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Uniqueness of the Holocaust
Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Uniqueness of the Holocaust

What makes this different from any other event in history?


Jews are no strangers to suffering. Throughout the ages, many others have also been victims to unspeakable cruelty, but the judgment of Winston Churchill is almost certainly the definitive description of the uniqueness of the Holocaust: "The Final Solution is probably the greatest, most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world."

Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt points out two reasons why the German program of genocide remains in a class by itself as an example of evil: "It was the only time in recorded history that a state tried to destroy an entire people, regardless of an individual's age, sex, location, profession, or belief. And it is the only instance in which the perpetrators conducted this genocide for no ostensible material, territorial, or political gain." In fact, the Holocaust remains incomprehensible. But that is all the more reason why it must at the very least be remembered.

"Civilized" Murders

Perhaps the most inexplicable of all the aspects of the Holocaust – the question that forces us to come to grips with the very meaning of the word "civilized" – is the realization that took place in the twentieth century and was the work of so-called "cultured," "civilized," highly educated Germans.

"The death camps," as Franklin Littell pointed out, "were designed by professors and built by Ph.D.s." Nazis tortured by day and listened to Wagner and Bach at night. They put down a violin to torture a Jew to death. They used their advanced scientific knowledge to design crematoria and, most amazing of all, they had highly skilled people devise the most fiendish medical experiments to test levels of pain, how long someone could be immersed in freezing water before dying, and even, as the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele (chief "physician" at Auschwitz) was fond of doing, performed gruesome experiments on twins such as sewing two children together to create a "Siamese pair" and to measure their reactions.

Romain Gary, author of The Dance of Genghis Cohn, bitterly came to this shocking conclusion: "In the ancient times of Simbas, a cruel, cannibalistic society, people consumed their victims. The modern-day Germans, heirs to thousands of years of culture and civilization, turned their victims into soap. The desire for cleanliness, that is civilization."

The Holocaust was different because it came at the hands of those we would have been certain were incapable of committing atrocities. The Holocaust forces us to rethink the meaning of culture not rooted in a religious or ethical foundation.

Never Again!

What is this seeming obsession Jews have to remember the Holocaust?

Jews are a people of memory. In the Ten Commandments they are commanded to "remember the Sabbath day." In the Bible they are told to remember the exodus from Egypt, as well as the Amalekites who attacked them as they wandered in the desert. Memory is the key to survival. Indeed, as the philosopher George Santanya so perceptively put it, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

That is why the Jews feel a special obligation today to add yet another commandment of "remember" to their liturgy. Remember the Holocaust – so that its millions of victims at least the gift of living in our memories. Remember the Holocaust – so that as the philosopher Emil Fackenheim has demanded, we do not give Hitler a posthumous victory by having us forget our past and our heritage. Remember the Holocaust – because, in the words of Elie Wiesel at the dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington in 1993, "To forget would mean to kill the victims a second time. We could not prevent their first death; we must not allow them to be killed again." 

from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture" (Alpha Books)

December 31, 1969

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Visitor Comments: 15

(13) Surie, November 14, 2013 5:17 PM

remembering the Holocust

As a child of Holocust survivors, my parents did notspeak much. We kids grew up in a happy livel home. twice ayear Tatte spoke Seder Night and Tisha BAv. Years passed we grew up had children of our own. something changed at every family simch,Bar Mitzva, Sheva Brochos or other family gathering Father would get up and speak.

He spoke of the atrocities, and of Thanks to Hashemfor all the good that has come his way. His family , children, grandchildren , great grandchildren and now fifth generation.

We his children are very fortuneate to have him with us. May he be zoche to lead his entire family to see Moshiach Tzedkenu Bemehera Beyamenu. Amen

(12) Rie Moya, June 10, 2013 11:50 AM

Israel will prevail

We pray daily for Israel, the government and people of Israel and for the peace of Jerusalem.

Fear not Israel, the whole world is not against you and you would be surprised to know that far across the Pacific isles, we are here supporting and praying for you daily. Prayer is stronger than any man made atomic bomb.


(11) Paulyn, June 9, 2013 6:06 PM

Mans Inhumanity towards Man

AS I read and discover history and Man's inhumanity I realize given authority and lack of conscious, prejudiced and hate we are all victims. Mass hysteria and the audacity of madmen in collusion take all of us on a level of power and demonic deeds. Those who protest are bullied and beaten down to submission by the black shirts who prevail. We find our misery to be justified by leaders who find our weaknesses and exploit them. Complacency, demagogues, appeasement and lack of love and respect for our fellow man should not override sanity and G-ds teachings, but unfortunately it does and we cannot let history repeat itself. Israel is and will remain the land that G-d blessed and as people of conscious we must protect her and remain free. So many have escaped mans and G-ds wrath for their evils, who are we to judge another, let their nightmares and misfortunes be their rewards for their crimes. I believe that Europe died at the Holocaust..... genius and scholars, authors, musicians and teachers and cures and breakthroughs with them.

(10) Anonymous, January 10, 2013 9:55 AM


I have never understood the events that accrued during this time in history, and the pain that was placed on these families. I feel such a shame for the world, in standing by and allowing such a horrible event to happen. As a believer in God, and knowing it is because of the Jews, I have the teachings and instructing of the Most High. I will always be thankful to the Jews, and all they have done to protect the Word for me (Torah). Over the years, I have considered the Jews, as Brothers, and Sisters... I have to say with my Jewish family, never again, and I will stand with them. I hope the education of this time in history; bring tears to many so that this event will never happen to any people ever again. My heart goes out to the many Jewish families affected by this horrible act of man.

Esther Cook, March 20, 2015 10:53 PM

You will understand

To prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again, you do have to understand how civilized people transformed into savages standing for "might makes right." Some Germans kept diaries in mhich they recorded this struggle.
A summary is in Robert Zubrin's book "Merchants of Despair." It is one of the most important book of our times, particularly as Antisemitism rises in America and many other places.

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