Saturday, January 28, 2012, will be the first time Ukraine observes its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a solemn occasion and an important opportunity to pray, reflect, and remember a tragedy that must never become distant because of time’s passage. The murder of men, women, and children overwhelmingly Jewish reached nearly two million.
Entire families were taken by this surreal, incomprehensible horror. Although many of their names and those of individuals remain unknown today, they are known to God.
Caution is necessary when thinking about millions of people brutally murdered in any period of history. They must never be depersonalized as a statistic or forgotten because the inevitable march of time. Each had a personal story. Think about your own child stripped and shot into a ditch. Imagine a beloved parent or grandparent shot in the head before your eyes. Hopes and dreams maliciously taken away. There would be overwhelming emotions of grief, despair, and disbelief. Multiply this travesty by the nearly 2 million souls who experienced them before being murdered. It is incomprehensible to feel so much suffering.
This is not a "Jewish tragedy." It is a human tragedy of epic proportions. Mother Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox nun who died in the Ravensbruck death camp because she hid and saved Jews in Paris, said after the Nazis ordered all French Jews to wear yellow stars: "There is no such thing as a Christian problem … If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star."
No Christian in or outside Ukraine should view the Holocaust as simply the past or a period of Eastern European history. To even suggest it loses sight of the preciousness of every single life. It also would be a failure to understand … no, attempt to understand the magnitude of this human misery. The Holocaust offers each new generation lessons about life, personhood, and the responsibility to one another as sisters and brothers loved equally by the same God.
Nor should some perverted competition arise over what people or ethnic group suffered more during dark periods of history due to death and cruelty. Any attempt to do so diminishes the significance of every individual soul taken no matter how or when it occurred. All mass murder is a universal human tragedy.
The precision, efficiency, and systematic nature of the Holocaust orchestrated by one of the most cultured and educated people in the world is one of the reasons that makes this period of history stand out. It did not occur in a backward, poorly educated country.
It came from the land that gifted the world with Bach, Haydn, Goethe, Einstein, Gutenberg, Beethoven, and Fahrenheit among others. In the land where the man who conceived the Aryan nightmare was born, also came Liszt, Freud, Mahler, Strauss, Mozart, Bruckner, and Schubert.
How could such a diabolical plan of mass extermination be conceived from an area that gave the world such joy, beauty, science, and inspiration? In concentration camps detailed notes were kept on human experiments. Human beings were tattooed with numbers and catalogued like cattle in books. No detail was too small to record. Resources were carefully allocated to use trains, soldiers, and building materials to carry out a carefully orchestrated strategy.
Doctors and scientists, some of whom trained at the best universities, participated at some level. Madness even took hold of men and women who called themselves "Christian." Pastors helped to legitimize and given credibility to a regime through warped, bastardized Christian history and theology that enabled the dictatorship to implement the final solution for millions of God’s children. Let’s not forget that Jesus who taught the world to love more and judge less was a practicing Jew until the moment of death.
Bigots, racists, anti-Semites and others who hate and dehumanize are not born this way. Think about a beautiful infant. Nothing could be more pure, more angelic than a baby. Yet as they grow and mature we teach or allow them to fear, mistrust, marginalize, and believe in wild, bizarre stereotypes that distance sisters and brothers from one another. We allow ourselves to be pitted against each other because ethnic, cultural, or religious vanities and insecurities.
On January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and January 28th, a day specifically designated in Ukraine, take a moment of silence in memory of those unjustly and prematurely lost. Remember them in private prayer and during the Divine Liturgy. Let us wear a yellow star on our soul.
Bishop Paul Peter Jesep of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is the appointed United States spokesperson of Metropolitan Myfodii. He is also a practicing attorney in New York. The views expressed here are his own.
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