We all have to recognize when we are being taken by extremism, and call out rhetoric and propaganda that creates fear and prejudice.

The Holocaust Didn’t Begin With the Gassing of Jews. It Began With Prejudice and Propaganda.

Let’s talk about extremism.

Not very many things scare me, but extremism in every form does. We hear a lot about the extremism of radicalized Islamic groups, and yes, those groups are worrisome. But the instant that fearmongerers equate those groups with the faith of Islam itself, they’ve started heading down a perilous path. Labeling an entire religious group with more than a billion followers as dangerous because of the heinous actions of its most radical minority element IS extremism and needs to be called out as such.

I generally think that comparing anyone to Hitler and/or the Nazis is overstating and exaggerative, but I don’t feel that way today. Some of the statements I’ve seen about Muslims from media pundits, political leaders, and average Joes echo anti-Jewish Nazi rhetoric in frightening ways.

Hermann Goering, who is quoted in this meme and pictured to the right of Hitler, was one of the highest-ranking Nazis who was captured and put on trial by the Allies after World War II ended. He was found guilty on charges of “war crimes,” “crimes against peace,” and “crimes against humanity” by the Nuremberg tribunal and sentenced to death.

The quote comes from a published account of a private conversation with a renowned psychologist, in which Goering explained how “people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.”

We need to remember that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t start the Holocaust by gassing millions of Jews. 

The Holocaust really started with words. Hitler and the Nazis took advantage of existing anti-Semitic sentiment by fomenting fear and prejudice and spreading false and/or misleading information (propaganda) about the Jewish people. They played on Germans’ patriotism, exploiting their fear and sense of righteousness, making them feel like it was the most logical and reasonable thing in the world to officially identify Jews and curtail their rights and freedoms in the name of security. They successfully made persecution of and violence against Jews and others seem not only acceptable, but necessary, as they clearly posed an imminent danger to the German way of life.

It was a long game. Hitler played his anti-Semitism up or down for years, depending on his audience. He wore down the humanity of his people with years of constant drips of prejudice and fear. He gave it time to sink in, slowly collecting economic, social, and political woes that he could twist to blame on the Jews.

The Holocaust started with years of rhetoric and propaganda paving the way for discrimination and oppression, largely in the name of safety and security.

Then came the internments.

Then the gas chambers.

And decent people who would normally be appalled by such things let it happen. That’s what fearmongering and propaganda do. And that’s why we all have to recognize it when we see it.

If you are getting your information about Islam from anti-Islamic websites or sources, or information about immigrants or refugees from anti-immigration websites or sources, pause for a minute and think. If you are a Christian, would you send someone to an anti-Christian website to find out what Christianity is really about? Would you send someone to an anti-Semitic website to learn about Judaism?

I could easily pull scripture from the Bible, pair it with stories of violence and extremism from Christian terrorist groups (yes, they exist—Google it) or individuals, and create a website that would make it look like Christians want to take over the world, kill adulterers, subjugate women, stone disobedient children, and force everyone to accept their beliefs. Would that website be an accurate place to go to learn about Christianity, if all I really knew about the religion was the violence I’d seen in the news from extremist groups and individuals?

Of course not. That would be the worst kind of propaganda and would paint an entirely false picture of what most Christians believe. But that’s the kind of thing many websites that claim to be educating people about Islam are pushing, and it’s terrifying that so many people don’t recognize it.

We’ve seen this before. This is why we study history. We now have all of the information about how one of the most atrocious stories in human history played out. I hope and pray that we are conscientious enough to not even flirt with the opening act.

The Holocaust Didn't Begin With Mass Murder. It Began With Prejudice and Propaganda

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 24

  1. Hector Falcon

    The Holocaust began with Luther’s Two Kingdoms theology that isolated the prophetic voice of the church from the culture and actions of the state. Hitler even used Luther’s words to get the stupid church leaders to not only submit to him but to support his Aryan religious ideology. This Aryan ideology was never dealt with by the church and left to fester in the culture until Hitler flamed it into own ideology.

