Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

By the time that we American Jews begin our commemoration of the Shoah, the first round of the 2017 French Presidential election will be over.

That is significant.

At the very moment that we are praying that the horror of the Holocaust will never again befall our people, the moment when we hear from the few remaining survivors of the Nazi death camps, it’s likely that Marine Le Pen – the daughter of an avowed anti-Semite who is the farthest of the French far right – will receive sufficient public support to make it to the final round.

The French racist hyper-Nationalism which puts Ms. Le Pen into this position is not unique.

As we pray that such a horror will never befall our people again, many of us pray that such atrocities will never befall ANYONE again. But, as we do so, our American President is hell bent on beginning to build a wall on our southern border before he reaches his 100th day in office. Our American President sends congratulatory messages to dictators who’s people stupidly grant their leader additional powers. Our American President was elected on the specific promise to turn away refugees just like our country disgracefully did to European refugees who’s return trip sent them right into the National Socialist gas chambers.

But it does not end with Le Pen and Trump.

Throughout Europe there is a rising tide of Antisemitism. Around the world, Antisemitism is weakly disguised as anti-Zionism. America is immersed in Islamophobia. Radical Islam perpetuates the myth that even Muslims have insurmountable divisions that can only be solved through mass murder. The UK would rather leave the European Union than to embrace diversity. And an insane child is leading North Korea toward World War III.

In other words, every year I quote Robert Nozick and every year I come closer to believing his statement that the Holocaust may have demonstrated that our species is indeed unworthy of survival. I can’t bring myself to embrace that, though, and here’s why:

I believe that humans are no more than the latest round of primates. I believe that we are not really all that special. But, I also believe that we have been given, by God or by chance (who knows?), the unique capacity to reason and, as far as we know, a uniquely sophisticated linguistic ability. Together this is a powerful toolkit. With it, we have the ability to change our destiny.

We can use those tools to accelerate our demise as Kim Jong Un is want to do. But we could also delay it by thousands of generations, perhaps even permanently change its course. But to do the latter takes the courage to fight the forces of hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, and fear-mongering through which everything “other” becomes a tool for evil dictatorial “leaders” to take control of our societies. To turn toward good we need only use our reason and our communicative capacity to help enough others to realize that we can, indeed we must, turn away from evil.

And so, as we approach Yom haShoah 2017, my hope is that all of my coreligionists will use our commemoration of the past to rededicate ourselves to the realization that the past can and will repeat itself if we are not each individually a force for change.

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This morning, as I was driving in to work, I was listening to Donald Trump supporters who were explaining why they agree with The Donald that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US. Some of these supporters were surprisingly articulate. For example, one guy’s response was:

  • ” ‘Cuz I don’ like ’em here”.

Another great response was:

  • “I’m scared and we gotta pertect Americans.”

Now, those are some rock solid debaters if ever I’ve seen one.

You may think I’m being biased when I quote people with an IQ of 16 but I’m not. Clearly, there are some intelligent people who have equally inane ideas. The problem comes when you put them all into a crowd where they are mutually supportive and where, in turn, they generate energy. That energy gives the leader greater and greater power. So, like we saw in Nazi Germany, or in Darfur, or at any political rally no mater who is speaking, crows give leaders power.

That is why I want to encourage everyone I know to read Elias Canetti’s seminal book “Crowds and Power“. Even right after the Holocaust, Canetti knew we could bring ourselves to extinction. He said:

  • “There is no doubt: the study of man is just beginning, at the same time that his end is in sight.”

He knew we could likely do it through war but that we always would need an invented enemy:

  • “Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim.”

He seems to have even known that Donald Trump was coming when he said:

  • “The paranoiac is the exact image of the ruler. The only difference is their position in the world. One might even think the paranoiac the more impressive of the two because he is sufficient unto himself and cannot be shaken by failure.”

Canetti knew, way back then, that all Trump would need to do is to create fear by selecting an “enemy” that most of us don’t understand:

  • “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.”

And, of course, he knew what would happen if Mr. Trump spewed his nasty rhetoric in front of a large group:

  • “As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there: no distinctions count, not even that of sex. That man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly, it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.”

