‘Conscience Is a Jewish Invention’

V-E Day, painting by Geoff Bennett

V-E Day—Artist, Geoff Bennett

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Loss of Innocence

We are the joyous Hitler youth
We do not need any Christian virtue
Our leader is our savior
The Pope and Rabbi shall be gone
We want to be pagans once again….

Fanny, the narrator

I, Fanny McElroy

Omigosh! There have got to be things that little girls should not have to know about.

I get as much education sitting on the grass-green steps of Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade, than I get at school. More, probably, because at school we get the sanitized versions of things, whereas, usually, nothing but the truth is told on Sister Alma Rose’s porch, and truth is what I heard when Rabbi Feintech and Sister Alma Rose were talking one afternoon, which was May 8, which was the anniversary of V-E Day — Victory in Europe, the end of World War II in Europe. (Final victory in the Pacific would come a few months later.)

An American soldier stands near a wagon piled high with corpses outside the crematorium in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp

An American soldier stands near a wagon piled high with corpses outside the crematorium in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp (Wikipedia)

When I was telling Mama and Daddy, at supper, what I learned on Sister Alma Rose’s porch that day from Sister Alma Rose and her friend Rabbi Feintech, they both said that they had studied World War II in high school and in college and had never heard of German dictator Adolph Hitler’s diabolical reasoning for thinking every Jew in the world should be destroyed.

Too bad to be true?

Of course, I had to go to the library the very next day to look up all the things that Rabbi Feintech had told Sister Alma Rose, with me listening on, agape — or do I mean aghast? I was probably aghast AND agape. Anyway, I was hoping that Rabbi Feintech was making it all up, not that I would like to think poorly of Rabbi Feintech, I like him very much, he always remembers my name and treats me like an adult, or at least like a mature young lady, and they knew I was listening and they didn’t make me go away, which I guess is a kind of respect, they obviously thought that I could handle it, and I guess I will have to, just as all adults have learned horrible truths and still manage to brush their teeth and cook oatmeal and make sure their kids are taking their vitamins and argue about what color to paint the bathroom.

Hitler Youth Recruitment Poster

Hitler Youth Recruitment Poster; the text, translated, says, “Youth serves the leader. All ten year-olds into the Hitler Youth”

Hearing what Rabbi Feintech said not only about the incredibly brutal killing of six million European Jews but about Hitler’s reason for wanting to kill every Jew in the world… I felt dizzy and nauseated, the way I would have felt if he would have said, “Your parents are alien body-snatchers and they’re going to eat you alive at midnight.”

I’ve never had much of a sense of danger in the world, other than being careful when I cross the highway and not getting in cars with strange men who want to take me to get hot-fudge sundaes, et cetera. But learning that nobody in eastern Europe was safe who was Jewish, not babies, not old people, not big strong men like Daddy, not anyone, and all that they had been doing was living their lives, going about their daily business, working, celebrating, cooking, going to worship — the stuff we all do, except with not-as-nifty appliances and funny-looking cars. And I wondered if I would ever feel safe again.

Let only the strong survive

Okay, I’ve danced around the topic long enough. Here we go. Really. I think I can talk about it now. Whew!

Moses and the Ten Commandments

Moses and the Ten Commandments (Rembrandt 1659)

Hitler believed (and he was not alone, and it wasn’t even his idea in the first place) that all Jews must be killed because they had introduced monotheism (belief in one God rather than many) and the Ten Commandments and an ethical system, which was picked up later by the Christians, that emphasized love and compassion and taking care of the poor and the sick.

Hitler had no time for the poor and the sick. Below are Hitler’s own words:

The Ten Commandments have lost their validity…. Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision.

It is right, Hitler believed, for the strong to survive and the weak to die. People should live as the animals in the jungle do. When lions hunt, the weakest among their prey are always the first victims.

I thought of the old people in the nursing home next to the Hilltop Hospital. Dr. Deirdre Barstow’s own mother, Mrs. Marjorie, lives there, and she seems to feel safe. Sometimes Mrs. Marjorie recognizes her daughter and sometimes she smiles a toothless smile and says to Dr. Deirdre, “Are you new here?” And Dr. Deirdre smiles back and sits down to feed her mother soup and pudding with a spoon and says, “No, Mama, we’ve known each other for a long time.”

The government pays for some of Mrs. Marjorie’s care, and it occurred to me that Adolph Hitler, if, God forbid, he were president of the United States, would not authorize funding to take care of helpless, weak old women in nursing homes.

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda Poster

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda Poster

No, Hitler wanted to set up a pagan “master race,” take over the world, and apply the law of the jungle: Only the strong survive.

‘It is in his soul’

At the library, I read this very sick and scary statement by Hitler:

If only one country, for whatever reason, tolerates a Jewish family in it, that family will become the germ center for fresh sedition. If one little Jewish boy survives without any Jewish education, with no synagogue and no Hebrew school, it [Judaism] is in his soul. Even if there had never been a synagogue or a Jewish school or an Old Testament, the Jewish spirit would still exist and exert its influence. It has been there from the beginning and there is no Jew, not a single one, who does not personify it. Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy, by Robert Wistrich

This, I guess, is why Hitler didn’t feel that he had to kill all the Christians. If he killed the pope, he apparently believed that he would “kill” Christianity, and Christians, in his mind, not having “the Jewish spirit,” could be swayed to his nutso world view.

