Imagine a peaceful walk that is suddenly
interrupted by a stumble on a stone in the middle of the pathway. Notice
the small bronze plaque embedded in the stone. It reads:
Erna Jungbluth was my great-grandmother. Her stone is placed in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her parent’s house. The stumble and the slight throb in your toe from the encounter with the protruding stone are small echos of the past pain of the victims of the Holocaust. These stumbling stones, or “Stolpersteine,” are scattered throughout the sidewalks of Germany, immortalizing the Jewish people who were ripped from their homes during WWII. Stolpersteine are small bronze plaques placed about half an inch above the sidewalk in front of the houses of Holocaust victims. These stones were designed and installed by Gunter Demnig from Germany in 2004. He said “they are to warn against (forgetting) the cruelties committed by the Nazis against their fellow-citizens” (Stolpersteine). I believe these cruelties were allowed to come to pass because of the physical and emotional detachment of the world towards the victims of the Holocaust. In order to prevent further genocide, detachment and desensitization must be replaced with compassion and action.
The pain and the hurt of the people who suffered the Holocaust should never be forgotten. Their story is a lesson and a warning to us about the atrocities of which mankind is capable. One man in particular is responsible for the atrocities of the Holocaust: Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Third Reich. It was Hitler who led the campaign of discrimination and extermination of the European Jewish population. Hitler’s goal was to cleanse Europe completely of the “racially inferior” Jews to create a perfect society of “racially superior” Aryan Germans (Third Reich). Concentration camps were formed for this purpose. The camps were designed for forced labor and extermination. The Nazis extracted forced labor from the prisoners and killed those who were no longer capable of work. Millions of Jews were torn from their homes and shipped in cattle cars to meet a horrific fate at the concentration camps (Nazi Camps). Hitler’s goal of “purifying” Europe was almost reached: approximately two-thirds of the Jewish population was wiped out. The term “Holocaust” is now used to refer to the genocide of Jews and other racial minorities during World War II (The Holocaust). The word “genocide” was actually coined prior to the Holocaust to describe the attempted mass murder of an entire race (What is Genocide).
I believe that the detachment of the
world towards the fate of the Jews is what made the Holocaust so lethal.
People within and outside of Germany did not want to believe that
genocide was occurring. Townspeople watched as their Jewish neighbors
were evacuated from the ghettos. Even though the townspeople saw the
cattle cars packed with crying innocents, they did nothing. Even though
they saw the camp prisoners led through the towns to dig their own
graves, they did nothing. This was also due to fear as well as denial.
Hitler persecuted anyone who dared help the prisoners of the Holocaust
The school system today promotes learning about the Holocaust, mostly through reading and writing assignments. This helps make students aware of the facts. However, I fear that just reading books on the Holocaust may not be enough to inspire the right emotions of compassion and empathy. I have sensed detachment and desensitization in even my own classmates. One classmate commented that it would be “interesting” to read a book about someone who survived more than just one year in a concentration camp, while another remarked on the familiar background music of a documentary film on a death march survivor. These remarks, as naive as they may be, made my blood run cold. Perhaps it is easier for me to feel greater empathy for the persecuted because my own family suffered from the Holocaust. I believe the Holocaust should not be viewed as merely an “interesting” piece of history, but as a call to become involved in ending all genocide. Detachment is the enemy in situations of genocide. If my generation can rid ourselves of detachment and replace this emotion with true compassion, then we have hope of ridding the world of cruel prejudices.
Detachment has to be fought on many fronts. Art projects such as the stumbling stones help create a physical connection between the people of today and the victims of yesterday. Visits to memorials and museums bring the Holocaust to life. In addition to memorializing the Holocaust, students should become actively involved in fighting the genocide that plagues the world today. Students should be taught that genocide must not be viewed as a political issue, but a humanitarian one. Students could write to local newspaper editors, internet blogs, and even Congress to raise genocide awareness in their communities. Student organizations could develop ongoing relationships with international relief agencies to learn how to help and connect with refugees. Perhaps schools could even sponsor the immigration of student victims. Our studies of the Holocaust should not end with the closing of a book and the taking of a test. The way to overcome detachment is to apply our knowledge to the fight against genocide.
The warning against forgetting of which Gunter Demnig spoke will soon be the responsibility of my generation to pass on to posterity. We will be the last to actually live among the survivors of the Holocaust. When the survivors are gone, it will be up to us to spark a passion against irrational hatred and genocide. We must give the future a personal tie to the Holocaust, and must do so by evoking feelings of compassion and empathy. Detachment and desensitization are the true enemies in situations of genocide. If the right emotions are evoked in people, they will not repeat the mistake of discrimination and will no longer tolerate the horrors of genocide.
Lozada, Gisela. Personal Interview.
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