Never Again
By Maxim Pinkovskiy
Brooklyn, NY


 

"Jews killed the Lord Jesus" - sign over Lovingway United Pentecostal Church, Denver, CO, USA, Feb. 25, 2004. (ADL)

Almost sixty years after the Holocaust, it is tempting to think that the terrifying slaughter of 6 million Jews and millions of other innocents by one of the vilest regimes ever known can be relegated to the annals of history. We have seen the terrible evidence of the genocide - the photographs of the gas chambers, the death trains, the emaciated survivors, the swastika-sealed lists of prisoners and executed in which every digit represents countless tragedies. We have studied it in schools, learned the names of the camps, read the testimonies of survivors, taken tests and written essays on it. We have even seen the Holocaust in film through Schindler's List, and PBS programs. Yet, having been inundated with images of violence in popular culture since birth, we have become anesthetized to the horror of the killings. While learning the history of the Holocaust, we have learned to treat it as history, holding it at arm's length, and distancing ourselves from the horror. Looking around ourselves and seeing a society that despises totalitarianism and is dedicated to democratic values and religious tolerance, we think that the lesson of history has been learned. A modern Holocaust seems impossible. People forget that ground is being laid for new holocausts even now.

The Holocaust is often seen as "a unique evil and the product of historically unique circumstances" (Fukuyama 129). However, while its sheer scale and the ferocity with which it was pursued are unparalleled in history, mass murder and genocide in general have unfortunately become commonplace. Since 1945, millions have been ruthlessly slaughtered on account of their race, ethnicity, or class. In the 1970s, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge exterminated all Cambodians whom it considered to be "bourgeois," often killing people just because they wore glasses and seemed educated. In the early nineties, Slobodan Milosevic sponsored the bloodbaths of Srebrenica and Vukovar, echoing Nazi slogans in a desire to "ethnically cleanse" Serbia. A few weeks ago, the global community solemnly marked the tenth anniversary of the destruction of three out of every four Tutsis in Rwanda. Even now, the Sudanese government is systematically killing blacks in Darfur (USHMM Darfur link). Moreover, even more countries experience the telltale preliminary signs that augur forthcoming genocide. The Holocaust didn't strike Germany as a bolt from the blue; it was preceded by the exclusion of Jews from the professions, the expropriation of their homes and goods by Aryans, their public harassment and boycott, and their demonization through Nazi propaganda, on the radio, and in film. Now, as one looks at the events of the past few years, one can see the seeds of future holocausts in the displacement of Kurds in Iraq before Saddam's overthrow, the pogroms of "persons of Caucasian (Chechen) nationality" in Russia (USHMM Chechnya link), the persecution of the Russian diaspora in Turkmenistan (The Economist), and of course, the pernicious undercurrent of anti-Semitism, which manifests itself in synagogue desecrations, racist slogans and proclamations, and incitements to violence even in such developed and civilized regions as Europe and America. Even though the original Holocaust is several generations past us, holocausts and societies prone to them remain with us to this day.

It is especially important to remember the Holocaust because unless the memory of the Nazi atrocities remains fresh, the world becomes apathetic to genocide. Instead of intervening with all haste to stop mass slaughter, world leaders wring their hands and watch it from the sidelines, or deny that it is occurring. The global community's response to the Rwandan genocide was contemptible; not only were more peacekeepers not sent in, but those who already were in the country were withdrawn. As late as May 1994, after 500,000 people had been murdered, the U.S. National Security Advisor stated that he did not consider that the U.S. or the international community had the right to intervene. "The reality is that we cannot often solve other people's problems; we can never build their nations for them..." (PBS) he said. Clearly, he was forgetting the words of survivor Elie Wiesel: "When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe." (Wiesel 1986) Had the lessons of the Holocaust been taken to heart by world leaders and the international community, they would have been morally impelled to act swiftly to stop the horrors. Instead, people were content to hear their leaders pass resolutions of condemnation, debate over legal terms and wrangle over who would pay the costs of intervention while the blood of innocents was shed again and again.

Thus, unless we preserve the memory of the Holocaust and pass it on, we will be doomed to see it recur interminably. How can we, students, help to draw the lessons of history and prevent catastrophe? Certainly, we can learn all we can about the horror of genocide, whether past or present. We can be proactive in defusing conflict situations in our own communities by speaking out against incitements to violence, hate and racism in our neighborhoods, high schools, and colleges. However, while working to make our communities more peaceful and tolerant is absolutely necessary, it is not sufficient to preventing prejudice and discrimination from resulting in mass slaughter around the world. To make a significant difference in the battle against genocide, it is essential to galvanize world leaders, and especially the United States, to direct and uncompromising action. As individuals, students can go to the polls and exercise their right to vote to elect candidates who promise to protect the human right to life across national borders.

As a group, students can organize to lobby politicians to watch for genocides being fomented and to take pre-emptive action before the horrors of the Holocaust are allowed to recur. The past forty years have shown how responsive politicians are to interest groups on issues of abortion, the place of religion in society, gun control, and military action overseas. Many of these groups were either founded or significantly rely upon the organizing activity of students of high school and college age. I believe that if students show their leaders their outrage at intolerance and genocide in the world, and if they encourage their elders to do the same, they will be able to make a difference. It is through action that will prevent mass murder from being repeated that the best Holocaust memorial conceivable can be created.

Works Cited

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Press Release [online] at http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ASUS 12/4458 12.htm

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Avon Books, Inc. 1992

PBS Frontline "The Triumph of Evil: 100 Days of Slaughter" [online] at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/etc/slaughter.html
The Economist. "Time to Choose" July 3, 2003 [online] at http://www.economist.com/dist)lavstorv.cfm?storv id=1901179.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) Committee on Conscience [online] at httv://www.ushmm.org/conscience/
Wiesel, Elie. Nobel Acceptance Speech. Dec. 10, 1986 [online] at http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/ElieWiesel/Nobel Sveech.htm.

 


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