He certainly knew that the key to gaining power would be fear:

  • “All the distance which men place around themselves are dictated by this fear.”

And…. unquestionably the great Canetti knew that we have no longer any reason to believe that we have some divinely ordained right to even continue on. He observed:

  • “The planet’s survival has become so uncertain that any effort, any thought that presupposes an assured future amounts to a mad gamble.”

But, perhaps most amazing of all is that Canetti knew exactly what Mr. Trump needed to do to gain ever greater power. Knowing that a man like Trump gained the most from being continually in the press he said:

  • “Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day’s insolence.”

I’m giving you all these Canetti quotes because “Crowds and Power” is, perhaps, even more important now than it was after WWII. You see, for every person who is intelligent enough to rationally reason about political issues, engaged enough to make decisions based on data, concerned enough to look beyond their own small communities, and compassionate enough to see people who they don’t understand as a part of the rich fabric of humanity, there are dozens of people who don’t care, don’t pay attention, don’t see beyond their micro-worlds, don’t think, or are simply too stupid to understand that a threat to others is a threat to themselves. Put all the latter types into a room with Donald Trump and soon they will be cheering for laws against Muslims.

I hope you know where that path leads! It leads to religious laws, then racial laws, then explicit discrimination, then perhaps internment camps, and then…. I dare not say it.

Will all the people who support the coming tragedy be evil? Of course not. What they will be is part of an out-of-control machine that will be heading down a slippery slope with no breaks. We can’t let that happen.

Please people: Read Canetti!

If you think it can’t happen here, think again.

 

 

 

 

Every year, on this day, I take some time to write my thoughts about the Shoah. Year after year you have seen me refer to the writings of my “guru” Robert Nozick wherein he has said:

I believe that the holocaust is an event like the Fall in the way traditional Christianity conceived it, something that radically and drastically alters the situation and status of humanity.”

Nozick later goes on to say:

“…the Holocaust has created a radically  new situation and status for humanity as a whole, one that the sacrifice of Jesus can not, and was not meant ti heal. The human species is now desanctified; it it were ended or obliterated now, it’s end would no longer constitute a special tragedy.”  

I am certainly unqualified to speak about Christian beliefs; Nozick does so, I think, only as an intellectual exercise. But I do like one of the conclusions he comes to because it speaks to my desire for interfaith dialog. Nozick uses his contention to conclude this:

“The status of the human species can be redeemed, if at all, only through (almost) everyone’s now taking the suffering of others upon themselves”.

In essence, Nozick is saying that after the Holocaust humanity must adopt a post-Christian, post-Jewish, (post-whatever) worldview where we take personal, individual responsibility for the survival of our species. Christianity can’t save us. Judaism can’t save us. Islam can’t save us. Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, New Age spirituaity, Atheism, NO SINGLE BELIEF SYSTEM CAN SAVE US. Only WE can save ourselves and only if we accept personal responsibility for it. No prophet, no Messiah, no Bodhisattva, no savior, no Mahavatar. JUST US. THAT is my own personal belief and I am grateful to Robert for teaching me how to think about it.

I want to tell you a bit about the way I see myself in this context and my way to actualize it. First, Unlike Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, and other “great souls” I have no plans to forgive the atrocities of the past. This may seem counter-intuitive since I just said that I must take personal responsibility. I do not view my position that way and I’ll explain why momentarily. First, I’ll provide some context.

There are a number of large collections of first hand accounts of the Holocaust: some at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, some at Yad VaShem, some in smaller museums like the very beautiful memorial in Montreal and others in LA, Houston, etc.; still others widely distributed around the universities and libraries of the world. By way of context for my feelings let’s look at some of the words of survivors and liberators.


