Over a decade ago, The Holocaust Memorial Museum in the US started the heavy and horrible task of task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe. The result we face now is shocking: 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, in Germany and Nazi-controlled areas from France to Russia between 1933 and 1945. “The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data (NYT). “We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was, but the numbers are unbelievable.” These camps included not only death centers but also thousands of forced labor camps manufacturing war supplies, prisoner-of-war camps, and sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel. The Holocaust was not just something that was part of the WWII, it was its very core and it started long before the war. Then and now we have a choice: pretending not to see evil because we have fear or cannot identify it because we are stuck in old patterns – or to stand up for human dignity of our time.
Today, the vicar at the Swedish Royal Court Michael Bjerkhagen held an excellent sermon in the Chapel of the Royal Palace in Sweden, which was broadcast by Swedish Television. Bjerkhagen is in himself a good example of a modern globalized Swedish citizen, born in Sri Lanka and adopted to Sweden as a child. He spoke about how we identify evil in our time, about fear for love and how easy it is to turn away when human dignity is violated. In a globalized world, evil has no borders: human trafficking, organized crime, diseases that often struck the poorest most. Bjerkhagen also spoke in the sermon about his friend who before retroviral treatments existed, died of AIDS in Sweden. He referred to the Swedish drama also about love beyond all borders “Never dry tears without gloves”, about homosexuality, prejudice, fear of death, a drama that in the autumn 2012 made millions of Swedes cry loudly in their living rooms, when it was broadcasted. Many crying also because they were confronted with their own earlier prejudice.
But also the possibilities of good deeds are globalized. Yes it could be manifested the traditional way by collecting money for charity. It could also be about highlighting global tendencies, and contributing to the global debate with perspectives that sometimes could be seen as controversial. Freedom of speech and democracy is the foundation to build human dignity upon. But if it just ends up in a mainstream and traditional rhetoric, it does not serve its purpose of securing human dignity in the presence and the future, not just stuck to analysis that was relevant in the past. Love is not just easy but also sometimes controversial.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches