As we approach Remembrance Day, this week was also the 33rd annual Holocaust Education Week. Paul and I attended a lecture given by Dr. Beth Griesch-Polelle, an associate professor in the Department of History at Bowling Green State University. The evening was hosted by Reena, a Jewish organization that supports people with developmental disabilities.
The presentation was titled, "Euthanasia: The First Victims," and it focused on the extermination of over 200,000 persons with disabilities who were among the first victims of the euthanasia project--a process of eliminating those deemed unworthy of life.
Professor Greisch-Polelle spoke of Bishop von Galen, an aristocratic Roman Catholic clergyman, who earned the nickname, "The Lion of Munster," for his open criticism of the Nazis through his sermons in 1941, where he spoke of the murder of developmentally disabled individuals and outrages against Christian clergy, both Catholic and Protestant. He told his congregation of the of a paralysed World War 1 veteran who was taken from the hospital and put to death and charged them with teaching their children biblical values, in opposition to the indoctrination they were receiving in school.
The bishop's sermons were copied and disseminated throughout Germany and beyond. He fully expected to be arrested and sent to a camp, but to his sorrow, rather than harm such an influential figure, in his place, 24 secular priests and 13 members of the regular clergy were deported into concentration camps and 10 lost their lives (The Church in History Information Centre.)
Reading about the life of this man inspires me. Remembering the past and its horrors, warns me not to be complacent in the present, but to be alert to the insidious devaluing of one life in comparison with another.
Hitler and the Gestapo systematically advanced their agenda of racial purification, hoping to harden the German people gradually to the killing of the "unfit." In spite of this there were protests, which were brutally put down and there were thousands of arrests, executions and disappearances.
To those who make it their work to ensure that we never forget I am grateful. Tomorrow in our churches we will remember those who laid down their lives to make this world a better place. The best way we can honour their sacrifice is to guard the freedoms their lives were given for.