Remember the Holocaust
By Fiona Stewart
Valley Cottage, NY


 

When German philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel said, "We learn from history that we do not learn from history," he was asserting that despite man's devastating and tragic history, human nature and society still refuses to change in its wake. No atrocity serves to testify to Hegel's position more than the horror that was the Holocaust. By the Holocaust's end, eleven million people were exterminated, and countless millions more were left to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Six million of the casualties were men, women, and children of Jewish descent, equaling two-thirds of the European Jewish population at the time. In addition to Jews, the Nazis also eliminated those whom they saw as racially inferior or politically dangerous (Berenbaum). One would think that such loss of life would teach humanity of its potential for destruction. Yet intolerance rages on, unsubdued by the Holocaust's end and resurgent behind a new veil of bigotry. If we are to have any chance at preventing the pasts of survivors and victims from becoming our futures, we must remember the harrowing price of ignorance.

For some, these numbers and facts are just that, statistics without faces. Some remember the Holocaust as a mere headline in a newspaper or heading in a history book. However, for others, the encounter was real. For these victims, the Holocaust bears with it traumatic recollections and memories. Remembering for them means reopening healed up wounds of their pasts and meticulously sifting through the chapters of pain.
However, that is not to say that they do not want to remember. Many do. They do not want their suffering to be lost along with everything else they lost at the hands of the the Nazis. Unfortunately, as the years pass on, so too do those who carry with them their memories. Herein lies the most crucial transition for these remembrances: they must not die with their bearers, but must be passed on for future generations to behold and internalize.

But what for? Why must humanity bear forever the burden of such a calamity? The answers to these questions lie not only in remembering the past, but also in looking toward the future. The Hitler Regime massacred millions of men, women, and children without cause. Ironically, their deaths have a purpose. They serve as a barefaced reminder of the atrocities committed and the lives sacrificed. To pass on the records of their deaths is to give back to the dead their voices and to allow their lives to again have meaning. This was the very thing of which Hitler attempted to rob them. Yet, for what do these voices cry? Elie Wiesel, renowned author and Holocaust survivor, shares his reasons for remembering with many of the victims. According to an interview with Anson Lang, in an attempt to break the silence and taboo nature of the Holocaust, he wrote about his experience so as to be a "messenger" who would convey to the world the cost of indifference and intolerance. By forcing upon himself the task of remembering his traumatic experience, he hoped to recollect for the world the suffering of misunderstanding and rage.

From a personal view, remembering the past is not a matter of history, but one of family identity. Such is the case for the family of Anna Silverman, a reading teacher at Nyack High School and daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her parents and sister managed narrow escapes from the Nazi regime. Every year, she brings tenth graders to tears with her harrowing personal depiction of her family's circumstances. She comments, "I think it's important for them to hear a first-hand account from a real survivor. It personalizes the event."

And so the pain of the Holocaust will be felt for generations to come. Yet, these generations must also know that they have the power to prevent future Holocausts. The Holocaust will always be remembered for the merciless genocide of millions of innocent victims at the hands of Nazi Germany. However, it must be remembered for much more. It is a constant reminder of how a tiny seed of intolerance can grow to smother a multitude. As Anna Silverman put it:

[The Holocaust] helps the world to see what can happen as a result of intolerance... [and] when intolerance and prejudice become the paradigm for how people lead their lives. It is because of this mentality that I never got to meet my aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My parents and sister survived that same intolerance, but their experiences affected them physically and emotionally for the rest of their lives.

As for me, I know that I am one of those for whom Elie Weisel, Anna Silverman, and others have unbottled their pain. As a student, I am the one to inherit their stories of intolerance and understand their value. However, simply knowing of their experiences is not enough. Responding would be the next step. As future leaders of the world, we must address these issues now, through education and interaction. Biases are the result of a passing on of family values and inherited beliefs, so we must take initiative to be the ones to break the cycle of hatred. Through education, misunderstanding, often the root of intolerance, can be dispelled. Public education must therefore take on the task of helping to instill in all youngsters a sense of open-mindedness.

Cooperation can be promoted by joint service projects and community involvement. Clubs address intolerance through bringing together students of different ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds who share similar interests. By engaging in activities that aim to encourage unity, individual differences are transcended for the sake of the group.
This year, on the morning of January 28th, 2005, hundreds of world leaders and survivors gathered in cold, snowy Brzezinka, Poland to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation. Amidst candles and the eerie howls of phantoms and winds, survivors stood once more on the grounds that they once feared would bear their own bodies to remember those who perished. Most importantly, they came to remind the world of their sacrifice- one that survivor Franciszek Jozefiak warned is on the verge of neglect. "Today they are saying a lot because of the anniversary, but tomorrow they will forget," he cautioned to the assembled crowd.

Of course, the world will never remember like Jozefiak does; the horror does not torment us every moment of our lives as it does his. And for this, Jozefiak is worried. The pain will not let him forget, but what about the rest of the world? Maybe there will never be another Holocaust, but that is not to say evil and hatred died with the Holocaust. Intolerance still wages in the form of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Society must confront it today if humanity itself is to survive.

Sources Consulted

Berenbaum, Michael. "Holocaust." World Book Online Reference
Center. 2005. World Book, Inc. 29 Jan. 2005. http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar259685.
 

Gera, Vanessa. "Leaders, survivors gather to remember Holocaust
victims." The Associated Press. 28
Jan.2005.http://nsnlb.us.publicus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=
/20050128/NEWS03/101280070/-l/news.
 

Lang, Anson. "Elie Weisel." Bold Type. Dec. 1999: 3:8.
http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/1299/wiesel/interview.html
Silverman, Anna. Personal Interview. 5 January 2005. Weisel, Elie. Night. New York: MacGibbon & Kee, 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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