I volunteer as a docent at Miami’s Holocaust Memorial. This is a book we have in the office there. A simple and profound book. The word “Jew” typed six million times creates an incredibly large tome (it’s as thick as an encyclopedia volume as you can see), but it is imperative to remember that each of those words represents a life cut brutally short. Each “Jew” has his or her own story to tell. I do my part to bring some of those stories to light, to honor the memories of those six million. Much of my own family was ravaged by the hatred embodied by the Shoah, and as the last of the survivors near the end of their lives, I strive to be a bridge to younger and future generations, passing on the critical message of NEVER AGAIN!
When considering the current COVID-19 crisis gripping the world, most people point to the Spanish Flu in 1918 to be the most recent example of a global pandemic.
Today, on Yom HaShoah, I challenge that assertion. The rise of Fascism, and in particular, the Nazis, posed a far more virulent threat to mankind…and make no mistake: The Nazis and all they represented, were, and continue to be, a virus…a plague on humanity.
Defenses were down after the War To End All Wars and its aftermath crippled the global economy, foisting our planet into the Great Depression. Germany, as the instigator and loser of WWI, was hit hardest. And so the Nazi virus began its invasion using a path of least resistance, enveloping central Europe in a fever-dream of swastikas and a promise to Make Aryans Great Again.
At first, a majority of Germans and their neighbors didn’t take the threat seriously. They had ample opportunity to snuff the early flames before it spread. But through a combination of denial, selfishness and policies of appeasement which focused on local problems (be it within one’s family or municipality inside of Germany, or on fellow countrymen and national strife beyond the German borders – particularly in England – I’m looking at you Chamberlain), they failed to take early decisive action.
In fairness, those who unleashed the virus on their fellow man were deceitful. They propagated a campaign of lies, slyly undermining any efforts to slow the spread. Propaganda ensured rapid infection by way of sleight of hand…the virus was…get this…hailed as the cure – the magic elixir that would solve all of Germany’s rampant and real problems: unemployment, stagflation, poverty…helping the once-proud nation and it’s people to a return to glory. How? By blaming all of these problems on the Jews, of course.
By the time the NAZI-88 virus annexed the Sudetenland and bulldozed Poland it was too late. The disease had mutated. Local populations with dormant but no less virulent strains of the insidious ailment actually helped spread the disease. NAZI-88 preyed on hubris. And the weak, the elderly and the disabled were ravaged. Certain members of society were quarantined, and forced to produce munitions to bolster and help spread the infection.
But millions of ordinary European citizens had a choice…they could help stop the spread of NAZI-88, or they could aid and abet the virus in its death march across Europe. NAZI-88 could not truly take hold throughout the continent without the help of the ignorant masses…both those who actively spread the infection and those who passively sat idly by as the disease ravaged their communities.
Let the lessons of NAZI-88 be forever etched in our minds. In times when the ground below us begins to crumble, and the flames of hell begin to pierce our foothold, it is up to the masses to join together and extinguish, not fan, the flames, and to reinforce the barriers that protect our weakest brothers and sisters from slipping through the cracks. For it is ignorant to believe the sacrifice of the old and frail, of the disabled and infirm or even of the Jews or some other minority will smother the raging fires below; rather, doing so will serve to feed those dying embers and erode the earth that protects us all from their grip.