by Christine Ege
When new laws are enacted or official judgments are pronounced, those laws and judicial decisions set precedents for the way subsequent situations are managed. In the fifth chapter of Dr. Susanna Kokkonen’s book, Journey to the Holocaust, she describes the political and social climate in Europe between World War I and World War II. Not-so-latent antisemitism continued to increase and find expression in the political and social arenas of Germany in the 1930s.
Antisemitic propaganda was deliberately disseminated to affect the minds and hearts of the German public. This propaganda served to magnify the anti-Jewish sentiment and growing resentment already evident in the culture during the interwar period. Specific measures were initiated by Hitler to implement his racist agenda and ultimately guarantee the purity of the Aryan race, undiluted by inferior blood. One of the more sinister projects involved the genetic identification of “impurities” and the euthanasia program implemented in 1933. People who were identified as carriers of certain genetic weaknesses underwent sterilization; children with disabilities or genetic disorders were transferred to specially-built extermination facilities. German psychiatrists and physicians cooperated with this process of relegating children to these killing centers – sometimes without even examining the “patients” in question. Children were summarily killed by starvation, injection with poisons, overdoses of sleep medications, and by gassing.
This program set an ominous precedent in the culture and worked in tandem with the Nazi propaganda disseminated by the press and in schools. As Dr. Kokkonen observes, “If Germans were not ready to rise in revolt when their own children were murdered, it is clear that they would not do so for the German Jews either. The more the government terrorized the people, the closer they advanced to the mass murder of Jews.” (pp. 129-130)
Clearly, an unrighteous precedent established in a propagandized climate of antisemitism and combined with dictatorial power inevitably led to the attempted extermination of the Jewish race. This situation illustrates the dire results of failing to evaluate the potential consequences of our political policies and programs. Public indifference due to a constant barrage of propaganda, combined with fear for one’s personal survival if one resists, only stoked the appetite of the rabid political regime.
What does this mean for us today? Certainly, we must be vigilant regarding our attitudes as individuals and communities. What do we allow as we set precedents with regulations, judgments, laws, and policies? What are the potential consequences of the policies we enact? Let us be sober-minded enough to examine ourselves honestly, lest we repeat history!