Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Response to Schadenfreude

In my post on Schadenfreude, and my book review of Hitler's Willing Executioners, I spoke of Christians in Germany and Eastern Europe who perpetrated the Holocaust .  A woman who read this commented passionately that "real" Christians wouldn't do such things. I never in any of my posts intended or said that all  Christians did or do anything or that all Christians believe the same things. They don't. And the same is true of Jews and people unaffiliated with any congregation.

The problem seems to be twofold semantically: how you define Christian, and when you use a term like that, are you using it inclusively or not.  That is, if you identify the perpetrators of the Holocaust as Christian, does that mean that all Christians are guilty?  It is like saying "the men who robbed the bank were blond."  That doesn't mean that all blond men rob banks .

The Holocaust was perpetrated by people who considered themselves Christians, often avid churchgoers. Both Catholic and Protestant church leaders in Germany sanctioned the extermination of Jews.  If American or other church leaders protested, I've never heard of it. I did hear Father Coughlin on American radio every week calling for exterminating Jews when I was a child.

he United States of America famously refused to allow German or Eastern European  Jews to enter the country, even though they knew that those Jews would be exterminated.  Hitler made that very clear. The only Jews who were allowed in were those like Einstein. The painter Chagall did make it in, but only with great difficulty.

President Roosevelt himself sent Ambassador Kennedy to Hollywood to warn the Jewish studio heads not to portray what was happening in Europe or it would be worse for the Jews in America.  Roosevelt refused to permit the bombing of the railroad tracks  used for carrying cattle cars full of Jews to their deaths.  Jewish organizations in  America were warned not to protest.  There is no historical record I know of which shows that Christians of any variety protested any of this. In fact, until American entered the war, Nazi Bunds marched freely in the Midwest and even in New York State.

Yes, I know there are Christians who believe they are full of Jesus' grace, and who claim, as my reader did, that all other Christians aren't real Christians. Catholics who take Communion feel as if they are imbued with Jesus' spirit. In fact, it was this belief that caused the Reformation.  Protestants said that communion didn't result in transubstantiation. 

As I use it, the word Christian designates a person who believes in Jesus as a Savior, who believes in the virginity of Mary, and who believes the Gospels superceded the Hebrew Bible.  Within those parameters, however, there is a great variety of other beliefs. Certainly, the Catholics in my family as well as in my circle of friends consider themselves Christians.  So do the Protestants I know who go to traditional Congregational Churches. So are my friends who belong to Fundamentalist churches.  When I spoke of Christians in the Holocaust, I was merely designating people who considered themselves Christians.  I wasn't saying that all people who call themselves Christians behaved that way.

Finally, in my review, I made it clear that there were non-Jews who were sent to camp, and Goldhagen says that, too.  However, no other group of people in and out of the camps were subjected to the horrors that Jews were. I provided a link to a website that detailed what happened in the town of Nowy Dwor, Poland as an example.

How is all of this pertinent to language?  It shows how people invest meaning individually to certain words.  To my reader, the  word Christian refers only to those Christians who believe in her particular interpretation of the word.  However, there are many types of people who consider themselves Christians.  What does she call them?  What should I have called them? Gentiles?  That encompasses not only Christians, but ever other religious group,  like Hindus.  To say that Christians--or Jews--did or didn't do something doesn't  mean that all Christians or Jews were involved.  It  means that some people who consider themselves Christians or Jews did or didn't do whatever it was.

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