ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elie Wiesel was only twelve years old when, in 1941, the events of World War II and the Holocaust invaded his home in Sighet, Transylvania. His childhood was cut short, his dreams and beliefs shattered, as he witnessed the death of his family and his people in the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After the war, Wiesel took a 10-year vow of silence before he attempted to put into words the horror and pain of the Holocaust. When he finally wrote Night, Wiesel had difficulty finding a publisher, for it was believed that few would want to read such heart-wrenching words. Today it is one of the most read and respected books on the Holocaust.
The creative weaving of Judaism and ecology took place in North America and began in the early 1970s as an apologetic response to the charges that the Judeo-Christian tradition was the cause of the environmental crisis. Defensive responses came first from Orthodox thinkers who showed that the accusations were based either on misunderstanding of the sources or on a lack of familiarity with the richness of the Jewish tradition. Since then, Jews from all branches of modern Judaism—Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic Judaism—have contributed to Jewish ecology thinking, giving rise to a distinctive, albeit still small, body of literature.
If reflections about nature from the sources of Judaism began with religiously committed Jews, environmental activism, by contrast, was initiated by Jews who were already involved in the environmental movement and who found their way back to their Jewish roots as part of the Jewish Renewal movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. At the forefront of the Jewish environmental movement was the organization Shomrei Adamah (Keepers of the Earth), whose goal was to raise Jewish awareness about ecological problems, such as pollution of natural resources, deforestation, erosion of top soil, the disappearance of species, climatic changes, and other ecological disasters brought about by the Industrial Revolution and by human greed and unbridled consumerism. Jewish environmentalists have shown how ancient Jewish sacred texts and practices expressed concern for the protection of the earth and its inhabitants and urged Jews to reconnect with the rhythms of nature that are the foundation of many Jewish festivals. In 1993 the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was founded as an umbrella organization of diverse groups in North America to coordinate Jewish educational efforts and influence environmental policies. The final essay in this volume, by Mark X. Jacobs, the current executive director of the organization, documents the political and educational activities of Jewish environmentalists and reflects on the challenges that face them
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Read an .
WHAT WAS THE HOLOCAUST?
In 1933, the stood at over nine million. Most European Jews lived in countries that Nazi Germany would occupy or influence during . By 1945, the Germans and their killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the "," the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.
Millions of ordinary people witnessed the crimes of the Holocaust. Across Europe, the Nazis found countless willing helpers who collaborated or were complicit in their crimes. What motives and pressures led so many to abandon their fellow human beings? Why did others choose to help?
The holocaust can be explained as the historical event in which the Nazi’s, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, and its collaborators murdered and persecuted approximately six million Jews....
The lack of interest in the natural world among Jews has deep historical and religious causes that go beyond the contemporary Jewish anguish about survival. For most of their history, Jews have been an urban people. In the Greco-Roman world, although Jews dwelled in urban centers, agriculture remained the primary mode of Jewish livelihood in Palestine and Babylonia. After the rise of Islam, heavy taxation on Jews made agriculture unprofitable and accelerated the process of urbanization, leading Jews to concentrate in commerce, trade, finance, and crafts. In medieval Christian Europe the Jewish estrangement from the land was even more pronounced because feudal relations excluded Jews. Although in some parts of Western Europe landed property was granted to Jews as late as the thirteenth century, Jews were increasingly forced to engage in moneylending, an economic activity that was odious to Christians. Frequent expulsions and voluntary migrations further estranged Jews from land cultivation, turning the ancient agrarian past into a distant memory. No longer in practice, the prescribed land-based rituals of Judaism fueled the hope for the ideal Messianic Age in the remote future, when the exiled people will return to the Land of Israel. For two millennia of exilic life, Jews continued to dream about their return to the Holy Land, but they waited for divine intervention to bring it about. Until then, Jewish life was to be shaped by the norms of rabbinic Judaism whose comprehensiveness enabled Jews to remain loyal to their religious tradition, despite the loss of political sovereignty and in the face of hostility and discrimination.
The Jewish voice has joined the environmental movement relatively recently. Jews are not among the leaders of the environmental movement, and environmental activists who are Jews by birth have not developed their stance on the basis of Judaism. With the marked exception of the Bible, the literary sources of Judaism have remained practically unknown to environmental thinkers, and Jewish values have only marginally inspired environmental thinking or policies. Moreover, since the famous essay of Lynn White, Jr., many environmentalists have charged that the Bible, the foundation document of Judaism, is the very cause for the contemporary ecological crisis. The biblical command to the first humans “to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) is repeatedly cited as the proof that the Bible, and the Judeo-Christian tradition based on it, is the direct cause of the current environmental crisis.
Jews, too, have not regarded the well-being of the physical environment a Jewish issue. In the post-Holocaust years, the physical and spiritual survival of the Jewish people, rather than the survival of the earth and natural habitats, has dominated Jewish concerns. While environmentalism was gaining momentum in the industrialized West, Jews were preoccupied with other issues, such as the prolonged Israeli-Arab conflict, relations between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and pluralism within Judaism. The desired relationship between the earth and the human species has not been at the forefront of the Jewish agenda.
This is not only why German Jews were the main target of the Holocaust, but why they were a large part of the years before, during, and after the Holocaust.
THE END OF THE HOLOCAUST
In the final months of the war, SS guards moved camp inmates by train or on forced marches, often called “,” in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners. As Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Germany, they began to encounter and concentration camp prisoners, as well as prisoners en route by forced march from one camp to another. The marches continued until May 7, 1945, the day the German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.