Regret Yet Remember
Of all the emotions that one may experience throughout life, perhaps the worst is regret. Regret lingers as an ever-present—even if temporarily suppressed—reminder of what one wishes had been different. Sometimes regret comes from actions and events before our time; things that we had absolutely no control over. Such is the case of the Holocaust. However, regret must not be the extent of our feelings. Our regret should inspire us to ensure the tragic events of the Holocaust will never be lost as the pages of history continue to turn. It should inspire new generations to prevent the principles of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that characterized this atrocity. While regret is not wrong, apathy is inexcusable.
In my first year of middle school, a Jewish History course was required. As a prelude to our study of the Holocaust, my teacher invited three Holocaust survivors to speak about their experiences. I must admit that I cannot recall many specific details they discussed. At that time, I saw the Holocaust as merely another history topic and the discussions as simply another lesson. However, I soon came to regret my lack of careful attention that day. When my class commenced our detailed study during the following weeks, I realized that I had been privileged to hear the actual voices of those who had lived the history of the Holocaust—something no textbook or instructor’s lecture could ever begin to rival. This realization changed my perspective. I recognized that the Holocaust is not just something to learn about; it is something to learn from.
If people are not exposed to history, or are not willing to face it, they can learn nothing from it and, as the oft-quoted George Santayana put it, “are doomed to repeat it.” This is the crux of why it is imperative that new generations learn the history of the Holocaust. For if they do not learn of it, there is no way they will learn from it. In order to pass on to children the messages of peace and acceptance that can be gleaned from the horror of the Holocaust, it is necessary to first educate them about the history of the event—the broken families, the lives destroyed, the anguish and terror. Just as important are the stories of survival, of quietly overcoming the oppression and hatred, and going on to tell of the experience. These stories teach the lessons of courage in adversity, of hope and perseverance, and of the importance in imparting the knowledge of the Holocaust to new generations.
Elie Weisel characterized his role as a Holocaust survivor as, “a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory (Preface to Night, viii).” His sense of “moral obligation” is a second compelling reason that the Holocaust’s remembrance, history, and lessons must be taught to new generations. If we do not tell the stories of the Holocaust, we deprive those who have not heard them of the chance to apply the lessons of the Holocaust to their lives. Furthermore, increasing awareness and the remembrance of the Holocaust stops the horror of the event from achieving the ultimate victory of erasing the Holocaust from history’s memory and leaving new generations in ignorance. Cases of genocide still exist in the world today. Sometimes, they go unacknowledged by a great deal of the world (Hotel Rwanda). It is in these tragic events that one may see the importance of ensuring that the generations who follow after us be educated about the Holocaust. If we forget the Holocaust, then we cannot hold it up as an example to encourage reconciliation and peace over mass violence and murder.
There would have been no Holocaust if Adolph Hitler could not have mustered an army willing to carry out his orders to massacre Jews. This concept demonstrates that the single most important thing students can do to combat the principles of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that dominated the Holocaust is to educate themselves. As crucial as it is to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to new generations, we must first learn and apply them to our own lives. Only then can we truly honor the legacy of the innocent who died in the Holocaust and work against the spread of the hatred and oppression that permeated the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II.
“Like every living Jew I
—Karen Gershon, Race (Holocaust Poetry, 159)
Calling the Holocaust “regrettable” appears to be using the most blatant and understated euphemism. Yet, if you take a literal meaning of the word, the Holocaust is indeed one of the most regrettable events in history. Every year, the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II is memorialized during Holocaust Remembrance Day. However, one day cannot do justice to the horror and suffering of the Holocaust, or the hope and courage of the survivors. The regret we feel at these tragic events must turn into action as we realize that the history of the Holocaust is something to learn from, rather than simply record, and recognize that it is imperative to convey the history, remembrance, and lessons of the event to new generations. As students, we can further our education of the Holocaust and serve as illustrations of its lessons of acceptance and peace to combat and prevent prejudice, violence, and discrimination in the modern world.
As the pages of history continue to turn, we have the obligation to ensure that the Holocaust does not become simply a note on a page that is rarely read or remembered, for surely that would be not only regrettable, but inexcusable as well.
Holocaust Poetry. Compiled
by Hilda Schiff. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 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.