Act for Humanity
By Jessica Furth
North Miami, FL


 

"If you are going to create another memorial for the dead, I am not very interested, but if you will create a truly living institution , I cannot refuse you. For me, it is important to remember, but it is more important to remember to act"

Simon Wiesenthal


When I was a little schoolgirl in Venezuela, every year we took a week to study and remember the Holocaust. It was a somber week; the usually colorful posters on the walls were replaced with pictures of people in the concentration camps. One could easily tell that they were Jewish; they all had the yellow Star of David on their clothes. It was my people that had lived through the horrors of the Shoa, it was our pain and only we, the Jewish community, took the time to remember them. The national media didn't even seem to acknowledge it.

Years later, while attending a non-Jewish school in the United States; I had a completely different experience. While listening to guest speakers relate events of their life-changing trip with the March of the Living, I saw tearful faces of teachers and classmates, and noted that my painful feelings about the Holocaust were shared by everyone in that room. It was that day I realized, even though we the Jews were the target of the Nazi evildoing, it was all of humanity that was maimed.

Once my perception of the Holocaust changed, I felt compelled to take action. After careful thought and planning, I proposed my idea to the school; I would create a genocide awareness club. My meeting with the school turned out to be better than I could ever have anticipated; in addition to supporting the club, the enthusiastic administrators asked me to take my idea a step further and design a new elective high school course for the history department. This class will educate our ethnically and culturally diverse student body on genocides; and how the world, even after witnessing the horrors of the Shoa, still manages to be indifferent to world populations targeted for mass extermination. A 17 year old, like me may not be able to stop people from hating, but by actively increasing awareness, one can teach people not to perceive genocide as someone else's problem. As Ellie Wiesel says in Town Beyond the Wall: "There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil.

Unfortunately the "Never Again" uttered so many times - for so many - is no more than wishful thinking. As I see it, the problem in teaching the Holocaust as some schools do - solely as a historical event - is that it lessens the impact by giving the impression that such catastrophic events could have only occurred in the past. The Holocaust studies, as a means to prevent future genocides requires us to dissect the sociological requirements for the "unthinkable" to happen. Moral and ethical values should be discussed as well as the psychological power of propaganda, peer pressure and terror. Joshua Heschel said "the holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda" It is only when we look at genocide in its "Human" dimension that we realize how easy it is to manipulate a society towards it, and how quickly we can convince ourselves that "there's nothing we can do about it".

Thinking about what I wanted to accomplish with a genocide awareness club was intimidating. Advocating against genocide seemed the right thing to do but, it felt a little pretentious. I wondered,"What can a group of teenagers do to convince others not to hate? Who really cares what is happening in the Sudan or Uzbekistan?" I realized I wasn't asking myself the right question when I read Ellie Wiesel's quote "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference..." It was then I knew that fighting indifference should be the club's mission. What better way to honor the memory of those lost in the Shoa?

The concept of the club I call "Act for Humanity" is one that can be duplicated by other students in the future, whether in high school or at the university level. The club can encourage schools to develop a new elective class, as was the case at my school, or when run exclusively by students; it can be an advocate for change in the future.

Act for Humanity's vision is to form a new generation who actively fights against indifference in the world, and to halt genocide wherever it is occurring. The activities that will help achieve our goals can be divided into the following areas:

  • education/research (Holocaust and genocide studies),
     
  • current events (a study of world issues not fully supported by
    media),
     
  • civics education (how citizens can pressure the government and
    international organizations to act),
     
  • outreach (presentations by survivors and activists from countries where there is a threat of an "ethnic cleansing").

Hoping that our activities next year would culminate in a field study trip to the concentration camps in Poland, I tackled the task of making it possible. It was a blessing when two Holocaust survivors, David Mermelstein and Joe Sacks, heard about my project and contacted me. Extremely supportive and caring, they have attended all the meetings held at my home and at school. Sharing their experience with the March of the Living, they have graciously volunteered to escort the students to Poland and help with the arrangements for the trip.

Developing a close relationship with people and organizations whose main focus is the Holocaust and genocide can only benefit the club because of their passionate commitment, expert knowledge on the subject, and their useful resources. Sadly, a day will come when we will see the last of the survivors pass on, and it will be my generation's responsibility to preserve the truth, fight hatred and prejudice, and throw light onto the darkness of man's continuous inhumanity to man.

Educating future generations about the Holocaust is not an option, and remembrance is not only the moral thing to do, it is self-preservation. We can never forget that the horror the Holocaust victims endured were conscious acts inflicted upon the innocent; just as we can never ignore that that this type of immoral act continues to perpetrate in today's world. Through unchecked hate, ignorance, lack of empathy, and indifference, humans can and will became monsters; and 11,000,000 deaths is indisputable proof.

It is my dream that Act for Humanity will inspire students, perhaps generations, to emulate the words of Professor Yehuda Baur; "There should be three new commandments. Thou shall not be a perpetrator. Thou shall not be a victim and thou shall never, ever be a bystander."

Amen.



Work Cited


Haas, Peter. "Faith, Ethics and the Holocaust". 1988.Oxford. 19 Mar 2006 <http://hgs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/3/4/383>

Stanton, Gregory, "How we can Prevent Genocide".2003. 19 Mar 2006
<http://www.genocidewatch.org/HOWWECANPREVENTGENOCIDE.htm>

Susannah, Heschel. "Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity". 1996. New York. 23 Mar 2006 <http://home.versatel.nl/heschel/Susannah.htm>

Wiesel, Elie. "The Town beyond the Wall". Schocken, 1995

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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