Over the past five years I have had the sobering privilege of visiting the Holocaust museums in Washington, DC, and in Jerusalem. While the Jerusalem museum is understandably and appropriately larger, both are painful reminders of evil in the world. You cannot visit without noticing the hushed and reverent tones of all the visitors.
Each time I have visited I am reminded of these themes.
First, evil is real and the human heart is corrupt and defiled. The prophets of the Old Testament made that abundantly clear long before Hitler and the Nazis.
Second, humans are capable of any kind of evil. Those who are most in tune with God seem to understand this better than others.
Even casual students of the World War II era and Nazi atrocities ask how the German people could do the things they did. Germans are civilized people. How could doctors, lawyers, and others make up the Nazi death squads?
Third, we must be vigilant for justice and righteousness. If everyone is not respected, no one is respected. If anyone’s humanity is denigrated, then no one is safe.
For this reason, we should be concerned about freedom of speech and religion and the care for the elderly and unborn. Once we go down the road to watering down these concepts, we have lost precious parts of our lives.
Finally, I am always reminded of the poem of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller. Niemoller initially supported Hitler. That is why his poem is so poignant. Because of his opposition to Nazi state control of the churches, he suffered imprisonment at two concentration camps and narrowly escaped execution. After his imprisonment he expressed his deep regret for not having done enough.
Niemoller’s poem is displayed at the entrance to the museum in Washington.
First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Let us be a people who care for others and who champion justice.
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