Thursday, June 11, 2009

Abomination at the Holocaust Museum

We note with sorrow the shooting of an armed guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

The shooter is a demented, perhaps senile racist who, at 88, wanted to go out with a bang.

And he murdered guard Stephen T. Johns, who shot and wounded him before dying, and in so doing saved the lives of many children and others in the museum.

Mr. Johns, thank you for your service to your nation and the truth. You died as heroically as any man serving on the front line in Afghanistan or Iraq. God bless you and grant you rest and eternal memory.

And as for the shooter--

There is a saying in Hebrew: "Ymech schemo."

And may Christ forgive me for saying that.


A Jewish friend of mine emails me the following:

"Make up your mind. Either you're eternally cursing the man or you're not."

Let me explain what this is about.

A brilliant essay in First Things from 2003 cites a story from Simon Wiesenthal that goes like this:

In his classic Holocaust text, The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal recounts the following experience. As a concentration camp prisoner, the monotony of his work detail is suddenly broken when he is brought to the bedside of a dying Nazi. The German delineates the gruesome details of his career, describing how he participated in the murder and torture of hundreds of Jews. Exhibiting, or perhaps feigning, regret and remorse, he explains that he sought a Jew—any Jew—to whom to confess, and from whom to beseech forgiveness. Wiesenthal silently contemplates the wretched creature lying before him, and then, unable to comply but unable to condemn, walks out of the room. Tortured by his experience, wondering whether he did the right thing, Wiesenthal submitted this story as the subject of a symposium, including respondents of every religious stripe. An examination of the respective replies of Christians and Jews reveals a remarkable contrast. “When the first edition of The Sunflower was published,” writes Dennis Prager, “I was intrigued by the fact that all the Jewish respondents thought Simon Wiesenthal was right in not forgiving the repentant Nazi mass murderer, and that the Christians thought he was wrong.”

The essay goes on to state that among Orthodox Jews, when mention is made of an enemy of the Jewish people--whether it be Hitler, or Arafat, or our nameless gunman at the Holocaust Museum--one often hears an imprecation--"Ymech shemo"--after saying the person's name.

It literally means "Let his name be erased."

There is an interesting contrast here to a common trope in fiction: in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and echoed in the Harry Potter books, the name of the hideously powerful force of evil in both stories is not spoken by any but the most fearless. In Lovecraft, the dark gods Cthulhu and Hastur are both referred to as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named"; so is Voldemort in the Potter series The nameless one must remain nameless for fear that in hearing his name he (or his minions) shall be summoned and harm the speaker.

This is not what is meant by the Hebrew phrase in question.

It is a curse, an active assault on the soul: it expresses a wish and a prayer for the utter annihalation of the evil individual referred to--that he be erased: Not merely from human memory, but from eternal memory. I.e., let his soul disappear, let him never have existed.

It is, I submit, as dark a curse as can be spoken--assuming that curses, like magic spells, cause the execution of the act wished for.

Of course, the curse is, from a Christian point of view, empty: for only God, the maker of the soul, can destroy the soul (the so-called 'Second Death' of the Book of Revelations, when the soul, cast in the 'lake of fire,' is consumed). In fact, it may be impossible to destroy the soul.

On the other hand, the Old Testament is filled with numerous (rather nasty) passages where some of the various ancient Hebrews, such as Deborah, Samuel, Esther, and Samson, wish for and rejoice in the utter destruction of their enemies: Sissera the general, the sons of Haman the butcher, the king of the Amalekites, or the Philistines.

This is the morality of the Old Testament. But Christ teaches: "Love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors. When a man asks for your cloak, offer your shirt as well. When a man strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left also."

And, at Matthew 5:24-25, we are told that, before we make "an offering at the temple," we are to go first and reconcile ourselves with our brother, lest the offering be rejected.

But then it is obvious that a faithful Jew does not and should not adopt the Christian teaching's attitude of unlimited forgiveness toward the persecutor (if he did, he'd be a Christian, right?).

So. What then are we to make of Wiesenthal's lack of forgiveness?

I respectfully offer that he did no wrong.

The SS man who confessed his sins of anti-Semitism to "a Jew--any Jew", may well have saved his own soul in doing so. I cannot be sure, but what I think occurred was this: the man saw that he was about to make his ultimate 'sacrifice before the Temple' -- i.e., he was dying and about to see God -- and he needed to unburden himself of his vile atrocities and other sins and to ask forgiveness.

Whether Wiesenthal forgave him is in itself irrelevant from the point of view of the SS man. Wiesenthal, the man, simply provided an audience--and, perhaps, it WAS an opportunity for forgiveness to the man--simply by standing there and listening.*

But. Wiesenthal, in fact, did not forgive the man. Nor need he have. It would take a truly heroic, perhaps even superhuman, individual in Wiesenthal's situation to actually forgive. And I don't blame him in the least for not doing so.

But I aver that whether Wiesenthal did forgive him or not was irrelevant. Only God, in the end, could judge that SS man's soul--and erase it if, in His judgement, the man deserves it.

But if one were to wish in God's hearing, as one writer did, in reaction to the story:

Let the SS man die unshriven.
Let him go to hell.
Sooner the fly to God than he. would likely hear God's reproof:

That's MY call!

So. When I wish that Mr. James Wenneker von Brunn should cease to exist for killing a total stranger at the Holocaust Museum out of naked race hatred, I suppose I should add that I don't mean it.


But I can certainly understand and sympathize with those who do.

Lord have mercy.

P.S. There's a line from Stephen King's death-row novel The Green Mile that may be relevant here. There is a scene in that book where a dead murderer, having just been executed, lies on a guerney; one of the prison guards, himself an evil man, starts to curse the corpse.

"That's enough," says the lead character, silencing him. "He's square with the house."

= = =

* The essay first included the following line here: "...(the fact that he had been ordered there at gunpoint is beside the point)."

But is it? The SS man gave a command to another guard, who caused Wiesenthal to come, willy-nilly, and listen to him. Wiesenthal was, in a way, a "forced confessor". So does that matter one way or another? Had he called a prisoner-priest at gunpoint to shrive him instead, would that shrivenness had any effectiveness? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. I don't really know.

I can only guess, however, that if that SS man was forgiven, God still made him "pay the debt to the last penny", or, in Catholic terms, sent him to purgatory for a VERY long and terrible stay.


Andrew Breitbart hollars Jacceuse! at the leftist press for trying to make a conservative out of the Holocaust museum shooter.

Nice try, fellas. van Whazisname was about as conservative as, oh, the guy who shot the basic trainee grads in Arkansas.

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Keep it clean for gene.