Roy Exum: My Troubling Mystery

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It is, very candidly, the biggest mystery of my life. I am at a place where I am able to figure a lot of things out, even trying to find reason in insanity, but ever since I was in high school, I have been staggered by the fact one man was able to turn an entire nation into willing henchmen that would massacre millions of innocents. Such evil has been unfathomable to me. Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it also marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The notorious death camp was actually in German-occupied Poland but the only thing that matters is that 1.1 million men, women and children were wantonly murdered there.

As we study history, Mao Zedong, chairman of the Communist Party of China, is credited with the deaths of 30 million to 80 million through starvation, persecution, prison labor and mass executions.

The second mass murderer was Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It is proven he oversaw 9 million deaths (just between 1937 and 1938 the count was 681,692) but it is believed the actual number is much higher. What is interesting if you combine the mass killings of Chairman Mao and the repugnant Stalin, that great number would neither exonerate nor deflect from the most loathsome man the world has ever known – Adolph Hitler. As famed historian Ian Kershaw once wrote, "Never in history has such ruination—physical and moral—been associated with the name of one man."

From Wikipedia: “Hitler's policies inflicted human suffering on an unprecedented scale; according to R.J. Rummel, the Nazi regime was responsible for the democidal killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war. In addition, 28.7 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of military action in the European Theatre of World War II. Further, the number of civilians killed during the Second World War was unprecedented in the history of warfare.

I can now understand that. But where I can find no answer is that once we acknowledge Hitler was evil incarnate, why did so many others join him in such a moralistic debauchery. My question comes after a snippet reads, “The SS officer grabbed the baby from her mother’s arms and then, repeatedly, bashed the infant into a wall where the child’s head soon caved it. The SS then took the mother inside where she was repeatedly raped until she was strangulated.” What in the name of Christ enabled Hitler to take such a command over otherwise good people and evoke a horror such as that? It was commonplace, especially in the death camps, where once-decent German citizens watched, allowed, and condoned such barbary.

I’ve read a dozen accounts, where some rigidly subscribing in old archives that an ethnic cleansing would pay off in the long run. I’ve read where the Jews were a minority that was defenseless, no more than a scapegoat. After all, the Jews have been outsiders since the Bible was written – this before the creation of Israel – but I can neither fathom nor grasp how any civilized society can make a horrific mockery of “God’s Children.” Not now, maybe not ever, can I understand how a country such as Germany would follow a madman like Hitler. As I revisited the Holocaust and the events it included, my notion is renewed that Hitler and his Nazis illustrated the very filth of humanity at his lowest level.

Now let’s visit another place: The United States of America. On January 15 – two weeks ago – Jonathan Greenblatt, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, addressed Congress and told our lawmakers that there were 1,879 documented acts against Jews in 2018. That’s the third-highest number in the last 40 years. According to records kept by the New York Police Department, in 2019 there were more anti-Jewish attacks than all other hate crimes put together. But it is a lot deeper than that. 

"It’s also the kids who snap a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute for a gag, the swastikas scrawled on a garage door, the college campuses where Jewish students are ostracized for supporting Israel," Greenblatt told Congress. "This moment is about women wearing wigs harassed as they ride the subway or men wearing black hats assaulted as they cross the street. It’s the idea that a person isn’t safe in their supermarket, in their synagogue, or in their home just because they are Jewish."

The big anti-Semitism terrorist acts get the headlines – the attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 – a similar mix of guns and hatred at Poway near San Diego, and horror at a kosher market in New Jersey just last month. All combined? 15 people were left dead. Steven Katz, a professor of religion and an expert on the Holocaust, explains the undercurrent of the anti-Jew mindset. “Anti-Semitism has been called the world’s longest hatred and it has a peculiar shape. We see it in America today,’’ Katz said. “Why does someone go into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and shoot people? This is a very, very deep-rooted issue in Western society. That anti-Semitism is sort of part of the bloodline, and it’s very hard to expunge the virus.’’

Get this: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., received more than 1.6 million visitors in 2018 – and, of that plausible number, over 90 percent of the visitors were non-Jewish. At the same time, the museum had over 20 million visits to its website.

“The writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said that the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,” said Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress. “And what I’ve seen more and more is governments talking about it, but there seems to be a lack of action,” he added. “What we’re seeing is the same drip, drip method used in the 1930s and 40s to whip up hatred. Eventually, with this growth of anti-semitism, there will be another, maybe not Hitler, but another leader like him, and we must do something now to stop that.”

Lauder admitted the last survivors of the death camps are dying away, and he believes that now in their final days, these survivors, at the very least, are owed reassurance that their children and grandchildren could live in safety, he said. “We owe them a major debt. They should be filled with hate and wanting to take revenge, but they rebuilt their lives. They and their children and grandchildren should not have to live through what they’ve had to live through. We are letting them down, because they’re seeing again the ugly head of anti-semitism.”

* * *

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” – Anne Frank

* * *

BAND OF BROTHERS (Episode 9) – In 2001 a 10-part TV mini-series was shown on HBO and, with directors Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it was sensational. “A Band of Brothers” focused on Easy Company from the 101st Airborne, and in the 9th episode, titled “Why We Fight,” the men of Easy Company, upon entering Germany, find a concentration camp. This clip has been seen over 2 million times. To watch, CLICK HERE.


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