Twenty-two years ago this month, a deal was struck to ship a holy but heart-rending cargo from Prague to London: 1,500 Torah scrolls, melancholy reminders of the years when Hitler's army blitzkrieged its way across Europe.
Many of the scrolls had been hidden by Czech Jews who, knowing that their own fates were sealed, hoped to pass on something of their culture and faith to future generations. Others had been seized and warehoused by Nazi ethnographers who intended them as exhibits in a museum of Judaism that would open as soon as Europe was "Judenrein," Jew-free.
The scrolls lay in storage in a small Prague synagogue for nearly two decades before they were discovered. Some of them had handwritten messages desperately tucked inside: "Please God help us in these troubled times." Others were scorched, presumably from flames that consumed the houses of worship in which they had been lovingly read. A few scrolls were ominously blood-stained, and still others showed signs of hasty concealment, evidenced by the fact that their two rolls were bound together extemporaneously with prayer shawls, belts, and even corsets.
All of the Torah scrolls testified to the horror of Shoah, the cold-blooded annihilation of some six million European Jews, a nightmare that the French novelist André Malraux called "le retour de Satan": the return of Satan.
Today, in a horrible revival of Nazi-like barbarity, ISIS is systematically slaughtering Christians in Syria, northern Iraq, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Churches and monasteries are blown up, monks and nuns killed, imprisoned, or driven into exile, Christian women raped and sold into slavery, and thousands of Christians forced to flee lest they be butchered for the "crime" of being non-Muslims.
Middle East Christians aren't the only targets of the murderous Salafist sect of Sunni Islam embraced by ISIS. Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Turks, Kurds, and even non-Salafist Sunnis are also candidates for extermination or enslavement in ISIS's quest for a worldwide caliphate. But Christians are especially loathed.
In a macabre bit of déjà vu reminiscent of the fate of the Torah scrolls, ancient bibles, prayer books, crucifixes, icons, and other religious objects are being smuggled out of ISIS-occupied territory by Christians who fear that otherwise all traces of their ancient culture will be eradicated. The Christian presence in that part of the world goes back, of course, to the first century. Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, is still a living tongue in some Syrian and Iraqi villages. If ISIS has its way, it will soon become extinct because its speakers will all be dead.
Since the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the euphemistic term "ethnic cleansing" has replaced the harsher "genocide." "Cleansing" is too polite, because what the Nazis did to Jews 75 years ago, and what ISIS is doing now to Christians, is nothing less than an campaign to wipe every trace of them off the face of the globe. Let's recognize it for what it is.
For too long, the world stood by and did nothing when German thugs began rounding up Jews in the late 1930s. Christians in particular frequently refused to interfere or protest, sometimes because they were afraid or indifferent, but often because of the pernicious anti-Semitism bred in them by the Church's centuries-old slander that Jews were Christ-killers.
This is a moral failure that the Christian world should never forget or deny. The collection of 1,500 Torah scrolls is but one reminder of the horrible sin of omission committed when our Christian forbears failed to stand in solidarity with those whom the Nazis
We Christians can never adequately atone for that sin, but we can avoid repeating it by doing everything we can to rescue Christians and anyone else being ground under the iron heel of ISIS. We can welcome refugees into our communities, work diligently to get money and supplies to the thousands trapped in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, and urge our leaders to take decisive rather than tepid military action against ISIS thuggery.
In 1945, author Victor Gollancz rebuked the world and his fellow Christians for doing so little to prevent the Holocaust. "What did you do about it? Nothing? Why? Because you didn't care enough? Because it was none of your business? Because you couldn't bear to think about it and averted your eyes?"
Satan has returned. God forgive us if we avert our eyes.