Over the centuries, people have gone to great lengths to humiliate their enemies. The worst thing for the Jewish people was that over the centuries, there have been so many enemies. To this day, it doesn’t matter that Israel is one of the smallest nations in the world, the Muslim nations don’t even want them to have that small area, and the Muslims weren’t the only enemy of the Jewish people either. The Jews of Europe were legally forced to wear badges or distinguishing garments, like pointed hats, to let everyone know who they were. This practice began at least as far back as the 13th century. It continued throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but was then largely phased out during the 17th and 18th centuries. With the coming of the French Revolution and the emancipation of western European Jews throughout the 19th century, the wearing of Jewish badges was abolished in Western Europe.
Enter Hitler. The Nazis, under Hitler’s direction, resurrected this practice as part of humiliation tactics during the Holocaust. Reinhardt Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, first recommended that Jews should wear identifying badges following the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938. Hitler liked the idea, because Hitler hated the Jews. Shortly after the invasion of Poland in September 1939, local German authorities began introducing mandatory wearing of badges. By the end of 1939, all Jews in the newly-acquired Polish territories were required to wear badges. Upon invading the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Germans again required the Jews in the newly-conquered lands to wear badges. Throughout the rest of 1941 and 1942, Germany, its satellite states and western occupied territories adopted regulations stipulating that Jews wear identifying badges. On May 29, 1942, on the advice of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler orders all Jews in occupied Paris to wear an identifying yellow star on the left side of their coats. Only in Denmark, where King Christian X is said to have threatened to wear the badge himself if it were imposed on his country’s Jewish population, were the Germans unable to impose such a regulation. Too bad some of the other nations did not stand up for the Jewish people too.
The Yellow Star was imposed on the Jewish people as part of many psychological tactics aimed at isolating and dehumanizing the Jews of Europe and especially by the Nazis. They were being directly marked as being different and inferior to everyone else. It also allowed the Germans to facilitate their separation from society and subsequent ghettoization, which ultimately led to the deportation and murder of 6 million Jews. Those who failed or refused to wear the badge risked severe punishment, including death. For example, the Jewish Council (Judenrat) of the ghetto in Bialystok, Poland announced that “… the authorities have warned that severe punishment – up to and including death by shooting – is in store for Jews who do not wear the yellow badge on back and front.” The star took on different forms in different regions, but everyone in the area knew what it meant. Of course, the Jewish people hated the badge for what it symbolized, even though the Star of David had stood for the Jewish people since about the 12th century. While the Star of David, known as the Magen David, has continued to be the unofficial symbol of the Jewish people, even on their flag, the Menorah continues to be the official symbol of Judaism (The Jewish people). It seems to me that they would not really want the Star of David after all of the persecution that has been associated with it, but I guess it could be looked at as a badge of honor, as they, as a people survived the persecution.
Many people, myself included, believe that our country was founded and populated in an effort to escape religious persecution. Looking back on several branches of my family tree, as well as that of my husband, I see the personal accounts of a number of people who dealt with persecution first hand. People such as my Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren, who makes not of it in her journals when she speaks of her father, my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher’s return trip to Germany to visit family members who were still living there. During that time, the German government was doing it’s very best to force people to deny the very existence of God on any level, and their lack of any need for a god to lean and rely on. So often, I think of religious persecution, such as we have in the United States today, as being a problem of the current times. I suppose that is because it feel very personal to me at this time in history, but in reality, I suppose it is nothing new. In fact, the Bible says that there is no new thing under the sun.
When my great grandfather made the trip back to his homeland, he had plenty of time. His visit was extended for several months. It was most likely during that time that he became more and more convinced that his move to the United States was the right one for him. While he was free, or at least relatively so, to practice his faith in his own way, there was, nevertheless, a number of incidences whereby doing so could be frowned upon to say the very least. That fact would not be something that would deter my grandfather from standing on his faith, and it would renew his love for his new country, and his reasons for coming here to it.
I have run across many other ancestors, particularly on the Knox side of the family who suffered persecution from people in their homeland over their choice of religious beliefs. It’s strange to think that when someone receives a revelation concerning God’s word, that they are immediately looked upon as severely brain damaged. Why is it that people would assume that we humans, with our small minds would somehow have the capacity to know everything God intended for us to know…that there couldn’t possibly be anything else for us to learn from His word. And yet, that is exactly what we do. That is why our forefathers left the old world, and came to America in the first place. The churches they were forced to be a part of, or the removal of any kind of religion from their lives had left them with no choice but to leave the country they have called home all their lives, and move to an unknown world.
I don’t know how many immigrants arrived here as a result of religious persecution, but I do know that our nation has somehow lost sight of why we first began to exist. There are so many religions in the world today…especially Christians and Jews who are bring brutally persecuted right now. I still believe in freedom of religion. I may not agree with some of the religions in the world, but each person should have the right to believe as they choose. And no one should ever have to pay for their beliefs with their lives. I know that this world will probably not change that until Jesus returns, and I think that is very sad.
When I think of my husband, Bob’s 6th great grandmother, Jean Gracy Knox, I always think of Ellen O’Hara…Scarlett O’Hara’s mother, in Gone With The Wind. They lived in different eras, but in many ways, their lives were much the same. I can’t say, for certain, that Jean Knox lived on a plantation, but I do know that like many people in the 1700’s she owned slaves. With that in mind, I have to assume that she ran their home or plantation in much the way that Ellen O’Hara had. I don’t know much about her, of course, but her will seemed to be written by a woman who was used to being in charge. I know that she was a slave owner, because in her will, she mentions what is to be done with a young slave boy and a female slave that she owned. That and the extensive collection of clothing that she left her daughter, Mary indicates that she was a woman of wealth.
It’s possible that her “take charge” attitude came from the fact that her husband passed away fourteen years before she did, and six months before their youngest child was born. She had no choice but to take charge of things. She still had five children under the age of sixteen in her home. I’m certain that her older sons helped her out too, but from what I have gathered from her will, she was very much in control of her life, children, and property. I wish I had a picture of her, but in my mind, she probably looked much like Ellen O’Hara did, in Gone With The Wind. Beautiful, and very ladylike, and yet, she ran the household and even helped out the neighbors when necessary. Of course, I could be wrong on all that, but from what I have read of her will, she knew exactly what she wanted done after her passing. The will appears to have been written just days before her death. They assumed this from the fact that she made her mark on it, and not her signature, even though she could read and write. In looking at the will, of which I only have a word for word copy of the wording as it was written…including all the spelling errors, I at first thought that maybe she couldn’t read and write, but later discovered that it was not written by her. She just dictated it to someone else to write up and then signed it in front of witnesses, much like we would do today in front of a attorney. This could also have been an indication of wealth, and the power that one assumes to have because of it.
I also know, that Jean was a woman of strong faith. She was a Presbyterian, and most likely left her native Ireland because of disputes between the Presbyterians, also known as Covenanters, and the Church of England. The Knox family is among those who were persecuted because of their religion, and that some had to leave their homes in the middle of the night to escape death. They came to America seeking religious freedom. That in itself would take a person of strong character, and may have been part of what made Jean Gracy Knox into a woman who was well able to handle the things that came her way. Jean’s life was not long, by today’s standards anyway, but in that day and age, she did live a long time, and it is my opinion that she also did a lot of living during her lifetime. I’m sure that I will never really know the whole story of her life, but I will always believe that she was quite a lady.