Faded pictures, yellowed diaries, unspoken memories: for so many the Holocaust is just that. A horror story whose voice has been muffled by the passage of time. Whose meaning has been reduced to a set of dates and death counts. Whose value has been lost as it is wedged into timelines and textbooks. Have the voices of those cut down by the blade of intolerance so soon been ignored?
The lessons of the Holocaust are many and varied, but display their most obvious value in their role as crucial components of modem society and culture. Though the primary witnesses to the near genocide of the Jewish people are disappearing as the years pass, there is still a generation of war survivors that cannot be denied. The six million Holocaust deaths have left more than six million survivors, family members, and friends that find themselves being ignored by the general public (Encarta). As a result not of hate, but of ignorance, the adults of tomorrow are growing up largely numb to the magnitude of destruction and despair that resulted from Hitler's "Final Solution." I, as a high school student, cannot feel the panic of Kristallnacht, or the terror of Auschwitz through my intuition alone. (Hanes 648) I, like all those who did not live through the Nazi pogroms, must make an effort to reach out to those who did. The Holocaust cannot be fully realized without conscience a undertaking put forth by those who know it only from a distance. The survivors of the extermination camps, the Einsatzgruppen, the SS, and all other institutions that promoted Jewish persecution, deserve our attention, our understanding, and, above all, our respect (Encarta). The same way in which we welcomed home the POWs of Iraq, so to must we welcome the Holocaust survivors: prisoners of a war of the most horrible kind.
Understanding of the Holocaust leads to an understanding of an even greater magnitude, that of hate and intolerance as a whole. As Americans, we are plagued by terrorism, racism, and persecution of all groups considered to be "different". This prejudicial pattern, which has become an all too easily disregarded norm, holds a much greater significance than we may realize. If we would stop to examine our modern-day trends of discrimination, we would see a striking resemblance to a different society: pre-WWII Europe.
Anti-Semitism, though having reached its
height during the rise of the Nazi party in 1933, had been swelling in
Europe for decades prior. Like racism in the US, the non-Aryan movement
began as nothing more than an isolated rising. (Encarta) Anti-Jewish
members of the Nationalist Socialist Party, more specifically Hitler's
"special troops", were seen at first as representations of a small
minority: vocal, but not dangerous (Hanes 648 ). Julius Streicher, editor
of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stumer, was considered a radical prior
to the Nazi takeover (Post 58).
Now, let us look to the present. The KKK is viewed as little more than a nuisance, but were Hitler's henchman not thought of once in the same light? Their principles are different, but their effects are the same. And now too our economy is in recession, and we are facing worldwide criticism for our policies on war. Does not that also sound familiar? The United States has become a hotbed of dissent and intolerance that mirrors pre-nazi Germany: a perfect environment for the seeds of hate groups to grow unchecked.
The end result of the precedents set by
the pre-Holocaust period is also the greatest value of the Holocaust
itself: to serve as a warning. Examining the institutions that created
Belzec and Chelmno, (Nazi death camps) is not a matter of historical
inquiry, but conscience consideration
The manner in which this can be done is seen as a momentous task, especially soon after absorbing the sheer enormity of the impact of the Holocaust. Many feel overwhelmed as to just what they can do to educate others about it, and feel at a loss as to how they can do their part. What many fail to realize is that continuing the legacy of the Holocaust survivors does not have to be a complicated endeavor; that it does not have to involve organizing tolerance groups, or constructing memorials. Our obligation to preserving the past can be best completed through a very simple matter: personal responsibility.
Students can best use the lessons of the Holocaust to combat injustice through vocalization of pro tolerance policies. Diffusing a hate-driven argument, or supporting an anti-prejudice organization are but a few small, but effective ways for an individual to create a peaceful environment. An environment detrimental to the kinds of ideas that allowed the Holocaust to happen. We need only to remain strong in our personal convictions to convince others to respect them, and possibly begin to believe them. In the words of Anne Frank: "Those who don't know will have to find out by experience that a quiet conscience gives you strength!" (320)
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