Existentialism is defined as the study of being. It is a philosophy that struggles to find the true meaning and purpose of life. Existentialism therefore deals with the choices and ambiguity brought about by the circumstances that man must deal with when making life choices. In its explanation, existentialism states that the decision is important because it defines us as human beings and that every time we make a choice, we do it for the whole mankind since it is that act of choosing or decision that we create what it means to be human (The Atheist Scholar, 2012). The philosophy date back to the 19th century and was greatly influenced by the Russian novelist Ftyondor Dostoesvsky. Soren Kierkegaard made it fully develop as well as Martin Heidegger. However, the philosophy reached its completion as a philosophy in the 20th century following the contribution of the prominent French philosophers’ jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus. Ever since, the philosophy got roots and spread and it was embraced by intellectuals worldwide including America where William Barret and Hazel Barnes were important thinkers who propagated existential thought in the U.S.
The Holocaust was the time in history between 1933 and 1945 when the leader of Germany, the great dictator Adolf Hitler used his power and believes that the Germans were the better race and consequently applied torturous and in humane methods to eliminate the Jews (JVL, 2013). Hitler’s method began with legislation and terror which included burning Jew’s books, and removing them from the professional and public schools. The extremes came when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in 1935 and formed the legal basis for the exclusion of the Jews from the Germany society and restricting their policies. The continued reign of Hitler established hatred against the Jews and he wanted to eliminate the in German and the whole of Europe, consequently, the Jews were confined to the ghettos. They were later deported into the death camps where they were executed in what Hitler called the Final solution. The torture the Jews underwent and the great number of death had a long lasting impact on the Jews life and on religion as a whole.
The destruction caused by the holocaust cut so deeply in the Jewish community and it remains a major question if the community will ever be fully healed from its effects. This is particularly the loss of a large number of lives and the loss of religious faith. The holocaust witnessed the extermination of thirty percent of the Jewish community including scholars, children, students, teachers of Torah and religious leaders; Rabbis (Irving, 1982). On top of all these, the extent of evil that was encountered by the survivors of the holocaust during the event created a rupture in the traditional religious thought which resulted in challenging both trust in the goodness of God and the goodness of humanity. During the holocaust, it is believed that the bad and the evil survived while most of the righteous died. Hitler’s plan was to make the Jews extinct, however, due to the high demand of soldiers he had to utilize even the Jews in fighting his enemies. The good and righteous like the rabbis could not corporate in such missions. This so their extermination in large numbers and most people after the war were left to wonder why God would allow the death of the innocent and leave out the betrayers f their faith and collaborators of evil.
The holocaust made the world not to be the same and the trust on God has reduced. The holocaust left a blemish on creation and it may remain dormant since nobody knows when such evil events may occur again. This is because the aftermath of holocaust to many Jews and other affected religions or communities of the world has not healed. The holocaust in many instances defies meaning and also negates hope as traditional Jewish thought understands God as the author of history and therefore, the holocaust raises issues on how God could be a part of such an evil plan (Irving, 1982). Additionally, the holocaust threatened the survival of the Jewish and their religious belief. When so much evil is committed against a community that is so much attached to God, people tend to wonder where God is not responding and rescue them. The holocaust therefore made people have a closer examination in the religious beliefs and the faith they had in God was somehow affected in a negative way.
The rational justification of faith in God who let innocent children due in such terror as they did in the death camps during the holocaust is impossible. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a Jewish theologian claims that there is no statement, either theological or otherwise, that should be made and not be credible in the presence of burning children (Irving, 1982). This shows how the Jewish faith in God is affected as they see Him as an almighty God who protects the innocent. The actions of the Nazis were a demonstration of a religious failure where the Jewish expected God to save them or even the young children from the hands of the Germans but the so much wished for salvation was not forthcoming. This left them with questions on the ability of God in saving humanity and thus they see the holocaust time as the period when the Israelites covenant with God was broken. When the covenant was broken, the faith and trust they had in him declined. Therefore, the covenant needs to be repaired so that the Jewish can have trust they in God like they did before.
The holocaust brought about secular Judaism. The idea put forward by Rubenstein that the God of history or an illusion went so deep in the heart of the Jewish (Rubenstein, 1999). A high percentage of the Israeli Zionist call themselves the secular Jews because even if the follow and practice the Jewish traditional cultural heritage, they do not associate themselves with the religious traditions of Judaism but consider themselves as atheists or agnostics. The secular Jewish in that case are more into existentialism and advocate for humanity. As Sartre puts it in Existentialism and Humanism that existentialism is a teaching and a doctrine that affirms that every truth and action imply on the environment and human subjectivity. Therefore, the teachings of existentialism are based on humanism and the way to live with one another like human. It is the existence of us in the world where we do no evil that can harm ourselves or the other humans.
Bad faith as advocated by Sartre is when we try to avoid our freedom and we place ourselves in a false position. Like the secular Judaism group that has placed itself in a false position in the Judaism religion. They know they live in a meaningless world full of chaos and absurdity that creates a crisis like the holocaust (Sartre, 2000). Camus asks whether man should commit suicide when faced with the meaningless of life; when he demand meaning for the events that happen in the world and yet the world has no meaning. It is in such situations that the holocaust caused the corruption of the Jewish to the extent of committing religious suicide and deflected to what they called secular Judaism.
Irving Greenberg, “Religious Values after the Holocaust: A Jewish View,” in Jews and Christians after the Holocaust, ed. Abraham J. Peck (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 76.
JVL. “An Introductory History of the Holocaust | Jewish Virtual Library.” Home | Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.
Rubenstein, Richard. “After Auschwitz.” In Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader. Edited by Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999.
Sartre, Jean-Paul, and Stephen Priest. Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
The Atheist Scholar: “Existentialism.” Home: The Atheist Scholar. 2012.