GREENVILLE —Retired pastor Peter Menke will host a presentation on the Holocaust next month at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenville.
The event will take place at 3 p.m. May 5 and will feature guest speaker Robert Kahn, a Holocaust survivor living in Butler Township. Kahn will be available to sign copies of his autobiography, “The Hard Road of Dreams,” following the event.
Menke was confirmed at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1949 and became an ordained minister in 1961. He returned to St. Paul in 2004, after attending Wittenberg University, and went on to serve as senior pastor there for more than 13 years.
This will be Menke’s fifth presentation on the Holocaust and the first to feature a survivor of those horrific events.
“This is really an exceptional opportunity,” Menke said. “Many Holocaust survivors are in their 90s and older, so there aren’t that many of them left.”
Menke’s interest in the Holocaust is more than just academic. For him, the events have a very personal significance.
“About 10 years ago I discovered that part of my family was Jewish,” Menke said. “They lived in Hamburg, Germany, during the war.”
A pamphlet handed out at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. contains an image of a man named Arthur Menke.
“He was probably a distant cousin,” Menke said. “I later found out there were eight or 10 Menkes who died in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps.”
Menke’s previous presentations have attracted an enormous turnout.
“The first one was at the Arcanum Library, and we were expecting 20 or 30 people,” Menke said. “And we wound up with over a hundred. A history teacher at Arcanum brought about 20 students, and they were sitting on the steps leading up to the second floor as I was speaking.”
A previous presentation at St. Paul’s drew nearly 200 guests, according to Menke. The intense local interest, Menke said, has to do with the event’s unique place in history.
“When you look at examples of man’s inhumanity to man, the Holocaust stands out as one of the most significant and the most horrendous,” Menke said. “It lasted for a short span of time, just 12 years, but in that time the Nazis systematically killed over 6 million Jews. Their ultimate goal was to annihilate the Jewish population in Germany and its occupied territories and eventually all of Europe.”
The root causes of the Holocaust include a prejudice that has existed since Biblical times, according to Menke.
“The Jews have been put upon almost since the time of Abraham,” Menke said. “They’ve always had to fight for their survival. People see them as targets for all the ills of the world.”
Anti-Semitism is currently on the rise in the United States, Europe and in countries throughout the world, according to Menke, a problem made worse by our politically divisive times.
“Our culture today is so divided. Our nation is literally split asunder,” Menke said. “The language is so vitriolic, and people are very outspoken. There’s no degree of courtesy or kindness anymore.”
Menke’s main goal in arranging these presentations is to teach young people about the Holocaust and to put a human face on the consequences of those events.
“It can happen again if we’re not careful,” Menke said. “It’s difficult to put names to 6 million people, but when you have family that was killed, it becomes very personal.”
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