Never, But Never, Be a Bystander
On January 27, 1998, Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust studies at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, delivered a speech to the German Bundestag in which he said: “I come from a people who gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Time has come to strengthen them by three additional ones, which we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shall not be a perpetrator; thou shall not be a victim; and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.” (USHMM)
Even before the Nazis began in earnest to systematically destroy the Jews of Europe, the three hundred million non-Jews of Europe were forced to make a decision. These Europeans—the great majority of them professing Christians—had three basic options once Hitler came into power: to help the Nazis, to help the Jews, or to do nothing either way.
The terminology used to describe the majority of citizens of occupied countries who chose not to take the risks required to help Nazi victims is “bystander.” Bystanders were ordinary people who complied with the laws that first identified, then isolated, then ultimately condemned and executed the European Jewish community in the effort to avoid the terrorizing activities of the Nazi regime.
Become an “Upstander”
“Upstander” is a word I just learned of which has just recently come in to use (and is not yet acknowledged in dictionaries). According to The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, “upstander” is a term coined by journalist Samantha Power to identify people who are willing to stand up and take action in defense of others. It can refer to individuals who take large risks during wars and political turmoil, and it also identifies people who take small but helpful steps to shield others from bullying and other injustices.
One of the tragic lessons and ultimate messages of the Holocaust is stark realization of the unfortunate reality that Christian belief does not necessarily result in Christian behavior. Since 1945, when the horrors of the Nazi regime were exposed to the world, no one can presume with any certainty that Christians will be “christian” when the need arises.
In light of such a legacy, how should we, as Christians, deal today with the questions raised by Christian silence and complicity during the Holocaust… especially in light of the increasingly rapid spread of Holocaust denial propaganda?
Answer: By becoming an upstander with regard to teaching and remembering the Holocaust within the Christian community itself. By taking the leadership role in doing so. By being light in the darkness.
By organizing a conference or workshop on the Holocaust, first for your immediate group, church or congregation, then, using that those newly trained upstanders as facilitating staff, organize another conference/workshop as an outreach to other groups.
I’ve created a two-hour presentation, “An Overview of the Holocaust from a Critical Perspective” that was introduced through a series of worldwide webinars during the week of Holocaust Remembrance in April of 2010. The series, which drew large audiences from every continent, was sponsored by First Fruits of Zion, a top-notch, cutting-edge educational organization with offices in the U.S. and Israel.
As Professor Bauer so eloquently put it: “thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”
Let’s work together to be “upstanding” with regard to the rising assault on human memory being waged by the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people.
Blessings and shalom,