The room is dim in the blood-red light of
the setting sun. Children are cowering, wailing, in the corners. Their
parents stand beside a table, begging to the warped delight of the
uniformed-men who broke down the door. The leader of the band grins
sadistically, forcing into the man's hand a long, sharp knife from a dusty
daypack. He orders the man to cut his wife open. His wife begs between
suppressed sobs that the soldiers spare her children if her husband does
as they ask. The leader grins and nods. The husband pauses with awful
anticipation as he looks into his children's eyes; should he refuse, he
knows he has sealed their fate as well. He contemplates the appalling
situation; how can he murder his wife ... in front of his children's
innocent eyes? His wife pleads-her voice obscured by the men's
laughter-pleading for him to let the knife fall before the men change
their minds. After one last look at his wife, he lets the heavy blade
drop. The men laugh and send a shot into her belly, leaving her to die
slowly. Only a block away, another squad discovers five thousand villagers
huddled in a small Catholic church. They cast grenade after grenade into
the little chapel, shooting all who attempt to flee until there is no
movement. And with one last, fiery glance to the mountains on the horizon,
the sun sets on the bloodstained earth (2).
One may shrug and attribute the story above to the many atrocities of the Holocaust; however, this true story did not occur fifty years ago-it took place in Rwanda in the summer of 1994. How could humanity allow such events to occur after the tragic events of the Holocaust? The answer is simple: while genocide may not directly be our individual fault, we condone these horrors by forgetting the terrible memory of the Holocaust's.
The act of standing by and allowing such atrocities is almost as foul as perpetrating the crimes themselves. We cannot blind ourselves to truth, in a naive belief that the crimes we may or may not witness do not affect us. Similar thinking allowed six million Jews to die by the hand of Hitler (4) and most of Europe, Africa, and Asia to fall to fascist dictators. While the bulk of humanity forced the world's problems out of sight and out of mind, these atrocities grew to create a more dreadful reality for us when we finally awoke.
The shock and awe that tear the heart when one hears stories of the Holocaust must never heal. By reopening these wounds in our psyches, we remind ourselves that the events are real that such inhumanity exists within our own very human characters. Revisiting these heart-sores means keeping them alive; it is up to us to ensure this happens. Perhaps this catharsis means a solemn visit to the Holocaust museum, participating in events like the recent Holocaust commemoration held in Washington DC (3), or most importantly, hearing the stories of our elders' experiences. We must learn from such abominable acts and bloom new natures derived from the stirring stories Anne Frank and other heroes.
Yet is this all we can do to ensure we remember what happened and prevent it from happening time and time again? If we are to remember what occurred during the Holocaust, we must fight against such evils by preventing them in the most direct way possible: in ourselves. We do so by eliminating the root of Holocaustic atrocities from our characters; it is hatred justified or not that eventually leads to such barbarity. Should we allow any species of hatred to rot our hearts, we could well become the very ones we so despise. The ten Boom sisters despite their abuses at Ravensbruck-provide an example for releasing hatred from our hearts. Betsy ten Boom's boundless love extended so far as to pray for forgiveness for Nazi guards as they whipped her fellow prisoners. Corrie's character was similarly tested years after her release: she spotted a prior guard in the charitable shelter she established and, despite her intense emotions, she found it within herself to shake his hand (1). Indeed, forgiveness freely given is the only way to end such flagitiousness in the future. Pacific Rakanwa, a survivor from the Rwandan massacres, embodied the forgiveness necessary by revealing, "We know those who killed here, but we forgive them because they have confessed to the killings. We even live with some of them here. We know them, but we forgive them," (2).
The next step in battling these forces of darkness is preventing Holocausts on a larger level: in our communities. Whether we protect a child from bullies, raise objections to racial slurs and off-color jokes-in short, struggle against any form of hatred we witness-we avert prejudice and genocide. Indeed, we must value human life as Father ten Boom did a Jewish child's, saying, "You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family," (1).We must never forget what once happened in Germany and ended in Auschwitz, lest we allow hatred to grow into violence and lest we be accountable for it.
In the world at large, our remembrance must include fighting against current campaigns of genocide in foreign lands; opportunities do exist to help those in povertystricken nations break the chains of their despair. My recent experience with one such organization, Leadership Advancement International, has led me to realize the profound influence we have as individuals in changing the fate of a nation. Organizations like LAI fight against future Holocausts by providing opportunities for people in under-developed nations to become educated and return with a new vision for their homeland-offering a way out of desperation. We can alleviate this despair-and destroy the seeds of mass disharmony and genocide-by giving our time and resources to organizations like LAI, Red Cross, and the Peace Corps, who provide hope for the hopeless.
It is disturbing that after the horrifying events of the Holocaust that humanity could lay idle and allow events like the genocide in Rwanda to occur. It is imperative that mankind understand that the reason the stories of the Holocaust touch us so deeply is because we are capable of doing the same things-whether heroic or demonic-as those involved in the events themselves. We can never sit idly by and allow our inaction to cause another Holocaust - in any shape or form - to occur so long as we have air to breathe. The dream of nine-year-old Rwandan Tutsi survivor, Hachi Mana, must become our reality: "I just hope what happened to us never happens to children anywhere in the world," (2).
(1) Ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place.
London: Bantam, 1971.
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