Remembrance of the Past:
Action in the Present

By Caitlin Berliner
San Jose, CA


The callow children in elementary school, the tumultuous teenagers in middle school and the almost adults in high school are the future leaders, future protesters and future activist of the world. School prepares children to be independent, aware and active adults and that's why learning history and internalizing its lessons is so important. History sets examples for students to learn from so that tragedies, like the Holocaust, don't happen again. In order to learn how to prevent recurring events such as the Holocaust, these events must be brought to a personal level when taught in school. Merely reading facts and figures about the Holocaust won't allow for the extent of the massacre to sink in and won't inspire people to prevent new tragedies. Current events should be integrated with learning history so facts and figures become real and meaningful occurrences that can be related to. By drawing parallels, like the current Darfur massacre, the horrors of the Holocaust are brought from the 1930's and 40's into the present day. Learning about the past along with the present will help students shape the future.

The process of learning from our mistakes is instilled at a young age. This lesson dampens the feelings of failure and regret because you can come away from a mistake saying "never again". Start a conversation with anyone about the Holocaust and you'll hear phrases such as, "That will never happen again" and "How could the world stand back and allow humans to be slaughtered." Although it sounds like the world has internalized this childhood lesson, history and current events prove otherwise. The Holocaust, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan... what do these events have in common? They are all examples of the same mistake repeated again and again in history; the turning of a blind eye to the "ethnic cleansing" ( that went on in all these countries resulting in the death of millions of innocent civilians. This mistake is currently being played out, once again, by ignoring the massacres going on in Darfur, an area in Sudan. The government and the government backed Janjaweed militias are raiding, looting, raping, bombing, and starving non-Arab civilians in Sudan. For the first time in history, this crisis has reached the point of being deemed genocide by Collin Powell and the committee on conscience of the US Holocaust Memorial. Even with the foreseen devastation, it is ignored by world organizations and pushed aside by the world's leaders and allowed to be replayed on the world's stage. Will it take another 26 million deaths, like the Holocaust, before people are spurred into action? The world is currently sitting at the crossroad between saving lives and genocide. With the current passiveness, it's leaning toward genocide. This is why remembrance of the Holocaust must be preserved and passed down.
One important job of citizens is promoting and spreading awareness which then puts pressure on the government to take action. As students, especially under the age of 17, providing physical help for those suffering discrimination in the world is unrealistic. Providing awareness of these actions through clubs, speeches and day to day conversation can serve as a catalyst for the physical help that is needed. I have made speeches at my school about the atrocities in Sudan to people who have never heard of Darfur. I have started conversations with fellow Junior Statesmen of America members about the massacres which, in turn, will lead to other outside conversations. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, gained support to help stop the Holocaust by wide spread media and propaganda, especially through cinema. Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and propaganda, the US had the mentality to stay out of the war and news of the true atrocities in Germany weren't well known. Without publicity, pressure from the public, for action, does not exist. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a personal hit on America, to elicit a response to the Holocaust.

The genocide in Darfur has strong and undeniable parallels to the Holocaust. More than 300,000, and the number continues to grow each day, civilians have been killed in Darfur by the government's Janjaweed militias. Much like Hitler's Einsatzgruppen militias who killed about 1,500,000 Jews before Hitler started using gas chambers and crematories. Over 2 million civilians in Darfur have been bombed out of their homes and now live in makeshift camps deemed "dens of death" where children, women, and men parish from starvation and illness everyday ( These refugee camps are similar to the concentration camps where Jews were kept and forced to work with little food, clothing and shelter. A refugee from Darfur relived one attack saying, "They even tossed babies into the fire" ( John Menszer, a survivor of the Holocaust, recalled, "They throw in the people, you know, in the crematoriums...the children. I never will forget . . . alive . . . they throw them in the crematoriums" ( The horrors of the Holocaust will always remain as they were in Elie Wiesel's book Night where he stated, "Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky" (Night, Elie Wiesel). In both cases, the militias show no mercy as they brutally slaughter innocent civilians. The Janjaweed militias portray themselves as Arabs while the victims are called Blacks or even slaves. This ethnic tone in the conflict turns the massacres in Darfur into ethnically motivated genocide just as the Holocaust portrayed extreme Anti-Semitism. Darfur is unmistakably qualified as genocide, yet the U.S. and the U.N. have let it continue. It hasn't gained the kind of publicity it should.

If society doesn't want to use the term "never again" in the future, the phrase must hold meaning now. By not learning from repeated mistakes in history, the world has given the term an empty meaning. It can gain importance again by studying the horrors of the Holocaust and standing up against the massacres happening in current events. It's too late to save the lives of 300,000 people in Darfur, but it's not too late to save the lives of thousands more today and in the future. The reason for remembrance is obvious, the necessity has been proven and solutions can become tangible. Remembrance of the past provides foreshadowing of the future, requiring action in the present.


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Cash, Dave, and John Menszer. Holocaust Survivors. 1999. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. <>.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960. 1-128.
Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust. 2005. University of South Florida.

Compton's Encyclopedia Deluxe.: Learning Company, Inc., 1998. CD-ROM. Novato, CA: Mindscape


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