Indifference
By David Bae
Fairfax, VA


 

The Holocaust has never ended, nor should it ever end. To argue that the Holocaust ended in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany is to invite apathy and indifference to corrode and undermine the historical tragedy of the Holocaust. To argue that the Holocaust ended is to invite historical revisionists who proclaim that six million Jews were never exterminated as a part of Adolph Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” To argue that the Holocaust ended is to invite anti-Semitic leaders who proclaim that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Arguing that the Holocaust ended belies the simple truth that it was one of the most, if not, the absolute most, heinous manifestation of pure evil that has ever afflicted humanity, and its effect shall forever affect future generations of the world.

Future generations of the world must continually contend with the tragedy of the Holocaust for the simple reason that untold countless millions of worlds were destroyed during the Holocaust. According to the teachings of the Talmud, “the destruction of any person’s life is tantamount to destroying a whole world and the preservation of a single life is tantamount to preserving a whole world” (Sanhedrin 4:5). Thus, the absence of these lives—some six million Jews and several millions more who were either deemed racially impure or undesirable—the absence of these worlds shall forever reverberate to future generations and deafen them with silence. The sounds of babies cooing no more. The sounds of children laughing no more. The sounds of people living no more. And such is the continuing evil wrought by the Holocaust for generations to come.

The simplest definition of the Holocaust was that it was murder: murder on a mass scale designed to exterminate and to annihilate the Jewish people. It was planned, it was organized, and, most unfortunately, it was efficiently executed. Most importantly, however, the Holocaust was intentional. Men and women, boys and girls, old and young: no Jew was spared. The Nazi did not discriminate: to be a Jew was to have a death warrant. And a death warrant usually meant the horrors of a concentration camp.

While premeditated murder of an individual is reprehensible, premeditated murder of an entire race of people is an unspeakable atrocity. Winston Churchill once famously said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Yet, while one would hope that the world would learn invaluable lessons from the Holocaust to prevent future genocide, such has not been the case. There has been genocide in Cambodia, there has been genocide in Bosnia, there has been genocide in Rwanda, and there is genocide in Darfur today. To those who believe that education is the solution in preventing genocide and another Holocaust, the evidence proofs that education alone is an insufficient remedy. Indeed, even highly educated people such as British historian David Irving are able to deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.

Education alone is not enough—and has never been enough—to fight prejudice, discrimination, and violence. To fight prejudice, discrimination, and violence in today’s world, students must learn the lessons of an important Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. In a speech he gave at the White House on April 12, 1999, Wiesel portrayed how indifference can become a stumbling block in the struggle against human suffering and injustice. “Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.” And that is the true tragedy of indifference: to think of others as being meaningless.

After murdering his own brother, Cain rhetorically asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) This may have been the first time man ever posed a question to God, but it is a typical question that every person and every generation must ask of themselves to understand who they are and what they believe. To answer that we are our brother’s keeper is to reaffirm justice. To answer that we are not our brother’s keeper is to reaffirm death. And death is reaffirmed by indifference. As Wiesel noted, “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”

To fight the aggressor and to fight injustice is to never risk being indifferent. To be indifferent is to be an accomplice to pain, misery, suffering, and evil. Unfortunately, as Wiesel understood, “indifference can be tempting—more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair.”

Education is not enough and having the strength to never be indifferent is difficult. Does evil then win? Does prejudice, discrimination, and violence reign unnoticed? That depends ultimately on each and every individual asking themselves whether or not that they are their brother’s and sister’s keeper. We must never forget the victims, and that is why we must never argue that the Holocaust ended in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany. That tragedy shall never abate, but the advantage in believing that we are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keeper is the courage that belief should impart to us in how we live and confront the numerous injustices in our everyday lives. It is our choice, our opportunity, and our decision, to act.
 


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