Never Again: The Spirit of the Shoah
By Alexander Cannon
Minnetonka, MN


 

The book had a bright background and was rather humble in appearance, two words printed on the front cover. The Sunflower. My European History teacher opened up the book and began reading the story of Simon Weisenthal, a Jewish victim and survivor of the Holocaust. Unlike the barren pits carelessly dug into the earth for mass graves, tombs for fallen German soldiers laid respectfully to rest were marked with sunflowers. The story of Weisenthal’s survival is marked with tragedy and dark joy, yet his encounter with a dying German soldier particularly peaked my interest. Upon his death bed, a Nazi soldier in a concentration camp begged Simon for forgiveness so that he could die in peace, a sunflower upon his grave. After what seemed like an eternity of contemplation, Simon turned his back and, without a word, walked away. The question of forgiveness, specifically the instance that occurred in The Sunflower (of whether the Nazi was deserved forgiveness and whether Weisenthal had a choice to either offer or deny it) has been debated by some of the most prominent scholars and philosophers of the modern era. I posed the same question to my grandfather--also a Holocaust survivor--a man who had seen the same faces of death every day. His response was astounding. “I would forgive him,” my grandpa said calmly, “because I didn’t know his whole story, how he got where he did, what decisions he actually made. I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he was repenting, and would let him die in peace.”

Aside from already being proud of my heritage, my grandfather’s remarks truly left an impression on me. I have the tremendous honor of having two Holocaust survivors in my family. My grandfather, Frank Neuman, and my grandmother, Mary Neuman, survived the atrocities of the Shoah, and despite their hardships, are two of the most generous and selfless people I know. Their stories are endless. Against impossible odds, their determination to survive and to tell their stories to future generations outweighed the inhuman situations that became their daily lives. My grandmother is a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps. Her bravery in discussing her time in the camps is overwhelming. I shuddered when she told me of the time she was face-to-face with the notorious Dr. Mengele, who, instead of murdering my grandmother instantly on accusations of stealing a cabbage from a supply truck in Auschwitz, forced her to kneel in the gravel with her hands above her head for more than six hours. My grandfather described to me his death sentence to the firing squads in Bergen-Belsen, only to have been selected out of dozens by a Nazi guard to bury the other massacred bodies. “It was just plain luck that you survived,” my grandmother told a local newspaper in 1978. It is these stories--these experiences--with which people can connect. When people realize that these events happened to real human beings--people with passions and dreams that were subject to and endured such horrific acts--that people truly begin to learn.

From Schindler’s List to Sophie’s Choice, efforts to educate society about the Holocaust have greatly contributed to the rising awareness and preventive measures against the return of formerly unspeakable events. The courage of survivors to share their stories, the efforts of filmmakers and authors to provide a direct resource to the general public, and the attempts made in schools to educate youth of the atrocities of the Holocaust continue to prevent this tragedy from ever being forgotten.

As leaders of the next generation, it is our duty as students to tell the stories that will no longer be told by those who lived them. The documents and tangible accounts of the Holocaust will unfortunately fade. It is our duty as students to preserve the written words of our heroes, but also to write new accounts and reflections on the events of the Shoah. We must focus on the power and hope of the human spirit and relay the importance of instructing future generations to learn from the ignorance and turned heads of their fathers and mothers, to encourage growth rather then to condemn the past. Yet we grow because we acknowledge our mistakes. There must always be a person in this world whom, through stories passed down from generation to generation, can stand up against a forgetful world and solemnly say, “I remember.”

We must also be prepared to combat and prevent the prejudice, discrimination, and violence in our world today. Certainly, the first step towards solving a problem is preparing for it. Knowledge and understanding are powerful weapons against hate. Yet aside from personal study, there must also be a public message, for the intellectualism and study of the Holocaust was obviously kept silent until it many years after it ended. Today’s students can make a much greater difference at a much younger age. Whether through organizing youth groups consisting of individuals with different backgrounds, leading discussion groups on issues of human rights, or helping to support public access to information, students have more capabilities to make a positive change to this world than ever before.

Joseph Stalin once said that “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” We must never lose sight of the meaning behind that so-called statistic.

We must think of the Holocaust as eleven million individual tragedies--eleven million hearts pleading as their dying wish that nobody would ever repeat their experiences--rather than gaze upon misleading numbers on a page. Two words are written on prayer books all across the world for Yom Hazikaron, the international day of atonement and recognition for the Holocaust. These words are simple. “Never again.” Never again can the world stand idly by while an entire people is nearly exterminated in attempts to “purify” the human race. We are all equals. Never again can we live in fear of members of our own community. We are all united. Never again can we turn a deaf ear to injustice, or to follow any popular movement that places one human being below another. We are all family. As family we must be our brothers’ keepers, and always remember that we are members of a single human race divided only by imaginary lines of ignorance that can be blurred by acts of love and effaced by attempts to understand.
 


Works Cited

Arzt, Edya, Bea Stadtler, and Alan D. Bennett. “Holocaust.”
Family Home Viewing Guide 7 April 1978: 1-10.

Fisch, Robert O. Light from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love
from the Holocaust. Minneapolis: The Yellow Star
Foundation, 1994.

Levine, Bettijane. “Witness to Holocaust, Wiesel shares message
of hope.” Star Tribune, reprinted from Los Angeles
Times 18 December 1999. B7

Neuman, Frank. Personal interview. 3 April 2005.

Nygaard, Shirley, “Holocaust: ‘It will always be a part of
me’.” Interview of Mary Neuman. Golden Valley Post 27
April 1978. 1+

Survivors of the Shoah: Mary Neuman Nadler. Videocassette.
Visual History Foundation, 1994.

Twin Cities Jewish Holocaust Commemoration. “Remember.” Prayer
service book for Temple Israel, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
23 April 1979.

Weisenthal, Simon. The Sunflower. Paris: Opera Mundi Paris,
1969.

 


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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