Lest We Forget
The recent remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, coupled with his nation’s intention to hold a Holocaust (denial) Conference, illustrates why it is critical that the memories of the holocaust never be relegated to the back pages of a history text. In an era thought to be well beyond the ignorant prejudice of pogroms, an otherwise civilized and educated society was able to effectively target and demonize a specific ethnic/religious group in order to further its twisted dreams of global domination. To think that such an event could never again occur flies in the face of both history and the darkest nature of man. Since the Holocaust, society has witnessed massive scale ethnic cleansing in both Bosnia and Rwanda, where people are murdered for no greater crime than speaking a different language or belonging to a different tribe. Although the scale of institutionalized violence did not reach the level achieved by the Nazis, its appearance on the world stage a mere fifty years after the liberation of Dachau and Auschwitz does not augur well for the memory of mankind.
By honoring the memory of those that perished in the Holocaust, we not only remember the past, but we protect the future against a repetition of such sins. To shunt this vile chapter in humankind’s history to dusty library volumes, to be studier or perused only by those with a personal interest in the tragedy, allows the present generation to escape the harsh realities and painful lessons to be learned from the death camps. To minimize the horror of the war years or, worse still, deny its actual existence, breeds a society more willing to reintroduce draconian measures and curtailment of personal liberties, making the environment ever more favorable for a repeat of the tragic circumstances of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Our detractors tell us “let it go … it happened years ago” and they are surely correct on a temporal basis. But to let go of such inhumanity absolves not only the criminal, but the crime itself. To reduce the Holocaust to a small chapter in a history book does it no justice, for it was not merely an historic, albeit infamous, event. The great battles of the Second World War were also events – Stalingrad, Normandy, El Alamein and Guadalcanal cannot be overlooked in an assessment of our history. Brave men sacrificed and died for a cause, however noble or ignoble that cause may be. The Holocaust was different; it was not a military campaign, nor was it waged by combatants of relatively equal strength. Rather, this was a clash between the armed and the innocent, a clash between the forces of darkness and the force of life. The Holocaust was far more than a battle. The Holocaust was the embodiment of unbridled, unreasonable hatred.
As the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust die their natural deaths, and the awful memories are brought to us only through the medium of film or literature, it is entirely possible that our youngest generation will grow up relatively unaware of the evil that hate and prejudice can call forth from the human soul. It is therefore up to us, a generation already once removed from the Holocaust, to keep alive the images and stories that have been passed to us from those that were first hand witnesses to such monstrous criminality. Similarly, it is our charge to keep alive the stories of triumph over oppression and inhumanity, to pay respects to those that rose above the most abominable circumstances known to 20th century man to help others caught up with them in a nightmare, a hell on earth, which seemingly had no end.
Little, if any, good can come from the slaughter of six million people. A resolve to use all of our powers to prevent a repetition of any sort, directed against any people, is the greatest good that can be engendered from such evil. As Elie Wiesel said, “a destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” We can take some solace in the fact that in even a place as hellish as Treblinka, men and women of good will were still able to perform good works on behalf of the suffering. Men and women of character and bravery were moved to sacrifice what little they had on behalf of those with even less.
As this generation grows and matures, it must always be with the recognition that when good men say nothing, evil men are allowed to prosper. As Wiesel once said, “indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.” Following these wise words, we must judiciously guard our freedom, our cultural, social and political heritage, and above all, our hearts and souls from those that would deprive us of our fundamental rights as human beings.
1. Boas, Jacob. We Are
Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenager Who Died in the
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