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“Never forget” – that physically heartfelt and deeply held conviction belongs to every person of the Jewish faith or heritage, and hundreds of millions of non-Jews who empathize and agree.
The phrase came about to help prevent new generations from forgetting the horrors of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s pogroms of subjugation, ostracization, and extermination of Jewish people.
It is our duty, all of us, not to let that happen.
If we do forget, it could happen again. In fact, the spate of recent attacks on Jewish people and their synagogues in Europe and the United States have convinced many that we have started to forget, and that as a result antisemitic hatred is on the rise once more.
The Baha’i teachings call on all humanity to stop such hatred, to:
… remove from the hearts of men the religious enmity and hatred which have fettered them and to bring all religions into agreement and unity. Inasmuch as this hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings, the reality of religious unity will appear when these misunderstandings are dispelled. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 407.
So how do we dispel these misunderstandings? As background, let’s review a little history.
The strange phrase “the Jewish question,” also referred to as the “Jewish problem,” once described a wide-ranging debate in 19th and 20th-century European society, which argued over the appropriate status and treatment of Jewish people, and the civil, legal, national and political status of Jews as a minority within society. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a predominantly Christian Europe struggled with tremendous prejudice and antisemitism, which culminated in the genocidal Nazi phrase “the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”
Of course, antisemitism didn’t start in modern Europe. Jewish people have been subjugated, ostracized, persecuted, and murdered for thousands of years, as documented in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Antisemitism, then, simply describes another form of bias, bigotry and racism.
The so-called “Jewish Problem,” in all its facets, stemmed from that one horrible human abnormality: prejudice. At times, we humans dislike each other enough to do terrible things – to enslave, to torture, even to massacre – our fellow human beings. Some have done this not just to protect themselves in self-defense nor to preserve or protect their territory as animal species do, but out of hatred based on ignorance, prejudice, and fear.
Why? First, because we remain ignorant of the universal truth – that we are one human race, one family; we either live together in love and harmony or perish by hating and killing each other. Those who believe religion, skin color, education or lack of it, social standing, wealth or poverty, or any other difference separate us are wrong – and they have always been wrong.
The first to teach us this all-embracing truth were and are the prophets, beginning with Adam, Noah, and Abraham, continuing through the Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah. The Baha’i teachings confirm this:
It is self-evident that the Prophets are the Educators of men and the Teachers of the human race. They come to bestow universal education upon humanity, to give humanity training, to uplift the human race from the abyss of despair and desolation and to enable man to attain the apogee of advancement and glory. The people are in darkness; the Prophets bring them into the realm of light. They are in a state of utter imperfection; the Prophets imbue them with perfections. The purpose of the prophetic mission is none other than the education and guidance of the people. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 405.
Other wars are caused by purely imaginary racial differences; for humanity is one kind, one race and progeny, inhabiting the same globe. In the creative plan [of God] there is no racial distinction and separation such as Frenchman, Englishman, American, German, Italian or Spaniard; all belong to one household. These boundaries and distinctions are human and artificial, not natural and original. All mankind are the fruits of one tree, flowers of the same garden, waves of one sea. – Ibid., p. 118.
In the second half of this essay, we’ll look at the real roots of antisemitism, and explore the ways the Baha’i teachings recommend its eradication.