The Jewish survivors who gathered there today escaped with their lives 70 years ago. They have lived to ripe old ages and experienced the joys of life denied to millions of their murdered fellows, and many are no doubt haunted by memories of those terrible times.
But what should remembrance of the Holocaust teach us?
Ideas have consequences
Ideas have consequences, and evil ideas produce the greatest evils in this world. Irrational Nazi dogma taught that there are superior and inferior races, and that the superior should wield absolute power and should enslave—or even exterminate—the inferior. To the extent that individuals took that dogma seriously, they butchered millions of Jews, Slavs, and members of other groups
not approved of by the self-declared Master Race.
Ideas can destroy civilizations
Evil ideas can metastasize to destroy the civilizations they infect. Humans have butchered each other since humans have been around. But they’ve also built cultures and institutions based on respect for the autonomy and dignity of individuals and on the highest human aspirations. It has become a cliché, but a true one, that Germany was the land of Beethoven and Schiller yet succumbed to Nazi brutality. The causes of the rise of Nazism are complex, but ultimately that rise showed that there is no guarantee that civilizations will endure without their defenders.
Without intellectual defenders, the good will perish
The failure to oppose evil ideas and to defend civilized values allows the evil ones to crush the good. In the 1930s European leaders and thinkers, rightly seeking to avoid another world war, ignored the fact that Hitler’s ideology and actions showed that he was serious in his goal of creating a Greater German Reich dominated byhis Master Race. The result of their failure to oppose his ideas and policies led to another world war.
Nazi ideas live on in Islamism
The ideas that led to the Holocaust are infecting our world today, principally through Islam. Islamist dogma holds that theirs is the only true religion, that they should wield absolute power and should enslave or even exterminate the infidel.
How many butchers shrieking “Allah Akbar!” will it take to get this point through some people’s pig heads? How many World Trade Centers destroyed
; London subways bombed
; Paris journalists
and Pakistani grade-school pupils murdered; African villagers
gunned down; innocent men, women, and children beheaded
; or Jews everywhere
, but especially in Israel, targeted with destruction? The Nazis saw the need to hide their atrocities for fear that Germans, still holding a semblance of civilized values, would be appalled. ISIS, on the other hand, advertises its atrocities to attract recruits. Mullahs in Europe and America as well as in the Middle East declare the goal of subjecting the world to barbaric Sharia law and killing all who stand in their way. Muslim no-go zones in Europe and even in America allow this dogma to spread.
Cultural relativism gives in to evil
The failure to oppose Nazi-style dogma and to defend civilized values is itself based on another irrational, confused doctrine. This doctrine holds that all cultures are “equal” because all values are relative. But relativists also single out Western culture as the unequal, ignoble exception. The West, they hold, is the root of much evil and repression, and Westerners should apologize for their values and history. Relativism holds that screamingly irrational, murder-minded Islamists—and their sympathizers who flood the streets demanding death for all who insult them—deserve respect to the extent that they are screamingly irrational and murder-minded. It holds that free speech should be limited to the extent that those holding the most morally odious beliefs feel offended by speech that opposes them.
As the death camps in Europe were being liberated 70 years ago, every civilized person was asking, “How could this have happened?” and vowing, “Never again.” The “how” is on display in our world today. The only way the “never again” vow can be fulfilled is for all individuals who aspire to be civilized stand up and fight for the values of reason and individual liberty, and against any dogmas and dogmatists who would oppose them.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.