The roots of Auschwitz

By Anna Belle Peevey and Ty Eppsteiner
“No event in the recent century casts a longer or darker shadow on our consciousness than what we call Auschwitz,” said Karl A. Schleunes, Professor of History at the UNCG. Schleunes spoke Monday, March 26 in Bryan Auditorium in a speech entitled “The Longest Shadow: Fitting Auschwitz into History.”

Schleunes is a renowned scholar of European history. One of his main emphases is the Holocaust. He has written numerous essays and publications on the subject, and received honors and awards for his work in the field.
His speech focused on the historical and religious implications of Jewish oppression during the Holocaust. Schleunes argued that the philosophical ramifications of the Enlightenment, as well as interpretations of the New Testament, led to a climate conducive and fertile to the growth of Nazism and the Holocaust.

“These two dark sides [Christianity and the Enlightenment] did not make the Holocaust inevitable, they provided the circumstances for it to happen,” said Schleunes.

The Christians joined the Jews as the second monotheistic religion in existence, after the death of Christ. In the early 300s, it became a tolerated religion throughout much of the Western world. The introduction of the New Testament provided an intellectual foundation for European civilization. In Schleunes’s speech, he posited that the New Testament has also facilitated anti-Jewish sentiment throughout history. He used examples from
Matthew to illustrate Christianity’s rationalization of Jews as enemies, because they were the killers of Christ. He also made reference to the Crusades as continuing the dehumanization of Jews; Christians saw them as being “in league with the devil.”

In reference to the Enlightenment, Schleunes suggested that the resurgence of science and rationalism introduced another form of anti-Semitism. The Enlightenment was a movement away from all religion, but its framework lay in Christianity. Because this “Age of Reason” quickly became a widespread new paradigm, Jews that did not concede their religious identity to assimilate into this new way of thinking were ostracized. “The Holocaust may not have been as extreme if the year 1789 was wiped out of the pages of history,” quoted Schleunes.
Schleunes emphasized the importance of educating oneself on the Holocaust and its implications in past history as well as present society. “Time should be divided into two sections — before Auschwitz and after Auschwitz,” he said.