Sometimes Noise is a Beautiful Thing
By Susan Irizarry
Palm City, FL


 

According to the immortal American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Who so would be a man must be a nonconformist." As with all things, nothing can ever be considered black or white, right or wrong. Conformity takes many faces and has appeared costumed in numerous guises throughout the centuries. However, when pondering conformity and its effects on the world, I often find that more evil than good comes from blindly following directions. The Holocaust is a paradigm of conformity and its effects. Over eleven million innocent people were brutally murdered because soldiers followed orders, citizens closed their eyes, and the masses refrained from emitting noise in protest.

Furthermore, it is not enough to merely remember the Holocaust because so many innocent lives were stolen. Simply remembering the dead for being dead is disrespectful to their memory. Some good must emerge from the horrible tragedy that killed millions. It is vital that the remembrance, history, and lessons of the Holocaust be passed to new generations so that individuals can learn the evils of conformity from the mistakes of thousands. As a member of a future generation, I must utilize the lessons learned from the Holocaust and apply them to my life. In order to combat and prevent prejudice, discrimination, and violence, I must speak out against injustice and conformity, rather than remain silent, and I must continue to be emotionally affected by the sufferings of others, rather than become numb to the pain of evil in the world today.

A passage from Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir, Night, summarizes the extent of indifference experienced throughout Nazi ruled Europe: "We were walking slowly. The guards were in no hurry. We were glad of it. As we were passing through some of the villages, many Germans watched us, showing no surprise. No doubt they had seen quite a few of these processions... (Night 46)." Not only did bystanders silently watch, but also military men performed their duties without question. In the words of an Auschwitz Commander, "I did not reflect on it at the time, I had been given an order, and I had to carry it out. Whether this mass extermination of the Jews was necessary or not was not something on which I could allow myself to form an opinion (Chartock 167)." A Nazi SS officer also said, "We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would simply have never occurred to anybody (Chartock 168)." Why did the bystanders watch the tortured parade of Jews pass without a single expression of surprise? Why did the military men continually murder human beings without questioning their orders? The harsh reality is that people were riveted to their places of silence and acceptance by fear; they were brainwashed to accept without doubt. Sadly, conformity reigned supreme. No sound resounded from the fearful bystanders. No noise was heard.

The Nazis successfully controlled the masses using two weapons: fear and propaganda (Rossel 82). People were immobilized by fear. They watched silently as Jews were herded into ghettos, loaded onto cattle cars, and driven into the distance never to be seen again, secretly comforting themselves with the fact that they were protected from the Nazis' wrath. Fear was instilled into the hearts of the governed, yet fear alone could not create the conformity and silence that led to the extermination of a people. Propaganda brainwashed the masses into accepting the horrific occurrences without question. As stated in Mein Kampf. Hitler believed that "propaganda must always be addressed to the masses and must confine itself to a very few points and repeat them endlessly." On March 13, 1933, Hitler named Paul Josef Goebbels the head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Rossel 82). Goebbels strategically implemented propaganda in all facets of life. Communication networks were flooded with Nazi propaganda; out of a nineteen-hour radio broadcast, five hours were dedicated to the Nazis (Rossel 89). Most propaganda was anti-Semitic, declaring that Jews were evil and the root of Germany's problems. The constant exposure to the hateful campaign allowed for the Jewish oppression to occur without resistance. Hitler had succeeded in controlling his people. The people were silent. No noise was heard.

The horrendous atrocities and heinous crimes that resulted from the fear, silence, and propaganda will forever stain history with the blood of the murdered. The Warsaw ghetto, Einsatzgruppen marches, factories of death at Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz, graves at Babi Yar Ravine, smoke, chimneys, barbed wire, and emaciated faces were the product of the masses remaining mute. The resignation and acceptance of each individual collectively caused the Holocaust and still allows genocide today.

As the Holocaust has shown, evil dominates when voices are stifled. Therefore, I must raise my voice against injustice, discrimination, and violence to prevent and combat the evils they spawn. I must make the noise that will mobilize others against prejudice. Even though I am one individual, my voice makes a difference. In one situation, I had the courage to make noise and speak to a friend who told racial jokes. Being Hispanic, I found it extremely offensive when he made generalizations. He would often say, "Why should I have to learn Spanish, this is the US, people should just learn English or go back to where they came from." I was stung by his comment. I immediately thought of my grandparents and their stories about struggling in New York City after immigrating to the US from Puerto Rico. My grandmother has told me many times about her job in a Peter Pan bra factory and my grandfather working as a janitor. I treasure the stories my grandparents have shared with me; I am inspired by their work ethic and courage. So when my friend belittled their existence, I bluntly told him to stop. He asked why I was offended, so I related my grandparent's story; he was amazed. Now, my friend refrains from telling racial jokes. If this instance could be multiplied one thousand times, the product would effectively combat the hatred and intolerance that plague our world.

My voice is my most powerful weapon in my war against discrimination, prejudice, and violence. Courage to speak out and sympathy for the suffering remain my closest allies in the fight I face. Silencing my noise would be the worst betrayal of the Holocaust victims and those who suffer from genocide. I must guard myself against becoming numb to evils that exist in our world. Apathy caused the deaths of millions, and it allows for genocide to occur in Sudan today. When one becomes apathetic to the horrors of genocide, evil has won. Therefore, I must break free from the cages of fear and conformity and raise my voice in memory of those who have been silenced and in defense of those who still suffer. I must make noise.


Works Cited

Charlock, Roseleek and Jack Spencer, Ed. Can it Happen Again? New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers Inc., 1995.

Rossel, Seymour. The Holocaust, the World, and the Jews, 1933 - 1945. West Orange, NJ: Behrman House, Inc., 1992.

Wiesel,Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.
 

 


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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