Remember the Stories
By Shannon Wentworth
Beaufort, SC


 

The Holocaust gave the world a deadly lesson that must never be forgotten. Prejudice, discrimination, and violence without contest are the biggest obstacles to peace in the modern world, just as they were in the ancient world. To flourish, they need a society cultivated in racial hate, ignorance, silent acquiesce, and general apathy towards one's neighbor. A nation that does not eliminate all traces of these weeds, is doomed to have them pop up again.

Most people, if asked, would say that the Holocaust began on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed the Chancellor of Germany (Holocaust Timeline). In reality, this tragedy began much earlier. The seeds of the Holocaust took root in the economic hardships placed on Germany after World War I (Hellman and Meier). The myth that economic and social problems could be cured by biological solutions flourished in the continent that had harbored prejudice against Jews since the Crusades. The first idea that there was an Aryan master race began with the French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau. He stated in his book, An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, that race created culture, rather than the reverse. He believed that as empires developed, they created racial mixture, which led to the degeneration of the superior races ("Modern anti-Semitism"). Many agreed with his radical views and used his book as a means of support for racial prejudice. When Hitler first joined the German Worker's Party, he had little to no influence. After a series of unsuccessful lectures, he seized upon the idea of anti-Semitism. He recognized the fervor that overcame the now poverty stricken middle class when he claimed the Jews were the cause of their current economic problems. With the help of Hitler's passionate and zealous speeches it soon became fashionable to blame the Jews for Germany's problems, and legions of young men followed Hitler's every word and command (Rossel). The atrocities of the Holocaust were carried out in the light, for all to see, and the silent acquiescence of the population was taken as a mandate that the Aryan philosophy was right and just (Gilbert 1). Any opposition to the relentless persecution of the Semites withered from a lack of support from the general public. The Holocaust presents a horrific example of the power of human ignorance, silent acquiescence and fear of the unknown.

Today, when asked to present an example of prejudice, people might point to the lives of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to apartheid laws in South Africa and Nelson Mandela, or to the horrific concentration camps of the Nazis. Yet, the undercurrents of prejudice are still present in today's society Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, said in a recent statement, "It is hard to believe that sixty years after the tragedy of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is once again rearing its head. But it is clear that we are witnessing an alarming resurgence of these phenomena in new forms and manifestations. This time the world must not, cannot, be silent." (qtd. in "Modern anti-Semitism"). Not only is anti-Semitism growing, so is ethnic cleansing. Violent discrimination in Africa has become so commonplace in this poor continent that it no longer makes an impact in western society. This year marked the tenth anniversary of Rwanda's genocide, yet few people recognized this sad date. Almost one million people were killed in this tribal war, though most just dismiss it as another one of Africa's problems. Where was the outrage? Where were the peace keeping armies? Where were the protests? This toleration of constant discrimination based upon old tribes and races in the poorest countries of the world is a crime in itself. Westerners pride themselves on their awareness of world events, but when it comes to Africa, they merely stand back and watch. Even today in Darfur, Sudan, silence is taken as a go ahead for violence on the behalf of ethnic cleansing. To combat this thorn in the world's side that drains it of life every second it continues, people must speak out against these atrocities.

Students are generally eager and enthusiastic about making changes in their community, but they often don't know how to begin, especially when dealing with the sensitive subjects of discrimination and prejudice. One thing every student can do is to support federal antidiscrimination statutes, laws, and regulations that guarantee legal protection against discrimination and hate-motivated violence ("Hate Crimes Today"). They can do so by creating clubs at school that discuss current legislation and organizing fund raisers to gain support for their causes. Students can also educate their peers about the importance of voting on these issues by performing plays, giving seminars, and holding awareness campaigns and forums that deal with these issues. These laws are so important because they ensure that all people are treated with the same respect and courtesy under the law, no matter what race, sex, or religious group they belong to. Each individual can also make sure that they are not harmfully discriminatory towards any other person, they must teach others through example. When students see discrimination, they should take a stand and intervene. They must not let their inaction constitute a consent and approval of the ignorant and hateful behavior. Human ignorance is not an excuse to stand back and let abuse occur. Training against the injustice and baseless theories of anti-Semitism should start in elementary school, when children are most susceptible to moral and social teachings. Students can volunteer to go to elementary schools to teach young children about discrimination and the harmful effects it has on society. Survivors of the Holocaust should go to schools to tell their stories. They must educate the next generation about the horrors they survived and why they happened. By speaking to young children, the survivors will ensure that these students have a face to remember, instead of just the word victim. All parents must take the time to talk to their children about racial discrimination and how it affects those who are subjected to it. They must teach their children that every voice counts and that each person must do all he or she can to ensure that everyone is treated equally.

The horrors of the Holocaust must always be remembered, not only the fact of six million Jews dead, but also the stories (Gilbert). These tales of human perseverance under genocide give insight into the souls of all mankind, both good and evil. By forgetting the Holocaust, we would be saying that it didn't matter, they didn't matter, and that in itself is as tragic as the events of the Holocaust.


Works Cited

Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1985.

"Hate Crimes Today: An Age Old Foe in Modern Dress." Psychology Examines the Issues. 2004.<http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/hate/ftcando> (20 November 2004).

Hellman, Peter, and Lili Meier. The Auschwitz Album. New York: Random House, 1981.

"Holocaust Timeline." The History Place. 09 Nov. 2004.
http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/timeline. html> (10 November
2004).

"Modern anti-Semitism." The United Nations. 2004. <http://encyclopedia.
thefreedictionary.com/modern%20anti-Semitism> (19 November 2004). Rossel, Seymour. "Hitler's Rise to Power." 2003.

<http://www.rossel.net/Holocaust01.htm>. (20 November 2004).
 

 


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