Sunday, December 14, 2008

081216 - Introduction

081216 - Introduction (995)

Holocaust denial, the assertion that Shoah never occurred, or that the number of Jews murdered by Europe was greatly exaggerated, is more than traditional antisemitism. It is also a defense of Christianity as historical precedent, inspiration and participation in the crime. Not just that Pius XII stood silently by, fully informed by church representatives in all locations of the unfolding slaughter; not only that the murders were otherwise “good Christians.” The Holocaust was, as referred to then and now, the Final Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem. What that “problem” is will occupy much of what follows. Nor is the effort to solve the “problem” a modern invention. While the Jews in European Diaspora were not always under collective and lethal threat, the Middle Ages marked a turning point for Christian-Jewish relations.

The Crusades, beginning in 1096 and lasting 200 years, massacred entire Jewish communities en route to liberate the Holy Land. With increasing superstition in Europe Jews came to be identified with Satan and witchcraft, were blamed for poisoning Christian wells, with murdering Christian children and other fantastic crimes. Entire Jewish communities died at the hands of their neighbors. With the Spanish Inquisition in the 1490’s, Jews were forced to choose between conversion or expulsion. Those converted were viewed by the inquisition with suspicion and thousands were tortured to confession, burned at the stake for confessing. The Inquisition also introduced a new concept in defining Jews: “limpieza de sangre,” or purity of blood, meant that Jews were no longer just members of a religious heritage, but by blood lineage.

Far from exceptional, the Holocaust is not a unique or aberrant event in Jewish-Christian history. It may be that the only truly distinguishing departure of Shoah, that which made the Final Solution nearly the final solution it was intended to be was 20th century technology. Primitive IBM computers made defining and detecting Jews easier; Ford’s assembly-line made the manufacture and disposal of mass death highly efficient. And bureaucracy made the entire operation impersonal and clean, with no participant, from clerks identifying victims to train crews transporting them to the killing centers personally guilty. And upon arrival the machinery of death and disposition of remains was assigned kapos, Jewish inmates. And, weakened by poor diet and overwork, they were dispatched from life by a fresh generation of kapos.

This volume is not anti-Christian. While the Holocaust was perpetrated or supported, actively or passively, by the vast majority still, many Christians of principle and conscience spoke out, protected and saved Jewish lives even at threat and cost of their own. But Christianity in all its diverse forms has much to change, to atone for 2,000 years of anti-Jewish persecution without which a Shoah would not have been possible. Nor will simple apologies, such as Nostre Aetate, suffice. Apology serves mostly to absolve the guilty, not change behavior. And unless Christianity finds the courage to reform itself, to remove its theology of hate towards Judaism, to resolve its internal conflict of “religion of love and forgiveness” with the reality of Holocaust then the next Shoah will likely find Christianity without a single Jew to whom to apologize.

Zionism was born of a 19th – early 20th century realization by mostly Eastern European Jews that the promise of secular and national emancipation from discrimination and persecution would not be realized, that although religious anti-Judaism would lose its energy, that a new and potentially even more dangerous form of discrimination and persecution might arrive with secular Christendom. Of course early Zionism could never anticipate Shoah but pogroms, Dreyfus and lynchings of Jews, even in the United States sent a clear message. It took the murder of 6,000,000 Jews for Zionism to achieve its most obvious first goal, a piece of territory to serve as refuge for Jews in need. Israel, both with the state and in the Diaspora, is commonly viewed as the fulfillment of Zionism. As if Shoah marked the end of anti-Judaism/antisemitism, and not the beginning of a new and more dangerous Diaspora, as if, having jointly faced the abyss Christianity could never spawn such a future event; that surviving Jewry is more secure today for the experience, that Never Again! is more than a mere cry of pain and outrage, an intention to overcome and survive, in Diaspora.

German Jewry, resident in that land for more than 2,000 years, thought of, and defended Germany as “exceptional.” Whatever befell Jews in other countries, such could not occur in their fatherland. The warning is clear that, the present is a moment in time determined by a complex of ever-changing social and economic factors. Today’s quiet is not guarantee for tomorrow. And if history, and particular the recent Shoah has proven anything it is that Jews, as past and continuing outsiders, are at risk in the Christian Diaspora.

Anti-Judaism and its secular offspring antisemitism refers to behaviors and actions ranging from discrimination to persecution, from forced conversion to mass murder by members of the Christian religious traditions or by the secular society which evolved from the Christian tradition. Its background and evolution can be described over two-thousand years of history, but that only traces the outward appearance of explanation. What provides the motive energy for 2,000 years of persecution, the result of which is that Jewry today constitutes fewer than fifteen million persons, as compared to the number the Sassoon Institute of Hebrew University estimates would have equaled the population of the British Isles had they not be the objects of that animus?

Chapter one discusses the historical and theological development of Christian animus towards Judaism and Jews. Chapter two will suggest that underlying the theology of hate expressed as anti-Judaism is a profound existential self-doubt. The remaining chapters will continue this discussion as it applies to the period of antisemitism, from Enlightenment’s secularization of Christendom to Shoah. The discussion will conclude with a survey of the history of antisemitism in the United States, and the question, Is the American Diaspora Exceptional?

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