By Sarah Rumpf
As I have watched the news coverage of Israel’s response to the attempts to break the Gaza blockade, especially regarding the international community’s criticism of Israel, what I keep thinking about is how Israel’s critics seem to delight in their belligerent ignorance of history.
In college, I double majored in Political Science and German, and most of my coursework focused on twentieth century political, social, and economic developments in the United States and Western Europe. It is one thing to read a textbook about the Holocaust, it is something entirely different to hear and comprehend Adolf Hitler’s speeches in the original German. The German language is especially well-structured for powerful symbolism, which can create works of art that lift the soul and enlighten the mind, like the poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, or it can be used as an instrument to deliver purely malevolent evil, as Hitler and the Nazis did.
People on both sides of the aisle have been far too willing to compare their political opponents to the Nationalsozialisten. Neither Bush nor Obama are Nazis, and neither should be called Hitler. By cheapening the rhetoric, and tossing around the “Nazi” insult without respect for its true meaning, the overwhelming tragic losses of the Holocaust are also cheapened and minimized. When Israel’s defense of its borders and its people are misrepresented as aggression, and terrorists portrayed as victims, it is a betrayal of civilization and a deliberate ignorance of history.
I remind everyone of the well-known saying:
Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
The economic and political climate in the world today causes me great worry. There’s no time period in history that is exactly like one that came before, but there are certain warning signs and potential trigger points for tragedy that are unwise to ignore. I have been outspoken, both in my speech and in my writings, in my support of Israel, and a significant part of my opinion is built on my knowledge of history and politics.
Remember, Adolf Hitler did not immediately demand the extinction of millions of innocent people when he first began his climb to power. “Reforms” were passed little by little, step by step, and justified by the hated Versailles Treaty, the economic depression, and the Nazis’ distasteful message of the inferiority of all non-Aryan people. One of the most powerful, and heartbreaking, history lessons I ever received was during a weekend trip to Munich during a summer studying abroad in Germany. We took a short day trip to a nearby small town called Dachau. If you recognize that name, it’s because of its status as the site of the first concentration camp in Germany. The Dachau camp was one of several that bore the insidious “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) slogan on the gates:
Visiting a concentration camp is not like visiting any other historical site. Nothing really prepares you to gaze into a brick oven where human beings were burned, or to walk through a “shower” room where the faucets poured poison gas instead of water.
For me, one of the most brutal and tragic aspects of Dachau was not within the walls, but just outside it: a residential neighborhood. To fully understand the horror of this, I ask you to think about your hometown, where you grew up. Picture where the grocery store was located, where you played Little League, what street your elementary school was on. Imagine walking down whatever is “Main Street” in your town, turning down a side street to your favorite coffee shop, and at the end of the block you see a walled-in camp with giant plumes of sickly-sweet smelling smoke that burns without relief.
The day I visited Dachau, we were walking down a small street, looking at a map to find our way, turned the corner and stopped dead in our tracks and gasped, because this is the view we saw:
I had previously assumed that the concentration camps were like many military bases, built in remote areas, or at least with a large buffer zone between the camp and adjacent development. This is not the case in Dachau. You walk down a street, and ARBEIT MACHT FREI is right before your eyes, and you can easily see into the grounds of the camp. Any Dachau resident walking by would have easily been able to observe the smoke from the ovens and cries of pain from the people imprisoned there. I cannot believe that the people of Dachau did not know what was happening at that camp.
So what does this have to do with Israel and the Gaza flotilla today? Simply, that those of us who value our humanity, our souls, and our civilization cannot just ignore what is happening right before our eyes. The citizens of Dachau each made the choice to walk down the streets of their town and do nothing about the horror next door while the years passed and the body count rose above the ability of anyone to count. Today, America should be a leader in refusing to deny history, refusing to deny the existence of acts of terrorism, and refusing to allow Israel’s enemies to continue to try to destroy her people.
…All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing…
…and the beautiful and poignant memorial at Dachau, with the phrase, “Never Again” written in five languages: