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By Emma Sando
Milton, MA


 

I am not a Jew; I am not a Jehovah's witness; I am not a lesbian; I am not a Gypsy. I am a human being. It is not my race, religion or sexual orientation that connects me to the Holocaust. It is my humanity.

One of the dangers of forgetting the humanity of the Holocaust is that the label we use to describe it becomes more important than the people themselves. By forgetting their faces and who they were, by labeling atrocities and those involved in the most simplistic, black-and-white terms, we forget that we are irrevocably bound to both the perpetrator and the victim. Jews. Nazis. These names are important, but if we let them define the situation, we lose an understanding of the whole and our place in that whole. Before we attempt to label Hitler—a megalomaniac, a failed artist—we need to see him as a human being, as one of us. We cannot talk of the Rwandan Genocide in terms of Hutus and Tutsis before we talk of it in terms of humans. Genocides are simply the product of difficult situations and certain traits inherent in all humans: fear, hatred, jealousy, pride. All atrocities derive from these same roots. To see those involved as anything other than human first is to lose our relationship to them, and to deny the same propensities and possibilities in ourselves.
The capacity for human cruelty has been proven again and again; the statistics speak for themselves. Six million Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gays and Lesbians. 800,000 Rwandans. 1.5 million Armenians. If we choose to view these deaths solely through the narrow lenses of race, nationality, and religion, we are rejecting the fact that we could just as likely have been those victimized as those responsible for the violence. We are subconsciously putting up boundaries between who can and who cannot be involved in such carnage—and are thus rejecting the humanity of those involved.

As I hear about the situation in Chechnya or in Nepal, I fight against the impulse to accept what is happening there, that it is expected in such a "troubled" country. If violence of such extent were to occur in America, people would be shocked and outraged, whereas we accept that violence should inherently occur in these countries.

But violence should never be accepted, no matter where it occurs. We must learn that poverty, oppression, and injustice can explain the roots of the violence, but cannot exonerate it. In order to prevent future violence, we must understand where it comes from, but never accept it because of that understanding. Most importantly, we must set those same standards in our own lives if we expect other people to follow them.
There are many things that we students can do to help prevent violence and discrimination in our world today. One of the most important steps we can take is to educate ourselves about the injustice and suffering that have become so widespread. Secondly, we can internalize what we have learned from this self-education and change our own behavior. And finally, we can take what we have learned and reach out to others, become involved in organizations and help spread the knowledge and understanding that will help to lay the groundwork for preventing atrocities from happening in the future.

The route to salvation lies in knowing the road to hell. The only way to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past is to remember them and take warning. Students can inform themselves by attending informational events hosted by human rights groups, take classes on human or civil rights, or simply go to the library and check out books. The knowledge of these events is something that can never be taken away from an individual. The more people who know about the tragedies of the past, the more likely they will be prevented in the future. It is most important that this generation of students learns about the Holocaust and other tragedies, so that as it grows up, the knowledge and understanding will still be there for the next generation even as those who directly experienced such atrocities pass on.

Beyond simply learning about and understanding genocides and other forms of discrimination and violence, we can take what we have learned about the human character and change our own actions. We have to learn to see the seeds of such hatred and violence within ourselves—to see our own vices and prejudices—and ultimately keep them in check.
But above all, students must learn to care. One of the biggest problems facing human rights worldwide is the global apathy that has become prevalent in those who can help the most. While the United Nations discussed the meaning of genocide, thousands were being slaughtered in the Sudan; while influential countries such as America sit by, the situation in Nepal worsens and human rights are suspended. If students truly learn to care about others, no matter where they are, they will make a difference. But they must also act upon their feelings.
The final step that students can take to preventing discrimination and violence is to become involved in larger organizations and in their communities. There are many organizations, such as Amnesty International, that rely heavily upon and encourage youth participation. Through organizations like these, students can directly affect human rights throughout the world. By writing letters to government officials at home and in other countries, hosting events and publicizing the information they get from the organization, they can reach out to their communities.

Even if working within one of these larger organizations is not possible, there are ways to spread awareness within a community. Students can organize and spread awareness in their school or churches. They can volunteer at local elementary schools and make sure that students are taught to respect one another. Also just discussing these issues with their friends and informing others about them is crucial.

Ultimately, the remembrance of the Holocaust and other tragedies rests upon our generation. We must not let the suffering of those before us have been in vain; we must remember them so that future generations do not suffer their fate. Now more than ever, action has become important. Our globe seems paralyzed in a state of inaction. While we sit back, Arabs and Gays are being discriminated against in our very own country, and anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. Hopefully our generation will be able to break through the wall of apathy and passivity that seems to have confined the previous to inaction.

Bibliography:

Rosenbaum, Ron. Explaining Hitler. Random House Inc., New York, 1998.

Armenian National Institute, www.armenian-genocide.org.

Roth, John. The Holocaust Chronicle. Lincolnwood, ILL.: Publications
International, 2000.

Dwork, Deborah, Jan Van Pelt, Robert. Holocaust: A History. Published by
Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt, 2002.
 

 


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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