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The Holocaust didn’t occur suddenly or spontaneously—it required a conscious process. If we study the process, we might prevent future genocides.
Even before they took power in 1933, Hitler and the Nazi government set about implementing a series of four specific steps designed to result in the complete and total dehumanization of Europe’s Jewish population:
The Nazi government actually fostered and promoted prejudice. According to the dictionary definition, prejudice is comprised of “unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social or religious group.” Anti-Semitism has been around since the earliest days of the Hebrews, but it reached epic proportions with the Nazis, especially when they passed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935—which attempted to prevent relationships between Aryans and Jews, “Gypsies, Negroes, and their bastard offspring,” and made so-called “race defilement” a crime.
All prejudice, completely antithetical to the Baha’i teachings, creates hatred:
… we must lay aside all prejudice—whether it be religious, racial, political or patriotic; we must become the cause of the unification of the human race. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 163.
The Nazis scapegoated the Jews, blaming them for every societal problem in German society. They published an enormous quantity of propaganda that blamed the Jews for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults that plagued “civilization;” and declared Jews and others untermenschen, or sub-human.
These Nazi scapegoating tactics carried prejudice to the next step—from bigotry and bias to blaming. The Baha’i teachings warn us against blaming, faultfinding and backbiting:
A believer will not blame any soul among the strangers, how much less against the friends. Faultfinding and backbiting are the characteristics of the weak minds and not the friends. Self-exaltation is the attribute of the stranger and not of the Beloved. – Abdu’l-Baha, in Star of the West – 1, p. 452.
But this was not the way of the Third Reich. Posters plastered in public juxtaposed handsome Aryans next to portrayals of Jews with sneering, seemingly evil countenances. One showed a Jew as a horned-devil about to devour an innocent man. Another placed a picture of a rat on top of a Star of David. Viewing these prejudicial, scapegoating tactics day in and day out affected the psyches and built a sense of fear and loathing of Jewish people, leading to an official policy of discrimination and exclusion.
In the case of the Jews, the Nazi’s prejudice against them made them easy to scapegoat. This naturally led to discriminatory laws by the government, and caused violent acts against them that individuals could perpetrate with impunity.
Jews were required to wear a yellow Star of David sewn onto their outerwear like a badge of shame so others could see and avoid them. Or they could, if so moved, hurl epithets towards them and even physically assault them with the awareness they could do so without consequence.
The Baha’i teachings condemn discriminatory behavior:
… If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated it should be a discrimination not against but rather in favour of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the new, who either ignore, trample upon or extirpate, the racial, religious or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Baha’u’llah should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any Faith, race, class or nation within it. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 28-29.
Doesn’t it make sense that this should be so in the wider world?
Persecution of minorities isn’t new. The persecution of the Christians by the Romans is one example, and another glaring case in point is the current situation of the Baha’is in Iran. But the system created and utilized by the Nazis against the Jews was likely the most organized and efficient one in history.
Jews were forced from their homes, their valuables confiscated, crowded into ghettoes, homes, businesses and temples lost during Kristallnacht, a two-day pogrom (November 9 and 10, 1938) commonly called the “Night of Broken Glass:”
Hundreds of synagogues all over the German Reich were attacked, vandalized, looted, and destroyed. Many were set ablaze. Firemen were instructed to let the synagogues burn but to prevent the flames from spreading to nearby structures. The shop windows of thousands of Jewish-owned stores were smashed and the wares within looted. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Many Jews were attacked by mobs of Storm Troopers … At least 91 Jews died in the pogrom. – The Holocaust Encyclopedia