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Remembering the Holocaust

And resolving to help stop ethno-religious violence today


A carnation rests at the fence of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, on April 16, 2015. Associated Press/Photo by Czarek Sokolowski

Remembering the Holocaust
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Jan. 27 was set by the United Nations as International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. It was on this date in 1945 that Allied troops liberated the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Over 1,000,000 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz, part of the six million slaughtered in the Holocaust. We remember the past, in part, so that our eyes and the eyes of our own children will be open to the cruelties in the world around us.

In order to be vigilant, we must be clear about what the Holocaust was. At its heart it was the manifestation of a radical theory of Aryan supremacy that sought to subjugate other races viewed by the Nazis as intellectually, physically, and morally inferior. Nazi theory also targeted other groups that were seen as weak or deviant, such as the elderly, disabled, as well as homosexuals. But the Holocaust itself is rooted in the Nazi obsession with the Jewish people in particular. At the center of the Holocaust was hatred of the Jews.

At its heart, and this must not be forgotten, was a diabolical hatred of the Jews, just for being Jewish. Their ethno-religious identity rooted in millennia of unique, historical faith, culture, and family made them a target for torture and pillaging with a long-term eye towards the total annihilation of the Jews as a people. That is what the Holocaust was: the “systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews.” We cannot turn our eyes away from the hideous motivations and horrifying depravity of the Holocaust.

We look back with remembrance, but it must galvanize us to awareness. The targeting of minority groups for their ethno-religious identity is still part of our world today—the crimes of the Chinese government against its Muslim Uighur and Tibetan Buddhist populations echo the Nazi strategy of forced labor, medical experimentation, and cultural extinction. The Burmese government seeks to eradicate the history and heritage of its Rohingya Muslim minority. It does so by rewriting history books and renaming places on maps to erase their cultural memory. The government uses Burma’s predominately Buddhist military in the ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya population, in which nearly 1.7 million people were driven out of their homes in a 24-month period (2016 to 2018).

In Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere religious and ethnic identities are often the cleavage points for terrorism and sectarian violence. We live in a world where governments actively engage in cultural and physical violence against entire communities or populations due to their ethno-religious identity.

We need to teach our congregations and families that an element of these atrocities is spiritual warfare.

Christians recognize that every human being was made in the image of God and has inherent moral worth. The first action that we can take as Christians is to ensure that our churches and citizens are aware of this suffering. Such a reorientation of our media and education would help fight the narcissism so prevalent in our news reports, which tend to focus far more on celebrity culture and domestic political controversies than religious persecution and violence.

Second, we need to teach our congregations and families that an element of these atrocities is spiritual warfare. The Bible teaches that the enemy wants to “kill, steal, and destroy” and certainly the erasure of religious communities is such a ploy, not just the murder of humans in this generation, but the creation of bitterness and vengeful reprisals in future generations. We have seen how destructive this cycle is in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Are our children too young to learn about the Holocaust and the horrors that many people face around the world today? No. I am not arguing that we need to show our young children the gory images of Auschwitz or the Rwandan genocide. The Bible can be our starting point. Scripture has examples such as Pharaoh’s diabolical order to the Hebrew midwives to kill any male child born to Jewish women, the story of Esther and Haman, and the fact that when Israel was conquered, its foes routinely tried to destroy its center of spiritual identity, the temple in Jerusalem.

We can start there and then add other age-appropriate accounts, such as the Diary of Anne Frank, Pastor Johnny Teague’s new book, The Lost Diary of Anne Frank, which is a fictitious recounting of letters from a young Anne Frank to friends, and other books recommended by WORLD.

Thus, as we remember the past, we must also point our next generation of Christians to the violent situations of ethno-religious violence and genocide that still blight our world, and seek action. No one, anywhere, should be assaulted for their faith or ethno-religious identity. The Holocaust reminds us of where such hatred leads.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.


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