A Journey to Prague and the Lessons of Genocide

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My eyes finally began to focus in on what they were actually seeing…endless white walls, covered top to bottom with close to 80 thousand names, painstakingly handwritten, section by section, each surname and family member listed one after another and neighborhood that they lived in before they were murdered by the Third Reich. Even shocking myself, one of my first thoughts after the initial well of tears hit me was, “this makes the loss of life on 9/11 seem like nothing.”

Lucky enough to find myself on vacation in the Czech Republic this past week, my husband had told me about his own visit to the Jewish Museum in Prague soon after the fall of the Communist regime in the mid 90’s, and being of Jewish descent myself, we had always spoken of going there together. I have never been to a museum dedicated exclusively to the victims of the Holocaust and I am truly thankful I had the chance to experience this one, no matter how gut wrenching and disheartening it was. The memorial was dedicated to the victims of the well documented Terez√≠n ghetto which functioned as a transit camp between 1941 and 1945. Jews from the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia were held at the ghetto before they were shipped to death camps like Auschwitz. Besides the impact of being completely surrounded by name after name after name, one of the most moving moments of the day was an exhibition of dozens of children’s drawings depicting life before and after the Nazi invasion.

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Some four thousand of these drawings were hidden in a suitcase by a local artist and teacher also living in the ghetto and found after the war. Of the 15,000 children held at Terezín until it was liberated at the end of the war, only 132 were known to have survived. (Two books I came across, written by two of those survivors; A Boy in Terezín and Painful Echo of Time a collection of letters written by a 19 year old girl, now living here in New York City.)

Walking through the museum and taking in the detailed history associated with just this one camp makes one realize that 80 thousand deaths is just a drop in the bucket when in reality over 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. It’s really difficult to wrap your head around the fact that less than 100 years ago, a madman in plain sight rose to power, and on the world stage systematically executed a plan to dominate Europe and extinguish an entire race of people. Even more sobering is that he partially succeeded. It wasn’t until the United States came in to save the day that the Nazis and the Axis were finally defeated. And even then, people did not want to believe the horrors that were taking place at the hands of the Nazis as it was too unfathomable for most. Hitler’s propaganda was way too easy to digest than the harsh truth, after all – Europe was a civilized society. Even the international organization the Red Cross was fooled when it was invited to tour the conditions at Terez√≠n, which the Nazis constructed into a model example of a Jewish “spa camp,” complete with shops, a theatre, and fake money.

The museum itself is made up of a number of historic sites and synagogues, as well as the oldest existing Jewish cemetery in Europe, all located in the Jewish Quarter of this quaint cobblestoned city. Sadly, The Nazis made it a policy to destroy Jewish cemeteries, sometimes using the tombstones for target practice. Ironically, the synagogues in Prague were used to store all the valuables they stole from the Jews, and Hitler himself ordered that this cemetery be left intact, since he was planning to build a future museum depicting the Jewish race once they had been exterminated completely. Hitler made his viewpoint well known as early as 1939, the Nazi’s even earlier. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the Nazis introduced a law to legalize eugenic sterilization to control the population growth among “Gypsies and most of the Germans of black color.” The genocide of the Jews, otherwise known as “the final solution of the Jewish question,” was in full swing by 1942.

So, you finally ask, what’s with the history lesson? Are we as a society seemed determined to throw away our world history lessons and repeat the mistakes of the past? What happened to “Never Forget?” I can’t surely be the only one who has noticed that Islamic radicals are slowly and methodically spreading their sick ideology across the globe while leaving a trail of dead bodies in their path – announcing gleefully their plans to dominate and extinguish all infidels while the world stage watches and makes excuses. Owww, I just felt the knee jerk kick on my shin from the politically correct reader underneath the invisible table between us. Please, before you start trying to list all the reasons why I am a paranoid racist Islamophobe, at least let me throw some facts out there.

Let’s start with the United Muslim Nations International, a Muslim group who just this month released a 23-page pamphlet on how to “wipe Christianity from the face of the earth,” Islamize the West and establish an Islamic system of world government – placing those who resist “under a police state.” The groups leader Sheik Farook al-Mohammedi, may not be a rock star yet, but even Hitler started somewhere.

