“Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” (Robert A. Heinlein)
I. A Problem in search of Solution
I make no pretense towards academic history. Nor do I see the need for yet another contribution to the already abundant historical, often misleading literature on the subject of the Holocaust. What I am is a practicing psychotherapist. And as a member of the “helping professions” I feel an obligation to challenge that which I recognize as denial of the implications of the Holocaust for Jews in the 21st century. I do not address our Christian neighbors, co-workers, friends and extended family. Certainly the Holocaust and the two millennia of anti-Jewish prejudice and persecution have significant implications for that religion with Love, Tolerance and Forgiveness as core claims. But aligning their religion with its claims is beyond the scope of this book. My purpose is to challenge Jewish, not Christian denial regarding the implications of the Holocaust. What does it mean for Jews today and going forward that an effort was made by an otherwise “civilized” and technologically advanced Western state to solve something called “the Jewish Problem” by exterminating each and every Jew alive mid-twentieth century. And what are the implications of most European nations actively supporting that effort, while the non-European West chose not to intervene? Nazi Germany’s ambition, called the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, was not limited to Germany, nor even Continental Europe as the outcome of the war determined: as described by its leaders the Final Solution, had Germany won the war, would have included each and every Jew in the world.
In the chapters to follow I will trace the development of the “Jewish Problem” from its scriptural sources in the first century through its theological development from Augustine to Luther. We will consider how and why that which is represented as the French Enlightenment transformed religious anti-Judaism into “rational” antisemitism, how the religious solution for the Problem, the elimination of Jews and Judaism by “conversion” was adapted to a secular and “scientific” goal of physical annihilation. I will provide a clear and unbroken path from the first to the twenty-first centuries describing the search for solution, an eventual Final Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem.
The Jewish Problem, as numerous Christian theologians and historians have previously concluded, is too deeply a part of Christianity to, in the words of Catholic theologian Rosemary Reuther, be excised without destroying Christianity itself. The “problem” describes the 2000 years-long Christian-Jewish dialogue deeply embedded in the very social sinews of both communities. For Jews, by choice or ignorance, to ignore the Jewish Problem is to ensure its obvious conclusion.
II. Scripture and anti-Judaism
Although only six years old at the time, I have vivid memories of Movietone News clips of the liberation of death camps in 1945. I also remember news clips of survivors in their new home fighting at Latrun in Israel’s war for independence. But it was not until twenty years later, at a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion that, program in hand and reading the English narrative accompanying the German, that the full impact of Christian scripture on Jew-hatred, the source inspiring the Holocaust, was clear. Bach’s pounding rhythms provided the dramatic embellishment; the text was lifted intact from the original gospel. And those brief sentences are the reason that today Jews, during the first century numbering one-in-ten of the population of the Roman Empire today number a fraction of one percent of the population of the West. The “Matthew” gospel, and particularly verse 27:25, is a primary reason why millions of Jews were murdered, even before the Holocaust.
Paul’s epistles and the four canonical gospels inspired Jew-hatred for two millennia; magnified by theology over the centuries it would, finding the technological means in the twentieth century, inspire the Final Solution to Christianity’s long preoccupation with “the Jews,” its Jewish Problem.
III. Music and the meaning of the Holocaust
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion
includes a verbatim transcript of Matthew, 27:25. The notations below, numbers 50a, etc, refer to their gospel text as appearing within the score.
50a. Pilate: Which one between the two do you want me to release to you?
Evangelist: They said:
Chorus I & 2: Barabbas!
Evangelist: Pilate said to them:
Pilate: What shall I do then with Jesus, of whom it is said, He is the Christ?
Evangelist: They all said:
45b. Chorus I & II: Let Him be crucified!
47. Evangelist: The Governor said:
Pilate: What evil has He done then?
50a. Evangelist: They screamed even more and said (emphasis added):
50b. Chorus I & II: Let him be crucified!
50c. Evangelist: When Pilate saw, however, that he achieved nothing, rather that a much greater riot occurred, he took water and washed his hands [a Jewish ritual, not Roman] before the people and said (emphasis added]:
Pilate: I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man, see to it yourselves!
Evangelist: Then all the people answered and said:
50d. Chorus I & II: Let His blood be on us and on our children.
“Let His blood be on us and our children.” Not only is the gospel portraying “the Jews,” all Jews as deicides but “Matthew” portrays them condemning all future generations of Jews for the trial and execution of Jesus.
IV. From “conversion” to “extermination”
Christianity’s Jewish Problem appeared with what would two centuries later be collected by the Church as official Christian scripture. Whatever reasons early adherents of the new sect might have had for demonizing the parent religion the emergent caricature of “the Jews” became part of Christian folklore, would be absorbed into Christian culture as sinister stereotype providing a ready target for attack during periods of extreme social duress.
If scripture provided the reason and theology defined the Problem it was in the eleventh century that murder takes root as instrument of the “solution” sought. Even before the First Crusade set out to “liberate” the Holy Land slaughtering Jewish communities along the way described “the infidel close at home,” some European cities had already turned to mass murder by fire. And later frightened Christians seeking “explanation” for the Black Plague concluded that “the Jews,” described in the “John” gospel as “children of the devil” were poisoning their wells on Satan’s behalf. Jews also entered Christian imagination as needing the blood of Christian youth as ingredient in baking Passover matzos which also proved fatal for Jews. Europe during the Middle Ages faced dramatic social and economic changes, and even the weather conspired to make life miserable and out of human control. Satan was believed behind all their ills and “the Jews,” his “children,” inspired superstitious stereotypes that continue today to feed the fires of antisemitism.
The 18th Century was again a period of transition and transformation. Feudalism and theocracy gradually gave way to secularism and the nation-state. The spirit of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” was conditionally extended also to Jews. But emancipation never fully took hold: two thousand years of prejudice does not disappear with the change of social organization. “The Jews” remained Other, “a nation apart.” Even as Christian anti-Judaism survived the “Enlightenment,” a secular prejudice based on early stereotypes replaced the religious motive in a new and even more virulent form of prejudice, antisemitism. Stripped of religious meaning, the goal of Christianity’s Jewish Problem, elimination of Jews and Judaism, took a radical and more direct turn. A “modern” solution to the Jewish Problem was emerging.
Click here to return to Blog home page