We stepped out of the darkness into the lobby of the Holocaust Museum, words and images spinning in our minds as we stared ahead in silence. This is what our confirmation class had come to Washington, D.C. for…not to see the towering monuments and mirror reflection pool, but to find out exactly what it is that our ancestors and our world have walked away from. The experience was intense and heartbreaking; a heaviness now sitting in our silent thoughts. We looked to our rabbi, wondering, what now? We watched as he walked over to a clear box with a slit in the top, took out his wallet, and put some money in it. This may not seem like anything special, but it was a bright Saturday afternoon, Shabbat, and our rabbi does not believe in handling money on Shabbat. He looked at us with serious eyes and said “I cannot remember the last time that I used money on Shabbat, because I believe that there is only one good reason to. I wanted all of you to see me doing it, because this is very important. I believe that the only reason ever to use money on Shabbat is to save a life.”
This was several years ago, but I have not forgotten it, nor do I believe I ever will. This was the day that I truly learned the impact education can have on the world. It is not just about learning facts and dates. It is not even just about learning what has happened in the past. It is about learning from the past in order to make a better future. It struck me as extraordinary that so simple an act as giving money in support of the Holocaust Museum, a place that is “both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of [our] moral obligations,” (The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Website) can make such a difference.
Several years ago I went to see the movie, The Pianist, with my parents and grandparents. As we came out of the theatre, a heavy silence weighed down the air between us, similar to the one awaiting me years later upon exiting the Holocaust Museum. My grandfather’s quiet voice broke as he stated that his father’s family died in the Warsaw Ghetto. I was utterly stunned to learn that the Holocaust had touched my own family in this way. Of all the books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, and stories I’ve heard, none of them made me feel so connected to the Holocaust as those few painful words spoken by my grandfather, his face streaked with sadness. He never spoke of it before, and never mentioned it again. The murderous sounds behind the wall, as Adrian Brody crouched hiding for his life, suddenly became more real than I could imagine. I realized that if my great-grandfather had not escaped when he did, he probably would have been one of those anguished faces played out on the silver screen. My grandfather would never have existed, nor my father, nor me.
Those haunting voices that I heard mirrored in my grandfather’s own, of those directly affected by the tragedy, cannot be allowed to fade into history. It is our responsibility to bring their voices into the present. We must keep their stories alive in order to bring to light the knowledge of the world’s dark past. We must do this to save future generations from the same atrocities. By retelling what happened, we can ensure that the world never forgets the horror of a people being murdered for their beliefs and heredity.
We have all made a vow of “Never again,” and yet, genocide has happened again and continues to happen now. “We are a member of a global community, and what happens…affects you.” These words were spoken by Celestin Musekura, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were systematically murdered. I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Musekura speak of the experience. “We are all human. We are all capable of doing evil.” His words sent shivers up my spine. “[Genocide] can stop when individuals like you take a stand and say enough is enough. You can make a difference in your village.” I took these words to heart.
Unfortunately, both the governments and citizens of the world have not done nearly enough to keep the promise of “Never again,” for genocide is currently taking place in Darfur in the Sudan. “We cannot allow our world’s leaders to continue to abandon our fellow human beings in the same way that they abandoned the Armenians, the Jews, the Chinese, the Cambodians, the Rwandans, the Bosnians, and now the Darfurians,” says Philip Bialowitz, a Holocaust survivor. (The News Sentinel). And yet, according to David Rubenstein, coordinator of the D.C.-based Save Darfur Coalition, “President Bush cares, [and] I believe the State Department cares…I just don’t believe they care enough. And, they don’t care enough because they don’t think the American public cares enough.” (The Washington Times).
It is our responsibility to show that we do care immensely, and even as students there are a hundred different ways to do so. Just writing a letter to someone in government, or donating money to an organization trying to educate about genocide or aide genocide victims can make a big difference. Next week I will be participating in a rally in Washington D.C. in order to protest and raise awareness about the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Every little thing we do to put pressure on those who can put an end to this genocide and prevent any future ones from taking place helps change this world for the better. As Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Prize winning author of Night, said on genocide in a message to the Save Darfur Coalition, “Who is guilty? Those who commit these crimes. But to the question, ‘Who is responsible?’ we are compelled to say: ‘Aren’t we all?’” (The Washington Times).
Fraser, Graham. "Holocaust
tribute to focus on Darfur." Toronto Star 21 April 2006.
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