Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Holocaust Memorial Museum

Posted on Apr. 19, 2013 at 11:18 am

Holocaust Lessons

It is too simplistic and too misleading to say that Nazism, not Christianity, built Auschwitz (“Lessons of the Holocaust,” April 12). 

Auschwitz was built with technological efficiency, the very tools of the modern world. No scholar I know — Jew or Christian — would maintain that the choice of victims at Auschwitz was not directly related to Christianity. In fact, well-schooled and well-meaning Christians have made bold efforts to make sure that post-Holocaust Christianity would not transmit the teachings that led to Auschwitz; witness, for example, the work of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.

Christians, believing and pious, staffed the death camps. A Roman Catholic priest, who was the president of Slovakia, paid the Germans 500 marks for every Jew transported from his country to the death camps.

Great, believing, pious and church-going Christians also rescued Jews and opposed the “Final Solution.” See the work of Pastor André Trocme of Le Chambon or the preachings of the Danish bishop.

But however celebratory one wants to be of contemporary Christianity, however allied Jews want to be with today’s Christians, one may not divorce Christianity from Auschwitz; one dare not.

Michael Berenbaum, Los Angeles

I read Dennis Prager’s column “Lessons of the Holocaust” with great interest.  And while I’m in sync with a number of his premises, I strongly disagree with his core hypothesis — one frequently stated in his column, that secularism is the root of the majority of violence and evil in this world.  

I would modify Mr. Prager’s notion in this way:

1. Yes, evil exists. (Despite his oft-repeated premise, I know numerous secular humanists who readily acknowledge the concept; in fact, I’m married to one.)

2. It is true that evil is more likely to be committed by some types of societies than by others, based upon their belief systems.

3. However, the dividing line is not religious vs. secular; it’s whether a culture is moderate or extreme in its beliefs. During the 20th century, Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany certainly fit that criterion. In our current era, fanatical Islamists qualify for this distinction far more than European secular humanists. This is true in general but should be particularly resonant for Jews. In short, would you, as a Jew, rather spend a month in Norway or in a Taliban-controlled city?

Larry Garf, Topanga

Dennis Prager responds: I do not understand the reason for Michael Berenbaum’s letter. After his first sentence, nothing he wrote differed from what I wrote. But, for the record, here are the words of Yehuda Bauer, the former director of Holocaust studies at Yad Vashem and professor of Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University: “Nowhere in Christian thought or in Christian history was there ever a plan to kill the Jewish people — never. ... Jews had to be kept underfoot. … But a genocidal program never developed in Christianity, because there was a moral hindrance that Christianity created to any kind of genocidal thought.”

Concerning secularism and violence in the modern world, every genocidal regime of the 20th century was secular. I don’t think that this is as insignificant as Mr. Garf does. Having said that, secularism would be a great moral step forward in the Arab world, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

And in response to Mr. Garf’s last question, of course I would rather live in Norway than in a Taliban-controlled city. I also would rather live in Pakistan or Togo than in a Taliban-controlled city. But the question is irrelevant to us Americans. What we need to answer is a realistic question: Would we rather live in the God-centered, Judeo-Christian values-based America that existed from before its inception until the 1960s or in an America as godless as Europe?

Lifelong Involvement 

Michael Berenbaum is surely owed a debt of thanks by those of us whose lives, but mostly learning and, hopefully, understanding, have been shaped by his involvements in helping to create the USHMM (“How the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Changed My Life,” April 5). There is no way that the museum edifice itself, or even multiple visits to it, could reveal the odyssey undertaken by Berenbaum. His concluding statement about his contributing, still, to Holocaust education is a mixture of extreme modesty and vast understatement. His nearly two-dozen book-length works, numerous articles, frequent pedagogical sharing, film developments and speaking presence in many, many venues have all ensured that students of the Holocaust willing to “grow in such scholarship” will have the opportunity to do so.

Bill Younglove, Lakewood 

Beware One-Sided Gift Giving

David Suissa is right to explode the myth that peace lies within Israel’s gift and the key to obtaining it lies in pressuring Israel to make more gifts — concessions (“Suckers at the Casbah,” April 12).

Despite the fact that Israel has, over the years since curtailing the Palestinian Authority (PA) terror campaign, removed checkpoints and enabled vast economic growth in the PA-controlled territories; accepted in principle a Palestinian state; instituted an unprecedented 10-month freeze upon Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria; and declared its willingness to negotiate without preconditions, various people do not think it is enough.

This is despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas’ PA has made no concessions, essentially refused to negotiate, continued to promote incitement to hatred and murder of Jews; named dozens of schools, streets and sports teams after Jew-killing terrorists; signed an alliance with Hamas; declared that a future Palestinian state will be Jew-free; and evaded negotiations by seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations.

Those who believe that Israel must simply agree to establishing a Palestinian state under the leadership of an unreconstructed, terror-promoting PA and empty it of all Jews are, wittingly or otherwise, endangering Israel and helping to prolong the conflict by relieving legitimate pressure on Palestinians to arrest terrorists, dismantle and outlaw terror groups and end incitement to hatred and murder.

Morton A. Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America


In a caption for the article “Moving Speeches Mark March of the Living” (April 12), Leon Weinstein is not the last survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 

In “Bikur Cholim Manners” (April 12), the event with Letty Cottin Pogrebin at Sinai Temple will be April 24, not April 25. 

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