  2. Rev. Laurel Phoenix

    If you fully understood fascism you’d *KNOW* we’re already fully past the first act and disgustingly well into the 3rd!

    Immigrants are separated from their children, and all are already being held in interment camps. Immigrants are dying daily.

    They’re attacking our Natives, women and LGBTQIA+ community while anti-semitic & xenophobic attacks against our Jewish and Islamic brethren have amplified tremendously.

    Wakeup. If you don’t want history to repeat itself, do something about it .. VOTE!

  3. Judy

    I agree with Annie Reneau that the Holocaust began with prejudice and propaganda but her comparison related to concerns about Islam are sadly mistaken. We need to distinguish between unfounded hate and realistic fear. The reality is that fundamentalist Islamists have much more in common with the Nazis than they have with the Jews. The Jews were not violent, not threatening anyone, but were too successful in their endeavours thus engendering jealousy and unfounded conspiracy theories fuelled by centuries of prejudice.

    This is quite the opposite of the situation with radical Islam which is highly violent interpreting their scriptures as requiring violent jihad to conquer people and territory and using fear, abuse and domination which is very similar to the Nazis who also had an ideology of superiority, attack, violence and engendering fear. I agree it is vital to distinguish between Islamists and all Muslims. The majority of Muslims who wish to live in peace and positive co-existence with our diverse society need to have a way to separate themselves from their violent and fundamentalist brethren who preach hate of non Muslims. For example Ahmadiyya Muslims whose motto is Love For All Hatred For None reject the likes of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram etc. Sadly most Muslims reject Ahmadiyya.

    While there is undoubtedly violence and unacceptable views for modern ears in the bible (old/Hebrew testament), the key point is the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews who revere the bible reject those violent scriptures as mandating modern behaviour (though there are clearly some issues around accepting various forms of sexuality) and do not used their scriptures to justify violence and domination today. There are of course a tiny minority of extremists in every religion. Unfortunately the issues with Islam are not about a tiny minority but about a significant minority.

    The terrorism promoted and supported by this significant minority is a serious and growing issue worldwide. Because they are a minority it is vital that the majority of Muslims are not tarred with their brush, but that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that there isn’t a significant minority – eg in the UK, A YouGov survey for the Daily Telegraph, published two weeks after the July 2005 bombings in the London Underground, showed that 88% of British Muslims were opposed to the bombings, while 6% (about 100,000 individuals) fully supported them, and one British Muslim in four expressed some sympathy with the motives of the bombers. According to a 2007 poll conducted by the PolicyExchange think tank in Britain,36% of 16- to 24-year-olds British Muslims believed that those converting to another religion should be executed. Less than a fifth of those over 55 think so. So it seems the young are more aggressively minded. Currently the UK Security Service, MI5, has more than 3,000 subjects of interest (SOIs) on its watch list, more than it is capable of monitoring around the clock, as well as a pool of over 20,000 former SOIs, some of whom are thought capable of moving to violent action.

    No major Muslim group (except Ahmadiyya) has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life. Those of us who wish to continue to live in a tolerant diverse society need to realise that violent Islam needs to be opposed and it should be politically incorrect not to oppose it. We cannot afford to shut our eyes and ears to this reality.

    1. Alex Heffron

      Thank you for your insightful reply, spot on! I see this article a spin on reality by attempting to normalize the hate that Muslims harbor against non-Muslim.

  4. Eileen Llorens

    Puede ser algo manipulador.
    Refuerza el tema del antisemitismo en la historia que conocemos.
    Pero al igual que la propaganda que denuncia, existe la propaganda judía, de su minoría sionista, utilizando diversos medios insidiosamente, como puede ser este, y las películas que tira hollywood anualmente, apelando al holocausto, etc.
    Pero mudos ante la atrocidad del genocidio palestino cometido por el régimen ilegal e immoral de Israel sionista.
    Lo que hacen es peor que el holocausto.

