This last week, my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for business and had a few extra days to take in the museums and monuments of our nation’s capital. The whole experience lends the opportunity to reflect and pause over the many struggles our great country has gone through in these last 200-plus years. As with all history, it also helps us understand where we may be heading as we forge our future.
One of the most ominous places we visited was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. While we had been there before, it is such a poignant reminder of a tragic time in history and we wanted to return. It is hard to comprehend how one nation could systematically kill over 6 million people, singling out very specific groups, and how quickly it was accomplished.
The years that followed World War I were ones of struggle for all of Europe, as it tried to recover from the death or injury of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians, as well as immense damage to property and industry. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to concede numerous areas of their territories and colonies, both in Europe and overseas. One portion of the treaty was known as the “War Guilt Clause,” which forced Germany to accept entire responsibility for initiating the war and required them to make enormous reparation payments.
Under this heavy burden coupled with high inflation and unemployment, the post-World War I government was very weak. Adolf Hitler promised to bring Germany out of this calamity and placed great blame for the economic hardship on the Jewish people. When Hitler was appointed as German chancellor in January 1933, he quickly put in motion his plan to eradicate the Jews, establishing the first concentration camp, Dachau, a few months later. He started with people “dangerous” to his regime, political opponents, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, persons with disabilities, the vulnerable and infirmed, accusing them for all of Germany’s problems. Over the next five years, he rapidly moved his attention to the Jews, stripping them of their citizenship and rights.
By 1939, Jews were required to wear identifying armbands, labeling them as outcasts. 1941 was when the real onslaught began, including mass shootings, gas chamber vans pulling into towns, resorting to his “resettlement” campaign, forcing Jews into concentration camps and eventual death as the “Final Solution.”
Just think, it took only eight years to change the thinking of the average person on the street from being friends of their neighbor, doing everyday business with them to either hating a person because of their heritage or reduced to fear so they would at least turn their backs to what was going on. Eight years to change public opinion, demonizing them, dehumanizing them to the point where the life (or death) of 6 million Jews didn’t matter.
On the U.S. front during the war, many brave men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not only for U.S. citizens, but those of the rest of the world. Fighting against the tyranny of ideologues, gave us, as a nation, the opportunity to realize how precious the gift of liberty is and how easily it can be taken away.
We must always be grateful to all those who paid the supreme price for us to be free.
So why is this history lesson so important for us now? Foremost, it begs us to ask the question: Can we truly say we are free when we systematically kill the most vulnerable in today’s society — the unborn? It is hard not to draw the parallel between the Jews and the unborn when watching the congressional hearing regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Several of our senators dehumanized the unborn, only talking about a women’s reproductive rights, never the unborn as a child, an unrepeatable, irreplaceable creation. They demeaned any thought of considering the new life growing in a woman’s body or referring to this precious gift as a baby or even a fetus. They equated the notion that overturning Roe v. Wade was going to lead to the deaths of thousands of women and would lead to the enslavement and devaluing of a woman and “her” rights.
Mr. Kavanaugh carefully and artfully answered their questions, trying to stick with points of law and our constitution. In such a hostile environment, he stayed calm and directed. He stood on his record and the understanding of the rights for all our people, born and unborn, and what our founding fathers intended by the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
For us, our goal is not to be swayed by the consistent desensitization that our world has embraced. Just as the Germans were influenced by the propaganda that they were fed about the Jews, let us not succumb to the consistent attack on life, religious freedom and sound morals. Let us remember what our country was founded on, fought for, and help it stay the course.
As Christ as our guide, let us persevere in our battle through prayer and fasting for the most vulnerable in our society, born, unborn, young, old, strong and the weak.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.