It Only Takes One
As I listened to the old man standing before me talk about how he survived roll call by hiding in the large cement block we were sitting on, I began to wonder what this block was actually used for. The hundreds of holes in the top of it only added to its mystery. It was only after Martin Baranek was asked that he told us it was the barracks equivalent of a toilet. Martin, or Marty as we called him, described to us how he was so thin and small he could actually fit through one of the one and a half foot wide holes to hide himself when it came time for roll call.
Marty, a detainee in the Lodz Ghetto and a prisoner in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, went with me on The March of the Living last spring. This two week trip takes teens from all over the world to the camps of Poland, to witness first hand what horrors took place there. For me, Marty is a living testament to how the madness of one man almost erased a population, and how if it weren’t for the bravery and courage of a few, the world would have lost an entire generation of life and culture.
Remembering the Holocaust is something that cannot be looked on as a chore. Instead, it must be seen as an obligation to all of humanity. Simple mathematics tell us the survivors of this nightmare will not be with us for much longer. We must continue to chronicle and remember their stories, so their courage to live will not be overlooked. We must remember so we can erase genocide completely from the world. We must remember so we can live to the best of our ability for the 1.5 million children who never got to experience the wonders of life.
However, remembering by itself is not enough. Right now genocide is occurring throughout the world. There is ethnic cleansing in Africa, persecution in the Middle East, and discrimination in all parts of the world. In the Darfur region of Sudan, more than 400,000 people have been murdered and 2 million have been displaced for fear of being killed. In countries such as Afghanistan and Iran women continue to be the victims of honor killings. The lessons of the Holocaust teach us that we must be tolerant of each other and respect our differences. We must learn to live and work together to ensure the survival of mankind. To do this, we have to come together and say in a unified voice that we will not allow targeted killing of our fellow humans.
If we as humanity are to pass the history and lessons of the Holocaust on to the next generation, we must do so in all aspects of our lives. More than that, it is important for students who have already had experiences with Holocaust studies to immediately begin helping in the fight against discrimination and violence that is taking place world wide.
I believe the best way to influence the greatest number of people is through education of young people. We must require Holocaust studies in our schools. Books such as Night by Elie Wiesel and Entombed by Bernard Mayer should be required reading and should be discussed in schools across America, and throughout the world. If we instill in our children the dangers of hate, then we can truly make sure things like genocide and ethnic cleansing are eradicated from the world.
I have personally tried to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to as many people as I can. I have created a slide show from pictures I took on the March of the Living in 2006. I have showed it multiple times in the Miami community, and distributed it to many people around the country, so that it may encourage people to do more to remember the Holocaust.
Another way I have made my own attempt to educate people is by designing a program that allows the audience to feel what the victims of the Holocaust may have gone through. The program, entitled Perspective, focuses on not just teaching participants about the Holocaust, it gives them a glimpse of what life was like for the six million Jews who died and the millions of others who suffered in the ghettos and concentration camps of eastern Europe. I believe people are more impacted from seeing and feeling for themselves than from just hearing about dry faceless facts and statistics. For example, one portion of my program has the participants eat a typical meal for the Warsaw ghetto. The simple slice of bread and 2 oz cup of water shows how much food a person in the ghetto actually received per day.
I have also participated in a stage show called Impact Theatre. For the past two years, I have helped write the play, manage the stage, and build the set for two shows having the goal of teaching tolerance. These two shows, Stained and Conviction, each bring to light the biases that we as humans feel towards each other. By seeing these rolls played out, viewers learn how hateful and abusive we can be to one another. Many people who saw both shows have said they learned to change the way they act towards others and have become more tolerant. They think more before they blurt out whatever they happen to be thinking at the time.
However, involvement in preventing prejudice and discrimination doesn’t have to be as complex as this. For instance, students could participate in Save Darfur rallies and write to government officials protesting their non-involvement in the issue. Even more effective, they could join a mediation group at school to help fellow students with problems, find a peaceful solution and teach them to treat each other with respect. Even just taking some time out each week to learn about a culture or ethnicity that isn’t your own could help, on the individual level, combat discrimination in the world. It is the simpler methods of being involved that truly can make the most difference in the world.
Eleven million people may have suffered, but it takes only one person to begin to prevent this type of atrocity from happening again. It takes one person to remember that they can take the lessons of the Holocaust and put them to use every day. It takes one person to write to their congressman, asking for support on the humanitarian efforts in Darfur. It takes one person to influence another to show kindness someone; soon the person who was influenced will pass it on to someone else. In the end, we will all become more tolerant, but it must start by remembering the stories of the brave few, and the lessons we can learn from them.
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