Christianity’s Role In Holocaust Discussed

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In a time when the United States is still feeling the after-effects of Sept. 11 and Middle East tensions erupt into mass violence, the Holocaust can seem far away.

But Professor John Roth told the campus community to never forget the lesson the world learned during the Holocaust at a speech Thursday night.

“The loss of Holocaust memory threatens the very existence of human society,” Roth said. “That loss would leave us bereft of much needed warnings about the destructive power of blindness, arrogance, hatred and dogmatic convictions that we are right and everyone else is wrong.”

Roth, a philosophy professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, delivered his keynote address for the U’s Days of Remembrance commemoration for the more than 6 million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Tuesday marked Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Roth focused on the role of Christian churches during that time for many reasons.

“I research how the Christian tradition’s antipathy or hostility toward Jews helped create a climate for the Nazis,” Roth said. “I also look at what it means to be a Christian in the aftermath of the Holocaust.”

Roth also analyzes how the Holocaust impacted Christianity.

“Many Christians have felt regret and shame over the attitudes they had toward Jews,” he said. “Those attitudes harmed the credibility of a tradition that I believe is mostly good.”

Roth believes the understanding of Christian churches’ role in the Holocaust is important for everyone to understand.

“Religions can be mixed bags,” he said. “It’s important to see how good and evil can be created within a religion, which is an important and vital part of human life when it’s at its best.”

He does not believe Christianity caused the Holocaust, but he does think the images of Jews, such as the killers of Christ, were deeply rooted in Christian practices, he said.

“There can be no credible doubt about it: Christianity’s anti-Jewish elements provided essential background, preparation and motivation for the Holocaust that happened when Germans and their collaborators carried out the ‘Final Solution’ of the so-called Jewish question,” Roth said.

Roth hopes Christian and Jewish relations continue to improve. He spoke about Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, and Levi’s belief that only reciprocal trust will heal any tensions between the two groups.

“If there is to be increasing post-Holocaust reconciliation between Christians and Jews?it will require courage that refuses to let skepticism dismiss the hopes of Levi too easily,” he said.

Roth acknowledged that remembering the Holocaust can be a painful process, but it is a necessary one.

“Why remember the Holocaust in today’s world?” he said. “For me, the bottom line answer to that question is simply this: No event does more than the Holocaust to make me remember to take nothing for granted.”

Roth hopes that attitude will spill over into people’s everyday lives.

“I don’t want to turn the Holocaust into some cheap lesson book we can all learn from,” he said. “But it does alert us to not take any good thing for granted.”

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