  5. Rajeev.

    Annie’s write-up is both, historically and politically correct. It is a clear fact that ‘Brainwashing’ negatively towards any community, religion, caste and creed has always been a long term deadly game.
    However, the more bothersome part is the attitude of denial and refusal of the problem, maintained by the masses at large.

    Why are some people not able to connect the seemingly ‘harmless’ and ‘isolated’ dots, which when joined together form an ominous and a draconian picture??

    Is it because many of us carry a comfortable misconception that while the world perishes, in the fire of community, religion, caste and creed, we would remain ‘safely perched away’ from the embers of destruction??

    Thanks Annie for your insightful views.

  6. Sabrina

    A conversation with my brother this morning is what piqued my interest in this article. In his opinion, which I have always respected, all religions are based on following the “words and propaganda” of a powerful man, repeated over and over, then written in books and then preached to the masses by men who feel they are “qualified” to do so. I agree. Blind faith is Generated by fear. The Bible, first and second, is said to be written by men who received the words from God. Islam’s book is said to written by a prophet. The tenets by which the faithful live are all subject to interpretation. That’s where Rabbis, priests and Holy Men come in, to explain their interpretation of it.

    I think the author was trying to show that it doesn’t take much, words and fear-mongering to ideate hate. One’s Higher Power is personal and one need not look further than their own mind/thoughts to find it. Accountability is not subjective. Atonement and confession is not going to “save” or forgive anyone one until you stop doing the offensive act.

  7. Alden Johnson

    “I could easily pull scripture from the Bible, pair it with stories of violence and extremism from Christian terrorist groups (yes, they exist—Google it) or individuals, and create a website that would make it look like Christians want to take over the world, kill adulterers, subjugate women, stone disobedient children, and force everyone to accept their beliefs. Would that website be an accurate place to go to learn about Christianity, if all I really knew about the religion was the violence I’d seen in the news from extremist groups and individuals?”
    Unfortunately, you have erected a straw man argument which looks quite impregnable, but it’s easily demolished. Christians, true followers of Christ’s very limited commandments, wouldn’t be found guilty of making claims such as those made above: 1) Christians want to take over the world, 2) kill adulterers, 3) subjugate women, 4) stone disobedient children, and 5) force everyone to accept their beliefs, because none of these are found in Christ’s teachings. You could, in fact, pull scripture from throughout the Bible, but you couldn’t legitimately attribute disparate sections from the Bible as you have done and call it Christianity. You could create a website from such teachings directed to the ancient nation of Israel, but no true Christian would allow it to be representative of Christianity.
    Those of us who have studied Islam with some degree of gathering enlightenment, are not getting our information from anti-Islamic websites; rather, we glean our understanding of Islam from the Quran, the Hadiths, the writings of Islamic scholars, and the compilations of umbrella organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. You would then be quite well justified in asserting that all of the false assertions you made about ‘Christianity’ are actually attributable to followers of Islam (with the possible exception of stoning disobedient children). After reading the Quran, it would be extremely difficult to come away with something other than the very purpose of Islam is to conquer the world in such a fashion as to impose Islam on all people.

    1. Howard Watkins

      Sorry Mr. Alden, but you basically just did about Islam as you criticize the author about Christianity. In addition to passages in the Bible, one could quote excerpts from the minister and followers of the Westboro Baptist Church, or a “good” Christian like Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing many innocent children and people.

      1. Charlene Mathe

        Timothy McVeigh was not “Christian,” though he may have been brought up as one. Neither is the Westboro Baptist Church representative of Christianity. Perhaps Torquemada could be your poster boy for “Christianity.”

    2. Diane Boover

      And yet they all seem to justify doing just that! Why, do you think? It seems that when the ego gets involved and propaganda infiltrates religious dialogue, people do become “brainwashed” and lose sight of those simple tenets that should be their guiding “light.” Charismatic, egotistical personalities have always managed to “influence” religious ideologies with their “personality cults.” There are plenty of examples of what Annie is talking about in the many religions of the world.

