By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
Yesterday evening was the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day that commemorates the suffering of all the victims of the German National Socialist (Nazi) regime that murdered millions of people in extermination facilities. In particular among the many victims of Nazi brutality, there stands the memory of the estimated 6 million Jewish persons who were systematically murdered in the death camps. Nazi leaders specifically designed the camps to provide Nazi Germany with cheap labor and also to rid the continent of Europe of every person with even a semblance of Jewish heritage. These death waves devastated the Ashkenazi Jewish population of Europe causing such a humanitarian drive that the newly-formed United Nations created the nation-state of Israel for the purpose of providing Jewish people all over the world a safer geographic location to live in harmony with one another and the rest of the world.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known in Israel on a different date as Yom HaShoah (Day [Remembering] the Holocaust), reminds us about the potential wickedness in even the brightest and strongest of civilizations that humanity has to offer. Just decades before the Nazis, Germany produced the most seminal philosophers, leading to the creation of the humanitarian moral ethical system that now drives Western culture. In fact, a remnant of the old German influence in education still comes up every now and again. College students in liberal arts institutions worldwide learn Kantian ethics, the social theory of the zeitgeist, and Marxist social theory aka socialism. And sadly, it was a German veteran of World War I also well-versed in these social theories (and more) who eventually took advantage of the leftover chaos found in 1920’s Europe in order to spawn an entire decade of unmatched devastation and brutality. That socially and culturally enlightened veteran turned Socialist propagandist was Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler, a man who throughout our time has become so heinous and infamous that many have forever changed their family’s history by not retaining the Hitler surname.
And this day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, brings a new message for my own family. Last year was the culmination of a search that went on and off for years as I researched my family’s history. Thanks to increasing my knowledge of genealogical records and the usage of cross-examination in terms of historical clues and events, I was able to conclude with a very high-degree of certainty that my family has Ashkenazi roots. This was a discovery that yielded many morsels of revelation for my family even before I had reached my final conclusion, and it certainly rocked my view of “race”– a view that already was near completely disintegrated. And it all started with a family surname, or two.
As an American descended from African slaves, surnames contain a great deal of potential information. Of course, my search has shown me what family tradition has already told us for generations: we aren’t just descended from African persons. But, peering into my family’s roots based upon abject curiosity and an intense almost mystical drive to learn more has allowed my family a great deal of closure for the experiences of our loved ones in past generations. It amazes me as a modern historian how much people take for granted the stories of our ancestors and the generations before ourselves. Many persons will add and take away from the simple story that I told above about Israel’s founding. And, depending upon their political aims, the story will either validate or attempt to deny what I have written. But, that is why we have historical documents, legal transactions, and testimonies from our ancestors. In reality, all of these forms of documentation are ancestral testimonies…it’s just that our culture (for good reasons) places different weights of measurable validity on them based upon the way each testimony is transmitted. We record our history in the hopes that future generations learn from our triumphs and from our failures. Our hearts are continually set on becoming a better humanity…but that all goes to Hell when younger generations refuse to listen to those who came before and begin to settle for convenient lies rather than the hard-won truth.
Still, even as Yom HaShoah ends with the approach of today’s evening, I am thankful for rediscovering the Jewish roots of my family. For one, it adds to the global narrative of my human experience. The fact that in 1940’s Nazi Germany, I had American great-uncles fighting to liberate Europe in Allied armed forces while at the same time they (and I) had far-distant relatives suffering under the oppression of a German madman shows me a truth that we are all too prone to forget. All lives are sacred, all lives. We are all one very large and sometimes disfunctional extensive family. Every single one of us matters. This central fact makes every other fact true: Jewish lives matter, black American lives matter, Roma lives matter, Syrian lives matter, homosexual lives matter, Christian lives matter, the lives of special needs persons matter, women’s lives matter, and the lives of unborn children in the womb matter.
And why do we all matter? Hitler was wrong. It isn’t the economic advantage that each person gives to their community that proves their worth. It isn’t the consistency of a person to always perform perfectly that proves their worth. It isn’t the religion, or creed, or sexuality, or ethnicity, or prenatal development that proves or invalidates the worth of a single human life. Human lives are sacred not at all due to human volition or by some man-made value system. Even Kant was wrong.
We humans are valuable because Almighty God made us that way. Yahweh imprinted our very being with His image and His likeness. And though it is true that we all have fallen from His likeness, God has already done the impossible for us by restoring us to Himself in His Son, Yahweh-incarnate, Yeshua HaMeshiach…the Jew from Nazareth. All lives matter because God says so. That is the end of the discussion.
I once was wrapped up in searching for trying to prove the validity of my African ethnicity, moving from one racist ideology to another. But God finally completed His work in showing me that He Himself made me what I am, and that my roots– all of my roots– matter equally because God has loved and called every nation unto Himself just as He also created every nation from one man and one woman. Human cultures are as much our own fabrication as it is a demonstration of God’s given creativity showing through us. Though humanity has spoiled all of our gifts from God, including our cultures, God redeems us and our gifts through the work of His Messiah so that we are become able to return to Him as His acceptable stewards of the Earth to His eternal joy. God bless the day He revealed His love for me and my family! From that time forward, I celebrated the memory of the elderly, the diseased, the handicapped, the homosexuals, the Roma, the black Europeans, and the Jews who perished in the Holocaust because these persons were (and are) my human brothers and my human sisters. And now, I celebrate the memory of this day for the same reason…just in a more aware and gracious manner.
God bless you all to live your days in the Way of Messiah. And may we remember this day so that we repeat this travesty upon our family NEVER AGAIN.