I remember it as plain as day—standing in the security line to get into the National Archives, I heard it. A racist joke, spoken by a student that was accompanying me on the leadership conference I was attending. We were supposed to be the future leaders of our country, and this peer of mine was degrading the Jews, with the Holocaust Museum standing only a few blocks away.
“Excuse me,” I said, turning around to face him. “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t say things like that,” He turned red and shut up. That was all it took—as soon as I said something, I had a crowd of people nodding and mumbling hushed things such as “Yeah, she’s right.” One voice is all it takes; one voice brave enough to stand against the potential prejudices and stereotypes of our continually growing global community. That’s how every movement in history has gotten started; one person stood against the ideas of the multitudes, and soon the multitudes were turned and following that person. There were good voices, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, but there were oppressive voices as well, Hitler being the most prominent. Their first step to success was speaking, and we can all take a lesson from that. That day in front of the Archives set that lesson in stone for me.
“Thank you for stopping that,” a girl in my group said to me later, “I’m Jewish.” I nodded, thinking about how hard it must have been for her to hear someone reduce her heritage to an inappropriate joke. She and I went to the Holocaust Museum later, and I came face to face with the effects of a certain horrid voice.
We walked through together in silence. I had nothing to say—how could I apologize for the evil that my ancestors had done to hers? I was out of place; my blonde hair and blue eyes betrayed my Aryan bloodline, and as I walked among the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, I averted my tear-filled eyes. I read the displays about the Nazi Youth; I watched the videos on the medical experiments done on Jewish victims; I walked through a setup of an attic hiding place, much like that of Anne Frank’s. I was silent. I promised myself that I would never let this happen again, as long as I lived. Mine would be the voice. These pictures of victims, these bifocals, these shoes—they all belonged to people who had lives and families just like mine. These lives that were taken belonged to people just like me, who had potential just like me, who had dreams just like me.
1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust (Button Project)—that means 1.5 million prospective Einstein’s or Wright’s or Picasso’s. Where did their dreams go? It was not only Jewish people who died in this massacre, either. Three million Poles and Catholics were murdered also, and that was a fact that I had not realized prior to going to the Museum (Holocaust Forgotten). That hit home with me; I am a Catholic, and walking through the Museum, I was thinking about how I would have hidden my Jewish neighbors. I realized that I would have lost my own life doing that. Those were the voices who spoke without uttering a word; the silent rebellion that truly did make a difference, saving millions of lives.
That rebellion is what we need to stop future abominations; our future populations must be educated to know the facts and affects of letting evil go about its business. The Holocaust is one of the best examples of that, and I know that once I saw its intricate details, I became adamant to stop any possible future repetition.
I thought back to the ignorant jokester at the Archives. I said a prayer in hopes that he would come to the Museum and see what I had seen. I was positive that he would never talk about the Holocaust and simultaneously laugh again. Education is the key; I thought about the month that my world history class had spent on the Holocaust and hoped that every other classroom paid the same amount of attention to it.
I looked at my Jewish friend; she was crying, as was I, and so without saying a word, we left together. I didn’t stop crying for a while, but then I realized that tears would not get me anywhere. I had to actually do something.
We went back to our leadership conference to listen to a few more speakers, and I chose to go to a man who was going to speak about U.S. and African relations. He briefly mentioned a country named Darfur, and then he said something about genocide. I made a point to talk with him afterwards, and he told me fact upon fact about the situation. I was dumbfounded at first; how could such a massacre still be going on today? Wouldn’t people realize that it is just another holocaust in a different context? I thought back to the promise I had made myself in the museum, and to this day I am doing what I can. I am talking so that my voice will be heard. I am still in touch with the man who spoke, and I have contacted legislative representatives about passing a bill to stop the genocide in Darfur. When I am old and gray, and I would rather not be able to go to a museum for the victims of Darfur. Those people there have potential; they have families; they have dreams.
Humanity has been the hardest fact to swallow, but it is what makes the Holocaust relative. I read the personal stories of people such as Yisrael Feld, who witnessed the callous treatment of injured Jewish prisoners; and Esther Unger, whose father was taken to a forced labor camp; and Sarah Shefer, who was a medical guinea pig because she was a twin (About Judaism). They chilled me to the bone, and I know that if others read these, the stories will merit the same response. As soon as people realize that this cannot happen again, lest it be their families and their homes and their dreams going up in flames, our world will become much safer. That is a job for today’s youth; we are told we have more opportunities and intelligence than any generation yet, and if so, we must educate our peers. Once the information is out, it is hard to ignore.
The duty of people like me is to educate, using a voice, no matter how individual and lonely it may seem. Once you know, you don’t forget, and if you always remember, there will be no room to make the same mistake.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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