History’s Haunting Refrain

It reads like something from a Nazi nightmare . . .

USA Today reported that Jews, emerging from a synagogue in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, were handed leaflets ordering all Jews over sixteen years of age to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register”—pay a registration fee of fifty dollars, show ID and passports, religious documents of family members, and provide documentation of owned real estate, including vehicles.  The leaflets claim that failure to do so will result in having their citizenship revoked and their assets confiscated as they’re deported.  I’m not making this up . . . Here’s the article:

Secretary of State John Kerry called the act “grotesque.”

Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, captured the intent, “The message is a message to all the people that we’re going to exert our power over you.”  He reminded us, “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”

Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNN that radical groups may be trying to stir up historic fears or create a provocation to justify further violence.  He said, “It’s chilling. I was disgusted by these leaflets, especially in Ukraine, a country that suffered so terribly under the Nazis, that was one of the sites of the worst violence of the Holocaust. To drag up this kind of rhetoric is almost beyond belief.”

The frightening reality is that, whether these leaflets were published by the people they’re attributed to or not, anti-Semitism has long been rearing its ugly head around the world.  It’s on the rise, and most of us have not noticed.  Or we haven’t noticed enough to stand up and do something about it—not even the church.

Which is exactly the protest Dietrich Bonhoeffer, dissident German pastor, prophet, and ultimate martyr made in the 1930s, when Hitler first came to power.  Bonhoeffer recognized in Hitler a leader who demanded power and allegiance that belongs only to Christ, and who demanded it at the expense of an entire race of people.

One by one, thousands upon thousands, the German people fell under Hitler’s charismatic spell.  Eager for prosperity and freedom from the burdensome weight of the Treaty of Versailles they bought into their own anti-Semitism and blamed the Jewish population for their problems.  With little to no protest, they forfeited the rights and dignity of Jewish citizens.  Without realizing it, they also gave up their own right to protest.

When things are going well for us it’s easy to be blinded to the needs of others.  But, when good people fail to act on behalf of those who need help . . . well, we all know Martin Niemoller’s reality check:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Our responsibility to value and protect every human life, to help others, to be the church for the church and to be the church of Jesus Christ in the world because that is what Jesus requires of us is precisely the message that Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent—and the message that Saving Amelie echoes. echoes.

In Saving Amelie, Rachel Kramer, daughter of an eminent Long Island eugenics scientist, must confront her own pride and sense of superiority to rescue a deaf child from “elimination” at the hands of the Nazis.  Jason Young, a driven American journalist influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and with connections to the resistance, helps Rachel and Amelie escape Berlin.  Forced to hide in the Bavarian village of the Passion Play, Rachel’s every ideal is challenged as she and Jason risk their lives—and ask others to do the same—for those they barely know but come to love.Saving-Amelie-Book-Cover-250x374

I pray that Saving Amelie joins other voices in sounding a warning gong for our time, that it helps provide a window—or a mirror—between the historic tragedies of anti-Semitism and the devaluing of human life at every level and the slippery path we travel today . . . before we, too, are taken unawares.

God’s blessings for you,

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  • Chilling. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, however, it has never ceased since the diaspora. Thanks for sharing this blog, Cathy.

    • Cathy Gohlke says:

      I agree, Terri. The thing is, I don’t believe most people recognize that anti-Semitism is on the rise and to what extent. Events like this open many eyes for the first time.

  • Gloria Delk says:

    This is like a recurring nightmare. We dare not close our eyes to the horrors this time around as so many did during the Holocoust. We must speak out against this evil tyranny, which is exactly what you are doing, Cathy. Thank you for your faithfulness in bringing this to our attention.

    • Cathy Gohlke says:

      Thank you, Gloria. I agree, “We dare not close our eyes . . .” We all have a responsibility to speak up and speak out against injustice. This kind of thing is chilling and heartbreaking.

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