Were They Important?
By DANNY MINTON
Seventy-five years ago, on September 15, 1935, the “German Nuremberg Laws” were initiated. Those laws stripped the Jews of their German citizenship. A Jew was defined as anyone who had three to four Jewish grandparents, including those who converted to another religion.
In October of 1938, 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were rounded up and sent to Poland. When Poland refused them, the Germans set up a concentration camp on the border. The seventeen-year-old son of one of the Jews whose father had lost his home and store lived in Paris with an uncle. In his anger, he went to the German embassy and assassinated one of the officials.
This event led to what would be known as the first pogrom or massacre of the Jewish people by Germany, actions that would eventually lead to World War II. November 9 and 10 became known as Kristallnacht or “The Night of Broken Glass.” Nazi youths looted and destroyed Jewish business, and synagogues were burned, with 91 Jews murdered. Later more than 30,000 relocated to concentration camps. The original claim by the German government was that it was a spontaneous youth outburst.
In August of 1939, Alfred Berger and his wife Hedwig, a Jewish couple living in Austria, wrote a letter to a Berger family in Los Angles seeking help to leave the country. Sixty years later, that letter reached a woman, Faris Cassell, who made it her quest to find out what happened to Alfred Berger and his family. She relates this quest in her book, “The Unanswered Letter.”
As she began her quest, she reached out to a New York Times journalist who had done some writing on the Holocaust. The first question he asked was, “Were they important?” Taken back, he again asked, “You know, were they famous?” When she told him, “No,” he wished her luck, which ended the call.
By the end of World War II, more than 11 million people of Jewish ancestry and other “non-desirables” died at the hands of the Nazis. The total included over 6 million people of the Jewish religion and over 5 million others who were either converted Jews or people the German government deemed as people that did not fit who they wanted as German citizens.
Who were these 11 million people? Many are remembered only by a name printed somewhere in a vintage phone book or listed on a town’s citizen role. Others lie nameless in mass graves holding thousands of emaciated bodies, unknown and forgotten. Fathers, mothers, children, store owners, schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers, rabbis, priests, ministers, factory workers, clerks, and students whose lives were cut short. Few were famous. Were they important?
That question tells us how society then as well as today regarded people. Society has made it appear that the most important people are people of influence. In fact, the dictionary defines the word “Important” in similar terms. What society then does is relate people with money, celebrities, athletes, and well-known people with being important. However, just because someone is more influential doesn’t make them more important than the person we pass walking down the sidewalk.
In February 1962, John Glenn sped around the earth in “Friendship 7,” when an indicator light told him and NASA that there was an issue with the heat shield. Concern mounted that it might come apart upon re-entry, killing Glenn. The decision was made to keep the retrorocket pack in place to hold the shield upon re-entry, hoping it would keep the heat shield in place. Who was the most important person that day? Was it Glenn, the pilot circling the earth? Maybe it was the NASA control crew trying to figure out how to get him down safely. Then again, perhaps the most important person wasn’t even in that room. Possibly, the most important person or persons didn’t even know how important they were on that day. One important person around months earlier had made the small bolts that held that retrorocket pack in place long enough for Glenn to enter safely. Famous? No. Do we know his or her name? No. Were they important? You answer that question yourself.
We are not all famous. Most of us will be forgotten as the years roll by leaving only “famous” names remembered in history books. Most of us will not serve on essential committees, be sought after for our opinions on national issues, or be appointed to high places.
However, in the eyes of God, we are all important. We know only a handful of names of the thousands of Israelites who left Egypt and headed to the promised land. Yet, God took care of each of them on their long journey. Jesus went around healing scores of people, people who to us have no names but were important enough to Him to show his love. The ultimate love of God for all men of all times lies summed up in one scripture. “For God so LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son.” Can you think of anyone more important than someone for which you would let your child die so they could live?
Everybody is important and deserves treatment with respect and dignity. After Peter’s vision in Acts 10, he made the statement, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. Acts 10:34-35 (NIV2011)
With all the hate, name-calling, and disrespect for individuals and people going around, it’s time for us to remember that everyone is “important.” God loves and cares for us all. Shouldn’t we do the same?
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