“Then They Came for the Jews”

downloadI have been horrified and heartbroken to hear hate speech spoken, and worse, accepted without repercussion, in so many circles of American life.  From the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic “scholarship” and responses at my husband’s alma mater, Vassar College, as well as other campuses, to candidates and their followers who scapegoat people of different backgrounds from their own, our society is too slow to see that when someone else’s humanity is sacrificed, so is our own.
Amidst such failures in our world, I am heartened to discover souls who see beyond their own identity, who can lift their eyes to see the humanity in the other.  I am grateful to our congregant Susan Friedenberg for introducing me to Holocaust scholar Doug Cervi, who will be our guest this Sunday, May 1, 10:30am, when he facilitates for us a conversation with a Holocaust survivor and that survivor’s liberator.

Doug Cervi teaches as an Adjunct Professor at Stockton University and Atlantic Cape Community College in NJ and graduated from Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University with a BA in History Education and a Master’s Degree from Stockton University in Holocaust Genocide Studies. He has taught at the high school level for forty-one years, and has studied the Holocaust and Genocide for forty-three years.
Beyond his devotion to education, two things amaze me about Doug: 1) Doug is not Jewish and Holocaust education has become his life’s mission. 2) Doug never heard the word Holocaust until his senior year in college! He was being trained to teach history — to teach World War II–and he knew nothing about the Holocaust.  It was not until he watched a film that included the Holocaust, when he turned to a Jewish friend and asked, “do you know what they are talking about?”
Since that day, Doug has dedicated his work to teaching Holocaust and has taken educational trips to Nazi concentration and death camps and to Yad Vashem in Israel. He has also been to China to study the Nanking Massacre as he continues to try and understand why humans have perpetrated these terrible and horrendous crimes and what might prevent them in the future.
Many thanks to Susan Friedenberg and to Michael Hess, who are chairing this Holocaust education and remembrance event. Each of them have been compelled to devote their own lives to Holocaust education and awareness through their community service and personal learning.
This famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller actually took on several versions through the mid-1940’s and following.  He would alter it as history unfolded, always beginning a a group that seemed most distant from him, and building up to the groups that felt closest to him.  May we remember his words:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.