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THE LEGACY OF THE HOLOCAUST ON FREEMASONRY
The origins of freemasonry, speculative as opposed to operative, are shrouded in the mists of time but the generally accepted view is that the organisation was formed by right thinking members of society who were concerned about the great religious and political turmoil, and intolerance which existed in the early 1600s. This split families and resulted in the four year English Civil War in 1642. They decided to form a society which would promote tolerance and build a better world in which men of differing opinions could peacefully co-exist and work together for the betterment of mankind. Freemasonry increased in popularity as its objects and aims became clear, and it became an integral part of the community, highly respected and generally accepted. Public processions of freemasons in their regalia were commonplace and men and their families were proud to be part of the organisation, and to be seen to be part of it. This situation continued for over 200 years during which freemasonry developed further and thrived in the community.
Why did this change? We only have to look at the turmoil which existed in Europe after the Great War. Hitler became a prominent political figure and found it politically convenient to demonise sections of society which he believed were a threat to his dream of world domination. Freemasonry was one of those sections of society. As Germany overran Europe, it was not only Jews but also other allegedly anti-social groups including freemasons, which felt the lash of Hitler’s hatred. It comes as a shock for many to find that an estimated 80,000 to 200,000
freemasons died in the Holocaust as a result of their membership of the organisation. It is even more surprising to find that, in 1941, plans were already in place for these same anti- social groups to be eliminated in Great Britain immediately following a successful invasion.
So what was it that Nazism had to fear from
freemasonry that caused so much aggression?
One Nazi scathingly defined freemasonry thus:
“Masonic lodges are associations of men who,
closely bound together in a union employing
symbolical usages, represent a supra-national
spiritual movement, the idea of Humanity,
a general association of mankind, without
distinction of races, peoples, religions, social and political convictions.” I could not have described our ideals better myself!
The Nazis hated the idea of democracy and humanity that is inherent in freemasonry and the concept of a ‘general association of mankind without distinction of races, peoples, religions, social and political convictions’ must have seemed a complete anathema to someone indoctrinated over the years at every waking moment with the Nazi ideals of German national supremacy and a hatred of so-called inferior races.
So there was a clash of beliefs but I believe that alone was not sufficient to cause such antagonism to our Order specifically. Fear causes hatred and I believe the roots of their hatred lay in the difference between freemasonry and other similar organisations. I mean the masonic membership and its structure.
The Nazis must have feared the whole masonic organisation, with centuries of tradition behind it; allegations of involvement in resistance to authoritarian regimes over many years and a membership taken from all levels of society. From the King to the common man, with every type of skill available, both military and civilian, all united in hundreds of unknown cells
connected by unseen links. Each cell apparently containing dozens of unknown men, bound to each other by solemn oaths of brotherhood to protect not only each other, but a belief which was completely at odds with those of Nazism. Such an organisation could easily have become a source of resistance to their concept of world domination and so, for the Nazis, freemasonry had to be destroyed.
So how did all this affect freemasonry in England? Surprisingly, there appears to be little record of official concern by Grand Lodge regarding events in Europe between the wars. However, well aware of what was happening to their European masonic acquaintances, it is hardly surprising to find that, from the early 1930s, English freemasons decided to become very secretive about their membership of the organisation. Let us not forget that, even in those far off days, it was no more than an hour’s flight for a squadron of German planes laden with bombs to reach London from France.
No more public appearances, no more masonic columns in newspapers, no more laying of foundation stones for public buildings; be secret about your membership so that even friends will not know. We are all aware of the slogan in those dark days: ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’. We closed the doors to the outside world. Just how effective that secrecy would have been in the event of an invasion is very doubtful.
But it is our history and it is the background to the reputation for ‘hiding our lights’ from the general public from which we have suffered for the last half century. As a result, for some 50 years, the public forgot the good works of freemasonry and became concerned about a secret society within their midst which they regarded as sinister.
In recent years Grand Lodge has been making strenuous efforts to break through this self- imposed barrier, formed from the fear of the barbed wire of concentration camps or worse. They have literally opened the doors of Grand Lodge to the general public, which is now freely accessible for viewing and study every
day, and is used for numerous public events as well as a set for film, television and fashion. They have appointed official media representatives and we have followed this in our province. So the commitment now is that we freely give TV, radio and newspaper interviews; we have launched Insight magazine which enjoys wide circulation outside our membership; we have organised open days at masonic halls and social evenings at our lodges when non-masons can join our members at dinner. And let’s not forget the masonic exhibition trailer at major events where we deliberately encourage interaction with the public. Thankfully, all this is a far cry from the attitude that existed when I first joined more than forty years ago.
It is for each and every one of us to continue to promote our craft wherever we can, by being: more ready to speak about our membership; explain how freemasonry crosses divides that others find impossible such as Protestant and Catholic in Ireland and Arab and Jew in Israel; how it supports those in need whether masonic or non-masonic, how it helps each and every one of us to improve our own self confidence, whilst still being conscious of the needs of others, and helps to promote our own belief in a Supreme Being.
Michael Drayton
Editors Corner
Thank you for all the feedback on our last issue. Please let us know what you think about this issue. Send comments to our email address insight@hiowmasons.org. I would like to apologise to Anthony Fletcher for omitting to credit his photograph of the stained glass window of Winchester Cathedral in our last issue.
We have been contacted by Sally Gray, who is compiling a book with Cecil Dixon about the life of the late Henry Gray. If you have any interesting or amusing stories of Henry, please send them to us to pass onto Sally.
Michael Oliver has reworked Walter Wilmshurst’s book “The Meaning of Masonry”. The book, “Wilmhurst Revisited”, presents an interesting view about the meaning of freemasonry and is accessible to both masons and the public. The book costs £10 plus postage of around £3.50. For more details about the book, contact Michael by email at mikewoliver@gmail.com.
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