Do Not Do This Again
By Alex Kantrowitz
West Hempstead, NY


 

I was surrounded by stones. Everywhere I looked they surrounded me, thousands upon thousands, 17,000 in all. I was in the midst of the Treblinka death camp, with only the stones to testify that it had ever existed. The stones were set there as a memorial for the 870,000 people brutally murdered there. One stone, however, stands out. Bigger than all the rest, it screams the words, "Never Again" in five different languages: Nigdy Wiecej, Jamais Plus, Nie Wieder and Los Od. The message clearly tells the world, "DO NOT DO THIS AGAIN." I wonder if the world has listened; in some ways it has. I wonder if the world has fully reacted; in too many ways it has not. The world is in grave danger of forgetting this terrible calamity, an act so horrific that Eli Wiesel describes it as betraying the dead once again.

People deal with the Holocaust in many ways. Survivor Andrew Burian lectures about the living hell which he endured, while people like David Irving blatantly deny that the Holocaust ever happened and like other deniers calls himself instead a revisionist. He has defended Hitler as well as brought noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt to trial for libel. While testifying for fellow revisionist Ernst Zundel, Mr. Irving once looked a survivor straight in the eye and asked, "How much money did you make off that number?" This statement referred to the tattoo that the man had received upon his entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. David Irving cannot erase the historical reality behind this number. Survivors, victims, Jewish individuals and groups and other concerned people will insure the Holocaust is remembered, as well as the distortions of that painful reality.
For years other Holocaust survivors, such as Mr. Burian, have been telling their story to young and old alike. It is a very painful ordeal for them as they must recount the most terrible part of their lives. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Mr. Burian and hear his poignant story firsthand, a story he had not told until forty years after his liberation. He quietly and sometimes tearfully described his experiences in the Birkenau death camp. The commandant at that time had sent a letter to Hitler saying he was glad to report that the "efficiency" of the camp had been increased to 22,000 in a single day. With bitter clarification, Mr. Burian confirmed that the number meant that 22,000 people had been murdered in one day, a number that very well may have included his mother and grandparents. At this point I understood his reluctance to talk about what happened. When I asked him what sparked him to tell about his ordeal, he explained to me that it was his obligation to speak, that he didn't have a choice in the matter and that it would be terrible for him to go through life and not have his children know what happened. Mr. Burian understood what the world is beginning to forget: Without active remembrance the Holocaust will become a forgotten page embedded within a history book.

Those specific historical facts, however, are also subject to a force we may call passive remembrance, memories with very little analysis or feeling that sadly evolve into forgetfulness. The obligation on us to remember was made clear by Egil Aarvik who at Eli Wiesel's Nobel Prize award ceremony adamantly said, "We cannot allow ourselves to forget the fate of those who died. If we do forget, we commit them to death once again and become responsible ourselves for making their lives, and their deaths, meaningfless." It is only through acts of remembrance that we truly sanctify the memory of the Holocaust. Whether it is just talking about what happened, attending a lecture or a memorial service or perhaps even going to Poland or Germany to see the remains of the concentration camps. The point: ONE MUST DO SOMETHING.

One of the greatest forms of active remembrance is fighting the forms of prejudice that eventually resulted in the Holocaust. It is deplorable that after so much killing the world has not learned this lesson. The fact that people are being mass murdered in the Darfur region of Western Sudan at this moment is truly a chilling thought. Gordon Allport in The Nature of Prejudice speaks about the stages of prejudice that lead to such mass murder, stages which develop through name calling, avoidance, social separation, and active violence. Mr. Burian experienced all these stages, and no one intervened to prevent this evolution. It is imperative that people know, recognize and prevent these prejudicial stages because in quite a short time racial slurs can evolve into gas chambers, as they did in Hitler's Germany. Within five years Andrew Burian went from being called Andy to being called "Dirty Jew," to being avoided by the local population, to having his property stolen from him by the government, to being placed in a ghetto and finally to being placed on a train to Auschwitz. His journey, symbolic of every Holocaust victim, has only one difference, he survived.

There are ways to fight hate and prejudice, the most effective being to stand up to it and reject the fear it engenders. Just as one would resist a bully, one must stand up to perpetrators of racial or religious crimes. One battle against prejudice was launched during the winter of 1993 in Billings, Montana. After a brick was thrown through the window of a Jewish 5 year-old child's room, the whole town of Billings rallied into action. The perpetrators had identified the house as a Jewish residence because it had a Menorah clearly visible through the window. In that display of solidarity, Jewish and non-Jewish community members placed thousands of menorah posters in windows across the town.

This is how the war against prejudice and hate is fought. We must stand side by side by those in need and reject all hateful acts, as well as the apathy that allows such hate to manifest and increase. Students must take a stand and say through their behavior, "Do not do this again." More responses like that of the Billings, Montana community need to take place. Men, women and children need to resolve never to turn away from hate and prejudice. Jews in particular cannot afford to be indifferent but instead must remain alert, respond with displays of unity in even "small" ways, such as sticking up for someone when he or she is victimized by racial slurs or physical attacks. If we do this now, there is purpose in remembering.

I am a living remembrance stone, proclaiming, "Never Again." However, what made that stone at Treblinka so powerful was that it was surrounded by so many others. We need those stones.

Work Cited

Marrus, Michael. The Holocaust in History. New York: New American Library/Duton, 1989

Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial. New York, NY, HarperCollins, 2005
Burian, Andrew. Personal Interview. March 30, 2005

Gordon W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice. New York, NY Perseus Book publishing, 1979

Not in out town, http://www.pbs.org/niot/about/niotl.html
 

 


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