    3. Tim Bryson

      But people who call themselves Christians do speak of “the other” in this way. You can cherry pick the good and bad parts of any religious text to show malignant intent.

      What’s more, people who call themselves Christians did act on those malignant intentions to make the Holocaust a reality.

      1. Charlene Mathe

        You are right that Germany was a “Christian” nation when it became a Nazi nation. But that was to abandon Christianity and embrace Nazism instead, or at least to subordinate Christianity to Nazism. Nazism was based in racial supremacism–an ideology of “the folk” themes in German legend and Nazi nonsense about “Aryan” nationalism. Few realize that German pastors were paid by the government. Those who had the moral courage to rebuke Nazism from the pulpit were soon silenced.

    4. Deb

      I am sorry to inform you of this fact: Israelites have never wanted to take over the world. Only Canaan/Israel where we came from.

      What are the Qu’ranic verses involving people of the Jewish faith?

      And oh, by the way- don’t generalize about people/religions of which you have no direct knowledge.

    5. Charlene Mathe

      Bingo! Thank you for a reasoned response. It is sad that so many Americans know so little about the Judeo-Christian values underpinning America, and so little about the history and doctrines of Islam, that they are ready to make a moral equivalency. In the interest of multicultural moralism, we are ready to sell our heritage for a pot of soup.

  8. Patricia

    Very well expressed. Never forget. Never forget. It can’t happen here: it can happen here. So many dots when seen to follow. Parallels to the past in so many ways. Dark, or darker times may be ahead. The destruction of Europe by Nazi racism didn’t happen quickly…..it took years and years as you point out. Thank you for helping wake us.

  9. Kartikey

    Annie, I speak from a space of genuineness and calm – this is a very ‘uninformed’ story. Your points come from your ‘feelings’ and not facts. It seems you have not read any literature, or seen firsthand what you wrote about. You ar einawaremof what happens in third world countries like mine. You are unaware or oblivious that hate travels both ways.
    I’d like to wrote further. But I don’t wish to disappoint you… And perhaps you will delete thic comment and my effort will be waster. Please do meet people and see firsthand the problems they face. Regards.

    1. Valerie

      Kartikey,
      While your point about getting the personal perspectives of people in other countries is valid, Annie’s points in this post are all based on historical facts.

      It would be wise of us to take heed to past world events, learning from the grave mistakes made so as to not repeat them in our time. Lives are at stake.

      I fail to see logic in your comment.

    2. Mark Burke

      History does seem to be repeating itself and it does start with small things like words and ideas that later escalate into actions. We need to keep aware of what has happened in the not so distant past and speak out against those sowing the little seeds of prejudice and hate.

    3. Deb

      Annie,

      One last word from me, The Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist group.

      You need to go back to source material.

      Also, Hitler wanted all the Jews in the world dead. It was so IMPORTANT to him, that the world war he started was only priority #2. Killing all the Jews was priority #1.

      1. Charlene Mathe

        Thank you for your important points. Isn’t it strange that the Muslim Brotherhood is considered a terrorist group; but all the consultants and leaders appointed by Bush and Obama are from the Muslim Brotherhood?? No wonder Americans are confused about the innocence and virtue vs the cultural clash and assimilation issues of Muslim immigrants to the West.

    4. Charlene Mathe

      Right!! To know Islam, idealists like this author should look at the Muslim world; not suited-up apologists and propagandists like CAIR.
      Many Muslim countries are governed by sharia law, which Islam believes should govern the world. Many Muslim immigrants believe sharia law trumps the political institutions of their host country; and why wouldn’t they believe this?
      Too bad we don’t value our own heritage as much as so many Muslim’s adhere to theirs.

  10. Richmond

    Very good write up. It’s definitely an eye opener and should be taken seriously by anyone reading it.
    Hate is a cancer that is slowly but surely eating away the very core of our humanity and empathy.
    Just as we are encouraged to say NO to drugs, say NO to hate mongering, for it is the latest and most devastating drug out there.
    Thanks for this expose Annie Reneau.

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