The Bell Tolls for Thee
"Shema Yisrael Adonai elohenyu Adonai echad...,"
begins the Shema, one of the most poignant prayers of the Jewish people.
This scriptural passage from the book of Deuteronomy, recited in both
synagogues and homes, reflects the deep-seated religious convictions felt
by the children of Israel. Joined in praise and supplication to Yahweh,
the joyful choruses of their voices fill and resonate in their temples
(Shoemaker Online). However, during a brief period in history these voices
became silenced and Judaism, along with its age-old customs and
traditions, seemed doomed to destruction. Because of the hateful decisions
of inhuman and atrocious men, European Jews suffered almost complete
eradication from Europe. The horror and dread of the Holocaust deeply
wounded humankind. The unspeakable acts committed by the Nazis remind us
of the degree to which man's perversion and depravity can spread, causing
the virtual ruin of a society. By remembering the torment and martyrdom of
the Jewish people and realizing the importance of the lessons of the
Holocaust, we can keep these shameful acts from recurring and destroying
the human race.
The crime and war-plagued twentieth century witnessed countless battles and bloody confrontations. World War II, however, surpassed all others as one whose sanguinary violence resulted from intolerance and prejudice. The "Final Solution," as Hitler and his adherents called the mass murder of the Jewish people, annihilated six million innocent lives who dared to follow and profess the faith of their fathers. Nazi ideology espoused the belief that only Aryans (blue-eyed and fair-skinned persons) deserved to live (Samuels Online). After the utter defeat of Germany in World War 1, Hitler, then a soldier in the German Army, vowed to avenge his country's downfall. Desiring to improve the social and economic condition of Germany, he initiated a new system of government that envisioned global domination. However, before his structured plan could take effect, he blamed the country's demoralization on the Jewish people. Driven by great envy, he sought to destroy them methodically, thereby nourishing Germany's people with a terrible hatred for their Hebrew neighbors (Egendorf 47).
The punishments that awaited the Jews surpassed their worst nightmares. A great number of them sought refuge from their Christian friends, many of whom risked their very lives to save their persecuted friends. The accounts of Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank and her family, revealed the range of emotions that filtered through the minds of these people as their war-torn countries awaited the arrival of the Allies. These "righteous gentiles," as Holocaust survivors today call their defenders, truly deserve recognition for their defense of fundamental human rights. Other Jews, however, received no aid and suffered the fate so many of their brethren endured. Recalling the concentration camps brought to mind dread and terror. Auschwitz and Treblinka, chief among these camps, especially terrified their prisoners. Few survived to tell of the methods employed in the systematic killings: the gas chambers, shootings, and failed genetic and biological experiments (Saenz Online).
Sadly, some individuals claim that Holocaust survivors exaggerated their experiences and others dare to say that the horrible events that marked that era never occurred. Even among high school and college students these blatant lies abound. Educators who teach this subject in English and History classes complain that a growing number of their students hear about Holocaust denial and believe in its legitimacy (Lipstadt 3). To recognize these attacks on the truth one must first identify the tactics that Holocaust deniers use to deceive others. By camoflouging their true objectives they become successful in planting doubt and confusion even among the highest educational establishments in America, when in truth they uphold fascist and anti-Semitic ideals (4). To the doubting Thomas we can assure that videos and archives exist, showing and explaining in great detail the manner in which the "Final Solution" occurred if testimonies from survivors do not suffice (Berkowitz Online). For the deniers, ignorance remains their greatest ally. Thus, educators, historians, and sociologists hold the key to the defense of the truth. We should all contribute in spreading the facts about the Holocaust to the general public and stop the dispersion of lies (Lipstadt 219).
"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it," echo the words of the great Hispanic philosopher, Jorge Santayana (qtd. in Saenz Online). Nevertheless, it seems that during the past century, humanity quickly forgot its past and condemned itself to commit the same errors time and time again. The genocide of the Armenians from 1915 to 1923, a forerunner to the Holocaust, and the Cambodian assassinations in the late 1970's attest to this sad, but true reality (Saenz Online). The spread of communism after World War 11 and its manifestations also indicate that people did not learn from previous mistakes. Without the knowledge of the past we simply cannot chart our course for the future (Williams 151). However, the question of how we should resolve the problem of racial prejudice still lingers, begging for a concrete solution.
Racial bias caused the disagreements and conflicts both in the Holocaust and in other similar, tragic events. We must embrace a common base of knowledge in order to heal the differences of racial tension (152). By redefining American policy we can better understand that our racial and ethnic differences "do not signal disunity but instead reflect an enhanced strength" (qtd. in Williams 153). Engaging in constructive conversations and reasoned dialogue can enable us to ease the fault line caused by race and fortify our objective to cooperate in building an America worthy of the standards and values we advocate (About Online).
The Holocaust greatly affected the Jewish people both physically and psychologically, as did other incidents experienced by various racial and ethnic groups. These monstrous and brutal events in human history threatened all of civilization. The atrocities committed in Europe under the domain of Nazi Germany, the terrible spread and abuse of authority of Communist Russia, and the countless assaults on human dignity elsewhere in the world endangered and attacked the most fundamental values of a reasonable society. Because of this, we cannot commit these events to the history books. We must keep their memory alive as we pass these important lessons on to our children and grandchildren. We cannot expect total protection and security from evil during our short stay upon the earth, yet hope remains while there exist people who seek justice and peace. The words of John Donne remind us of humanity's oneness: "No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent; a part of the main .... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" (qtd. in Runion Online).
"About the Holocaust: A Tragic Legacy." 1997. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.library.thinkquest.org/12663/about.html. 4 Mar. 2002. Berkowitz, Yitzchak. "Understanding the Holocaust." N.D. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.aish.com/holocaust/issues/Understanding the Holocaust.asp. 25 Feb. 2002. Egendorf, Larua K. Anti-Semitism. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 1999.
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust. New York: Plume Books, 1993.
Runion, Jennifer M. "Silence Feeds Hatred: Lessons from the Holocaust Still Apply Today." 2000. Online. Available HTTP:http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-w/g-wt/g-wtl/news/fa1100/silence.htm. 4 Mar. 2002.
Sdenz, Emilia. %Es Posible Olvidar?" 2001.
Online. Available HTTP: http://www.percano.com.mx/medicomoderno/2001/junio-2001/olvidar.htm.
5 Mar. 2002. Samuels, Shimon. "Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust: from
Particularism to Universalism and Back." 2001. Online. Holocaust Teacher
Shoemaker, Thomas. "The Shema." N.D. Online. The Bible in Hebrew l. Available HTTP: http://www.mcweb.mc.maricopa.edu/users/shoemaker/Hebrew/prayers/shema.html. 4 Mar. 2002.
Williams, Mary E. Race Relations: Opposing Vie ints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc., 2001.
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