From the Testimony of Yaacov Schwartzberg:

The Lithuanians became organized squads in capturing Jews to work. They did it voluntarily. They helped the Germans. They actually did more of the capturing and torturing and running and all that and bringing the people to hard work, hard labour, where they took them to work. They captured them in the streets. Some of them were never saw them return. They took them and afterwards I found out about it. I didn’t know at that time. They were taken and shot, murdered in Ponar, which was on the outskirts of Vilna, a forest with big holes there, you know, dug up, craters like, the size of craters, which were dug up there. Afterwards I found out that these craters were prepared by the Russian army to hide over there different equipment from the Germans, but no equipment was hidden there. The Germans used those big holes, these dug out holes, they used them to murder the Jews in and bury them there. They used to walk on the edge, they shot them, they fell in there into these big holes, these graves. Some were even buried alive. Some people that escaped from there came back to the ghetto and told the story. Not too many, but some did.

From the Testimony of Barbara Stimler:

We started going through the… through the gate; the SS men were on both sides. And the girls, young people that could see what state I was in, they had a bit of sugar and they started putting sugar in my mouth to revive me. And when they were going through the gates, they were just holding me up, and was left and right, left and right. I went to the right, they told me to go to the right, the SS men. And we had to be…. we were…. they formed us like fifths, five, five, five, we had to stay in five, five girls. And it was dark; it was dark, and they are starting to march us. And can you imagine the screams, the…. the mother was going to the left, the daughter was going to the right, the babies going to the left, the mothers going to the right, or the mothers went together with the babies… Oy oy! I cannot explain to you the cries and the screams, and tearing their hair off. Can you imagine?”

From the Testimony of Edith Birkin:

…This feeling of death, all these people going in the gas chamber. It was a very weird place, very weird place. With this atmosphere of death all the time you know, and this unbelievable situation of people being… you could smell, you could smell these people being burnt. All the time you smelt this… it was a little bit like you know, when people used to boil glue, it was the bones that smelt like glue.///

From the Testimony of Jeanne Levy:

An SS officer was standing there and a woman said, “But you know I can still work and I am still strong. Please help me.” And he gave her a kick that we felt over the whole floor with his foot and said, “You can only die once.”

From the Testimony of Laura Varon:

We were starving and we thought that they gave us food. And while we approached the bowl, in the nose I smell detergent and my stomach was sick already, got even more sick, and I tried to vomit, but I didn’t have nothing to eat and they were beating us to eat and they were calling us names, “Schwein, Jude, whore Jude.” We learned that after, what this means. And beating us in the head, in the shoulders. And I told my sister, “Eat, eat, because he is going to kill you, she is going to kill you.” My Aunt Fortuné, we ate everything and we were vomiting and eating, vomiting and eating. You understand? …Cleanser. Detergent, like chlorox. They gave us so we didn’t have any more periods. And also to kill, Hitler wanted to kill our genes, but he didn’t succeed because still we can reproduce…

From the Testimony of Jack Oran:

We didn’t know what it meant, to the right or to the left. Little did we know that to the left meant going…to the left meant elderly people, young people. To the right, we didn’t know what it’s going to be with us when they marched us into Birkenau, into the camp. In Birkenau we enquired among other people that were there and they told us: “You see that fire that’s burning far over there? That’s where they burn the bodies of the people.”

From the Testimony of Emil Reed:

… a certain amount they sent to march out from the ghetto some place for transportation and the others, what they killed and they left a certain group to go to Plaszow, to the concentration camp, so we had to clean up all the corpses, what they killed there, and put them on the trucks and go with them up to the cemetery, dig the ditches for them and have them buried there. That’s what they assigned people whom they assigned to go to Plaszow.

From the Testimony of Don Krausz:

In February, 1944, all the Hungarian Jews that were in Holland were sent to Germany. My father and three of his brothers were sent to Buchenwald. Sixty thousand people died in Buchenwald. Of the four of them, only one brother came back. From what that one brother told me, my father was practically beaten to death there.

