He's Making It Up
By Ilya Polyakov
Bethel, CT


 

In the early weeks of September—the beginning of my senior year in high school—Mr. David Faber, Holocaust survivor and author of Because of Romek, came to talk to us about his tragic experience during the war. His poignant words stirred most of the lethargic students out of their morning reveries with statements like “my brother was tortured…” But these bitter accounts were pierced by a much more evil sound. “He’s making it up,” came a voice from across the hall, quiet enough to evade the ever alert ears of authority, but loud enough to make their impression: already, people are forgetting. I do not wish to suggest that the person who made this statement actually believed that Mr. Faber’s experience was fictitious, but if he had the impudence to utter such a vile thing in public, what will the youth of the world be saying come another fifty years?

“Today is history. Today will be remembered. Years from now the young will ask with wonder about this day. Today is history and you are part of it.” These were the words of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, one of today’s most widely celebrated movies concerning the Holocaust. Will that day, however, be remembered? Have we reached a time, where, so blinded by the comforts of the world around us, we forget the tragedies of the past? It appears so, as the war on terror wages on, raising the death toll of our fellow human beings every day. Every hate crime that is committed, every gun that is loaded, cocked, and shot at another person is a demonstration of our forgetting the past and rapidly regressing, a metaphor for apathy and savagery. Why should we pass the knowledge of the past on to the future? It is written in history books, is it not? Is there not enough tribute to it already? And the answer, quite plainly, is no. Of course there are books written about the Holocaust, and there are movies and monuments. But for how long will these things last if we gradually allow them to be forgotten? If we say to ourselves, enough is enough, let us move on, how long will it be before someone else decides to wipe out an entire race? Every time you see a swastika spray-painted on a back alley wall; and the Ku Klux Klan wants to rally in New York City; and a child—the very fiber that makes up the future—says, in the presence of a Holocaust survivor, that “it never happened;” you are witnessing the past being erased. So why, exactly, must we teach and reteach the memory and history of the Holocaust to newer generations? Because only in the hands of the future generations, when all Holocaust survivors have passed on, and even their immediate descendents have gone, only there may the knowledge of the truth remain unforgotten.

The most stunning aspect of the Holocaust, to me, is the fact that an event as astounding and awesome in its sheer magnitude was even allowed to take place. It is a ridiculous notion in this day and age to suggest the deaths of millions and millions of human beings, and yet a mere few decades ago a great many people thought it was a terrific idea. Little children were taught to believe that Jews were bad people, and they believed it. Even as people were dragged from their homes, thrown out into the streets, and eventually taken to camps where they faced their deaths, even then people turned a blind eye. For every person that took another into his or her home to protect them from the tyranny of the Nazis, there were a thousand others who would rather join the forces of Hitler’s army. Is this to say that people are inherently evil? Certainly not, for every day one witnesses the heroism of individuals across the world, and why should the present time in history be any different from that of the Holocaust? Is it because there was as yet no precedent to these atrocities to warn people of what was to come? Is it really that old explanation that Germany needed a scapegoat for its financial instability at the time? Was that truly the precursor to one of the world’s greatest tragedies to date? How strange it all is.

With all that said, it seems like the future generations, that is, the youth of today, hold a certain responsibility to keep society free of discrimination and violence. To begin with, everyone needs to take it upon him or herself to refrain from making prejudiced comments in everyday situations. It seems that all too often kids use the word “Jew” synonymously with cheap, the word “gay” associated with stupidity or badness, the word “nigger” as a familiarity. People do not realize that when one says these words enough, they become an accepted part of one’s lexicon, and discriminatory tendencies begin to go unnoticed.

“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil,” said Elie Wiesel. Saying bigoted things is a demonstration of indifference, both towards other peoples’ feelings, and the consequences of said thing. Consequently, everyone needs to make sure that they alert others of their use of these words in a derogatory fashion. Kids need to maintain their courage by telling the offender that what they have said is wrong and offensive. They need to explain that, even as a joke, these things should not be said, because they may ultimately lead to a penchant for violence. And even if there is no threat of violence, people should maintain a level of respect towards one another at all times, because that is what defines humanity. That, in fact, is the fundamental source of the Holocaust and present-day genocides: a loss of respect and decency towards one another, towards mankind.

Mr. Faber’s speech that day did not end on a dismal note, however. His final message to the thousand kids gathered in the auditorium of Bethel High was “I believe in you.” And after all, the thoughtless comment made by the student represented the opinion of one person. Nine hundred ninety nine other people left with tears in their eyes. We might be headed in the right direction after all.


References


David Faber—Personal accounts

Schindler’s List (Film by Steven Spielberg)

Night by Elie Wiesel

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski
 

 


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