Soon after Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933, economic persecution of Germany’s Jews began. Jewish-owned businesses were boycotted, Jews working in any government or civil-service jobs were terminated and forbidden future employment. Jewish doctors were denied having health insurance coverage at first and then systematically barred from practice, and Jews were barred from the performing arts.1 While the economic effect on German Jews was devastating with vandalism and physical violence increasing, it became instantly and markedly worse in 1938. But the Nazi plan of ostracization and isolation of the Jews enabled a mindset among the German people first to ignore the plight of their Jewish neighbors and then to mistrust and dislike them. From there it was just a short step to dehumanization and then active physical persecution.
Kristallnacht: A Turning Point
As retaliation for his parents being deported from Germany to Poland, on November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan a 17-year-old ethnically Polish Jew, living in France, shot Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris. Rath died two days later from his wounds. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister for propaganda, immediately seized on the opportunity to foment an anti-Semitic frenzy. Goebbels and the Gestapo instructed Nazi party members throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland (modern-day Czech Republic) to vandalize Jewish businesses, homes, and places of worship but not to make it appear coordinated. If possible, they were to encourage local Aryan German residents to take part. In this way, the Nazi regime was able to spin the destruction on a mass outpouring of public anger over the assassination of a German diplomat. The smashing of Jewish store windows and synagogue windows on the night of November 9th and early morning of the 10th left so much shattered glass in hundreds of cities across Germany that the night came to be called Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night,”) or more commonly, “The Night of Broken Glass.” The US Holocaust Memorial Museum website briefly sums up the violence and its aftermath:
Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs, spurred by antisemitic exhortations from Nazi officials, destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burning or desecrating Jewish religious artifacts along the way. Acting on orders from Gestapo headquarters, police officers and firefighters did nothing to prevent the destruction. All told, approximately 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and 91 Jews were murdered. An additional 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.2
Persecution of the Jews, as well as Romanian-heritage gypsies and other ethnic minorities deemed “inferior” to the Aryan stock of Nazi Germany, began to ramp up in terms of intensity and barbarity from November 1938 onward.
Persecution of the Jews, as well as Romanian-heritage gypsies and other ethnic minorities deemed “inferior” to the Aryan stock of Nazi Germany, began to ramp up in terms of intensity and barbarity from November 1938 onward. The Holocaust had truly begun, and Nazis would be responsible (according to conservative estimates) for the death of at least 10 million civilians, including 6 million people of Jewish heritage. The Nazi leaders mockingly termed their plan of worldwide genocide the “final solution” because in their ideology there could be no other perceived outcome than the elimination of all those that they hated or deemed unfit to live.
Much of the inhuman treatment (starvation, hard physical labor, forced medical treatments, etc.) and gruesome murders (by gunshot, or gassing and/or cremation) took place in several concentration camps scattered throughout Poland, Austria, and Germany. On April 4, 1945, the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third US Army liberated the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp. It was the first one to be encountered by the US military. Eight days later on April 12, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton, and Omar Bradley toured the site and saw the corpses which were scattered around the grounds, lying where they were killed prior to the camp’s evacuation. A half-burned pyre was discovered with the charred remains of emaciated prisoners, proof of the German’s hurried evacuation and attempt to cover their crimes. General Patton, who had seen a lot of battlefield carnage by this point in the war, had to briefly leave to vomit at seeing such horror. However Ohrdruf was one of the smaller concentration camps, the Americans would only encounter more horrific sights of butchery and death at Dachau and Buchenwald.3 But the most infamous of these heinous death camps was Auschwitz, located in Oświęcim, Poland, and it had been liberated by Soviet troops earlier in January.
Establishment of an International Holocaust Memorial Day
On October 26, 2005, the UN General Assembly passed a referendum resolving to designate January 27th as an annual “International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”4 The date was chosen as it marked the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945. The primary goals of the referendum were to establish an International Holocaust Memorial Day, to urge member countries to develop programs that would educate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help prevent future acts of genocide, and to reject any denial of the Holocaust as factual history, either in full or part.5
That following January 27, 2006, the keynote address for the first United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day was given by Professor Yehuda Bauer, Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Remembrance Center located in Jerusalem, Israel). Professor Bauer elaborated on the history of the Holocaust, including acknowledging that there were three main groups targeted for genocide by the Nazis preceding and during WWII: the Gypsies, the Poles, and the largest group, the Jews.6 But perhaps the two most-surprising aspects of Professor Bauer’s keynote speech that day was his ability to penetrate the outward façade and examine the motives of the Nazi party.
Bauer: “Nazi antisemitic ideology was based on a distortion of Christianity; it was anti-Christian, because Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples had come from the Jews.”
Bauer cut through the veneer of cultural Christianity that Nazis adopted (and post-modernists accepted as fact) when it suited them. “Nazi antisemitic ideology was based on a distortion of Christianity; it was anti-Christian, because Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples had come from the Jews.”7 He also recognized that there were several differences between the genocides carried out by the Nazis and any before or since.