From the Last Will of Ilya Altman:

“On August 31, in the middle of the day, a car full of people arrived. We didn’t know who they were. After a short break, all of them were driven off to the forest, and only when the car returned with their belongings did we realize that these were our wives and children. Imagine this tragedy! The date of September 1, when we burned our families, we shall remember all our lives. The same fate awaits us, but when this terrible moment will come, we don’t know. We live with the hope that God will let us survive till the moment when we will be able to avenge all our dear ones torn out from our hearts. We ask everyone to avenge us, because meanwhile there is nothing we can do, and we wait for liberation.”

from 1985 remembrances of Dachau Liberator Glenn Edward Belcher:

Immediately in front of me after entering the gate – and about 20 yards away was a moat with water in it about 4 or 5 feet wide – a dead soldier was laying face down in it. Just beyond the moat was a high fence – I’d guess it to be 8 or 10 feet high – I understood it was electrified. On the other side of the fence was a valley which was about 20 feet wide and 8 or 10 feet deep – on the other side of the valley were barracks and those locked up. We did not talk to the prisoners and they did not talk to us – between usthere was a moat, an electrified fence and a steep up and down valley. We stared at them and they stared at us. It was as if they didn’t know what to do and neither did we. On our side of the fence and to the right of where the dogs were – were the gas chambers and ovens where people were killed and then burned. There were stacks of bodies (all looked like skeletons) apparently prepared for burning.

From a letter home by Dachau liberator US 1st. Lt. William Cowling:

Another door with the word showers lead off of this and upon going through this room it appeared to be a shower room but instead of water, gas came out and in two minutes the people were dead. Next we went next door to four large ovens where they cremated the dead. Then we were taken to piles of dead. There were from two to fifty people in a pile all naked, starved and dead. There must have been about 1,000 dead in all.


There came a time after the Shoah when German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer declared publicly that  Germany would pay reparations to the Jews. Doesn’t that imply that Germany was repentant enough to warrant forgiveness? I might consider that a possibility. But, did you know that, at the very moment that Adenauer was offering reparations, his Secretary of State was Hans Globke the man who drafted the Nuremberg Laws and the legislation that gave Hitler unconditional power? Why could Globke serve the German government after the fall of the Third Reich? Easy. He was never an official member of the National Socialist party so he was free to continue serving the government! That is reason #1 for my refusal to forgive: I can’t forgive what has not been atoned for.

Here is reason #2: In Judaism, forgiveness must take place between one man and another as part of repentance. For me to “forgive” a NAZI is meaningless. The only people who could offer forgiveness are but ashes now. No forgiveness is even possible.

Number 3: There are 2 things that Jewish law says are not forgivable: Murder and Defamation of Character. Everyone who died in the Shoah was MURDERED and the propaganda leading up to those murders what expressly intended to destroy the lives and reputations of all Jews then and into the future. First, those are both unforgivable. Second, to defame all Jews is to defame all Jews irrespective of time. So, this was not only an assault on European Jews, it was a personal assault on me and all Jews to come. No forgiveness here.

The 4th reason: Since the Shoah, our global planetary ethics have not improved. If anything, they have worsened. We have seen the Cambodian Khamir Rouge murder over 3 million, the Ethiopian Red Terror resulted in half a million murders, over a million were murdered in the Rwandan genocide, almost a million were murdered in the ustasha genocide in Croatia, the Hutu Massacre in 1972 in Burundi resulted in a quarter million murders, the Chinese government killed between 2 and 70 thousand people for being part of Falun Gong in 1999 (not to mention the insanity of the first 2/3 of China’s 20th century!), AT LEAST half a million people were murdered in Darfur,Sudan between 2003 and 2010, and even as you read this the Yazidis in Iraq are being systematically massacred, abducted, raped, expelled  and forcibly converted by Islamic State (ISIL), And as icing on the Islamist insanity, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 300+ girls (over  200 still missing) by Boko Haram. I’m told I would be “happier” if i could “forgive people” and “get rid of all the anger”. But I don’t want to get rid of my anger because I don’t want to loose my desire to fight  these horrors. So, I would refuse to forgive the ideological perpetrators of these travesties even if Jewish law has a path to doing so.

So, today, as Jews around the world gather to mourn the Martyrs of our Faith I say to you that forgiveness is impossible. Jewish law does not permit it and it would be counter productive to the goal of stopping the insanity of which the Shoah is only my most personal example. I  side with Professor Nozick’s ultimate conclusion:

“The Holocaust is a massive cataclysm that distorts everything around it… a massive and continuing distortion of the human space … It’s vortices and gnarled twistings will extend very far. Hitler too constituted a force that distorted the lives of those around him – his followers, his victims, and those who had to conquer him. The vortex he created has not disappeared.”

