Never again! Yet again!
A Personal Struggle with the Holocaust and Genocide
By Stephen D. Smith
Gefen Publishing House, 2009, 206 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 23, 2010
There is an ancient Jewish legend that every generation has 36 righteous people who sustain the world. If Stephen D. Smith's story is true, and I believe that it is, he and his brother James are two of the 36 in this generation.
The two brothers who had no connection to the holocaust and who are not Jewish, sons of a Methodist minister and his wife who brought up their sons in an interdenominational setting, started Britain's Holocaust memorial and education center and helped build a similar center in Rwanda to remember the slaughters committed in that country. This book tells the inspiring story of how the brothers came to realize what needed to be done and how they did it.
He tells how from an early age he learnt about the two thousand years of discrimination against Jews in the western world and how and why it bothered the brothers and why they felt let down by their civilization. They learnt about the holocaust and asked, "Are we likely to repeat this kind of behavior?" What can stop it from happening? Why did the perpetrators do what they did, discriminate, degrade, destroy? "The culture and contribution that Jews were making to science and the arts for centuries was undeniable. Their tenacity in remaining a vital part of a largely hostile environment was as remarkable as it was productive. So why them?"
Why did people stand by and do nothing to help millions who were suffering and dying? Why didn't practicing Christians demonstrate Christian behavior? Why were there many non-Christians who conversely "were entirely 'Christian' in what they were prepared to do?" This, they realized, was not a Jewish problem. They learnt that they needed to educate people, not by telling them what to think, but by setting up a situation where people can draw "their own conclusions, think their own thoughts, say their own prayers, and to enter into whatever discourse they felt was appropriate for them as individuals." They learnt as well that "the failure to understand the relationship between Judaism and Christianity – except in terms of longstanding enmity- ensured that Christian clergy were not equipped to evaluate their moral and fraternal responsibility, and furthermore often justified the persecution of the Jews as divine retribution." They learnt that the future of western civilization depends upon its people understanding the causes of the holocaust and the lackluster reactions to it.
They established their center in England. They learnt how to address the same historical scenario from a variety of perspectives. Groups and individuals came for visits between three and five hours, which were divided into three parts: historical exploration, understanding the personal tragedy, not only the national disaster, and analysis and discussion.
They saw the similarity of the Jewish genocide to the wholesale murders in Rwanda, the tiny East African country. Its genocide too "was a legacy of European influence. "During the period when the Germans ran the territory (1895-1916), Rwandans were already being studied by the same scientists whose ideas helped justify National Socialism."
Readers should not think that Smith presents these sober subjects in a dry, threatening, and tedious manner. Far from it. This is a personal story. It is a story of two heroes. It is a story that is written well, that informs, that causes readers to think and understand and ask "Why couldn't I do what they did? Why didn't I realize what they understood?"