To dismantle religious bias and bigotry, ICJS builds learning communities where religious difference becomes a powerful force for good.
How Holocaust Studies Helps Us Understand Identity Politics in the United States Today
Holocaust Remembrance Day—Yom HaShoah—is observed annually as a day to remember and reflect on the horrors of the Holocaust. On April 8, The Park School of Baltimore hosted a virtual panel discussion about the relevance of the Holocaust today. ICJS Executive Director and Roman Catholic Scholar Heather Miller Rubens joined a Zoom roundtable, and urged participants to engage in the study and commemoration of the Holocaust, and be champions of religious pluralism.
What is happening when we categorize people into “us vs. them”?
In our contemporary context, what is meant if we ask, “Who can be an American?” Who or what is the default American (noun) that other identities need to modify (e.g., Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans)? That structure (adjective-noun) presumes that the default American identity is White and Christian. The default German identity espoused by the Nazis, likewise, was White and Christian.
Germans—indeed Europeans—were asking the “Jewish Question.” Can Jews be Germans? Who can be German racially and religiously? The Nazi answer to the “Jewish Question” was the horrors of the “Final Solution” (the systematic, state-sponsored murder of millions), namely, “No, Jews cannot be German. Their ethnic and religious difference is a threat to our imagined Germanness.”
When a national identity is so closely aligned with one race and one religion, these identity politics questions surface. These are not idle questions, but linked to horrific violence and murder. Think of the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh; the more recent murders of Asian women in Atlanta. Can our noun, our American identity, be made expansive enough to hold multiracial and multireligious citizenry? Can we imagine an American identity that can hold all of us? We have to be champions for that vision—that more capacious America.