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  • Reverend James Squire

Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Majority


Photo by Karsten Winegeart



When I was Chaplain at the Episcopal Academy, I made sure that we recognized Remembrance Day which was celebrated yesterday so we would NEVER forget what happened that created this genocide of the Jewish people. It was often thought that the Holocaust was perpetuated by the ignorant working class. To a certain extent, history is right. But it was the intelligentsia who were the leaders and key players in the attempted extermination of the Jewish people. The German watchword was they were the MAJORITY. This was revealed at the Nuremberg Trials that dealt with the war crimes that were committed. It is also an event that gave rise to the science of Bioethics because of the terrible medical experiments performed at the camps.


One of the speakers in chapel was the grandmother of a teacher in the school who was imprisoned during the Holocaust. She spoke quietly to the community about the horrors that she experienced and showed the numbers on her arm. It upset some students, but they needed to hear her story. I had Dr. Leon Bass, a principal of a school in Philadelphia, who gave a first account as a man in a black regiment that was the first group to liberate Auschwitz. When he described what he saw, tears still filled his eyes. He came home to “not being good enough.” But he shocked the students by saying “what led to the Holocaust happens here in this school every day.” It’s when you say to others because of their race, religion, social standing, sexual orientation, or another marginalized groups that they are not “good enough,” you are sowing the seeds of bigotry. The community embraced him and gave him a standing ovation every time he spoke. The community needed to hear what he said. I brought him back year after year when he was available to make that message an ongoing message imprinted in the hearts of the community.


All of this brings me to yesterday’s Inquirer. By this time, a good many people on school boards across the nation are banning books and distorting our American history as it relates to race and anything that they refer to as “woke.” Nothing that I did to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day would be acceptable to Ron DeSantis and his mission to become president and other politicians with the same attitude. In the opinion section of the paper, I saw something that I never realized that the word used frequently by those who want to whitewash our history on school boards such as in Bucks County, is the word MAJORITY.


Let’s took a look at that word, MAJORITY and something that a founding father said about it that evidently the right doesn’t know or ignores it. I taught the theory of the Utilitarianism in ethics class. It literally means “the greatest good for the greatest number.” It asks people to identify their primary group such as Republicans and Democrats. You make decisions that are good for your group. Sounds good? I always ask a class what is the difference where MAJORITY rules in Utilitarianism and a democracy. Students need to know a very important point that is different in a democracy. The difference in political ethics between a government based in Utilitarianism and a democracy is that the MAJORITY is duty bound to be sensitive to the needs of the MINORITY in word and deed. If we see our primary group as our nation and not a political party we wouldn’t be so stifled by gridlock.


In 1788 John Adams, one of our founding fathers warned of the “Tyranny of the MAJORITY.” I think that we have forgotten this. Bringing it closer to our contemporary experience, George Washington spoke in what became known as his Farewell Address in 1796 something that was very clear from the proverbial start about the possible peril of the political party, none existed in his day, “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and INSURRECTION.”


He and others of that time were so prophetic. It is a verbal picture of where we are today.


One of the people that I tried very hard to get to speak at our school, but couldn’t arrange it, was one of my heroes, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, and prolific author of what he learned from the Holocaust. One of his books, Night, was a favorite. He wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor. Silence encourages a tormentor, never the tormented.” The teacher in a school in Bucks County had it posted these words in his classroom. He was forced to take it down. If he didn’t, he would be subject to a severe penalty.


In my ethics class I taught that there are no neutral decisions. Not to act is to act. So, I wouldn’t be able to teach in Florida or in any of the school districts with these policies. Ron DeSantis, better known as Trump-Lite, received an award at the Union League this week. It caused a lot of division in the Union League as DeSantis has already created in Florida and will likely do as a nation if elected President. He is no Trump. Like it or not, Trump had personality, negative that it was. Someone described DeSantis as having the personality of a telephone pole although he is making obvious efforts to change that as he will “change anything” to get elected giving one address that he knew would be acceptable at the Acorn Club in Philly and a different one focusing on just the economy at the Union League.


I have nothing against the Union League. I have a number of friends who are members. I have spoken there on education and counseling adolescents, eaten there many times, and blessed marriages there.


But choosing DeSantis was a bridge too far for me. 100+ cast negative votes but the MAJORITY

won.


Most people know that the Union League is named after the life and spirit of Abraham Lincoln who many believe to be the greatest president in our history.


Of all of his famous addresses, the words that relate most, in my opinion, to what we should be about as a nation is his Inauguration Address on March 4, 1861 when he was elected to be the 16th President of the United States. He addressed the people by saying, “I am loath to close. We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break the bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, BY THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE.


Here is my question. Were the members of the Union League aware of the words of Washington, Adams, and Lincoln when they chose Ron DeSantis for this award? How could they be when setting his words and actions next to these great statesmen, knowing everything that DeSantis has said and done? Does he reflect the bedrock values of those who shaped our nation?


I got to believe that my friends and acquaintances were part of that 100+ who voted NO for they knew the great discrepancy between the greatest of men and someone that doesn’t measure up to that high bar of love of nation seeing THE BETTER ANGELS OF ALL PEOPLE.


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