Khatibifar (‘05): I’m writing to update the Holocaust
Remembrance Project Alumni Association about my future plans. I impart
with the foundation a short essay I wrote this year about the gravity of
my summer experience in 2005 and how it has influenced the forthcoming
course of my life. I recently enrolled as a freshman Pre-law student at
The George Washington University where I will study history and
economics. I am eager to embark on a new chapter of my life in
Washington, D.C., a city where I possess countless memories and an
“The Future Is In Your Hands”
By Tania Khatibifar (‘05)
On the resplendent morning of July 24, 2005, I apprehensively boarded my flight to the nation’s capital unaccompanied, eager to embark on the prospective life-changing experience that awaited me. As one of the ten winners across the nation of a national Holocaust remembrance essay contest, the Holland and Knight Charitable Foundation presented me with a week-long, all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C.. I was deeply honored to meet five Holocaust survivors and listen to the heartwrenching accounts of their plights during wartime Europe.
I got to know one survivor named Leo Bretholz, a soft-spoken, intelligent Viennese man who escaped doom countless times by dashing all over war-torn Europe for seven years. Prior to meeting him, I had read his gripping memoir Leap into Darkness which provided the “context” for an unimaginable act of genocide. In a seminar-like setting, he shared his awe-inspiring stories of escapes from deportation trains, vehement beatings from maleficent Nazi officials, and tragic murders of his entire immediate family. At the conclusion of this workshop, I was soaked in tears, and Leo, a hero with the triumph of human spirit glistening in his eyes, was tearing as well.
Another vivid memory I share with him was in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where we walked together through an exhibition flooded with the shoes of the dead at the Majdanek concentration camp. I stopped for a moment to gather the magnitude of the reality before me; the men, women, and children whose feet these shoes protected had been beaten, bloodied, and burned mercilessly. I was overcome with emotion when Leo broke the silence and whispered in his unmistakable Austrian accent, “Every time I pass through this room, I pray that my mother and sister’s shoes are in here. At least then I would have some sort of grave.”
Upon my return home to New York, I immediately conducted a comprehensive investigation of genocides that have occurred during the 20th century. Under Adolf Hitler’s oppressive totalitarian Germany, nearly 12 million innocents saw the darkness of their premature demise. Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong’s “cultural revolution” eliminated 11 million counterrevolutionists and intellectuals; Pol Pot and the violent Khmer Rouge slaughtered almost two million in Cambodia; the former prime minister of Rwanda Jean Kambanda authorized a mass killing that brutally massacred 800,000 civilians; Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and his dangerously nationalist plan for a “greater Serbia” murdered 180,000 individuals. These statistics, we cannot fail to remember, represent an accumulation of individuals who suffered from malnutrition, forced labor, violence, emotional torment, and a myriad of other formidable conditions. Had we not vowed “Never Again” after the European Holocaust? Our words were hollow—every single one of the aforementioned genocides occurred after the fall of the depraved Third Reich and the hearing of the Nuremberg Trials.
The combination of my pivotal time travel through history with the Holocaust survivors in Washington, D.C. and my newly acquired knowledge of post-WWII genocides gave me a momentous epiphany—I want to devote my life to ardently defending those whose imploring cries are suppressed by the evil boot of tyranny. I desire to be the voice of those who have been robbed of the very simple right to life, and of the other important natural rights included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I will serve to effectuate our promise of “Never Again,” and in doing so, I will hope for a future of civility, virtue and nonviolence—essential steps towards the quest for world peace. As Leo Bretholz inspirationally told me during our final moment together, “The future is in your hands.”