Sunday, April 11, 2010

First They Came for the Jews

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit a famous poem attributed to an anti-Nazi pastor named Martin Niemoller. There are different variations of the poem, but the original version goes like this:

"They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up."

It's ironic that the first group he mentions are Communists, because millions of innocent people were subjugated and murdered under Communism, just as millions of innocent people were subjugated and murdered under Nazism. Be that as it may, the underlying theme of the poem is still very instructive. In fact, if we put our minds to it, any one of us can come up with a similar poem related to our times. Simply fill in the blanks and create your own version. One variation might go something like this:

They came first for religious Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I was secular.

Then they came for the IDF,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an Israeli soldier.

Then they came for Jewish conservatives,
and I didn't speak up because I was liberal.

Then they came for European Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I was American.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no Jews were left to speak up.

Unfortunately, the "they" of today are all sorts of groups: Islamic terrorists, anti-Semitic leaders, and the United Nations, to name a few. Perhaps for the first time since the Holocaust, there seems to be only two types of leaders: those who want to exterminate the Jews and those who would stand by and let it happen. The message for Jews is to be there for one another, even though we have our differences. The message for non-Jews is to maintain a strong moral compass, even though most people will look the other way. Unless the world allows the Jews (i.e. Israel) to fight their existential enemies, whatever evil befalls us will end up befalling everyone else. Islamic terrorism is only the most recent example.

The one thing our enemies can teach us is that we are all Jews just the same. Religious and secular, liberal and conservative, men, women and children - we are all "infidels" in the eyes of our enemies. If the Hitlers and Ahmadinejads of the world don't discriminate between different kinds of Jews, why do we? It's very easy to get caught up in our day-to-day disagreements and falsely label fellow Jews with whom we disagree as enemies rather than ideological opponents. But we must always remember to stay on topic and only call out fellow Jews if they actually engage in objectively evil behavior - not if they happen to be of a different religious denomination or political party.

Because when we forget that we are all Jews, our enemies will be more than willing to remind us.

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