The vortex will never disappear. The only way to minimize its effect is through human action directed toward and dedicated to using, love, reason, and respect for all human life in a (still questionable) quest to reestablish a reason to call humanity unique enough to continue it’s existence in a universe that couldn’t care less. Not through simply “remembering” and surely not through blind forgiveness,

It’s up to us.

This coming week (specifically January 27th) marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – the techno-sophisticated, hyper-efficient, murder-factory that exterminated about 1.1 MILLION innocent human beings. When the Auschwitz-Berkenau State Museum commemorated the 60th anniversary, about 1500 survivors attended. For this 70th they expect around 300 and most are in their 90s or early 100s. Needless to say, when the 80th arrives the number will almost certainly be ZERO.

This commemoration will be the last to include survivors. Some of the bastards who deny the Shoah, some of the rising tide of European antisemites, some of the Muslim Israel-haters, and some of the increasingly widespread global body of apathetic people who simply don’t give a shit may think that we who fight for the memory of our martyrs will now shut the hell up.

But, my friends, I’m here to tell you that silence, even in the face of a dead generation, is not an option. We will not EVER let the memory or our Jewish martyrs, and the equally abominable murders of homosexuals, “Gypsies”, handicapped people, prisoners of war, etc., die out. If the world’s community of assholes think we will shut-up then they have another thing coming.

This week, in the face of the last “decade commemoration” of the evil of Auschwitz-Berkenau, I promise to become INCREASINGLY vocal about what occurred and INCREASINGLY intolerant of denial and apathy; not only about the Shoah but about all crimes against humanity.

I call upon all my friends, colleagues, and followers to do the same.

B’Shalom!

On August 2nd, 1944 – 70 years ago tomorrow – the Nazis murdered every remaining Roma and Sinti “Gypsy” at Auschwitz in the Birkenau gas chambers. Approximately 3000 men, women, and children were lulled into brief complacency with a tiny portion of bread and sausage and loaded into trucks. The vehicles headed away from the gas chambers but soon turned back. No longer complacent, these 3000 human souls quickly came to know their fate. Kicking, screaming, crying and in intense fear, every one of the remaining  3000 inmates of the “Gypsy Section” of Auschwitz would soon be murdered by asphyxiation and burnt in the fires of the Birkenau crematoria.

We Jews take pride in the horribly sad but critically necessary task of remembering our 6,000,000 murdered martyrs. But, this Shabbat, it is equally important to remember that these 3000 human lives were just as important as the lives of any of our murdered family members. They each had families and friends, dreams, passions, brains, hearts, spirits, individual value, and unrealized potentials – as much as any Jew or any other human being. This Shabbat I urge us all to remember them: In out thoughts, our prayers, our Kaddish, and our discussions and study.

At the hour during which we will celebrate Havdalah and bid a fond farewell to this week’s holy Sabbath , 3000 humans (with as much value and humanity as our own) were – at that same moment 70 years earlier – being murdered by a tortuous Zyklon B asphyxiation and burnt like trash in the fires of arrogant, nationalistic, unspeakable hatred.

This Shabbat may we all remember the Roma and Sinti of the final Gypsy liquidation; may their lives and spirits serve to guide our unending commitment to the words “Never Again”.

Shabbat Shalom.

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.

Baruch Hashem.

 

On the night of November 9th/10th, the Nazi Sturmtruppen, acting on Herr Gobbels mandate that every Synagogue in Germany and Austria be burned, destroyed Jewish homes and businesses, as well as almost every synagogue in those countries. Often these“Stormtroopers” wore civilian clothes to make it look like this was just a spontaneous anti-Jewish uprising. It was really the first of many well planned and well executed acts of horror perpetuated by the National Socialist regime.

