A few months before my Bar Mitzvah, the
journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in the
Middle East. His final words, stated at gunpoint, were "I am a Jew". My
discovery that our world was filled with so much hatred and violence
towards others right before my Bar Mitzvah had a great impact on me. For
the first time in my life I was made acutely aware of the fact that in
today's world being a Jew could still be a source of peril. Of course I
knew about the Holocaust: 1 had seen the photos and movies and heard the
stories of the survivors. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by
Elie Weisel. I just had never connected any of this directly to me, to the
present day world in which I was living. And now, just as I was about to
celebrate my status as an adult male in the Jewish faith, the killing was
Many of the Holocaust survivors did not even begin to tell their individual stories until the 1980's, almost forty years after the end of WWII. They were still too traumatized by what they had been through to want to recall the horrible events of those years. They needed time to try to mentally and emotionally recuperate from what had happened to them and their families, villages and countries. The survivors finally began to speak out because they realized that they would not live forever and that it was crucial that their memories not die with them. They knew that they needed to let the people of the world know what had happened to them to prevent it from ever happening again. "Never again" became the rallying cry of the survivors and the Jewish population. Yet, here we are again in a world in which Jews are being murdered and other acts of hatred and genocide are going on as well-recently in Rwanda and Kosovo, and in the Sudan as I write this. Anne Frank in her diary said that despite everything, she still believes that people are basically good-but in remembering the Holocaust and what led up to it, I think we must understand the great evil that man is capable of.(Frank, Anne-The Diary of a Young Girl, page 263)
We must learn the reasons for acts of hatred and prejudice and intolerance, and how they lead to genocide and how to prevent this from continuing to occur.
Prejudice, meaning an "unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought or reason" (Webster's College Dictionary. Random House, Inc. NY. 1991.) has existed for thousands of years. Prejudice often grows when there is a lack of contact between different racial, religious or ethnic groups. This lack of contact leads to the exaggerating of the differences between the groups and inevitably stereotyping. Stereotyping is often increased and encouraged through the use of ethnic or racist jokes, belittling cartoons, advertisements and through many forms of media, especially television. Prejudice is also commonly found among people with low self-esteem. People sometimes try to bolster their own negative feelings by joining groups that they think are powerful or 'superior' in some way. In difficult social or economic times, people are more likely to show prejudice against what they consider to be 'inferior' groups, often blaming these other people for being the source of their own problems. For example, Adolf Hitler was quoted as saying that "if the Jews hadn't existed he would have had to invent them." (www.humanitas-international.org/holocaust/ antisem.htm, page 4)
The German hatred that caused the
Holocaust was also encouraged by the indifference of many of the country's
citizens. Even if people have good moral values it can be meaningless if
they are not willing to act on them and fight prejudice. Ian Kershaw, a
British history expert, said that "The road to Auschwitz was built by hate
but paved with indifference." (www.holocaustsurvivors.org/cgi-bin/data.show.pl?di=record&da=
texts&ke=6.htm) Recently, the singer Bono Vox, in an appearance on the
Oprah Winfrey show, in speaking of the massive number of unnecessary
deaths occurring in Africa, said that it is as if "we are once again
watching the people get on the trains" (meaning the exportation of the
Jews to the concentration camps), and what will
we say to our children
Even though we are not powerful political leaders, as students we can still find ways to try to fight intolerance and prejudice in our schools and communities. Prejudice is generally learned early in life, so this makes it important to reach out to children to teach them the right beliefs. Young children are naturally more accepting of differences among people, so we need to build on this quality. Students should request that schools teach about diversity and the need for respect for people of all backgrounds. Teaching the children accurate information about the customs and beliefs of others will help to reduce stereotypical ideas. Most importantly, we need to find ways to bring together people of different religions and races because the best way to help people change their negative opinions is by changing their behavior. Some schools have "Mix it up at Lunch Day" to encourage students to sit with others of different ethnicities. Other schools have found it helpful to have poster contests for tolerance, international film or music nights and memorial services to mark events like the Holocaust Students can discourage the telling of ethnic jokes and the use of racial slurs in their schools and families. Students could request that the school administration invite guest speakers to the school who are of differing backgrounds or who have been active in the fight for civil rights. All of these efforts that help to increase students' exposure to people different from themselves will help to reduce the chances of prejudice and hopefully genocide.
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. Bantam Books, NY. July 1993.
Webster's College Dictionary. Random House, Inc. NY. 1991.
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