“How many of you have been to the Holocaust Museum?” he asked. About two-thirds of the hands went up. “Okay, how many have been to any other kind of Jewish museum?” Two hands or three. Out of two rooms full of ninth-graders totaling about 800! “That’s my point,” said Rabbi David Stern to the Lake Highlands Freshman Center students. “I do not want your only contact with Judaism to be about suffering and death. I am not a rabbi because I am honoring the dead. I am a rabbi because Judaism is a living faith in a God that calls us to life, in spite of the horrors of suffering and death that Jews have known.”

That was only one of the extraordinary moments I shared recently with Rabbi Stern of Temple Emanuel as we tried together to help students reflect on the Holocaust as Jews and Christians. Hats off to Principal Dave Casey and teacher Maureen Royer for their leadership in education.

How could the Holocaust have happened? Six million Jews and millions of gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, handicapped persons and political dissenters were robbed, stolen from loved ones, sent to concentration camps, experimented on like animals, starved, worked like slaves, and either gassed and burned in ovens or shot and thrown in open mass graves.

Evil is the obvious but too general answer. Such evil could only happen because many good people stood by and did nothing.

Hitler’s perverted nationalism got support from some Church sources. For centuries the Church blamed the Jews for killing Christ, when not all Jews conspired to crucify Jesus. Some Jewish leaders did urge the Romans to execute him, as did many in the crowd. But only Romans could crucify. Thus we Gentiles are equally responsible.

But Jesus was no mere victim. If he were, then we could assign blame to some and not all – when in truth Jew and Gentile together, representing the sinfulness of all humanity, share common blame and shame.

Ideas matter. Martin Luther, the father of German Protestant Christianity, had in 1543 recommended a “severe mercy” on the Jews for their unbelief in Jesus. He called for the burning of their synagogues, expulsion from the nation, and hard labor as remedies for their recalcitrance. It took 400 years but it finally took. Words count.

The cycle of blame that leads to the cycle of violence starts when we dehumanize others, considering them less than persons created in the image of God. Once we do that we think we have permission to drag them into gas chambers or behind pick-up trucks in Jasper.

God and hate do not belong in the same sentence, unless the object is evil itself, not another human being.