I stood transfixed. Tears obscured my painful view of a wall sized image of a small mountain of gassed, naked and discarded bodies of Jewish prisoners. A mournful dirge focused my heart on the enormity of this image and the place it was housed: Auschwitz Concentration Camp. As I walked around that hideous place, it was hard to comprehend that more than 1 million people were slaughtered in the five years it operated. And they were killed not because of something they believed, how they looked or what they thought of Hitler and the Nazi regime. But for a majority of them, they were simply born Jewish.
A government sponsored pogrom to eradicate all Germans and other citizens of neighboring countries based on them being Jewish. Hitler viewed the Jewish people not as a religion, but as a race. His goal was to eradicate all of the Jewish race, regardless of whether they were German, productive members of society, or even strident supporters of the Nazi party (such as the Association of German National Jews who came out in support of Hitler, only to be disbanded as illegal. Their founder Max Naumann was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a Concentration Camp.)
Since that day I have been a student of the holocaust as well as other equally disgusting genocides from Rwanda to Cambodia. What draws me to this subject is to understand evil and what drives us to perpetrate atrocities. So as to be prepared to recognize when similar behavior is exercised.
Though I don’t see a Hitler or an Idi Amin in terms of scale, there are numerous leaders across the globe engaged in atrocious acts against their people including Bashar Hafez al-Assad in Syria. Also ISIS is determined to create a caliphate, an islamic empire governed by Sharia law, usually through brutal and violent means. Its intent as well as imposing fundamentalist islamic rule is to fight infidel forces – anyone disagreeing with their take on the world.
Common to all repressive actions against another is the justification of that action. There has to be a rational as to why oppress others. Fear and misinformation fuel the justification. And rarely does it emerge suddenly. The ground is prepared years, sometimes centuries before. With the Rwandan genocide in 1994, there were decades of deeply held grievances against Tutsis, which the leaders of the genocide tapped into.
The great reformer, Martin Luther wrote in his treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies,
Set fire to their synagogues or schools
He was avidly antisemitic, but he spoke to an audience who received his message well. And he wasn’t alone. In 1555 Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull that revoked all the rights of the Jewish community and placed religious and economic restrictions on Jews in the Papal States. He created the Roman Ghetto, where all Jews living in Rome (the community had lived there for thousands of years) had to live in a walled quarter which was locked at night.
Such hatred has history.
So my question is, who are the people around us today who we fear, who we have deep seated resentment or anger towards?
Us Christians are called not to hate, to hold resentment, but to love and forgive.
The Bible is full of encouragement to love others, such as Matthew 22:39 when describing the second great commandment:
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
And if we detect any resentment towards another, then we need to confess it to God. And work hard to not allow it to remain in our heart, to inform our actions, whether active or acquiescing when persecution occurs. As Matthew 6:14-15 reads,
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We need to be a people of love not of hate.
The Book of Common Prayer offers this prayer,
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
photo credit source ACN: http://www.acnuk.org