“For a thousand years Jews have been targeted as scapegoats, because they were a minority and because they were different. But difference is what makes us human. And a society that has no room for difference has no room for humanity.”
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks.
Since high school Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich and World War II has been an enduring source of fascination for me. Studying the term, concept and principles of leadership within the Nazi context yields important lessons for us back then and today. In 1945 Justice Robert Jackson was tasked with leading allied prosecutors; Great Britain, France, the USSR, and the United States in trying 21 Germans for Nazi war crimes. His prosecution team was in a unique situation. Humanity had no precedent for punishing people who had murdered and exterminated on a scale such as this. National Socialism or Nazi fanaticism was on trial in Nuremberg. It was the spiritual center of The Third Reich. It was home to some of their biggest rallies. During the trial there were still around 30,000 bodies trapped under the rubble.
I’m looking forward to reading a book by the Nazi prison psychologist Gustave Gilbert. His writings contain observations of high-ranking Nazi leaders during the Nuremberg Trials. He had an unrivaled firsthand opportunity to watch and question the Nazi war criminals. He encouraged Goering, Speer, Hess, Ribbentrop, Frank, Jodl, Keitel, Streicher, and the others to reveal their innermost thoughts. In the process Gilbert exposed what motivated them to create the distorted Aryan utopia and the nightmarish worlds of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald.
According to Gilbert the most important aspect of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel in 1962 was it encouraged the survivors in Israel to speak out. Expressing what they had experienced in the death camps was crucial for their healing. It also helped to restore their human dignity and it exposed the Nazi mindset.
Fast forward to the topic of antisemitism today in the UK. Last week there was an unprecedented debate about it in Parliament. Several MP’s spoke emotionally about the abuse they’d received because they were Jews, or more precisely, because they’d fought antisemitism. According to the Community Security Trust, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have risen to their highest level since record keeping began in 1984, at an average of 4 a day.
Recently in Paris and just before Passover an 85 year old Holocaust survivor was murdered because she was a Jew. It is appalling that there is almost no European country where Jews feel safe today. It is also appalling that this is occurring within living memory of the Holocaust in which one and a half million children were murdered because their grandparents were Jews.
Some say this is happening because of the rise of political extremism on the right and left. Populist politics play on people’s fears and seek scapegoats to blame for social ills. Let’s not buy into this and let’s remember “all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.” Edward Burke.