Save the World Entire
The remembrance, history and lessons of the
Holocaust must be preserved so future generations will act to prevent
reoccurrence. The anti-Semitism that fueled the Holocaust didn't just
happen. It was allowed to happen. Once this prejudice attained levels of
ultimate power, it acted without conscience, emboldened by the call of
Arayan entitlement. Would we be any different? Or would our knowledge of
the lessons of the Holocaust help us pre-empt disaster? What lessons would
we heed? There are as many lessons in these atrocities as there are
victims, but three moral imperatives can give us direction. The first
moral imperative mandates that the truths of the Holocaust stand on the
preponderance of evidence that overwhelmingly testifies to the sufferings
of the victims. The second moral imperative directs us to remember the
victims with appropriate memorials, establishing the significance of the
loss. The third moral imperative begs us to study the history of events
that over-powered man's sense of reason, buried by the mob mentality of
racial superiority. Guided by these imperatives, we must fight prejudice
in our friends, our schools, and our government. It is only at the urging
of all levels of rational society that prejudice
can dissipate. There is no better way to honor the legacy of the victims.
Despite mountains of evidence that more than document the many Nazi atrocities, the first moral imperative, the assertion of the truth of the Holocaust, is sometimes disputed by various individuals and groups(7). Although this tragic delusion has never "mainstreamed," the passionate denial of Holocaust truth is alarming. One type of denial calls common sense into question, rejecting the possibility that Hitler, a world leader in the 20th century, could be the architect of such destructive absurdity. Even imprisoned Jews were victimized by aspects of this reasoning. For example, Jewish prisoners in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List report to one another the rumors about the gas chambers, ultimately deciding that the senselessness of such action is too incredible. After all -they say - how senseless it would be for Nazis to kill their work force! As a consequence, they reason that their safety isn't jeopardized. The acceptance of the "common sense" theory leads to compliance and makes the Nazi's mission easier. The repeated denial of the German people who lived near the camps is even more unsettling. Many citizens ludicrously claimed after the war that they believed that the smoke that polluted their air was industrial. This excuse allowed them to conveniently escape any moral responsibility. After all, how can they feel guilty about something that was never revealed to them? If we allow this type of ignorance to trample the truth of the atrocities, how can we hope to re-direct our future? Denying the Holocaust fabricates history, destroying any value its lessons can teach. The exposure of the whole truth is not as easy as it sounds. Survivors embraced another form of denial -"forgetting." Forgetting allowed a return to a semblance of a normal life. We must implore them to remember.
The second moral imperative, memorializing the victims, creates human connections that allow us identity with the victims. These connections give significance to the suffering, binding the horror on our hearts. For example, the bulldozing of millions of bodies - sobering and sickening as it is - has a surreal quality that almost robs the victims of their humanity. While we may shake our heads at the barbarism, it is the individual stories of suffering and persecution that bring tears to our eyes. It is Anne Frank's less graphic but poignant revelations that bind us to the victims, especially when she concludes that, in spite of her suffering, "People are basically good at heart." (5) We weep not just for her pain, but for the years we will be denied her contributions, whatever they may have been. The enormity of the loss is amplified, while we imagine millions of Annes perishing in camps. The contributions of so large a group of people have been denied humanity forever. Like pieces of a puzzle, each person has a place in the cycle of mankind. To lose millions of those pieces sends Shockwaves in the future of what might have been. Not only has Hitler robbed millions of their lives, he has denied humanity the power of their existence. These consequences have to be stressed as a loss for everyone so the deaths are not trivialized as a consequence of history. We are called not only to remember, but to grieve what might have been. The grief empowers our moral response.
The third moral imperative, an understanding of the evolution of events in Nazi Germany, can alert us to identifying comparable trends today. After all, actions of prejudice are not limited to totalitarian regimes. Hitler's terrors were mirrored by our government after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Our government used its power to single out Japanese Americans and re-locate them in camps during World War 2. American citizens of Japanese descent were carrying identity cards, living in camps, denied civil rights, and robbed of the safety and security of a home because people that looked like them attacked us. Although we were also at war with Germany and Italy as well as Japan, Americans of European descent were not singled out.
While the Japanese re-location did not result in the genocide that plagued Europe, the identification of individuals via registration made that option a viable possibility. What can young people do to fight prejudice? They must learn to recognize it and refute it at every level. Alfons Heck, a former member of the Hitler Youth, believes that children are empty vessels that can be filled with hate or love. He believes that the brainwashing that the Nazis practiced was a form of child abuse. He openly talks of having a first best friend that was Jewish, yet the Heck family stood passively by and watched as friends and neighbors disappeared. (7) Would Americans be stronger? Would they be the Alons Hecks that couldn't resist or the Oscar Schindlers (2) that made a difference? While Heck's family ultimately capitulated, Schindler bonded. Schindler's love for Jews as fellow human beings directed his actions. As long as young people recognize the humanity and entitlement of all mankind, tolerance will prevail. The teaching of the Holocaust must trickle down to the lowest forms of racism -racial slurs and bad jokes. Education must prepare children to stand up to prejudice by discounting all rhetoric of the bigot. While it may be more comfortable to forget, the lessons of the Holocaust tweak our conscience, demanding we remember. Our credibility and salvation as a moral people depends on us doing exactly that.
2. Spielberg, Steven, Schindler's List,
Universal Home Video,
3. Come See the Paradise,, historical
fiction film documents
4. Frank, Anne, The Diary of Anne Frank
5. The Nizkor Project, "Are Holocaust
6. Heck, Alfons, Child of Hitler
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