We Cannot Remain Children
By William Babeaux
Pataskala, OH


 

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

- Joseph Stalin (“Joseph Stalin Quotes”)




Reading the daily newspaper with cup of coffee in hand, almost everybody lends credence to this statement from one of the twentieth century’s greatest villains. Everyone glances over stories of genocide in Africa or suicide bombings in the Middle East, and without absorbing a single sentence of the article, flips to a story that seems more palatable or more relevant to their daily lives. To so many people, the casualty estimates are not the most important numbers in the paper; those figures pale in subjective significance to stock prices in the Business Section or movie times a few pages over. Maybe Stalin was right; maybe thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of deaths are just too large to comprehend, too vast to care about.

An in-depth examination of the Holocaust obliterates such poisonous indifference. “Obliterates” is not the right word. Truly delving into the horrors of the Holocaust burns away one’s casual callousness, leaving a nightmare’s worth of images branded forever in one’s mind of concentration camps, ghettos, and cattle cars, the tools used to murder millions of people with the same perfunctoriness of reading a newspaper.

It floods one’s senses, sweeping away any apathy that was once a shield from the reality’s occasional morbidity. And at moments of deep, personal, spiritual connection with a particular element from the Holocaust (perhaps a victim whose life had been similar to one’s own), it even seems to momentarily shake one’s soul from its comfortable moorings into the coldness of impenetrable night. All the more piercing is the fact that the hell that the victims of the Shoah actually endured dwarfs any lingering funereal shadows in one’s heart after one’s study. Survivor, author, and activist Elie Weisel laid bare to the world this agony, “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust” (Elie Weisel – Night).

While every story of the eleven million Jews, Gypsies, blacks, homosexuals, mentally disabled, and Communists who were killed is tragedy epitomized, the tales of the young people whose lives were destroyed or ended are particularly poignant. Fifteen-year-old Benjamin Jacobs survived the Nazi’s systematic slaughter, but lost every member of his family before the Third Reich was conquered. A laborer at Auschwitz, Jacobs recalls hearing the worst news of his life. “When you receive this letter, Mama and I will no longer be alive,” a crumpled and tear-stained letter from his sister read. In his memoirs, Jacobs reveals, “I raised my eyes and looked up, transfixed, to the heavens. I asked God why, but only silver rings swirled in front of my eyes” (The Dentist of Auschwitz).
So why should one pour over these darkest pages of history and pass down the story of mankind’s greatest tragedy from generation to generation?

Because it is all happening again. The same unbridled hatred and prejudice still exist in the world that led to the senseless atrocity that was the Holocaust. In countries like the Sudan, religious and ethnic intolerance has led to the deaths of 400,000 men, women, and children. Many survivors endure a fate worse than death, starving, rotting in refugee camps, and suffering repeated rapes (www.SaveDarfur.org)
On the other side of the world, in the remote north-eastern corner of North Korea, is Haengyong. Hidden away in the mountains, this remote town is home to Camp 22 - North Korea's largest concentration camp, where thousands of political prisoners and their families are incarcerated. Now, claims of serious crimes against humanity inside the camp rise to the public’s attention like miasmic bubbles billowing to the surface of a swamp. Prison guards stamp on the necks of babies born to prisoners, killing them before the eyes of distraught parents. Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They writhe in an agonizing death while scientists jot notes. (Barnett – Revealed). Does this sound familiar? Is history repeating itself?
The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero once advised the Forum, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to always remain a child” (“Marcus Tullius Cicero Quotes”). Remaining childlike in the awareness and resistance of evil will not stop a renegade regime in the Sudan or a murderous, totalitarian dictator in North Korea. Staying ignorant of the assaults on humanity in the past will not teach society history’s crucial lessons. Three-and-a-half centuries before the birth of Cicero, the Buddha preached, “It is your mind that creates this world. It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways” (“Siddhartha Gautama Quotes”). To end the Holocausts that are happening today and to prevent future recurrences, people must arm themselves with the weapons of knowledge and truth; everybody has an obligation to preach to the world about the evils of genocide and lure minds onto brighter paths.

Living in an age where ideas can transfer around the globe in nanoseconds, the young people of today have a special opportunity to aid in this armament. A simple blog can illuminate the darkness that thousands of people inhabit around the planet. A link on a Facebook webpage to one of the hundreds of Holocaust-dedicated websites can guide visitors down an unsettling path to truth and show them the dangers of prejudice and discrimination. It can even change a life.
In a more traditional setting, a single well-composed essay on the intolerance and indifference that spawns genocide could deeply move a teacher who could then enlighten all future charges on the issue. A solitary essay could educate hundreds of students. Before a class trip to Washington D.C., perhaps one of those students would then petition the principal or the trip-planner to include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, often passed-up in an effort to see all the monuments, on the itinerary. A visit to the Holocaust Museum imparts lessons that cannot be learned in any classroom. That single essay, something seemingly insignificant to the writer, has now indirectly educated hundreds if not thousands.

Sometimes the events that change the course of history originate in the smallest and least important places and stem from the slightest actions. Adolf Hitler started off in poverty-stricken, post-war Germany and was no different than anyone else. If one man was able to start from nothing and do so much evil, there is no reason that a simple, unassuming person can rise from nothing and achieve tremendous good. All that is necessary is to put down the newspapers and try. It’s the very least that one can do to honor the lost lives of the eleven million.

Bibliography



"Background on Darfur and Policy Talking Points." Save Darfur. 30 March 2007.
<http://www.savedarfur.org/news/backgrounder>.

Barnett, Antony. “Revealed: the Gas Chamber Horror of North Korea's Gulag.” The
Observer. 1 February 2004. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/korea/article/0,2763,1136483,00.html>

Jacobs, Benjamin. The Dentist of Auschwitz. The Nizkor Project. 12 March 2007.
<http://www.nizkor.org/features/dentist/>

“Joseph Stalin Quotes.” ThinkExist.com Quotations. 15 April 2007. <http://en.thinkexist.com/quotation/a_single_death_is_a_tragedy-a_million_deaths_is_a/211885.html>

“Marcus Tullius Cicero Quotes.” Brainy Quote. 2 April 2007 . <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marcustull156288.html>

“Siddhartha Gautama Quotes.” Quote DB. 20 March 2007.
<http://www.quotedb.com/authors/siddhartha-buddha>

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York, N.Y.: Hill & Wang, 1960.

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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