Hello weekend readers. I finished watching Ken Burns’ series, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” It held my attention in ways that brought tears to my eyes and often righteous anger. It made me think of that old quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” After I watched the last episode my Burns, the Smithsonian popped up on my email and the lead article was Why Was America So Reluctant to Take Action on the Holocaust? Then came Kanye West’s outburst about Jews and sadly those who believed him and started putting out their own flags, posters, etc. This spewing of hatred is, to me, doing nothing because what you are doing is helpful to no one, including yourself.
So why didn’t America take action? You will find a lot of reasons, greed, racism, indifference, religion, and even some who were hooked with Germany making money, like old Joseph Kennedy—there was no way he was going to give up his alcohol enterprise and Germany paid him handsomely. With the Smithsonian’s permission, here’s a short snapshot of the article.
Burns, whose previous historical documentaries include “The Roosevelts” and “The Vietnam War” says the message on a neon sign hanging in his office—“It’s complicated”—is an apt summary of the issues discussed in “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” Over three two-hour segments, the film dispels competing myths that Americans were either ignorant of the persecution of Europe’s Jews or knew about it but responded with callousness and indifference. (The reality was somewhere between these two extremes; newspapers kept the American public informed about the Holocaust, sparking limited but concerted aid efforts by numerous organizations and individuals.) It also convincingly shatters the myth of America as the ever-welcoming champion of the oppressed. “Americans have a very hard time deciding what kind of country they want to have,” says Peter Hayes, a historian at Northwestern University who appears in the documentary. “We all tend to think of this country and the Statue of Liberty [poem] ‘Give me your tired, your poor.’ But in fact, exclusion of people and shutting them out has been as American as apple pie.” While the U.S. admitted upward of 225,000 European refugees between 1933 and 1945—more than any other sovereign country—many thousands more could have been saved. “We had the ability to let in five times that amount,” says Burns. “But because of public opinion and outright anti-Semitism, our quotas were not filled. If we did ten times that we would still have failed. So I give us an ‘F.’”
It’s depressing, right? For me it’s like an arrow through my heart because my father fought in that war and was a camp liberator. He had an up and close view of what he called “the evil butchers” in those camps. Yet today, we have deniers, or worse yet, we just remove that from our history and go forward. We know how well that doesn’t do anything for anyone.
God did not give us the spiritual talents we have to sit on our butts and fuel our own ideas. The Holy Spirit has equipped us for everything needed—and that doesn’t mean just us! These gifts are to be shared not stored away. Think about this:” As the threat of war loomed, leading Americans like car magnate Henry Ford and aviator Charles Lindbergh confidently expressed anti-Semitic and eugenicist vitriol in speeches and the press.” These were men of our time and looked up to—yet they did nothing when they could have done something.
I think of the horrors of the Holocaust and what could have happened to save so many people but we, for the most part, gave a blind-eye to it all. It begs the question, “what if Jesus was one of those Jews?” after all, he was Jewish! You see, that is where the tough questions meet our hearts. We forget that Jesus was human like us, that he experienced horrific pain, rejection, and the ultimate death on the cross, yet he never gives up on us, even though our sin was loud on Good Friday shouting out “crucify him, crucify him!”
Perhaps today is one to make a new start. Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, it’s time to have a conversation with her and get on our knees and ask for forgiveness. The evil in this world is strong—the devil prowls and devours and he won’t quit until God redeems this planet anew. Until then, we don’t get to sit on our butts—it’s time to rise up and DO SOMETHING, Amen!