A Walk Through Hell
By Eugene Johnson
New Holland, PA


As I walked the dirt paths between the empty houses, I donít think I had ever felt worse. I was truly in a ghost town, and I felt the phantoms wash over me with every cool breeze that passed over my face. The four thousand miles that separated me from my home did nothing to detach me from the sin of what had occurred at this place.

When the pictures show Auschwitz in the history books, they show it as a muddy, desolate, and barren place. Tragically, it is centered in one of the most beautiful landscapes I''ve ever seen. With the rolling grass hills and the cool breeze rustling the blossoms in the trees, it''s simply gorgeous in the summer.

Learning about the Holocaust at home, it was easy for me to place myself above those horrible deeds as something only the work of true beasts. But here I was. Here was reality''s slap square in the face. This was a death camp instrumented by humanity...by people not unlike myself.
I was very pensive as I made my way through the camp. A simple, nervous, and curious stroll into one of the buildings around me silenced me for the rest of the day. As I slowly entered one of the rooms, my jaw dropped.

I saw before me thousands and thousands of pounds of human hair.
Grey and withered from the years behind the display glass, the hair laid there in its own powerful statement. Here laid the symbolic remnants of the systematic slaughter of several million people. It was harvested for the fabrication of war-time "woolen" blankets, but the Nazis had to leave it behind as the Allies were nipping at their heels. Each strand had a story, and I felt like a million cries were emanating from that room.
I rarely, if ever, cry. But as I left the building and back out into the blinding summer sun, silent tears trickled down my cheek. I felt as if someone had just thrust the weight of the world into the pit of my stomach. It was then that I came to the realization that any pain, any sadness, any suffering that I had experienced in my lifeÖit simply had really amounted to nothing.

It was the most perspective-placing thing I have ever experienced. The words of the Polish woman who was guiding us began to trail off as my mind started to whirl. At that moment, I knew that it didnít take a religious belief to realize how wrong the actions of the Nazi soldiers were during the Holocaust. It was something I felt in pit of my stomach for the rest of the day, and that feeling of disgust still churns inside of me when I look back on what I encountered.

Before me today, I have a simple question to answer Ė Why is it so vital to pass on the remembrance of the Holocaust on to our generation and following generations? In my mind, the answer is as clear and bright as the sun that shown that hot summerís day at Auschwitz.

It happened. The fact that it happened, in itself, is worth more to the annals of history than any other reason. We must never forget that the systematic torture, slavery, and murder of millions of people happened, all in the name of some sick ideology. Their pain, and their suffering, must be remembered and prevent from ever occurring the same way again.
Frighteningly enough, though, we must remember the Holocaust in all itís gruesome detail because similar genocides are occurring today. Take, for instance, the genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where militant state-sponsored thugs slaughter helpless civilians in the name of a decades-long civil war. These people die helplessly for the simple reason they live there, and their lack of participation in the conflict makes the situation all the more sick.

While it may be easy to sit here in America and place ourselves above those kinds of actions, we simply canít. It is important to realize the animalistic actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust all happened through the hands of people who arenít terribly dissimilar from us at all. Those who committed the wrongs are of the same flesh and blood as us, and are members of the same western ďcivilizationĒ as we are.

As terrible as it is to imagine it, another genocide such as the one of the Nazis may very well occur right before our eyes again. Even we, as Americans of the same country who helped tear down those camps over sixty years ago, are not immune to those actions. As farfetched as this may sound, we must accept it as truth. The only way to prevent those actions from reoccurring is education. We must educate our youth fully on the ills of the Holocaust, however unpleasant they may be.

As the world slowly marches forth into time, we must remember that the terrible legacy of the Holocaust will become easier to forget. Those who survived it are slowly leaving us, and there are many among us who are beginning to question the facts behind it. In a day where fanatic heads of state are proclaiming the Holocaust to be a myth, we must fight to keep the message of the survivors alive. In a world where a few revisionist historians are putting spin on the facts to better suit the Nazi legacy, we must continue to triumph. This history is essential to the evolution of humanity, but can be easily forgotten.

Even outside of the classrooms, the lessons from the Holocaust must be brought into practice into the real world. Teens especially must take a proactive approach to their lives to fight hatred, bigotry, and violence. Speaking as a teen myself, I know the power of one voice in a crowd to say the masses. We must all be willing to stand up and be that strong voice, ready to object to the wrongs of the world. Oftentimes, it simply takes the power of one to affect millions. If this idea worked for Hitler and hate, we need to make it work for ourselves and love.

It doesnít take a trip to Auschwitz to know weíve come a long way. Weíre very, very close. Even with the war, poverty, and need of those around us, we must rise up to meet the challenge. When we see a fight in our school, we must no longer all crowd around it and watch with awe- we must make an effort to stop it. When we hear of genocide in our world, we must to more than simply lament the situation. When we hear the voice of reason, freedom, and right being squashed, we must be willing to go to its aid. When we hear those slamming the Holocaust as a propagated myth, we mustnít forget the millions who died. If we can stand up above the mediocrity of inaction, we can easily band together in unified action to promote peace. But itís all up to you and me. Iíve answered the call to fight for whatís right. Would you care to join me?


Works Cited

"Auschwitz-Birkenau." Memorial and Museum. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum & Memorial. 15 Feb. 2006 <http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/html/eng/start/index.php>.

McKay, John P., Bennett D. Hill, and John Buckler. A History of Western Society Since 1300. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. 966-987.

"Q&A: Sudan''s Darfur conflict." BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Q&A: Sudan''s Darfur conflict. 26 May 2005. BBC.co.uk. 20 Feb. 2006 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3496731.stm> .


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