In December, David Irving was released from prison in Austria nearly 18 months prior to his scheduled release. Imprisoned for a crime not considered to be “criminal” in the United States, Irving served a little more than a year of the three-year sentence he had received for being a bigot, an anti-Semite and, most criminally, a denier of the Holocaust. His release was timed almost perfectly with the conclusion of the conference in support of Holocaust denial sponsored by the country of Iran under the leadership of elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad, who one year earlier had denied that the Holocaust ever occurred, followed up his statements by stating that Israel, a reference to Jewish peoples, should be “moved back to Europe.” Shortly thereafter he went so far as to say that Israel would be “wiped off the face of the earth.” Then Iran started gathering supplies to build nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad, like Irving, is in serious need of a hug.
Holocaust denial is as pure a form of anti-Semitism as has ever existed. The Holocaust, the horrific result of the National Socialist’s demented racial ideology under the leadership of Adolf Hitler in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, claimed the lives of over 11 million human beings, over half of those being Jews. But the dangers of the Holocaust were not limited to the gas chambers and incinerators of the infamous killing centers. For over a decade under Nazi rule, anti-Semitic legislation threatened first the liberty, and then the livelihood of the Jewish people living in the German Reich and Protectorate regions, as Hitler’s armies quickly engulfed neighboring countries. Anti-Semitism was already prevalent in the downtrodden post-Versailles German society, and it was all too easy for men like Joseph Goebbels and Julius Streiker to convince an entire culture that Jews were the root of their problems.
Anti-Semitism was not born in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. In fact, it is not unreasonable to say that many of the original disciples of Christ may have been anti-Semitic in some senses, though surely they were acutely aware that Christ taught to love everyone unconditionally. I teach a course in the Literature of the Holocaust, a fact which most of the students at my school are aware of. One day after a church service, a young person from my school walked up to me in the congregation hall and stated bluntly, “They killed Jesus you know.” I was shocked. That was around the same time that Mel Gibson’s Passion was released. The two events are not necessarily linked, though it is interesting to note that the unnecessary and, in many ways inaccurate anti-Semitic portrayals of the stereotypical, hissing Jewish Pharisees in Gibson’s movie have indeed had an impact on the impressionable youth who might otherwise greatly benefit from such a film.
With recent racial and anti-Semitic outbursts from Michael Richards and Mel Gibson headlining the daily news, it’s little wonder that the children of our society are often inexplicably inclined to follow suit. The problem is furthered considerably by people like Dave Chappelle, Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Carlos Mencia, comedians who essentially make a living by spreading hateful, racist propaganda in the easily memorized and oft repeated form of jokes. It becomes clear, then, how children today make such wretched, racist remarks as we often hear them making. They aren’t inventing these awful things; they are merely repeating them. With such prevalent, hateful evils in the world at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Joseph Koney and Fred Phelps spreading their hurtful ideologies as efficiently as they can muster, it is painfully ironic that this up-and-coming generation is obtaining it’s own intense xenophobia from late night television on Comedy Central.
To hate anyone is to be less than Christ-like, and to hate Jews is no exception to this rule. Yet still today, in the hallways of my public school, I hear children referring to things as “Jewish” which they find undesirable, saying that they were “Jewed down” on a price, or that their posteriors are “Ghetto,” with no real concept of what such horrific words truly mean. Yet this problem of misusing terms in a hurtful manner carries outside of the evil that is anti-Semitism. Often, forgotten homework, spilled lunches or difficult assignments may be referred to as “gay” or “retarded,” and children who get stiffed by the vending machine may say that they were “gyped.” Each of these phrases, of course, refers degradingly to a group that was persecuted during the Holocaust, and groups that are still persecuted throughout the world today. There is only so much the voice of a teacher can do. It takes the combined voices of compassionate, educated people, the peers of these misguided individuals, to make a difference. As Christians, we must eagerly join the ranks of the passionate in fighting the ancient intolerance that seeks to further poison our world today, continuing to contaminate up and coming generations with the hatred that has no place in Christian lives, or in a Christian world.
In the 1990s, Deborah Lipstadt was sued in England by David Irving for calling him a “Holocaust denier” in her book Denying the Holocaust. The judge in the case concluded that Irving was just that, and added that he was also a bigot and a racist. To hate is easy; it is much more difficult to obey our Lord’s command to love others as we love ourselves. Yet love and tolerance are what we are commanded to share with the world as followers of Christ. The path is indeed narrow; it is our calling to stay on it.
“They killed Jesus you know.” No, they didn’t. But even if they did, would you rather that they had not?