An allegiance to moral values

Historic lesson to be learned from Holocaust based on understanding of moral collapse in Europe during those horrific years.

gideon saar (photo credit: Courtesy)
gideon saar
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Excerpted from the speech Education Minister Gideon Saar gave at the UNESCO International Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in Paris on Wednesday.
On Thursday we commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day. The UNESCO General Resolution 61, adopted in November 2007, states that the Holocaust “will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”
The moral and historical lesson that the human race has to learn from the Holocaust must be based on an understanding of the total moral collapse that took place in Europe during those horrific years.
The Nazi regime was ruled by insanity.
“We were faced with the question...,” said SS chief Heinrich Himmler to his men in October 1943, “...what about the women and children? I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men... and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear from the earth.”
Yet the Nazi government could not have executed its plot without deep, widespread cooperation throughout the continent – both by the nations and by the elite. Many cooperated, and so many turned a blind eye. At the same time, the doors to the countries of the world slammed shut to those seeking to escape Europe and find asylum in any possible destination.
Hitler marched forward, stage after stage, in his hate campaign against the Jews. Discriminating against them, forcing them out of society, branding them, herding them into defined territories and ultimately – obliterating them. He constantly looked for further and further extremes of feasibility in carrying out his satanic plans.
But at no point did he encounter any real barrier, obstacle or resistance.
The ease with which it was all executed is mind-boggling. Public officials, religious figures and intellectuals, scientists and academics, the entire body of European civilization – turned its back on its values and the most fundamental human code.
IN HIS monumental book The Years of Extermination, Prof. Saul Friedlander describes an incident in which a few elderly Jews (nine of them, according to witnesses) returned from the massacre at Babi Yar in the Ukraine and sat down outside their old synagogue.
No one dared approach them to offer food or drink. The punishment for doing so was liable to be immediate execution. One by one the Jews starved to death, until only two remained.
A passerby suggested that a German sentry shoot the two men rather than let them die of hunger. He thought about it for a moment, and then did so.
We are members of an ancient and proud people, which throughout history has contributed great spiritual, cultural and scientific assets to humanity in general, and to Europe in particular. After 2,000 years of being persecuted and murdered, we now have the privilege of living in a sovereign Jewish state.
We swore: Never Again. Upholding this vow dictates that we shall never relinquish our right and duty to defend our people by our own might.
The universal obligation to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy, the likes of which are unknown throughout human history, demands that we all remember what happened on European soil during those times.
Progress, technology and science did not stop the atrocity. To a certain extent, the opposite is true. They made it possible for the Nazi killing machine to commit mass murder of inconceivable magnitude.
Science can serve either good or evil purposes.
Only allegiance to moral values can guarantee the prevention of atrocities, and ensure a better future for the human race. Such an allegiance requires the willingness to stand up to evil, confront it and sometimes pay a price as well.
THIS KIND of allegiance can only be assured through education. I am convinced that the more we continue studying and teaching about what transpired during those darkest of days – as is happening in more and more countries – the better we can fend off moral numbness, which is always what allows man-made atrocities to take place.
I would like to conclude with a command from Deuteronomy (25: 17-19): “Remember how Amalek treated you when you were on your way out of Egypt. He met you on your way and, after you had passed by, he fell on you from the rear and cut off the stragglers; when you were faint and weary... Do not forget.”
Let us fulfill this command.