On than night, nearly 400 Jews were murdered and about 30,000 were imprisoned. By Christmas of 1938 over 2000 of  those imprisoned were dead. In an equally vicious showing of bullshit, the Nazi bastards ordered the Jews themselves to pay for the destroyed property and imposed fines on those who had been attacked.

This, my friends, was Kristallnacht. It was a sign of things to come on a scale so massive that European Judaism virtually disappeared in the ashes of six million corpses. By the end of the war in 1945, tens of thousands of human beings were being incinerated DAILY in an intricate network of murder factories. Every one of those murdered humans was an individual soul who felt individual fear, individual pain, and individual emotional anguish. Every one of those murdered humans had individual loves, individual hopes, individual dreams, and individual relationships. Everyone of those individual murders (by individual murderers) affected the families and future families of the individual victims; reaching down through the generations such that we, today, still bear the scars.

This night is “the night of broken glass”. As always, this night I write in memory of six million of my people. As always, I want to share some thoughts.

For a long time my “holocaust belief system” was based on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem“. I used to believe in the concept of “the banality of evil”; that evil can be an artifact of a bureaucracy so massive that individuals were not necessarily accountable for their actions. I no longer believe this and I think Arendt’s premise is nonsense. In my opinion it does not matter how big a bureaucracy is; it does not matter if all one is doing is to “make the trains run on schedule”; no mater the political or environmental factors, every human being is a living, breathing, THINKING, SELF-AWARE, INDEPENDENT actor. We CHOOSE and, even when forced to choose evil over death, we must be accountable. We often have little or no influence on the systems that govern us. Still, once we have made our choice to comply with evil, we must be held to account: COMPLIANCE IS COMPLICITY. My belief in the ultimate supremacy of individual human action leaves me no choice but to place blame on every single person who “just did what they were told”, who “just followed orders”, who COMPLIED. Arendt was wrong.

While I’m pondering Arendt, I must say that I always contextualize her with Heidegger. Heidegger saddens me more deeply than almost any of the Nazis. There were lots of evil people in Germany during the Shoah. There were lots of people who did what they were told. But Heidegger! Heidegger, the genius who wrote “Being and Time” was so far the intellectual superior of almost everyone else, that he had no business utterly forsaking his intellect and his profoundly rational gift of reason to even join the Nazi party, let alone to be among its public spokesmen. As long as the National Socialist party existed, Heidegger paid his annual membership dues. Never, even after the war, did he forsake the party. He complied with the political norms and, in doing so, forsook his human reason. As far as we know, only humans are self-aware, rational animals. To be a genius and to forsake reason entirely is to be inhuman. I must set aside everything I learned from “Being and Time” because I must set aside Heidegger’s humanity. As for Hannah Arendt, I suppose having sexual relations with Heidegger is its own sort of bestiality. That said, she and I do have one thing in common: I too enjoy thinking “screw Heidegger”.

And speaking of German Intellectuals, who can forget the theologians. I did not know this until I recently read Suzannah Heschel’s latest book, “The Aryan Jesus“, but Germany actually had an institute for the eradication of Judaism from the New Testament. There were “intellectual” papers written to deny the Jewish Heritage of Jesus. There were more than one edition of the New Testament that actually removed any positive references to Judaism and the lineage of Jesus but left in all the negative references . I’d find it funny that one could edit the New Testament to remove the entire premise for Jesus being the Messiah from the book about Jesus being the Messiah, if it weren’t that the purpose of doing so was to make a religion of “love” into a justification for mass murder. It seems that even the highest of academic traditions can be bastardized by politics and transformed into a tool of terror.

So, on this night of broken glass I want you to consider a couple things.

First, always stand against hatred, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance. Those thoughts and actions ARE evil. Doing nothing is complicity and as an individual, rational actor in the world, YOU ARE accountable.

Second, always question. Genius can be as evil – or more so – than stupidity.

Third, judge for yourself. The high priests of academia have as many ulterior motives as anyone else. “Rational” argumentation can be used for good or evil. You have individual reason and the ability to make your own decisions.

So, tonight, in memory of Kristallnacht, I pray for a world of tolerance, accountability, individual decision-making, and free rational thought. Baruch Hashem.