Invincible. Independent. Indestructible.
Entitled. The average modern-day teenager is both unwilling to recognize
his or her mortality, and incapable of understanding a life without the
comforts of food, family, and home. How can our generation possibly
understand the tragic nature of such a life that was indeed the daily
reality of Holocaust victims? Without such understanding, how can we
ever seek to defend human dignity from further injury in the future?
Knowledge is essential, but by itself, insufficient. We must nurture
admiration for the strength, courage, and passion of those who resisted,
survived, and died under the evil reign of Nazi Germany, and adopt these
same qualities in ourselves so that we may never allow an atrocity of
such magnitude and breadth to take place in our world again.
In 1833, Heinrich Heine poeticized, “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.” (Holocaust). In a twisted fulfillment of Heine’s eerie prediction, Jews were ruthlessly burned only eight years after the fiery destruction of non-Aryan books by Hitler and his coalition government. Fueled by racial, political, and religious anti-Semitism, Nazi hate crimes quickly escalated from anti-Jewish business policies to mass murder. The final toll of the Nazis’ systematic killings added up to at least six million Jewish victims; hundreds of thousands of innocent children were murdered with chilling precision, and as quickly as a deadly gas could be unleashed (Holocaust). And yet the shadow of hate that was Nazi Germany did not only darken the lives of the Jewish race but also grasped millions of blacks, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally-handicapped in its cold and murderous embrace.
Still, there was hope. Not trivial and materialistic hopes common to our generation, but eager dreams of forgetting the hunger, fear, and thirst for affection that was sadly the everyday reality of Jewish children in concentration camps. Petr Ginz was one of these children. His hopeful outlook, courage, and defiance in the face of danger have permanently engraved his memory upon history.
Petr grew up as a normal Czechoslovakian boy in Prague, until 1941 when the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany began to make a noticeable impact upon both his and his Jewish companions’ lives. Every day, Petr would meticulously record his observations of the increasingly frightening advancement of the “Final Solution”, until the day he was transported to a concentration camp himself. During his imprisonment at Theresienstadt, Petr led the organization of a secret literary magazine with other youths in his cell block, and entitled it “Vedem”, or “In the Lead.” They wrote stories about happy memories, composed poems about hopes for the future, and expressed their fears through drawings and cartoons. Through secretly circulating their own form of resistance, Petr and his cellmate companions nurtured a sense of excitement, intrigue, and hope that diminished their fears and nightmares during their time in concentration camps.
Although Petr died in an Auschwitz gas chamber in 1943 at only sixteen, his legacy lives on. His artistic and literary genius is now renowned worldwide, and his published diaries can give us, as modern-day teenagers, a penetrating glimpse into the life of the persecuted and an inspiration to prohibit such hate from ever again entering the lives of the innocent (Parker).
If we take the time to look, we cannot help but recognize the eager spirit of Petr Ginz in the face of every little boy and girl suffering through similar tragedies currently taking place in African countries such as Rwanda and Sudan. Each month, as many as 7,000 mothers and sons, friends and grandfathers, are “displaced”; young children are constantly torn from the comfort of their families’ embraces and flung into the harsh reality that is modern-day African genocide. Darfur’s “Government of National Unity,” which is controlled by the National Islamic Front, has heartlessly obstructed humanitarian relief operations and other forms of international aide. Today, the death toll is about 450,000 (Reeves). How many more useless killings will it take for the world to wake up to the desperate nature of these hateful civil wars, and their possible global consequences?
The aftermath of modern-day genocide extends much further than its statistics; our tolerance of such crises redefines humanity and the sanctity of life. We know today about the Allies’ extensive awareness of Hitler’s plans of extermination and their failure to act upon this critical knowledge. Countless innocent lives that could have been saved were not. Is our generation’s ignorance, denial, and failure to act any different? Because of our knowledge of the past, is our current inaction an even greater moral crime?
Some argue that our generation, still young and immobilized, can do nothing to make a significant difference in this world; I, however, disagree. The first step toward the holocaust, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair describes, was not the gas chamber, but “a brick through the shop window of a Jewish business, the desecration of a synagogue, [or] the shout of a racist abuse on the street” (BBC). Therefore, the first step toward defeating hate is knowledge, a power that is humble, accessible, and indestructible. To study history, to understand the stories of survivors, and to recognize the warning signs of pre-meditated genocidal attacks is to be capable of preventing the next Holocaust.
The next step is action. It is critical that we recognize every effort designed to prevent moral injustice as significant and life-changing: for ourselves, victims of hate crimes, and for generations yet unborn. Whether we speak out against anti-Semitic slurs in school hallways, hand out informational fliers at the entrance of the local supermarket, or participate in humanitarian relief efforts overseas, every act makes a difference. The permanent prevention of racially-based annihilation is possible. However, every individual’s ideas, capabilities, talents, and prayers must be engaged, for change is truly a compounded effect.
If our generation does not undertake the necessary steps to prevent genocide, no generation ever will. We have the knowledge, tools, technologies, resources, and abilities to make a difference. The last and key ingredient is passion. In order for the world to change for the better, we need to be angry about the slow response to the Holocaust, horrified by the merciless reaping of innocent life, and indignant about the Nazis’ unchecked infringement upon human rights. We must be determined that such an atrocity never again occurs.
By responding to hate in our world today with fiery and motivated love, the memory and lessons of Holocaust victims will reverberate in our hearts, minds, and actions forevermore.
“Holocaust.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9040821>.
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