In 2005, which was the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War, the United Nations set aside Jan. 27 as an international day of remembrance for the Holocaust. Their resolution confirmed and upheld the Holocaust as an event and human catastrophe that should be “commemorated and reflected on” by all people around the world. They resolved, “That the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”
In his most recent column Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau referred to the fortieth anniversary of the supreme courts significant and controversial Roe v. Wade decision. Bishop Burns described abortion as “a modern day holocaust.” A choice of words, which I believe, obscures and confuses the meaning of The Holocaust. The word Holocaust, biblical Greek for burnt offering has been set-aside in our language for the destruction of the European Jews by Germany. Using that word to describe anything else, be it the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the United State’s Indian policy or abortion cheapens the word and offends the memory of those who died in that singular and most egregious moment in the twentieth century and possibly human history.
By reserving that word, Holocaust for Hitler’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people I do not deny the suffering of other groups around the world who have been targeted for killing and discrimination nor do I seek to trivialize abortion and its effects on our culture and on individuals, but I must reaffirm that the unique and sobering legacy of The Holocaust demands a hallowed place in our philosophical vocabulary.
The memory of the holocaust requires solemn reflection not polemic carelessness, especially for the churches, who with the rest of European society and with few exceptions stood by and watched as the Nazis carried out their murderous agenda. In a pastoral letter on the Shoah the Hebrew word meaning the destruction or the calamity which is used instead of Holocaust by the state of Israel and by the Vatican, Blessed Pope John Paul II a Pole who witnessed both the anti-Semitism of his own nation and the crimes of the Nazi’s firsthand, apologized for the churches silence on the Holocaust as well as for its long history of explicitly and implicitly espousing anti-Jewish sentiments, sentiments that led to violence against Jews. He continued to call on European Christians to repent for their part in the Holocaust. He wrote” As we prepare for the beginning of the Third Millennium of Christianity, the Church is aware that the joy of a Jubilee is above all the joy that is based on the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and neighbor. Therefore she encourages her sons and daughters to purify their hearts, through repentance of past errors and infidelities. She calls them to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time.”
In acknowledging the memory of those who died in The Holocaust I hope that we can in the words of Elie Wiesel “with all people… bring peace to a tormented world that is awaiting redemption.”
• Rohrbacher studies History at University of Alaska Southeast.