by Jerry Richardson 3/7/15
Benjamin Netanyahu recognized Elie Wiesel during his recent address to the US Congress. Perhaps there are many American who do not really know who Elie Wiesel is or what he represents. Elie Wiesel is considered by many people, apparently including Netanyahu, as being the living-remembrance of the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel has spent most of his post-Holocaust life as an author and speaker encouraging resistance against the evil of dehumanization and genocide.
Efforts to isolate, demonize, and dehumanize the Jews have returned; and are currently on the increase around the world, including within the United States. The Iranian leadership has repeatedly made public statements of the desire to destroy the state of Israel. Typical Islamic rhetorical-efforts to dehumanize the Jewish people are well represented by statements such as the following:
“The battle with the Jews will surely come… the decisive Moslem victory is coming without a doubt, and the prophet spoke about in more than one Hadith. And the day of resurrection will not come without the victory of the believers [the Moslems] over the descendents of the monkeys and pigs [the Jews] and with their annihilation.” (official P.A. newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, May 18, 2001)
—Islam’s War against the Jews
In 2013, a new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was sworn into office. While more soft-spoken than his predecessor – and widely described as a “moderate” – Rouhani has nonetheless referred to “the Zionist regime” as an enemy nation and pledged to find a way to achieve Khomeini’s long-term goal of ensuring that Israel ceases to exist.
—Sworn to Destruction
Why has the act of dehumanization preparatory to genocide been so often repeated during human history?
Normal human beings have an inbred inhibition against the taking of human life. A major large-scale, effective-way this reluctance has been overcome is via dehumanization.
If someone is made to seem inhuman then any reservations relative to killing them is reduced. It is an age-old formula; and certainly one that the Nazis used to a maximum extent on Jewish prisoners before they burned them in the ovens.
The entire process of transporting them in railway cattle-cars, followed often by a grueling death of inhumane-overwork and starvation in the Nazi concentration/death camps was a process of dehumanization; and “…the issue of dehumanization is a central one in reflecting on the Holocaust.”
There are multiple forms of dehumanization. All types consist of abuse that typically ignores a person’s individuality, i.e., it is an act of stereotyping. The abuse can be symbolic, verbal, physical, or some combination of the three. Physical dehumanization (beating, whipping, hard-labor, starvation, etc.) obviously carries the most immediate threat; but the old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is completely untrue in an environment that fosters or permits any type of dehumanization.
Elie Wiesel was subjected to all of the types of dehumanization imaginable during his Holocaust experience.
What is it like to be intentionally and systematically dehumanized, up-close and not just from a distance?
A PARTIAL DESCRIPTION OF DEHUMANIZATION—ELIE WIEZEL (from NIGHT)
SATURDAY, the day of rest, was the day chosen for our expulsion.
The next morning, we walked toward the station, where a convoy of cattle cars was waiting. The Hungarian police made us climb into the cars, eighty persons in each one. They handed us some bread, a few pails of water. They checked the bars on the windows to make sure they would not come loose. The cars were sealed. One person was placed in charge of every car: if someone managed to escape, that person would be shot.
A few more days and all of us would have started to scream. But we were pulling into a station. Someone near a window read to us: “Auschwitz.” Nobody had ever heard that name.
We stared at the flames in the darkness. A wretched stench floated in the air. Abruptly, our doors opened. Strange-looking creatures, dressed in striped jackets and black pants, jumped into the wagon. Holding flashlights and sticks, they began to strike at us left and right, shouting: “Everybody out! Leave everything inside. Hurry up!” We jumped out…In the air, the smell of burning flesh. It must have been around midnight. We had arrived. In Birkenau.
NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Three days after the liberation of Buchenwald, I became very ill: some form of poisoning. I was transferred to a hospital and spent two weeks between life and death. One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me.
—Wiesel, Elie (2012-02-07). Night (Night Trilogy) (p. 21-22, 26, 27-28, 34, 115). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.
Some people believe, based upon the Bible, that the 3rd Diaspora of the Jewish people after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD was a visitation of God’s punishment upon his chosen people (the Jewish people) for their unfaithfulness to his commandments—requirements detailed in the biblical book of Deuteronomy:
And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.
—Deuteronomy 28:64 KJV
Equally, some people also believe, based upon the Bible, that the Jewish people were prophetically destined to return to their native homeland, Israel. And return they did in 1948 (1847 years after the beginning of the 3rd Diaspora).
Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob.
—Ezekiel 28:25 KJV
For many years in many separate nations, the Jewish people were totally dependent upon the nation in which they lived to provide them with basic justice and protection. In many cases there was little demonstrated effort on the part of Jewish citizens, individually or collectively, to defend themselves—with weapons if necessary—from people who hated them because they were Jewish. In fact, justly or not, the Jewish people, other than during those times when they have occupied their traditional homeland, have appeared to be, in some cases, pacifistic; and, historically, at times in the past, they intentionally embraced pacifism:
Judaism clearly has accepted a practical form of pacifism as appropriate in the “right” circumstances. For example, the Talmud (Ketubot 111a) recounts that in response to the persecutions of the second century (CE), the Jewish people agreed (literally: took an oath) that mandated pacifism in the process of seeking political independence or autonomy for the Jewish state. This action is explained by noting that frequently pacifism is the best response to total political defeat; only through the complete abjuring of the right to use force can survival be ensured.
—Pacifism in Jewish Law
To be sure, efforts to avoid preemptive acts against possible large-scale threats of violence (including genocide)—which are often foreshadowed by speech-acts of demonization and dehumanization and smaller-scale violence—may appear laudable; but such efforts contain a dangerous trap for the innocent and unwary. The trap is to believe that a workable strategy for non-violence is to fore-go resistance to evil for the purpose of reasoning with it, or for the purpose of not becoming what one is fighting against. Sounds good perhaps; but evil does not reciprocate to weakness with anything other than an increase of evil. Jewish teachings have taking this into account for centuries:
Difficult as it is in our current society to take a stand against pacifism as a societal or individual moral philosophy, it is clear that the Jewish tradition does not favor pacifism as a value superior to all other values or incorporate it as a basic moral doctrine within Judaism.
The use of force to hurt a person is wrong but Jewish law sanctions the use of force to prevent another from using force improperly.
A clearer rejection of the philosophy of pacifism is not possible. Indeed, one who examines even the ritual area of the law discovers that the use of violence in the service of that which is right is sanctioned as permissible. Thus, the Shulkhan Arukh [the medieval, authoritative work of Jewish law] (Orakh Chaim 329:6) mandates the use of force on the Sabbath in response to the threat of invasion of the Jewish community. It is simply untenable to claim that, as a matter of theoretical ethical duty, Jewish law perceives pacifism as the ideal response to evil in all circumstances.
—Pacifism in Jewish Law
Pacifism is certainly not a label that fits modern-day Israel or ancient Israel. Ancient Israel and Modern-day Israel (Zionism) have much in common: Being resolutely non-pacifistic. And one of the symbols for modern Zionism is Elie Wiesel.
Like so many other survivors, Wiesel has transformed his experience at Auschwitz into a kind of moral code—one that takes the principle of “never again” as a starting point.
Here are the words spoken in honor of Wiesel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent address (March 3, 2015) to the US Congress:
My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.”
And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace. But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.
We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.
—Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to US Congress 2015
At the heart of the unofficial motto of Zionism, “never again” is a deep sense of responsibility for the safety and protection of the citizens and the nation of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu displays a deep and committed sense of responsibility that would be refreshing to see in our President.
The critical importance of responsibility relative to freedom has been emphasized by another Holocaust survivor, the founder of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl. He recommended that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility:
Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
— Frankl, Viktor E. (2006-06-01). Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 132). Kindle Edition.
ELIE WIESEL (September 30, 1928 – Present)—short bio
Elie Wiesel is considered by many people, apparently including Netanyahu, as being the living remembrance of the Holocaust. Elie was born on September 30, 1928 in Sighet Transylvania (part of present day Romania); during World War II, he along with his parents and his three sisters and many other Jews were deported to German concentration/extermination camps (Birkenau and Auschwitz, Poland). Elie’s parents and little sister perished, but Elie and his two older sisters survived and were liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by allied troops.
Elie Wiesel has worked as a journalist and writer. His most famous work is considered to be La Nuit, published in France in 1958. Two years later (1960) it was published in English as Night. It is an absolutely gripping story; in Night, Elie speaks directly about the horrors and tragedy of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel has received many honors during his career including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
© 2015, Jerry Richardson • (4242 views)