I had the privilege of going the Holocaust Museum for the first time today. If you’ve never been, you can probably imagine the kind of images that are featured at such an exhibit. Needless to say, the feelings that were dredged up in me were solemn to say the least. I don’t think anyone can walk through this museum without initially thinking, “how could this happen?” But the answer to that question is not that difficult to find.
Believe it or not the most significant part of the tour was not the museum itself but what happened when I left the museum. When I exited with my family a person approached us to tell us that she and her camera man were from NBC. She wanted to interview us about something, which my wife and daughter instantly expressed their unwillingness simply because talking to a camera is not something that excites them in the least. The main question the interviewer asked is what intrigued me. Before we got to that question they asked my name and where I was from. I expressed that I was born in Alexandria, Virginia just a handful of miles from where we were standing but haven’t lived in the area for quite some time. She then asked me what stood out to me the most about the museum. I answered, “the shoes.” Not just the pile of shoes collected from one of the death camps (pictured above) but the smell. They didn’t stink. It was a strong smell of old leather that somehow made all the photographs and black and white video clips I observed come to life. The shoes made it real.
The interviewer then expressed that Google, at least I think it was Google, had changed some kind of algorithm so searching would not lead to a site that was claiming that the entire holocaust was an elaborate hoax. (Similar to what some claim about us sending men to the moon). Then the question was asked, “what do you think of this algorithm being changed?” That’s really what they wanted to know and film. That got my thought juices flowing.
I expressed to her that I don’t understand why anyone would try to claim the holocaust didn’t happen. There is obviously an incredible amount of evidence, film and photographic documentary, as well as personal testimony to the fact the this horrible event happened in the not so distant past.
I also expressed that it was an interesting question for today since the headline of “fake news” seemed to rule much discussion—especially in regard to politics and the topic of what the majority of our nation believes and why they believe it. Should Google, another internet company, the government, or anyone else be limiting accessibility to a website? Well that really should bring us to pause. I suspect that many would begin to answer that question with a sentiment like, “it depends on what the website is.” My answer probably begins in the same way.
But, since I just walked out of the Holocaust Museum, I was thinking about what happens when a nation is no longer free to think for themselves. What’s the big deal about free thinking?
The founders of our nation believed a great deal of our freedom rested upon the ability to think freely. Freedom is not just about what you are allowed to do. As a matter of fact, a society could never be free unless there were some laws limiting that freedom. If everyone could do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it, they may be free but many others would lose their liberty based upon the freedom enacted by another. All that to say, because we’re not free to commit crime others can be free too.
Freedom, however, is not as much about laws and limitations as it is about the freedom to think. One of the other monuments I visited today was the Jefferson memorial. One of the inscriptions found in the memorial reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free.” A free mind, free to think, free to believe, and free not to believe is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. In that, people can truly be free. When that freedom is lost, well, horrible things can happen—like the holocaust.
That was one of the main points to the Holocaust Museum. They even have a secondary exhibit called “Some Were Neighbors” to demonstrate the collaboration and complicity of the Germans in the persecution of other Germans who happened to be Jewish and who were also their neighbors, coworkers, and even friends. How did this happen? Why did the so many German people either turn a blind eye to the criminal actions of the Gestapo or, at times, even help by turning in innocent Jews?
I remembered the part of the exhibit which showed pictures and video of the Nazi leaders burning books by the thousands. They went into the libraries and book stores and purged them from every book that was not “pure” in what was deemed to be German thinking. The Gestapo removed everything that would communicate ideas or thinking that was a threat to the Nazi program.
All of that was going through my mind as I answered the question the interviewer asked me. I said, “I understand why they would want to restrict access to this sight. It’s important that the world never forget what happened in Nazi Germany and through much of Europe as two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe was systematically murdered.” It is necessary for us to remember that. I went on to tell her that human nature has not changed. “If we think it’s not possible for something like this to happen again, we’re fooling ourselves.” That’s the other side of the coin. What happens when people are no longer allowed to hear all of the information? What happens when a few determine what an entire culture is allowed to think?
The holocaust happened because people were no longer free to think. Since I’m a Christian and a church leader, it’s important to point out also that there was a Christian presence in Germany during the rise of Naziism but the churches were soundly sleeping. Becasue they were no longer thinking—no longer walking in the wisdom of God—they did nothing to stop it.
This brings me to lament, not just the holocaust, but also our current American culture. We’re just like Germany was before the rise of Naziism. No longer thinking. We haven’t had our freedom to think taken from us—we’ve given it away. And, we now have churches that are sound in their sleep. We have a nation of people who widely no longer know how to think. The masses follow what’s popular, which is what happened when German neighbors and friends turned against the Jewish people who lived and worked next door. The masses are easily manipulated which demonstrates how the rise of “fake news” can happened.
What happens when people no longer think? The Holocaust. Can this happen again? Something like it is almost guaranteed to unless we as a culture begin to think again. Just as the familiar quote states, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”