By Laura Rosen Cohen
November 10, 2008
Sixty years ago today, in the terrifying event known as Kristallnacht, over one thousand synagogues were torched in Germany and Austria. In the course of the Goebbels-instigated pogrom, the glass planes of Jewish-owned business were smashed (the Jewish community subsequently billed for the damages), and the first deportations of European Jews to concentration and labour camps began. Understandably, as a result, Kristallnacht has often wrongly been identified as the beginning of the end of European Jewry.
In fact, by the time Kristallnacht had taken place, the fate of the Jews had already been sealed.
It was the enthusiastic participation of every level of government in passing laws within Germany that stripped Jews of their political, civil and legal rights. This was perhaps the single most immediately damaging and effective way to enable the genocide. It was the extensive body of anti-Jewish legislative collaboration that most swiftly enabled the Nazi’s program of systematic extermination. It was ‘democratically’ passed legislation that eliminated Jews from public roles as civil servants, the legal profession, medicine and admission to elite university programs. It was a battery of civil laws that enabled a total expropriation of material goods and the ‘aryanization’ of Jewish businesses.
Therefore, by the night of broken glass, the Jews were already subsisting in a complete dearth of political and legal rights. The 1935 the Nuremberg Laws concerning the ‘protection of German blood and German honour’ further stripped the Jews of their last remaining shreds of dignity and humanity. The dehumanization process was by then complete. The fate of the de-humanized Jewish entities, formerly known as upstanding German citizens, was sealed.
“Never again” remains the oft-repeated mantra, the rallying and warning cry of civilized people everywhere in response to the Holocaust. But without specific and personal commitments regarding what we will ‘never again’ allow to happen, the words can sometimes ring hollow.
‘Never again’ should citizens of democracies sit and watch silently as their civil rights and freedoms are transparently eroded and abrogated. Sound absurd? Hardly. One needs only look to the (legislatively enabled) powers to suppress freedom of expression, and freedom of speech under the guise of the ‘human rights’ behemoth that exists in our own country. ‘Never again’ should any shred of the totalitarian inclination to stifle legal and healthy debate be tolerated – in Canada or in any other democracy no matter what ethnic community pursues a tireless, fruitless and ultimately insulting campaign of total exemption from being offended.
While hate speech and the abject vilification of the Jews through the monstrous Nazi propaganda apparatus certainly contributed to the campaign of extermination of European Jewry, it is a mistake of tragic and epic proportions to suggest that there is a straight line from ‘hate’ speech to genocide. It is furthermore an insult to the memory of the victims of Nazism, Jews and non-Jews alike, that vast amounts of public money, civil service hours and millions of charitably raised private dollars in the preposterous pursuit of shutting off or shutting up an individual’s right to hate (not harm) someone or even offend (but not libel) a group or individual.
Moreover, it is obscenely offensive to tens of millions of upstanding Canadian citizens to suggest that offensive speech could possibly lead to genocide here in Canada of all places. If that’s not hateful-what is?
If only a small percentage of these resources were channelled into political activism and even militant vigilance in defence of our freedoms, there would never again be an internal or external threat to our collective civil, democratic and human rights that could not be effectively beaten back. Surely, an additional way to honour the memory of the victims of Nazism-is to vow ‘never again’ to ignore any moves on the part of a democracy, no matter how seemingly minor, that would disenfranchise or de-humanize its citizenry or strip away its freedoms.
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