"The universe is made of stories, not atoms." - Muriel Rukeyser
During the Holocaust, Hitler and his subordinates held nearly the whole European continent captive. It was not only the Jews of Europe that were imprisoned by the racist ideals of the National Socialist Party; entire nations of people were unwittingly being suffocated by Hitler's iron grip. What conditions or qualities did Hitler possess that allowed for this to happen in one of the most sophisticated regions in the world? It was not the terror he was able to send straight through the hearts of millions that held them captive. Terror did not bring his supporters to his feasts and rallies of power and unity. Nor was it his charisma, for charisma only attracts fleeting attention. Once Hitler had people's attention, he had something to tell them: he had a story. This was a story in which the German people and the Aryan race had been bound, spat upon, and ground into the dirt by the satanic race known as the Jews. It was a story in which the German people could burst its bounds, wreak vengeance on its oppressors, purify mankind, and assume its rightful place as the master of all races (Quinn, 34-35) . It was this story, more than anything else, which allowed the Holocaust to become a frightening reality.
Now allow me to tell you a different
story. Imagine a time when malice, indifference, and cold-bloodedness were
allowed to run rampant as courage, humanity, and dignity cowered in the
corner. Men, women, and children of all ages writhed in emotional and
physical pain as strangers in brown suits laughed mirthlessly at them.
These unfortunate souls screamed until no breath was left in their lungs
while instruments of the government poured poison into their bodies. They
were systematically given a death sentence without a trial or a jury to
hear their case. This is the story of the Holocaust. As we have seen, a
story can be more powerful than the strength of eleven million people. A
story can give rise to action. If we tell the story of the Holocaust and
pass it down to future generations, we can use it as a force more powerful
than hatred, violence, or prejudice. The powerful and emotional story of
the Holocaust, if remembered, will captivate everyone who hears it. It
will create a network of people who are able to combat any future story of
hatred with a story that evokes the need for human acceptance and unity.
The connection here is clear: a country that refuses to think of itself as having a responsibility to faraway nations is less inclined to believe mankind has a responsibility to help their fellow man, no matter how distant the problem is. The United Nations was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust because a spotlight had been placed on the need for nations to band together in times of crisis. Today, it serves as a forum that allows countries from across the world to share their stories and make connections. The story of the Holocaust must be remembered now more than ever as people across the world are becoming increasingly connected. We are all being plagued by common evils: the AIDS epidemic, terrorists, and an increase in drug use, to name a few. The Holocaust teaches us that evil can start in the remotest of places (such as a beerhall in Munich in Hitler's case) and spread like a disease across the entire world. We can no longer afford to think that we can contain and eliminate evil by ourselves. It requires the willingness to help your fellow world citizen, wherever he or she may be. It demands the desire to alter and piece together our current stories in order to create a single, unified story for all humankind.
Today, it is our responsibility to effectively undermine the plight of the forces of evil. Hitler not only had the SS and the Einsatzgruppen working for him, but also ordinary people in countries across Europe. Even southern France acquiesced in the face of Hitler's story because the nation had sustained substantial losses of sons and husbands in the First World War. People believed allying with his story could lead them out of war relatively unscathed. French policeman actively compiled lists of Jews in their area which they gave to the Gestapo because they did not see an alternative (Barnett, 3). No one, not even the United States, was willing to stand up and tell a better story. It is our responsibility not to forget this vital piece of history. While Hitler has been dead for nearly sixty years, his story of hatred and violence has been resurrected by forces of evil in many forms. When today we see dangerous countries developing nuclear weapons programs, ailing governments being ravaged by violence, and young people succumbing to the propaganda of hate groups, we must present them with a different story. The story must be better, more captivating, and more powerful than any other alternative. The United States can serve as a beacon of tolerance and freedom by illustrating and living the story of human rights and human dignity. This is the only way we can ensure that a tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again. If we fail do to so, there is no telling what terror might be unleashed upon us the next time.
I feel that as a student and a young
American, I can and must use all the tools at my disposal to fight hatred,
prejudice, and violence. It is my responsibility as an agent of change to
not only share the story of the Holocaust, but also to share my own story.
When we share our stories with people unlike ourselves, connections form
and a link in the chain of human solidarity is added and strengthened.
Groups of friends now defy the boundaries of race, gender, economic
status, and nationality. When we examine these microcosms, we can see that
everyday, young people are accepting new and diverse stories into their
hearts, a fact that is invaluable to the remembrance of the Holocaust. As
young people continue to educate each other with their stories,
open-mindedness can become infectious-inoculating us against hatred. With
new generations, it can pour into the hearts of millions across the world
until it permanently radiates out of our words and our actions. When this
time comes, it will be prejudice and hatred's turn to recoil into the
corner while the stories of love and acceptance run wildly and happily
into every crevice of the world.
Barnett, Barbara P. Visages de la Shoah: Marcel Jabelot. Wayne: Beach Lloyd, 2004.
Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust Revised Edition. New York: Franklin Watts, 2001.
Moncur, Michael. The Quotations Page. 2005. 11 Apr. 2005 <http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/22643.html>.
Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael. New York: Batnam Books, 1992.
Vanden Heuvel, William J. "America and
the Holocaust." American Heritage July-Aug. 1999: 35-52.
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