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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Dwork, Deborah, Jan Van Pelt, Robert.
Holocaust: A History. Published by
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the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.