In Memoraim
By Alon Bonder
Brooklyn, NY


 

It had taken two days- the slaughter of 34,000 Jews. One row after another they were gunned down, creating mounds of the dead and dying. The screams of agony of those that were not yet dead reverberated as they struggled to free themselves of the carnage, praying that even if they could make it out alive they would not face the same end that befell their comrades. For those that could not, they spent their last minutes suffocated by the dirt and weight of the hundreds of corpses that lay on all sides. It was here, at Babi Yar, on the 29th and 30th of September 1941 that the possibility of my meeting my great-grandfather would be forever lost.

I had learned, of course, of the Holocaust, and listened with awe along with my classmates as our teacher related the staggering number of victims, but until the night my parents told me of my great-grandfather I could never relate completely to the horrors. I found myself attempting to see what my great-grandfather had seen before he was killed, what he felt as he took his position in the row of people that would be his last living image. All at once the Holocaust became a reality, and yet even knowing what had occurred, I could not contemplate the hatred that could bring about such destruction- the utter eradication of millions for no crime other than being “born Jewish…doomed not because of something they had done or proclaimed or acquired but because of who they were, sons and daughters of Jewish people” (qtd. In Lipman, “Memorial” 4).

Alla Gerber, President of the Russian Holocaust Fund once said that “the Holocaust was merely the tip of an arrow propelled by Anti-Semitism,” leading to the conclusion that more than merely condemning the Holocaust, we must seek to condemn the driving force behind it, as many of the highest officials in worldwide government have seen fit to do. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out against the Holocaust and the forces of Anti-Semitism, as did UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the opening of a new museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem earlier this year- drawing to its opening leaders from 40 countries. And yet, despite such public denouncement of Anti-Semitism by some of the most powerful political figures in the world, its existence continues to grow across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, England, France, and Russia, existing today in levels higher than at any time since the Nazi era.
Why should we remember the Holocaust? Because as time moves on, Anti-Semitic ideals continue to become embedded in the cultures of these countries, and while political figures denounce Anti-Semitism, little is actually being done. Although Vladimir Putin claimed to have been ashamed of the continued existence of Anti-Semitism in Russia in his speech at Auschwitz, his reaction to the letter written by twenty members of the Russian congress blaming the Jews for Russia’s problems could be described as light public condemnation at best. It would seem that such blatant Anti-Semitism would warrant a greater denouncement from the President, as the argument used by the congressmen is quite reminiscent of that used by the Nazis before the Holocaust, blaming the Jews for Germany’s economic depression.

Even where Anti-Semitism is not expressed directly, the connection with Anti-Israeli sentiment is evident, as the legitimacy of the right of Jews to have a state is being openly questioned in Europe, as well as other parts of the world. This sentiment can be traced all the way to the UN, where the UN Security Council holds sessions to attack Israel for its actions, while bearing little mind to those taken by the Palestinians or regimes in other parts of the world- including the 1994 massacres in Rwanda in which thousands were killed.

The recent passing of Pope John Paul II marked the loss of an individual who understood the forces of Anti-Semitism, seeking to combat them from his position of religious prominence, labeling Anti-Semitism a “complete contradiction to the Christian vision for human dignity” (qtd. in Lipman, “Pope” 50) as well as a “sin against God” (qtd. in Lipman, “Critique” 48). In addition, over the objections of some of the members of the Vatican Hierarchy, the Pope “issued a mea culpa for putative believers’ role in the Final Solution and asked for Jewish forgiveness in the name of Christendom and the Catholic Church” (Lipman 48). The legacy left behind by this great man, and his sensitivity to the plight of the Jewish people is yet another reason to always remember the Holocaust, and the driving force of Anti-Semitism which continues to exist, as in the words of Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust was not about “man’s inhumanity to man…it was man’s inhumanity to Jews” (qtd. in Lipman, “Memorial” 4).

As students, perhaps the best action to be taken to combat and prevent the prejudice and discrimination in today’s world is to be informed, rather than turn the blind eye that is all too common. If students today are willing to seek the knowledge that is so abundant and feel strongly about the issue, then the collective voice of these students is enough to force action, or at the very least bring attention to the issue on a wider scale. Students do not even have far to look to take note of the prejudice in today’s society, as news of Anti-Semitic crime continues to be related, where synagogues and Jewish gravesites in the United States have been defaced with swastikas and, in some cases, even attacked. We should not have to look far for the voices of tolerance, especially if each of us on an individual level contributes to the collective need to combat even the smallest examples of discrimination in casual conversation and action.

Yet, in seeking knowledge and applying it, we must not overlook the greatest remaining resource on information from the Holocaust- the survivors. Over the course of my own volunteering experiences with a Holocaust survivor organization, I have discovered the willingness of survivors to pass on their legacy of knowledge to younger generations. Only by striving to remember the lessons of the past can we learn the importance of seeking to prevent today’s injustices, and begin to use the power that we, as students, have not yet tapped in order to combat them.
 

Works Cited



Lipman, Steve. “The Jewish Critique.” The Jewish Week 8 April 2005.: 48

Lipman, Steve. “A New Memorial To The Shoah.” The Jewish Week 18 March 2005.: 4

Lipman, Steve. “The Pope With A Jewish Heart.” The Jewish Week 8 April 2005.: 50

Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin’s/Marek, 1983.

Sharansky, Natan. Interview with Victor Topaller. In New York, with Victor Topaller. RTVi. 15 March, 2005

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1960.
 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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