Earlier this week I spent the morning helping to judge student essays submitted for the White Rose contest sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
The subject this year was Jewish resistance, and high school and middle schoolers were to describe at least one individual or a group who did something active to resist Nazi Germany's plan to murder all the Jews of Europe.
Resistance took many forms, including occasional armed action, which this booklet (available at this link in pdf form) from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes "was the most direct form of opposition to the Nazis. In many areas of German-occupied Europe, resistance took other forms such as aid, rescue, and spiritual resistance." Even keeping a secret diary to record what was happening was a kind of resistance.
In working on my new book about Jews in Poland who survived the Holocaust with non-Jewish help, I sometimes heard people ask me why the Jews didn't fight back -- why, in other words, they were so passive in the face of annihilation.
As the booklet to which I've linked you reports, that question is based on an inaccurate view of what happened, and, of course, the question almost implicitly blames the victims for what happened to them. There indeed was resistance, including several armed rebellions in ghettos and in concentration camps. But the obstacles to resistance were many, and those obstacles are outlined in the booklet to which I've linked you.
Beyond all that, Jews understandably found it impossible to believe that a nation state, such as Germany, could possibly adopt the heinous goal of wiping out European Jewry, so often they acquiesced to German orders that they might well have worked harder to avoid if they had believed such an unbelievable goal was reality. Even some who heard about the goal thought it was too crazy to be believed.
I'm pleased that young people are learning about various aspects of the Holocaust and writing these essays. Indeed, we must remember that each year there are more people to educate in this way, as we also should be educating them about many aspects of the history of people of various religious traditions.
(Speaking of resistance, the photo here today is of a memorial in Warsaw to the ghetto uprising there, which took place in April and May of 1943.)
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PICTURING RELIGION IN AFRICA
I was unable to be part of the conference call yesterday with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life to announce the new Pew findings on religion in sub-Saharan Africa, but this story gives pretty good highlights of what it contains. (And I've linked you above to the study itself.) On the whole, it's a reassuring report about people of faith who want to live in democratic countries and to live in harmony with neighbors of different faiths. Naturally, nothing is that simple, and there will continue to be tensions between Islam and Christianity there, but things could be much, much worse. Religion in Africa may be highly influential as to world developments in the decades ahead, so this survey is welcome.
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THE BOOK CORNER
A Field Guide to God: A Seeker's Manual, by Patty Kirk. It is not uncommon for people of faith to confess that they have lost any sense of God's presence in their lives. Even Mother Teresa acknowledged that it happened to her. It also happened to the author, who teaches English at John Brown University -- happened, indeed, for years at a time. Once she found her faith again, she began to explore the question of how to be aware of God's presence. And she took notes of what she noticed. No doubt unbelievers will chalk all of this up to radical subjectivity, but there's something profoundly personal and compelling about the way she describes her experiences. One of the best stories in the book has to do with the disgusting job of cleaning the filthy house of two retired teachers, sisters June and Claris. Kirk can tell stories well, and anyone who has lost touch with the divine might find some search help here.
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P.S.: To sponsor me for this year's AIDS Walk Kansas City, which happens on Saturday, April 24, and benefits AIDS service organizations, click here. And thanks.
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