Some wounds are so deep, they hurt for generations. Some atrocities are so horrific, they leave a permanent imprint on society’s mind. Or at least they should. For it is in the remembering that we have the opportunity to grow, heal, and learn.
This May 8th, Europe celebrates the day Nazi Germany formally and unconditionally surrendered their troops. Not long after, Americans will celebrate Memorial Day, a time when we remember and honor soldiers who died to keep our country safe from savagery like that perpetuated by Nazis. On both days, we remember. We mourn, and we contemplate the lessons learned from that tragic time known as the Holocaust. Here are seven things we must never forget about that dark time in history:
1. Hatred, unchecked, can grow to genocidal proportions.
The foundation for the Holocaust started well before Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. Shortly before his rise to power, in fact, Lucy Dawidowicz, a prominent American Historian, wrote that Germany was "a world intoxicated with hate, driven by paranoia, enemies everywhere, the Jew lurking behind each one."
This underlying current of hate, according to a thesis written by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's, was the “central causal agent of the Holocaust.” Hitler, then, merely exacerbated, manipulated, and activated the hostile prejudice that already existed among the German people.
2. This type of hatred and prejudice exists—and is acutely felt by many—in our culture today.
Two years ago, my teenage daughter reached out to a pair of Muslim girls from her school and invited them to join her for the homecoming dance. They agreed, and we brought the girls home, dolled them up, and then my daughter and I took them out to dinner.
While we ate, I noticed the girls acting strangely. They continued to look past me, their expressions and body language growing increasingly tense. Curious, I glanced over my shoulder to a table of diners, half of which were very large and clearly hostile men, sitting behind me. As I looked from the men to the girls then back to the men, understanding dawned. These men were racist, and, I feared, dangerously so. Sitting there, I became frightened, hoping our public location would keep those hate-filled men in check.
I have no idea what fueled those men’s hatred. Perhaps it stemmed from their upbringing, because often, hate is taught. Or perhaps their hatred came from stereotypes formed while watching news reports on wars and terrorist attacks. Perhaps it was simply a manifestation of their sinful nature, for apart from Christ, mankind is deceived and dominated by sin (Romans 8:5-8). Whatever the cause, it was unfounded and it resulted in making two sweet, teenage girls, whose only desire was to enjoy a high school dance, feel threatened.
Imagine the impact this experience left on those precious girls—teenagers my daughter’s age. And I’m saddened to say, I doubt this was an uncommon experience for them. Imagine the fear such experiences can evoke. Imagine the racial tension and division such fear can create, and fear, when unchecked, can lead to hate, which unchecked, can create monsters out of ordinary men.
3. Hatred, unchecked, grows and festers until it consumes and enslaves the hater.
Focused on annihilation, a biblical figure named Saul, later called Paul, was the type of man that sent a shiver up your spine, as if, in encountering him, you had encountered evil itself.
In Acts 7, The Bible recounts the brutal death of a man named Stephen, the first Christian martyr. After listening to him proclaim Christ, the Jewish leaders became enraged. The Bible says, “They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57b-58 NLT).
We learn in Acts 8:1, “Saul was one of the witnesses [of Stephen’s death], and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen” (NLT).
Stoning was a viscous, slow, and excruciating form of execution, and Scripture says Saul watched this—with approval. More than that, Acts 9 tell us, shortly thereafter, “Saul was uttering threats with his every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers” (NLT).
Saul was “eager to kill,” and the fact that he was “uttering threats with his every breath” illustrates that he’d become obsessed with his murderous plans.
Paul encountered the greatest love humanity has ever known, the One who is love, Jesus Christ, and everything changed. Paul changed, and he became one of the most courageous Christians mankind had known.
4. Love can turn monsters into extraordinary men.
This certainly was the case with Paul, a man who, prior to his encounter with Christ, demonstrated Nazi-caliber brutality but later became a courageous, passionate evangelist. He was whipped on numerous occasions, beaten by rods, stoned, shipwrecked, faced danger from rivers and robbers, endured many sleepless nights, went hungry, thirsty, and shivered in the cold, and never backed down, all for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
5. Love sparks courage, because love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:4).
This was the case with Paul. It was also the case for numerous individuals who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save men, women, and children from the gas chambers.
The most notable hero, perhaps, was Oscar Schindler, a German industrialist and factory owner who initially saw the Jews as profit-producing commodities but eventually went broke to keep his employees from the gas chambers. What brought about this great change? How did his greed turn to incredible, self-sacrificing generosity?
Before the war, Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, was known as a cynical gambler who exploited slave workers. But as the brutality of Hitler’s plan increased, Schindler began to see his employees not as cheap Jewish laborers but rather as people facing unthinkable horrors.
6. Love sees people, not stereotypes, commodities, or categories.
And perhaps this is what we must take the most care not to forget—there will always be the pull to judge the whole on the one, to see groups who are different as threats, and to follow the tide of mass hysteria when dangers, recessions, and wars hit. But as believers, we must resist that pull and remember that everyone we encounter is a child of God, created by him. And we need to fight against hatred, whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Not by hurling hatred in return, but rather, by demonstrating radical love.
As our Savior loved us while we were yet sinners, living in rebellion against him, laid down his life for us. Which leads us to our 7th conclusion:
Love is more powerful and more enduring—more life changing—than hate.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects, and currently writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers.
Publication date: May 7, 2015