Hall of Names Yad Vashem
Hall of Names Yad VashemYonatan Sindel/Flash90

The 27th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar (beginning the even of April 28th this year) is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel and in Jewish communities world-wide.

This goes back to 1951, when the Holocaust was still a horribly fresh memory from the immediate past, which the majority of Israel’s population had personally experienced.

The Knesset decided on this day for its twin significance: first, this was the date of one of the fiercest battles of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the battle of 2nd May 1942, commanded by Marek Edelman, the commander of the bunker at Franciszkanska 30. And second, it is a week before the Memorial Day for fallen Israeli soldiers, which is itself the day before Israel Independence Day.

The majority of the world, however, chose January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, as Holocaust Memorial Day.

This was formalised by the United Nations in Resolution A/RES/60/7, adopted in November 2005.

The Resolution “reaffirm[s] that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

And so, two days to memorialize the Holocaust, representing two fundamentally different world-views. The UN marks January 27, commemorating the day that Auschwitz was liberated; and Israel marks the eve of Nisan 28 and the following day, commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and (indirectly) connecting to Israeli independence.

While secular humanism has long since replaced Christian theology as the dominant ideology of Western society, the teachings and culture of two millennia of Christianity still have enormous influence over Western relationship to Jews. And since Western civilisation is the dominant force among the intelligentsia (even if not among the masses) in much of the world, the UN Resolution is indicative of the way in which Christian (or post-Christian) civilisation relates to Jews.

Christian (or post-Christian) civilisation chose the day that Auschwitz was liberated, reflecting this Christian (and post-Christian) attitude to Jews. Because Christianity has its paradigm of the “perfect Jew”, arguably the most famous Jew in history, the Jew whom most Europeans for most of Europe’s history have worshipped as their Lord and Saviour.

The “perfect Jew” in Christian (and post-Christian) theology is the Jew who walks calmly and unresistingly to his own death; the Jew who is pre-destined to be crucified (or shot, or gassed), because that is his mission in life; the Jew who, by his death, expiates the sins of mankind.

In Christian (and post-Christian) theology, the perfect Jew is the Jew who, as the Roman executioners nail him to the cross, raises his eyes in mute prayer: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. The perfect Jew is the one who, in his death-agony, declaims: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

What the Jew must never do is raise a sword (or a gun) and fight back. The fighting Jew is definitely not in the script of Christian (and post-Christian) theology.

The perfect Jew is the one who raises his hands in meek surrender. The Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto who raised a knife, a pistol, a rifle, a hand-grenade, who fought the Nazis, who killed the murderers, is an aberration for Christian (and post-Christian) theology.

The Jew who stands proud and fights his oppressors is no hero for Christian (and post-Christian) theology; the Jew who dares to win and defeat his would-be murderers is the very devil.

So Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation cannot memorialise the Jew who fights, cannot honour the memory of the Jews who died fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Jewish State and Jewish communities commemorate the Holocaust as a time when Jews were murdered, but also as a time when Jews fought back and killed and died with weapons in their hands.

Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation memorialises Jews who died in the gas chambers and were shot in mass graves, unresisting and unprotesting, and whose sole salvation lay in the Gentile armies which defeated the Nazis – epitomised by the Red Army which rolled into Auschwitz on 27 January 1945.

The deaths of those Jews – the “good” Jews, even the “perfect” Jews – “will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”, and thereby expiate the sins of humanity.

Just as a Jew, crucified by the Romans as a Jew, was taken over by Christianity for universal salvation, so too the Holocaust directed primarily against the Jews has been hijacked by Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation as a universal “warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice”.

And this applies, mutatis mutandis, to the Jewish state – the only state in the world which is expected to risk its citizens’ lives, even its very existence, for the sake of peace. Israel is expected to play the rôle of the perfect Jew: to go calmly and unresistingly to its own death, and thus to appease its enemies – to die in order to expiate the sins of mankind.

Because the Jew who refuses to submit, and who instead fights his oppressors, who dares to win, the Jew who brings salvation and independence to Israel by defeating overwhelmingly superior armies whose sworn war-aim was to exterminate Israel and all the Jews therein, is the very devil.

And thus Christian (and post-Christian) civilisation can memorialise the Holocaust while casting the Jewish State as the devil incarnate, an evil that has to be exterminated.

And Jewish communities and the Jewish State memorialise the Holocaust while recognising it as a prelude to life.