“Never forget, Never again”
The Holocaust was one of the most shameful moments in mankind’s history. It would be nearly impossible to find anyone on this campus who disagrees. Yet when one student asked the question, “why is it still relevant to learn about today?” Maryville College’s own Dr. Kathryn Julian answered in the best way possible: by offering a class on it.
This semester, students have the opportunity to attend “History of the Holocaust,” the first course of its kind ever offered at Maryville College. The course takes an in-depth look at the events that led up to the Holocaust and takes a deep dive into how neighbors could turn on each other—sometimes overnight—and how the Holocaust was the culmination of centuries of antisemitism that finally reached a boiling point.
“I was thinking about this student’s question, and it’s actually all connected,” Julian said. “In the class I’m teaching, we’re talking about colonialism, antisemitism, and how ordinary people with Jewish neighbors see them and how they got to that point. We’ve never had a History of the Holocaust here. We’re discussing not just what happened, but how it happened.”
Julian was more than willing to answer some more questions and elucidate some details about the Holocaust that people may not have known, such as the fact that the Holocaust also occurred in North Africa as well as in Europe.
For context, France’s colonial holdings before World War II included Algeria and Tunisia. When the Nazi occupation force unseated the French government at the outset of the war, the Vichy puppet regime was more than willing to go along with the Nazi’s grim “Final Solution.”
Work camps were built in France’s colonies that took both Jewish and Muslim people and forced them to labor side-by-side in the desert sun.
Another fact not often taught is that, in the Balkans, many Muslims sheltered their Jewish neighbors when the Nazis came to occupy those respective countries. Beyond that, it’s often said that the world knew about the Holocaust happening in Germany but remained silent.
“Everyone knew that Jews were being persecuted, but never the true extent,” Julian said. “A lot of people were fearful of what was happening in Germany.” Julian also references a series of unofficial polls taken at the time. They say that roughly 80 percent of Americans disagreed with Nazi policies, but roughly 75 percent of the same people said they wouldn’t accept Jewish refugees.
“Antisemitism throughout history has been especially bad in Europe,” Julian said. “That’s actually where we started the class—discussing Christian antisemitism. That’s something really hard to grapple with. It wasn’t just Nazis killing Jewish people—most were also Christian.”
Indeed, the Catholic Church in particular has had a sordid history in its treatment of Jewish people. Pope Innocent III was the first to order Jewish (and Muslim) people to wear clothing that distinguished them from their Christian neighbors. This happened at the Fourth Council of the Lateran, which took place in the Eleventh Century.
The Nazis were using ideas not just co-opted from Europe’s past, but from their own as well. An earlier and somewhat forgotten genocide was that of the Herero people in the colony of German South West Africa, which happened prior to World War I. Regarding Germany’s current identity and thoughts on the Holocaust, Julian offered her insight.
“Germany’s collective identity since the war has always been under the shadow of the Holocaust,” Julian said. “West Germany started dealing with it very early in the 1960’s, and Willy Brandt, a West German Chancellor knelt at the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto.”
“East Germany didn’t discuss it so much because they consider it the work of the ‘fascists,” Julian said. America’s position during the war regarding Japanese internment and the question of if something like the Holocaust could ever happen in America, Julian also shared her own thoughts.
“Under different circumstances, something like the Holocaust could happen in any country. . . if the right conditions are in place it can happen anywhere,” Julian said. Finally, Julian had this to say about the current political climate in America and recent tweets from certain politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s a complicated issue because you have a lot of right-wing anti-Semites and also philosemitic factions,” Julian said. “You also have a very pro-Palestine faction that comes from the left. You have antisemitism from anti-Zionism. Both sides have said things recently that could be construed as antisemitic.”
The Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies mankind has ever visited on itself, but to forget about or minimize it in light of our modern-day issues makes us just as guilty as the world that remained silent.
The world collectively agreed “never again” after they learned the extent of the horror. Time and time again since the end of World War II, the world has let genocides and ethnic cleansing go on relatively unabated. One need only to look into the Rwandan Genocide, the Yugoslav Wars, and the current Syrian Civil war to realize just how far short of that goal we’ve fallen.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner said this in his acceptance speech: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”