To be continued: The greatest weapon against the armies of hate




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The Empire of Alexander the Great, 4th century BCE; Jerusalem is shown just ENE of Gaza, lower right "corner" of the Mediterranean Sea; via Wikipedia

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WorldPerfect230x150I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.

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The Mysteries


A 6th-century mosaic of Jesus

When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39

Who Is Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose prays to Jesus. I have heard her. “O Jesus, have mercy!” she’ll say when there’s a calamity. But if you ask her if she’s Jewish, she says yes, she is, which is also what she answers when asked if she is a Buddhist, which I know because I was with her at Polly Ellen’s when she quoted from the Gospel of Buddha

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

The deva said,

What is the greatest gain?

What is the greatest loss?

Which armour is invulnerable?

What is the best weapon?

The Blessed One replied,

The greatest gain is to give to others;

the greatest loss is to greedily receive without gratitude;

an invulnerable armor is patience;

the best weapon is wisdom.

…and Polly Ellen said, “Sister Alma Rose, are you a Buddhist?” and Sister Alma Rose said she was.

“But I thought you were a Christian,” Polly Ellen said.

“I am,” said Sister Alma Rose serenely.

Polly Ellen turned to me and said, “Fanny, do you know Jesus?”

I never know quite what to say when people ask me if I “know Jesus” or if I have “been saved.” The short answer is Yes, but I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.  I mean, I don’t think my “yes” means what the other person thinks it means.

I was sure that Polly Ellen and I weren’t having the same conversation when she asked me to give my “testimony.”

“Why don’t you go first,” I suggested, and could have bit my tongue off. Sister Alma Rose just smiled and settled a little farther back in her chair.

Polly Ellen’s testimony

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Don’t worry if there are things you don’t understand about Jesus. I have been learning about who Jesus is all my life, and I still don’t understand. It is one of the mysteries, and that’s okay. Mysteries are exciting. Someday, all the mysteries will be explained. I don’t mind waiting.

Polly Ellen

Polly Ellen

When I was a little girl, I didn’t like Jesus very much. In fact, I was quite afraid of him. Most of what I knew about Jesus I learned in Sunday school. I went to Sunday school every week because I was a very serious little girl and I wanted very seriously to be good.

Even after my family stopped going to church, I kept going to Sunday school to learn how to be good. I asked my brother why we had stopped going to church as a family, and he said it was because Mom and Dad thought the minister at our church was a big poophead. This is not a word I think you should use. I’m just telling you what my brother said.

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

At Sunday school, the teachers would have us memorize a little piece of the Bible, and it usually was about something Jesus wanted us to do that wasn’t fun. “Give all your stuff to the poor and follow me.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who hate you.” These verses were from the part of the Bible called the Gospel, which means “good news.” But I couldn’t figure out what was so good about it.

The Sunday school teachers said that Jesus didn’t want me to be selfish and that I should care more for other people, ALL the other people in the world, than I cared about myself. This was hard for me to understand, because I knew these Sunday school teachers, and they all lived in big fancy houses and had expensive cars, and also, they wouldn’t let black people come to our church.

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

But still, I grew up feeling more or less guilty most of the time because I was selfish. The only good thing about it was that I was always nice to everybody, even geeks and nerds and people who smelled bad, and so I got to be Homecoming Queen because geeks and nerds vote too.

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

By the time I was a grownup, I was sure that I was a horrible person and that God couldn’t possibly love me enough to want me with him in heaven. Sometimes I would start to feel happy, but then I would catch myself and remember that I wasn’t supposed to be happy, not as long as there was a single person in the world who was poor or sick or suffering in any way.

Now I am almost always happy. And I will tell you why.

Many years ago, I met a very wise woman named Margaret, who read Jesus’ words to me out of the Bible. She read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotta de Bondone), early 1300s
Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), early 1300s

“Jesus doesn’t want you to love your neighbor instead of yourself,” Margaret said. “He wants you to love yourself too. If you let him, he will fill you full of love — enough for yourself and the whole rest of the world.”

Then she read to me from Matthew, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Do not worry.”

“Pray, and give your worries to God,” Margaret said.

And so I think that the Good News, which Jesus taught, is that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, any time you want to, you can give your mistakes and your fears and your worries to God, and God will put love in the place where your fears and worries used to be, and God will guide you in the way that you should go, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. That’s why God made you in the first place.

* * *

By the time Polly Ellen finished her testimony, tears were rolling down my face — tears of pity, thinking of Polly Ellen making herself so unhappy all those years because she thought she needed to carry the weight of the world… tears of joy, because the Polly Ellen I have always known is like a merry sprite, shining and humming and dancing through life.

When Polly Ellen walked with us out onto her porch to say goodbye, I gave her a big hug. “I am so grateful for you, Polly Ellen,” I said, and she held me tight and a little bit extra long, and when Sister Alma Rose and I were walking up the hill toward home, Sister Alma Rose handed me her clean, ancient floral hankie, which had been very neatly mended in several places, and I wondered if Sister Alma Rose is the only person in the world who still mends raggedy old hankies and darns her socks.

* * *

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