Many are increasingly considering the Holocaust an object of the pure, historical past; as out of reach as a child’s fantasy, growing more and more faded in the history books, becoming as lifeless and bland as the mere ink that lines such pages. But to those who can see, better yet, to those WILLING to see the clues around them, humanity has ostensibly not learned its lesson. With each Matthew Shepard, with each Columbine High School, with each September 11th, the ghosts of the Holocaust’s morbid moral history reaffirm themselves, sadly, out of the cause of memorial obliviousness. As such, I pose the question: Is the Holocaust truly, in every sense, over? Seeing, hearing, even experiencing the vicious mortal and psychological products of hate, bigotry, and violence today, I am inclined to catechize the reality of the Holocaust’s alleged antiquity. As I see it, the Holocaust history books have yet to be completed. And while Auschwitz may no longer have gas in its showers, the atrocities committed there are by no means images of a far off past; the ferocious toxins are inherently still with us, and guided by ignorance, we will only be continually forced to inhale them as we endure the abhorrent actions of others, and exhale them through our own realized capacity to hate.
According to Adolf Hitler, “the strength of a political party lies by no means in the greatest possible independent intellect of the individual members, but rather in the disciplined obedience with which its members follow the intellectual leadership” (Hitler, pg. 457). If there is ever a sentence that encapsulates the secret of Hitler’s success, and thus a major cause of the Holocaust, this is it. In practical terms, it illuminates the fact that Hitler did not kill nearly 11 million people on his own, but rather it was the “disciplined obedience” of many others that allowed his diabolic plans to insidiously materialize. As history shows us, this “obedience” took on many forms. From the officers who brutally rounded the people in the Jewish ghettos for deportation, to the sinister doctors who conducted unfathomably inhumane experiments on children, to even the millions who remained indifferent to the Nazi plan to engineer a “master race” at the expense of Jewish lives, it is evident that Hitler had successfully used his cunning and deceitful rhetoric to instill support for his regime. A poem entitled “Innocence,” recants the desired effect of Nazi ideology on many officers who executed Hitler’s attack on humanity. The Aryan men of Hitler’s army ran into manhood “ignorant of the past,” attracted to the “courage, endurance, loyalty and skill” that the armed services vowed to develop. However, the Nazi renditions of these virtues, in effect, created a hardened “instrument” totally subjected to odious programmed ideals, an instrument that when standing near a Russian dissident being burned alive, could “behold the ribs wear gently through the darkening skin and sicken only at the Northern Cold,” an instrument that could “feel disgusted only at the smell” of the burning fat and flesh. This desensitization to the pain of others is portrayed visually in an image of a Nazi solider pointing a gun at the head of a young Jewish boy, no older than six years www.aish.com/jewishissues/jewishsociety/A_Time_to_Cry.asp . While the boy’s face clearly expresses his fear, the officer’s face, more shockingly, exudes normalcy. It is as if aiming a gun at a child is a normal part of his day, and in actuality, it truly was.
It is such normalcy that a remembrance of the Holocaust defends against, and when I am submerged, on a daily basis, into the grim existential truisms (i.e. violence and hate) that feed the media, I am only reminded of the immanence of non-remembrance. According to tolerance.org, there are hundreds of hate groups across the United States, including over 150 Neo-Nazi groups. In 2005, the website reported a total of 1,166 hate incidents across the country, ranging from running down a minority bicyclist to passing out racist pamphlets at a children’s day care center. While such extreme forms of racism may not be as pervasive as say, the establishment of Nazi concentration camps or the segregation of Jewish people into ghettos, they nevertheless provide a glimpse into the progressive blossoming of the subtle biases that just about everyone harbors deep within themselves. For as author Robert Harris declares, “[Hitler] encompassed a side of human nature that will never go away” (Wyden 2001). As such, a remembrance of the Holocaust calls for more than merely acquainting oneself with the ruthless killings that have come to characterize its place in history. For in truth, a serious introspective evaluation of the innate potential to act with severe brutality towards others -- recognition of the little Hitlers within us all -- is what is required to truly pay homage to those who lost their lives during this dark period. To embrace hate, to affirm discrimination, to uplift violence is to empower Hitler’s “world of eternal struggle,” in which he says “those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight…do not deserve to live” (Hitler, pg. 289). According to Hitler, pacifism is not an option, but I staunchly challenge his assertion. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus the Christ, Gautama Buddha, and Ghandi all demonstrated and taught, peace is possible, and for a humanity ravaged by the dregs of intolerance and ignorance, it is quite possibly the best and most needed solution.
To reach this ultimate goal of realized human tranquility, we begin our journey with education. Diversity is a quintessential aspect of humanity, and for that matter, all of life. And while we may find unity through our similarities, there will always remain idiosyncrasies that differentiate one person from the next. To peacefully navigate this labyrinth that constitutes human diversity, education is undoubtedly a prerequisite. Being exposed to different ideas, cultures, and beliefs through education should remain an integral part of the human experience, in so far as worldwide peace remains an objective. As students, to embrace the propagation of knowledge, to instill a love of learning within others, and lastly, to pass on a sensitivity to the human vitality and thirst for life that marks us all, is to remember the victims of the Holocaust with the most honor and reverence, and is to ensure that the “Holocaust history books” currently in writing ultimately find closure.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Company: 1971. pgs. 457 and 289.
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