz. The more one’s primary individual or group identity is that of victim, the more one rationalizes doing evil.

5. Nazism, not Christianity, built Auschwitz.

The symbol of Nazism was the swastika, not the cross. Had Nazism been a Christian movement, its symbol would have been, or at least included, the Christian cross. The claim that the Holocaust was a product of Christianity is a charge perpetuated by people and ideologies bitter over the nearly 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe. That bitterness is warranted. Blame for the Holocaust is not. Too many Christians supported the Nazis, but Nazism was anti-Christian.

The complex truth is this: Nearly 2,000 years of European Christian anti-Semitism — including from Martin Luther — rendered the Jew an outcast and thereby laid much of the groundwork for the acceptance of Nazi demonization of the Jews. But no mainstream Christian institution or theology called for the extermination of the Jews. It took the secular shattering of the Christian conscience to accomplish that. This was prophesied a hundred years before Hitler’s rise, in 1834, by the great German poet, Heinrich Heine, who was a secular Jew:

“Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the Cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman [the cross] is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then . . . a play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.”

European Christianity has much to atone for (and it has). But the collapse of Christianity should frighten every decent person. In Europe, it was first succeeded by fascism, communism and Nazism, and then by a soulless and morally confused secularism. What will succeed it in America?

6. Secular education has proved morally worthless.

To cite the Nazi example: Professor emeritus Peter Merkl of the University of California at Santa Barbara studied 581 Nazis and found that Germans with a high-school education “or even university study” were more likely to be anti-Semitic than those with less education (“Political Violence Under the Swastika,” Princeton University Press, 1975).

A study of the makeup of 24 leaders of Einsatzgruppen, the mobile killing units that killed nearly 2 million Jews prior to the use of gas chambers, showed that the great majority were highly educated: “One of the most striking things about the Einsatzgruppen leadership makeup is the prevalence of educated people, professionals, especially lawyers, PhDs. ... ” (Irving Greenberg, in “Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era?” Ktav Press, 1977).

And elsewhere, support for communism, the other 20th century genocidal doctrine, came overwhelmingly from Western secular intellectuals.

7. Pacifism in moral societies is morally worthless.

No Nazi death camp was liberated by pacifists or peace activists. Every camp was liberated by a soldier who either killed or helped others kill. And after the war, it was the American military that was the greatest force for good, for liberty — and for peace — in the world.

8. The Chinese need their Holocaust Day.

When the Chinese have their own Holocaust Day — a day that commemorates Mao’s and the Communist Party’s killing of 60 million Chinese between 1958 and 1961 — China will be a much more decent place. Until then, it is run by people who venerate a monster.

9. Had there been an Israel in the 1930s and ’40s, 6 million Jews would not have been murdered.

Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, follows Yom HaShoah. That is fitting. Had there been Israel 20 years sooner, there would have been one place on earth that would have taken in Jews prior to the Holocaust, when Hitler was willing to let many leave. And during the Holocaust, one country would have fought for them — by bombing Auschwitz, for example.

10. God is indispensable — but is not a celestial butler.

If we deny God, we will produce a morally lost society. But if we rely only on God — and do not fight evil — evil will win. 

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

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