"Decency, courage, fortitude, and hope. It is these qualities that redeem our human story from being a tale of unmitigated evil, and instill into it vestiges of dignity that permit us to affirm, despite so much evidence that would otherwise lead us to despair" (Brown). The evidence of the Holocaust was staggering. With the planned extermination of millions of Jews brought to its frightful conclusion, the reality of genocide was unmistakable, and the sheer inhumanity practiced with such vehemence by Hitler's nefarious regime hurled severe blows to the face of the world's moral body. During this period the human race peered into its darkest depths. Yet, when faced with such deliberate iniquity, Jews responded with an unquenchable thirst for life; with refusal to give up at any cost. They demonstrated the abiding strength of the human spirit. It is this spirit that brought us through the depravity of the Holocaust, and it must be maintained and cultivated to ensure a life free of terror and treachery for future generations.
That indomitable human spirit was courageously demonstrated by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Though heavily overmatched, Jews fought valiantly, and the resistance continued for several months. The Germans expected the destruction of Warsaw to proceed quickly, but they had not reckoned with the "stubbornness of the Jewish fighters", nor did they reckon with the Jews' undying faith (Mark 99). With great pride, Jews celebrated the start of Passover just as the sun set on the first day of fighting. The next day, the Jews were given an ultimatum: Give up and surrender, or the ghetto will be completely demolished. Yet the Jews were steadfast in their resolve. "One does not negotiate with the practitioners of genocide" (Mark 103).
The spirit that permeated the Warsaw ghetto survives to this day, but during the Holocaust its flame was nearly extinguished. The torrent of persecution came close to dousing the fire of an entire people. Now the human spirit is strong again, greatly revived after years of recovery, and it has matured along the way. It has seen the human race through its worst times, and not without taking careful notes. Now we have a responsibility to pass these notes on to our next of kin.
While the Nazi threat is largely gone, its legacy has taken different forms. The enemy is no longer a concrete threat, but remarkable similarities remain between the Nazis of yesteryear and today's more abstract terrorist threat. Ideological and religious hatred sparked the Holocaust just as it has incited holy wars directed at the modern free world. As times change, so do our enemies, but the hatred which fuels them remains the same. Now, the human spirit is under attack by terrorists even willing to die so long as others perish alongside them. At this crucial moment in modern life, the Holocaust's lessons are fading; however, they couldn't be more important given today's circumstances. As generations pass, hatred brews in different forms, and if we don't use the lessons of the past to combat this hatred, there is no telling what terror might befall us the next time. The mantra of historians and Holocaust survivors alike is "NEVER AGAIN", because they understand that the boundaries of decency must never be crossed in any name, not even under God. If we actively keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, its lessons will not be forgotten, and we can hope that a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again.
If it is true that there can be no good without evil, then we as humans have a responsibility to control that evil, to ensure the safety of our fellow man. This duty was forgotten during the Holocaust, when pervasive anti-Semitism led to crimes committed not only by Nazis but also by the gentile citizenry of Europe. In the Polish city of Lvov in 1939, "mobs of Ukrainian hoodlums ... combed streets and houses, murdering Jews" wherever they were found (Gilbert 163). When the mob's rampage ended, thousands of Jews had been killed. This mutual hatred united the Ukrainians and Nazis, even if there was no official affiliation. If hatred on this scale is again allowed to flourish, the world may not get another chance at redemption.
To contribute to a more free and just world, we as students must continue to campaign for tolerance, understanding, and acceptance of all people, regardless of creed or ethnicity. Through education, we learn the lessons of the past, and we understand the consequences of future prejudice. We refuse to let ignorance overtake us. As Heinrich Heine once said, "Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people" (qtd. in Lawliss 31). This proved all too true during the Holocaust, and it rings especially true today. A truly compassionate education, one that preaches acceptance of all people, can do more to combat prejudice than the waging of any war. Nothing else can better nurture our human spirit.
There is no better way to preach tolerance than to participate in it. Discussion is important, but if actions don't take place, then the cause is inevitably lost. Thus, people must seek qualities in others that transcend racial differences, focusing on positive shared aspects of the human condition. Today's peer groups boast friends from numerous different ethnic and religious backgrounds, spanning cultures and beliefs across the world, and while these friendships promote tolerance individually, positive repercussions occur on a societal level. We express our solidarity with the ideals of peace and acceptance through the bonds of friendship, and as such, we deliver a message that our human spirit remains undaunted; committed to the same ideals that brought the Jewish people through the Holocaust.
The human spirit has shown its resiliency throughout Jewish history, never lost even when all vestiges of hope were fading away. Now its flickering light has brightened once again, strengthened with a new generation's commitment to pursue peace and tolerance in any way possible. As President Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" (McPherson 416). In this modern age, fear and hatred travel hand in hand; therefore, it is incumbent upon us to eradicate this persistent style of thinking, thus converting retreat into the advancement of peace for the rest of our days. Controlling hatred and promoting peace is the responsibility not just of this generation, but of all future generations; not just of Jews, but of all humankind. Only when this is accomplished will the human spirit truly be free.
McAfee. Rev. of Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land, by Sara
Nomberg-Przytyk. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1985.
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