No One Left to Speak For Me

Passages on the importance of treating all people equality are scattered from Old Testament to New. Genesis even begins by highlighting our equality by pointing out that “God created man in His own image.” That means we are equal in God’s eyes. James 2, Chapter 1-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another… Aren’t you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?”

Singling out any people as evil or inferior is the height of arrogance – ‘holier than thou‘. It means being marked by an air of superior piety or morality. Or, as Isaiah warns:

Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day. – Isaiah 65:5

In 1952, Ronald Reagan gave the commencement address at Williams Woods College. In this speech, he said,

I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here.

Reagan is echoing the word of the Bible and connecting America to the same words written by Emma Lazarus and forever stamped on the Statue of Liberty,

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I wonder how far, while we’ve been sleeping, our moral compass drifted? The populist movement underway in America, ostensibly founded on the Bible, Reagan, and personal liberty, is today unrecognizable. This movement, no longer an ideology of faith and a vision for the future, is a mutation of that ideology cemented together with rage and fear. It feels all too familiar. Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to remember the victims and reflect on how and why it happened – so that it never happens again.

On the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website is a page about Causes and Motivations. Trying to determine a single motivation is probably looking for too simplistic an answer. Many people believe only Hitler and high-ranking Nazi officials were responsible for the Holocaust. But a crime of such enormous scope and scale, with millions of victims across vast geographical territory, required help from countless ordinary individuals.

People had choices. Many individuals actively participated in the stigmatization, isolation, impoverishment, and violence culminating in the mass murder of six million European Jews. Many others supported the participants from the sidelines, tolerated their actions, or benefited from them. Still others disapproved of what they witnessed, sometimes silently, sometimes by publicly speaking out, and sometimes by helping the victims, in lesser or greater ways.

– US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In the field of Holocaust Studies, scholars have traditionally divided populations into three categories: perpetrators, victims, and everyone else—the “bystanders.” Many more people—the onlookers who witnessed persecution or violence against Jews in Nazi Germany and elsewhere—failed to speak out as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers were isolated and impoverished—socially and legally, then physically. Only a small minority publicly expressed their disapproval with the Nazi party.

Why would so few people voice their disapproval? Is it because they approved? According to the research, no, most people did not agree, but by the time they felt moved to speak out, expressing dissent was extremely dangerous. America is not Nazi Germany; Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. However, the spirit is quite similar. Raul Hilberg (widely considered the world’s preeminent scholar of the Holocaust) argued that six stages led to the Holocaust:

Stage 1: Definition: Jews are defined as the “other” through legalized discrimination.

Stage 2: Isolation: Once individuals are labeled as Jews, they are separated from mainstream society.

Stage 3: Emigration: Jews are encouraged to leave Germany. With the beginning of World War II in 1939, the Nazis apply their racial laws to the countries they invade and occupy. Thus, Jews in these territories also tried to emigrate outside of the Third Reich.

Stage 4: Ghettoization: Jews are forcibly removed to segregated sections of Eastern European cities called ghettos.

Stage 5: Deportation: Jews are transported from ghettos to concentration camps and death camps.

Stage 6: Mass murder.

If you believe that America could be headed for step 1, 2, and 3, you’re not alone. Think of this: The Nazi Party came to power in January of 1933. Within a month, the Nazis “temporarily restricted” civil liberties for all citizens. Within two months, the first concentration camp at Dachau was established. Two years later, by September of 1935, the German government enacted the Nuremberg Laws – codifying the “racial” definition of Jews depriving them of citizenship and fundamental rights. Next, the Nazis intensified persecution of political dissidents, and others considered “inferior.” Many were sent to concentration camps.

The time to speak up is now.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller

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