Learning from the Dark Past
I did not say a word; no one in our German
club’s student tour group did. How could I be expected to say anything?
What possible words could do justice to such an injustice? When I first
heard the cold and definite sound of our feet coming into contact with the
many rocks that blanket the ground of Dachau’s concentration camp, the
thoughts swirling in my head quickly changed. All of the statistics of the
Holocaust previously branded in my mind were now pushed aside by something
entirely new: image and feeling. The grayness of the day coupled with the
drab living quarters and intimidating watchtowers created in me an immense
sorrow and confusion. I wondered what the prisoners felt as they heard the
same sounds and were faced with this same gloomy site as they first
entered the camp. Most likely, they had no idea of what true hatred they
would face in this, the first ever concentration camp and prototype for
many other Nazi death camps. The horrors that these prisoners would soon
face defied all logic and mind comprehension. “This is not how life should
be, I thought. “How is it possible for anyone to so blatantly disregard
human life? And how can a human persevere against so strong a hatred?”
Some argue that because the Holocaust took place over sixty years ago and was such a dark display of the potential evil of which humans are capable, we should just try to forget it. However, these very same reasons should tell us instead of how vital it is to remember and learn from the terrible atrocities committed during this period of time. The fact that the Holocaust took place “a whole” sixty years ago should not dupe the public into perceiving it as a near archaic occurrence. Historically speaking, sixty years is not a very long time and this is obvious because there are still many current survivors of the Holocaust. The “sixty years” should instead provide the public with a warning that something so evil and barbaric can still happen in civilized society. Because there are living people who experienced this ordeal, we as a society should take advantage and learn from their stories.
But why must society learn from the Holocaust since nothing like this will happen again? Anyone who asks this question is not fully aware of recent history. Author George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This truth seems to be evident when examining events that occurred years after the Holocaust. From 1975 to 1979, communist leader Pol Pot killed two million Cambodians in acts of genocide (1). From 1992 until 1995, Serbs exterminated two hundred thousand Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina (2), and during an overlapping period in 1994, eight hundred thousand members of Rwanda’s Tutsi tribe succumbed to Hutu genocide (3). If these very recent instances of mass murder fail to alert society that there is still more to learn from the Holocaust, we need to look no further than to the present in which genocide in Sudan’s Darfur is being committed at a similar rate to that of Rwanda’s 1994 occurrence (4). The magnitude of the Holocaust remains unique among these instances, but still there are similar problems in various nations that show us that if we don’t learn from history’s failures, similar problems will continue to persist in modern day life.
Prevention is still not the only reason to examine the Holocaust. Along with it, society should learn from the glorious example of human spirit, perseverance, and courage provided by those who experienced such terror. Possibly the most well known instance of courage and humanity shown during the Holocaust was when Oscar Schindler came to the concentration camp at Auschwitz to save three hundred victims. Besides this, however, there were many other heroic instances. In Poland, Julian Bileki and his family saved 23 Jews from Nazi death squads by hiding them in an underground bunker (5). In Auschwitz, missionary Jane Haining displayed ultimate courage by refusing to reject her children when faced with the only other option of death in the gas chamber (5). In Denmark, diplomat Georg F. Duckwitz risked his life to assist Danish Jews escape to Sweden. And in an ultimate example of following conscience, German Sergeant Anton Schmid disobeyed his superior officers, saving two hundred fifty Jewish men, women and children (5). Anne Frank, just a teen at this time displayed what is most likely the greatest example of a positive attitude in the face of adversity. In the midst of her struggle to survive the hate directed at her and her people, Anne was somehow still able to stay positive. When she was hiding from the Nazis, she amazingly wrote: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” These few courageous stories are only a handful of those emanating from the Holocaust. As a society, it is important for us to be able to learn from these amazing heroic examples.
Although times have changed mostly for the better regarding prejudice, there is still a long way to go. As students, we have a great opportunity to advance the cause even further. Since students are the future leaders in the world, we can make large strides in combating prejudice now and continuing to do so in our adult lives. The first step in doing so is to recognize the problem. Once the problem is recognized, the most important activity is to speak out against prejudice and to lead by example. Once a positive example is established, prejudice should be reduced. To heroically fight prejudice, we can learn from examples throughout history. The Holocaust is a great time period from which to learn. It may be impossible to completely eliminate all prejudice because it exists in so many forms, but if we start the fight as students, there is no limit as to what can be accomplished.
Because the Holocaust is such a sinister period in world history, it is by no means a treat to study. But it is vital to thoroughly examine dark period of time such as this. Some of the most depressing periods of history can usually teach us the most. Basically, it is very necessary to not only recognize evil and prevent it from reoccurring, but to also examine any positives that may have helped combat the evil and to improve upon them. By learning from history, severely limiting prejudice in society is an attainable goal. Hopefully, more people will learn from the Holocaust and use its example to continue to fight prejudice.
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