'The Lomgest Hatred'


December 06, 1992|By SARA ENGRAM

Which of the following quotes comes from Adolf Hitler, fuehrer of Nazi Germany and author of the Final Solution to rid the world of Jews?

1. "Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews; while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter."

2. "We are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for 300 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them."

3. "The church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the 'chosen people,' who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross, must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering."

4. Jews live "under a curse [because] they brought the Christ of God to the Cross."

5. "The evil that had come to the Jewish people was the result of [their] unfaithfulness."

6. "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."

Only the last quote can be attributed to Hitler. All the others come from church leaders:

1. St. John Chrysostom, the 5th century bishop of Constantinople known as the patron of preachers.

2. Martin Luther, the German monk who became father of the Reformation.

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was hanged in a Nazi prison camp after participating in a failed plot to kill Hitler.

4. Karl Barth, one of the major 20th century Protestant theologians.

5. Martin Niemoeller, the German pastor who along with Bonhoeffer and other German church leaders declared their resistance to Hitler.

This matching game, prepared by Baltimore's Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies, illustrates the dirty little secret of Western civilization. Adolf Hitler, with his notions of Aryan purity, did not dream up his prejudices out of thin air. Christian tradition itself provided plenty of fodder for his hatred of Jews.

Even many of the restrictions imposed on Jews by Nazi Germany had their origins in church law. To cite one example, the notorious yellow star Jews were ordered to wear in the Third Reich had a precedent in church decrees.

In 1215, the church ordered Jews to mark themselves by wearing a badge (a yellow or red circle), or a large hat. The badge was revived by the Catholic Church in Italy in the 16th century.

Anti-Semitism is described in a new book and a coming Public Broadcasting System series as "The Longest Hatred." It is unsettling, but instructive, to recognize the extent to which good and brave religious people have harbored prejudices that in other minds have bred brutality and death.

Anti-Semitism is often dismissed as a Jewish problem, or one that we put behind us with the end of World War II. But in reality, the stubborn persistence of this prejudice stands as a prime example of humanity's great shortcoming -- the inability to come to terms with diversity.

No one watching the horrors unfolding in the world today can say with confidence that deadly prejudices against the Other -- other religions, other races, other ethnic groups -- are a thing of the past.

"Ethnic cleansing" is the current outrage. For years, Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia lived together in harmony. But to Serbs infected with a militant nationalism -- and fear of the Other -- this peaceful coexistence is a offense punishable by barbarous brutality.

A footnote to the quotes listed above: Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" contains one entry from Pastor Martin Niemoeller, a statement that has gotten far more attention than the one about Jewish "unfaithfulness":

"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

For many people, that statement has come to symbolize the importance of speaking up against injustice wherever it occurs.

It also illustrates another important point: None of us has to remain a prisoner of unexamined prejudice.

L In a world as diverse as this one, none of us can afford to.

Sara Engram is editorial-page director of The Evening Sun.

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