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Just this week our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC about preventing a likely Christian genocide in Syria, a genocide fueled by the radicalization of their already oppressive Muslim government to Sharia law. Egypt, who only last year we thought had a chance at some sort of reformed government, has also now fallen to the radicals as its newly elected President pushes for Sharia law. Meanwhile, one Sunni leader there recently commented on the need to destroy the pyramidsand finish the job “one of their earlier Muslim conquerors could not.” Another leading radical pol counters, “at least cover them (pagan symbols) with wax as to hide them from view.” Also reported this week, Pakistani and Afghan militant groups have gained a foothold in Egypt’s now lawless deserts. So much for the Arab Spring. Yemen anyone? Which reminds me, wasn’t it Islamic militants who destroyed a number of sacred shrines in Timbuktu earlier this month, a known UNESCO World Heritage Site? And how about those now extinct Buddhist Statues in Afghanistan demolished by the Taliban?

On a more brutal front, Islam is systematically spreading through much of Northern Africa bringing with it the genocide of Christians. Did you know in March, our favorite friends of the Jews, Iran was caught distributing ‘hardline Islamic materials, and weapons of course, to radical extremists in parts of Africa. That’s besides the fact Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blatantly announces his plan for the destruction of Israel on a monthly basis. From the Somali militant group alShabab, AbuSayyaf in the Philippines to Hamas in the Palestinian territory, one thing is certain – all these Muslim extremist groups have a clear message..world domination of Islam. If you do not submit to Allah then you must be destroyed. And I think it is safe to say they are definitely equal opportunity terrorists. The argument from the left? All Muslims are not bad people. I say of course not, but all Germans weren’t bad people either. Still the Holocaust happened.

All the radical Muslims need is one charismatic leader to connect the militant dots across the globe and unite them. You think it won’t happen? Its just a matter of time. What’s another 20 or 30 years when they’ve waited centuries for this moment? They’re telling you what they plan to do, we’re just not listening. Keep your eyes closed and stick your head in the sand. It could never happen again, really, it couldn’t.

  • I’m actually one of those liberals who takes the the danger of Islamic extremism seriously. However, you do no one any favors by jumping all over the place and describing Islamist groups that are geographically disparate and often theologically opposed to one another. The Shia fundamentalism espoused by Iran is blasphemous to the Salafists of al Qaeda for instance.

    Furthermore by painting all these extremists with no specificity, you give an inaccurate portrait of the variation of the Islamic world, which includes the nearly one million Muslim citizens of Israel who rather live in a Jewish majority state than in any neighboring Muslim state or the many secular, pro-American Muslims I met in my recent trip to Kosovo and Albania.

  • Jai Sen

    Ian, I originally posted this comment on Facebook, repeating it here:

    Rather insightful comment on this piece by Ian Thal, I thought–an important acknowledgment that, yes, there are obviously Islamic radicals out there (just like there are all sorts of fundamentalists representing other religions!), not an undifferentiated mass of Muslims that all deserve our mistrust.

    As someone who’s spent most of my life in Islamic countries or cities, I was appreciative of him making that distinction.

    The comparison to Nazism I’m going to leave alone, as I think the “creeping threat” aspect of this only works if you believe all Muslims (in the mode of the fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion) are in league to undermine the Christian world. Obviously they’re not.

  • tom

    Mrs. Schappert,

    I always appreciate your opinion. But, as an American, a Jew and one well-versed in Czech history, I have to debate your simile. There are over a billion Muslims on the earth; to say that Islam (comparatively the most tolerant of the three religions of “the Book”) is to blame is like saying Christians (with no other modifier) are to blame for homophobia en masse. Perhaps forty extremist Muslims represent the source of fear for billions of Christians and Jews, but Islam sends a message of peace, for the most part. Please don’t demonize Islam or Muslims due to the psychotic idiots with the biggest megaphone. It’s akin to saying Waco happened because of Christianity.

  • I certainly would say that there are movements within the Islamic world that are genocidal, if not in deed, then at least in ideology– so we certainly cannot dismiss the rampant anti-Semitism that Ms. Schappert mentions– however, anyone who is seriously concerned about combatting violent extremism eminating from the Islamic world needs to know the difference between al Qaeda, the Ba’athist movement, the Iranian backed Hezbollah movement (or even note that most of the victims of these ideologies have been Muslims– just look at what is going on in Syria!)– much as those concerned with extremism in the west can discern geographical and ideological differences between the Ku Klux Klan, the British National Party, and the Red Army Faction.