Did the Jewish people karmically deserve the Holocaust?

Katinka Hesselink

THEOSOPHIST. For the Materialist, who calls the law of periodicity which regulates the marshalling of the several bodies, and all the other laws in nature, blind forces and mechanical laws, no doubt Karma would be a law of chance and no more. For us, no adjective or qualification could describe that which is impersonal and no entity, but a universal operative law. If you question me about the causative intelligence in it, I must answer you I do not know. But if you ask me to define its effects and tell you what these are in our belief, I may say that the experience of thousands of ages has shown us that they are absolute and unerring equity, wisdom, and intelligence. For Karma in its effects is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal impartiality. It is, in the strictest sense, "no respecter of persons," though, on the other hand, it can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayer. This is a belief common to Hindus and Buddhists, who both believe in Karma. (H.P.B. Key, section 11)

There are several ways of looking at the doctrine of karma. The easiest, but also the most superficial is to see it as an explanation of events that have happened. Instead of giving a God the hand over fate, it gives previous karma as the reason for 'why things are as they are'. Seen in such a light, karma will inevitably be seen to support the powerful and blame the victim for their troubles. Apply this principle to the second world war and the victims of Nazi Germany (and not only Jews were victims, so were homosexuals, freemasons, mentally handicapped people etc.) and the obvious question becomes: how did the Jewish people cause their suffering? Looking for an answer to that question, within a theosophical framework leads automatically to the answer as given in the article: The Heresy of Separatism in Judaism. Honesty forces me to admit that this answer has had its appeal for me too, though I never published it online because the effect of such a view is so obviously detrimental. With other theosophists having the audacity of publishing this viewpoint I have been forced to think more deeply on the matter. My recent studies on 'World religions' has given me access to information that has dramatically changed my point of view.

As said: karma can be used to blame the victim. That is part of the consequence of the karmic doctrine that each person is responsible for their own life. The other side of the coin though is that each person is indeed responsible for their own life and their own actions. This means that the persecutors are at the very least also responsible for what happens. For a further look at this issue it is necessary to learn the lessons of history. The Edmonton Theosophical Society has seen fit to publish myth and Blavatsky-quotation without reference to any historical context at all. On their website they go further even than the simple statement that the cause of Jewish troubles lies in seperatism, they even attribute black magic to Judaism as a whole. Of course, this is the standard accusation in certain occult circles. To denounce something without calling it black magic would be unusually calm for this so called theosophical group. To answer the question whether there was a karmic cause 'why' so many jews died in German Concentrationcamps, I will first have to describe aspects of (mostly Western-) European, Christian and Jewish history in broad strokes. Of course the flip side coin of the question is equally relevant (if we feel obliged to look for causes or blame): why did German people end up killing so many people that weren't guilty of anything? Secular history has tried to answer this question, so I will leave it alone. I would refer to the appropriate history books for an answer.

To start with: religious tolerance is a new thing in the history of Europe. The Greeks did not accept every religion into their midst: they asked an oracle or a city council (depending on the organisation of a particular city) whether a new god could be worshipped in their town. There have been, as far as I'm aware, no active persecutions based on religion or religious background, during the Greek empire, but then again it fell apart fairly quickly after it started. Emperor Alexander, the first emperor to unite most of the known world, gave power to natives to govern that portion of his empire that they knew best. He died within a few years after his last conquest. All in all the Greeks were tolerant to their subjected peoples, but on their own turf they did limit newly ariving faiths.

By the time the Romans took over in Jeruzalem (63 B.C.), the concept of empire was already a few centuries old. The Roman empire took control over subject nations with far more force than the Greeks had done. They imposed the emperor-cult on all their subjects. If the people lived up to those ceremonies, they could otherwise worship and believe as they pleased. When the Jews revolted in 66 C.E., they did so mostly out of economic motives. Roman rule retaliated with fierce suppression. Many Jews died and the second Jewish temple in Jeruzalem was destroyed 70 C.E. Myth has it that the current diaspora started there, but even before the destruction of the temple there were Jewish communities in Northern Africa and Mesopotamia as well as Palestine. At the same time amongst Jewish communitiesin Palestine Christians were slowly becoming independent. Around 50 C.E. the apostelconvent decided that non-jews could be baptized as Christians without having to live up to Masoretic law. An important detail is that people could be converted to Judaism reasonably easily at this time: sometimes a whole people did so in one stroke.

