My friends, sitting before me is a stack of books which I deeply cherish. There were presented to me by a university that was looking to house them appropriately when I was a board member of the American Jewish Committee’s Portland Chapter. This set of books is the full set of volumes of “The American Jewish Yearbook” published between 1938 and 1949. Each year, on this day, I remove these books from their appointed shelf and explore them. This I do to remind myself just how much the world, especially American’s, knew of the Nazi regime and the “Final Solution” before anyone chose to act.
As I look through these books, it is clear that American’s knew what had happened in 1933. The British certainly knew as well. In fact, in 1938, long before the mass murders were in full force, England’s Lord Winterton said: “The treatment of Jews in Germany has sent a feeling of horror throughout civilization. It seems to me that the Germans are animated by a sort of sadism run amok“. It is clear that…
… when, in July of 1937, German Jewish charitable institutions lost their tax exempt status, we knew;
… when, in August 1937, Hungarian poet Josef Erdelyi published his ballad “The Blood of Ester Solymosi“, reviving the obscene myth of an 1882 murder supposedly for Jewish ritual practice, we knew;
…when Poland outlawed the practice of Jewish ritual slaughter of cattle in March of 1938, we knew;
… when 40,000 Jews were rounded up in Antwerp and Flanders and interned at Hasselt in Limbourg, Luxembourg in January 1941, we knew;
… When the Central Office of Economics in Slovakia ordered the liquidation of 3000 Jewish businesses in February 1941, we knew;
… When in July of 1942 Jewish patients in a Vienna hospital and those in the Jewish Home for the Blind committed suicide on hearing they were to be immediately deported from Austria, we knew;
… when, in October 1942 a report was released by the Belgian Information center in New York that 14,000 Jews had been killed the previous April in Latvia, we knew.
Simon Segal wrote, in the 1941-42 issue of the World Book, that:
“Jewish history knows nothing comparable to the tragedy of Polish Jews under the Nazi regime. It would be futile to attempt to describe the martyrdom of Polish Jews. Words cannot adequately disclose the story of daily sufferings humiliation, and degradation to which the Jews have been subjected.“
This, he stated THREE YEARS BEFORE THE END OF THE WAR!!!
In other words, if you think that the world did not know what was going on, or that people just did not believe it, then all I can say is NONSENSE.
Six million of my people were murdered. Millions more who were “undesirable” if not Jews. The world waited and waited, and waited and waited as if it either was not really happening or as if we Jews were just to stupid to “fight back”. I’m not blaming anyone except the Nazis. I want to clearly say that. But, one of the reasons this went on for so long and to such a tragic end was the lack of action.
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the horror.
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the suffering.
KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT ACTION contributed to the near annihilation of a culture.
This is the reason that I take such an active stand against 21st century genocide. It’s why I don’t think I am being inconsistent when I advocate less American spending on foreign intervention while simultaneously saying we should have done more in Darfur, Congo, and even Armenia and Cambodia. It is true that we can’t be the police for every other country. But NEITHER CAN WE EVER STAND IDLY BY while living, breathing, loving, thinking, feeling, human beings are systematically destroyed.
So, on this Yom ha Shoah, I pray that we may all become more cognizant of the humanity that exists in the mind, body, and spirit of every single human on our little blue planet.