Blacks and Jews and Compassion

By Woo, William F. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

Blacks and Jews and Compassion


Woo, William F., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


THE RECENT DENUNCIATION of Jews, by some officials of the Nation of Islam and black scholars, as the special nemesis of African-Americans contains an obvious irony. Both peoples - blacks and Jews - are united by the experience of persecution and suffering, the social, economic and psychological effects of which are both historical and contemporary.

Yet these groups share more than a commonality of pain. I have in mind the similarity of responses to their special circumstances by many non-Jews and non-blacks.

As to the persecution and suffering, there is no serious question. One can quickly dismiss the pseudo-scholarship purporting to show that the Holocaust was fiction. Similarly, attempts by earlier historians such as Ullrich B. Phillips to portray slavery as a civilizing experience for the Africans who came in chains have long been discredited.

The Holocaust, the murder of more than 6 million Jews by the Nazis in World War II, was the climax of the anti-Semitic violence made official policy in Germany by Hitler in the 1930s and which found sympathizers elsewhere in Europe and in North America. By the twentieth century, however, fear, hatred and mistreatment of Jews had long been a phenomenon in much of the world.

The persistent false stories of "Blood Libel," or the sacrifice of Christian children at Passover, were circulating by the twelfth century, when Jews were compelled to wear yellow identifying emblems. The earliest enforced isolations of Jews in areas that came to be known as ghettos were soon to be imposed.

Massacres of Jews took place, with particularly heinous ones occurring in the time of crusades. Large scale killings of Jews continued, the Russian pogroms being relatively recent examples. Persecutions and expulsions of Jews were commonplace in Europe. Government employment of Jews was often forbidden, as was marriage between Jews and gentiles.

Of these things, there is no room for doubt.

And there is no room for doubt, either, about the brutality of slavery or its pernicious effect upon subsequent American history. What rational person can imagine that the present miseries of our inner cities, for example, bear no relation whatsoever to the massive, crushing effect of slavery?

For here was an institution, sanctioned by law, which over centuries and for millions of people destroyed family structure, denied education and exacted a back breaking economic exploitation. These things were not chance byproducts of slavery. They were essential for its success. The legal remnants of slavery endured until well after World War II, in the form of segregation and voting restrictions, and its psychological and emotional residues still infect our society.

The general facts of the Holocaust are known today even to school children. Many Americans, however, are ignorant of the Middle Passage, which is becoming known as the Black Holocaust. Standard reference books - the Britannica being an exception - often do not mention it. …

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