Christianity grew exponentially over the next centuries and was seen as a threat by the Roman empire and was therefor suppressed. It was a Jewish concept of martyrdom that kept many Christians going. They believed that martyrship meant a one-way trip to heaven. Emperor Constantine finally stopped persecution by legalizing Christianity. Emperor Theodosius made it a state religion in 391 C.E. With that the tables were turned and the whole of the remaining empire was forcibly converted. In the process of converting an entire empire many custums and beliefs were kept, but there was no freedom of religion. As a result the position of the Jews deteriorated. State and Church became intertwined. One of the ways in which it was clear that state and church were intertwined was that ruling houses and bishopries were both supplied by the same royalty.

In the Middle Ages Jews were living in a strongly stratified society. A man's job was often determined by their father's job (nuances in this picture are not possible in a short article like this). This was increasingly true for Jews as well. Not accepted to the guilds, in the late Middle Ages, they were forced to take up banking and other middle class ocupations. This happened in the context of the Reform of the Church started roughly in the 12th century. It meant a process of continous change and observation of custum and doctrine. At first this found expression in things like new monastic orders and devotional movements. In the 16th century the church itself split apart into a Roman Catholic Church and various protestant groups. This also meant that the spiritual unity of Europe could no longer be assumed. This was also the time of the inquisistion, crusades and the witch hunts: a new process of cleansing Christianity of heathen practices and beliefs was started. Jews were often the victim of this too. For instance they were banished from the region around Paris in 1182 and by the king and queen of a finally reunited Spain in 1492. It is hard to see how the Jews can be made responsible for this. They did refuse to convert to Christianity, but which theosophist can blame them for that? Living in a stratified society it is only natural that they too stayed a seperate group within that society. They were usually subject to other laws than the rest of the population. This seperate existence was strengthened by custums and religion, but it was also a natural consequence of not being Christians within a largely Christian community.

The history of religious tolerance started in Europe with the previously mentioned reformation. When the church split up into various fragments, many countries could no longer maintain that only one religion had a place in society. For the first time the unity of church and state was challenged. England and the Netherlands found that it was more profitable to not persecute people of differing beliefs, but instead to work together. Jews and Hugenots (and Jewish Hugenots) came to the Netherlands to find refuge and booming business. Other countries also took note: taking in persecuted Jews helped the economy.

It was in the 18th century that the United States drew up a constitution in which every human being was equal. The USA declared independence in 1776. France followed with a similar provision of equality in the constitution of 1789. For the first time intellectuals became convinced that limiting rights to those who were born with them was detrimental to economic success of the nation. This development lead to the differentiation of Church and State and the eventual emancipation of Jews. For the Jews it was now possible to enter into all kinds of jobs and so they did. The basis for anti-semitism (the term hadn't even been coined yet, though) fell away with that. Unfortunately though, at the end of the 19th century anti-semitism was discovered by politicians as an easy way to get votes. The term anti-semitism was coined and often combined with darwinist thought. It was in this atmosphere that the idea of Zionism started to gain popularity.

The rest is history, as the saying goes. Among the groups most persecuted in Nazi-germany the Jewish people ended up gaining their own state: Israel. It has its own problems, obviously, but those aren't the issue in this paper.

The main conclusion of this historical survey is that to be born a Jew has been a hard lot all through history. Persecution of Jews was often based on their unwillingness to convert to Christianity. But even Jews that did convert were often mistrusted afterwards. This was obviously based on belief in the superiority of Christianity: Jezus had come to save us. Those that didn't believe that were seen as a threat to society. It is ironic that some theosophists feel the need to defend that anti-semitic attitude, even though they are usually not Christians in the usual sense of the word.