Never forget that when Whoopi Goldberg shared her ill-informed views about the Holocaust on the talk show of the same name stating that the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews was “not about race,” she was wrong.
Never forget that Nazis viewed Jews not just as a race but as an inferior and dangerous one.
It’s not enough to never forget the 6 million souls who perished in the Holocaust. We must never forget the reason behind it and yes Ms. Goldberg, it was about race.
Forget that Hitler called the Germans a “master race” and that according to classic Nazi doctrine, Jews constituted a “subhuman Asiatic race.”
When it came to race it was black and white and left no room for doubt. There was the master race and the subhuman race.
But the lines were drawn long before Adolph Hitler came into power. That is something we must never forget. As a Jewish child that was the history, I was taught. And that I always remembered.
By the time I began attending Hebrew school in 1965, the Holocaust was decades into the past which in a child’s mind seemed an eternity. But at the same time that horror haunted my dreams, and my cold war nuclear bomb nightmares were often populated with cold-hearted Nazis.
But the Holocaust was fresh in the minds of those who had lived through it and learned of its horrors. It was only twenty years earlier that in the spring of 1945, the unspeakable details of the European concentration camps began slowly being spoken about.
Through the war, few Americans were aware of its scale. Like most Americans, my mother and her family had their first glimpse of that atrocity when gruesome and heartbreaking images of the Holocaust appeared in print for the first time in the May 7, 1945 issue of Life magazine.
It was unimaginable – Jewish bodies stacked like hardwood found at a liberated concentration camp. The gruesome display of haunted living corpses, smoldering piles of charred bodies, the atrocities that the allied troops had uncovered. The graphic images recorded for all time by Margaret Bourke-White were bone-chilling and would be seared into my 19-year-old mother’s mind.
And twenty years later into my own. Never Forget.
The Long Shadow Of Hate
That history of Jewish hate and characterizing them as an inferior race did not begin in 1930s Germany.
It began long before that. That was the history in Germany we needed to never forget. One which I was taught at a young age.
I went back to look at how that early narrative was explained to me as a child and located one of the books from that time “How the Jewish People Lives.”
Geared for school-age children the message was simple to understand. The story came with a warning. Not a warning that this would be disturbing words for a child. But an unspoken one to never forget.
“In 1871 a newly unified Germany officially declared that Jews like others were citizens of the land and had the same rights and duties as all other citizens. Jews were freely admitted to the universities and became doctors, lawyers, and scientists. They built banks and factories and department stores.
The rise of the Jews to an important position in the life of the German people aroused envy of those Germans who had formerly considered themselves superior to the Jews. Some of these Germans, therefore, brought forth a new but altogether untruthful idea.
They declared that Germans were descended from a race called Nordics. According to them, these Nordics were the finest wisest, and most capable people in the world. The Jews on the other hand were in their opinion a race much inferior to the Nordics and capable only of taking advantage of them.
Real scientists explained that no 2 people either Jews or Germans are descended from any single race but that all modern people are descended from many races which have intermarried. It was wrong to speak of Germans as pure Nordics and of Jews as pure Semites. Moreover learned scientists declared that no race was superior to another.
But reasonable arguments made no difference to people blinded by hate and so the Jew-haters known as antisemites continued teaching that Germans were superior to Jews.
As the years went on I understood that history in a deeper way.
Science, Race, and Germany
In the late 1800s, many European and American scientists continued to divide humankind into smaller and smaller “races.”
One of these was the “Semitic race,” which they used to categorize Jews. The term antisemitism was coined by a German journalist Wilhelm Marr to describe his racial opposition to Jews. He was among those who felt threatened by the progress Jews had made in Germany.
Antisemitism relies on the idea that certain physical and intellectual differences exist between groups and that these differences are biological, permanent, and irreversible. Because they believed, falsely, that differences between so-called races were justified by modern science, antisemites were convinced that science also justified discrimination against Jews.
Marr published a pamphlet in 1878 titled “The Victory of Judaism over Germandom.” Filled with lies and myths about Jews, Marr argued that Jews were more than a distinct “race.” In his view, the “Semitic race” was dangerous and alien, intent on maliciously destroying German society. In 1879 he founded the League of Antisemites in Berlin to combat the threat he imagined they posed.
The group tried to turn antisemitism into a popular political movement.
It never attracted many members, but another political party—the Christian Socialist Workers’ Party, founded a year earlier by Protestant theologian Adolf Stoecker—had more success.
At first Stoecker’s party focused on the social effects of industrialization and the need for Germans to rededicate themselves to Christianity. Antisemitism was a relatively minor theme until the party’s leaders discovered they could increase their membership by demanding that German Jews renounce their alleged dreams of ruling Germany and by calling on the government to further limit the number of Jews in certain professions and universities.
Like Marr, Stoecker and his followers were convinced that modern “science” justified discrimination against Jews.
By the end of the century, antisemitism had found a home almost everywhere in Europe. Scientists who showed that more differences existed within a so-called race than between one “race” and another were ignored.
Such facts were irrelevant to antisemites. To Marr and a growing number of other Europeans, all Jews, regardless of their religious beliefs, belonged to the “Semitic race.”
So the myth that Jews were a race continued to grow throughout Europe.
The seeds were sown for a Hitler and his Final Solution.
One based on race
In my own childhood, anti-Semitism seemed to be a relic of the past. Because I would grow up living in an unprecedented time of acceptance for Jews it would be easy for me to be lulled into a sense of security. Because what happened in Nazi Germany was such a terrible atrocity it felt impossible to imagine ourselves capable of causing anything that resembled it.
We would never forget
I wanted to think “never again” was a statement of fact. In my America, that kind of hate can’t exist.
Except it can.
Because for some it was never a matter of forgetting. They never learned the facts in the first place. Banning books that attempt to explain the Holocaust only contributes to that ignorance.
The seeds of hate continue to be sown through blindness and misinformation. Let’s use this opportunity to learn so we truly will never forget.