One, the perpetrators tried to find, register, mark, humiliate, dispossess, concentrate, and murder every person with three or four Jewish grandparents for the crime of having been born a Jew. There was no precedent for that. Two, this was to be done, ultimately, everywhere in the world, so for the first time in history, there was an attempt to universalize a genocide. Third, there was a very unusual ideology . . . with the Nazis, the pragmatic elements were minor. They did not kill the Jews because they wanted their property. They robbed their property in the process of getting rid of them, first by emigration, then by expulsion, and in the end by murder. They killed Jewish armament workers when they needed every pair of hands after the defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943; they murdered the people in the Lodz ghetto in 1944 who were producing almost 10% of all the clothes the German Army was wearing; they murdered Jewish slave laborers while they were building roads for the German military. If they had followed modern, capitalistic, cost-effective economic practice, they would have robbed Jewish property and then utilized Jewish slave labor for their own purposes, as they did with the Poles, for instance. But no, they had to murder the Jews because that was where their ideology led them.8
Lessons Not Learned
While it is tempting to think that the type of cruelty and pitiless animosity Nazis displayed against their fellow humans is a thing of the distant past, we know from recent history that this is untrue. Even just the past 30 years have brought us several conflicts filled with “ethnic cleansing”: the 1990s Bosnian, Serb, and Croat conflict, and the 1990s Rwandan massacres. Then more recently, 9/11, the War on terror, ISIS/ISIL murdering people and destroying everything in their path in Syria and parts of Turkey. Even more recently and still ongoing were the attempted genocides of non-Arabs in the Darfur region of Sudan, which has resulted in an ongoing civil war.
God’s Word doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing the heart of mankind. In Genesis 8:20, God acknowledges that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) says, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked . . . .” Jesus said that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Paul describes the heart of those who reject God as “foolish and darkened” (Romans 1:21) and “hard and impenitent” (Romans 2:5). The author of Hebrews warns against having an “evil, unbelieving heart” (Hebrews 3:12), Peter says of false teachers that they have “hearts trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14). Scripture teaches that it is only through the work of the Spirit that anyone can have a cleansed heart (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 8:10). Christians should not be surprised at the depravity of mankind nor naïve enough to believe that technological progress will equate to moral progress and righteousness. The gospel is the only hope for mankind’s heart condition.
The Continuing Holocaust Against the Sanctity of Life
The Nazis knew it would be much harder to systematically murder neighbors and the people you rubbed shoulders with in the market.
The Nazi regime is often ranked among the most evil of all time, and well it should be. The utter callousness towards and disregard for human life—made in the image of God—still shocks us to this day. The amount of searing of the conscience of German soldiers, to be able to brutally torture and murder people and then go home to their families as if nothing had happened is almost unthinkable. But as mentioned earlier, the Nazis had a long-term plan—isolation, ostracization, and dehumanization. The Nazis knew it would be much harder to systematically murder neighbors and the people you rubbed shoulders with in the market. But if you could hide your targets away through forced ghettoization and later deportation, then start blaming them for your problems, finally labeling them as subhuman, that would allow a callousness to creep in and grow.
Without at all trying to diminish the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and being mindful of the tragedies of physical and mental anguish that the Jews, Gypsies, and other targets of Nazi hate endured, it seems that we can see a modern-day parallel that is eerily similar to the Nazi methodology at work. Since 1973 there have been over 62 million abortions performed in the US.9 And worldwide in 2019 alone, 42.3 million preborn babies were killed.10 Truly this is also a holocaust, a planned genocide on the unborn.
Does this not seem to be the same pattern of isolation, ostracization, and dehumanization that the Nazis used . . .
When you stop to think about how many women being “counseled” on having an abortion are never given the biological facts about their baby: the focus is shifted completely to them. There is a concerted effort to isolate the mother from the baby (“it’s your body”). Then the “pregnancy” is distanced as a condition in terms of how it will impact the mother’s life. The “fetus” inside is blamed for a perceived reduction in the quality of life of the mother (and sometimes the father). Then the life inside the womb is devalued and even relegated to non-human status. Babies in the womb are not called babies but “clumps of cells,” “fetuses,” or even “parasites,” so as to dull the conscience that another human life is going to be snuffed out. Does this not seem to be the same pattern of isolation, ostracization, and dehumanization that the Nazis used to cause German soldiers and even the local German people who lived near concentration camps to be active or complicit in the murder of millions?
Furthermore, we are seeing a growing tendency to celebrate abortion. From boasting about being able to kill a baby to “shouting your abortion” to unapologetically putting your abortion story on a billboard. A culture of death always breeds a callousness for human life that gets ever-bolder. Recently we even heard of a music video that mocked God and praised abortion.
The Only Solution to the “Final Solution”
January is a time when we focus on the sanctity of human life—from the womb to the tomb. National Right to Life days are often held in churches and sermons on the sanctity of life are given. Crisis pregnancy groups give lectures and explain their services to women. Adoption agencies also speak out and try to offer options to hurting and confused women (and husbands or boyfriends) that do not involve the murder of an innocent baby.
While all of these are good outreaches, and perfectly in line with a Christian worldview of compassion and care (Romans 12:13–16; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, 13:11; Philippians 2:1–4; 1 Peter 3:8), we must remember that it is, ultimately, only the gospel the can heal us (Luke 4:18), make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and deliver us from death (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14) because it points us to the One who is life (John 11:25) and who can offer forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13–14).
So take time on this day of Holocaust Remembrance to think of loved ones who may have died at the hands of the Nazis . . . but don’t neglect the holocaust we are living in
So take time on this day of Holocaust Remembrance to think of loved ones who may have died at the hands of the Nazis. Honor those still living (and the number gets much smaller every year) who escaped the clutches of their murderous captors or who fought against that evil regime. But don’t neglect the holocaust we are living in right now. Pray, donate, get involved, and help in whatever way God has given to you to speak out against the murder of the unborn, the murder of the elderly, and our culture’s growing callousness to the sanctity of all life.
We would also encourage you to visit and tell others about Fearfully and Wonderfully Made exhibit at the Creation Museum. There’s not a more humbling and compassionate reminder of the growing life in the womb (made in the image of God) than this excellent and thought-provoking exhibit. There are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made online and free resources available for those who cannot visit in person, including a place for those touched by abortion to share their story. What better way to balance studying the necessary, though tragic and somber history of the Holocaust, with the blessing and “reward” of new life (Psalm 127:3)?