On Holocaust Remembrance Day
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and as such is internationally observed as Holocaust Remembrance Day. As I have noted here before, the fact that the world remembers the Holocaust has not prevented other genocides from taking place in the intervening decades. One of those has been on-going since 2014, as the Islamic State slaughters and enslaves Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, and others in northern Iraq. This week, a staff member from the Iraqi Christian Relief Council interviewed me about the connections between Jews and Assyrians as historically persecuted, homeless religious minorities. A taste:
ICRC: What connection does Holocaust have with the current genocide of Assyrian Christians in the Middle East?
David Fischler: Both are founded in the dehumanization of “the other,” the person who is different, whether religiously, culturally, physically, etc. Jews were referred to by the Nazis as untermenschen, sub-humans, and ISIS refers to all non-fundamentalist Sunni Muslims as kafir, infidels worthy of little more than enslavement or death. Though some of the targets or methods may be different, the mindset is the same, and the result is the same as well–slavery, sexual barbarity, mass murder.
ICRC: What is the historic and religious connection between Assyrian Christians and the Jewish people?
David Fischler: Amazingly enough, considering the Old Testament history of conflict between Assyria and Israel, Assyrians were the first people group to see large-scale conversions to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. The conversion of the Assyrians is related to the story of the correspondence between Jesus and King Abgar of Edessa in northern Iraq, in which Abgar expresses faith in Jesus, and the Messiah in response heals him of disease. Even if this story is legendary, it points to the fact that there were definitely Jewish converts to the Messianic faith in the first century, and the Assyrians as a whole became Christian no later than the early third century. Even today, the Assyrian Church of the East would say that theologically and liturgically it is closer to the Jewish roots of Christianity than any other Christian church.
Historically, both peoples have been persecuted for centuries. Jews left their homeland 1900 years ago, and were kicked from pillar to post. They’ve been expelled from numerous countries, segregated into ghettos, prevented from practicing many professions, and denied self-determination. It wasn’t until the establishment of Israel that Jews finally had a refuge that would enable them to take their future into their own hands, and today Jews all over the world know that if bigoted opposition or persecution comes to them again (as is happening today in Western Europe, for instance), they have a place they can go where they will be safe and free. Assyrians have long sympathized with the conditions with which Jews struggle, because their own experience has so many similarities, and as Jews become more and more aware of the persecution that Assyrians have suffered, I see that sympathy being returned.
Read it all at the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.
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