Nothing Remembered, Nothing Gained
“I have taken an oath: To remember it all, to remember, not once to forget! Forget not one thing to the last generation when degradation shall cease, to the last, to its ending, when the rod of instruction shall have come to conclusion. An oath: Not in vain passed over the night of the terror. An oath: No morning shall see me at flesh-pots again. An oath: Lest from this we learned nothing (Council 49).”
When I was writing this paper a girl in my class remarked to me, “Why should I study this? I’m not Jewish. I mean I have sympathy, but I really don’t care.” Her remark is why we need to learn about and remember the Holocaust. People must understand that the Holocaust pertains to every man, women, and child, Jew or gentile. The Holocaust is part of everyone’s history, and remembering history, in its entirety, will benefit the whole world. As Winston Churchill once said, “The longer you look back, the farther you can look forward."
Out of the misery and death of the
Holocaust there is one candle of hope, we now have the knowledge to
prevent another genocide. Instead of making the same mistakes as our
predecessors have, we can learn from the past. To not remember and learn
from the Holocaust would be dishonorable to the millions of people who
perished. By remembering the fallen, we honor those who died and lived
through the Holocaust.
We must remember the Holocaust so that we know to what terrible depths humans can sink. First hand accounts of the Holocaust help us understand the horrors that were committed. Judith Jaegermann, a Holocaust survivor, reflected on her first impression of the prisoners of Auschwitz, “Our clothes and personal belongings had immediately been taken away from us and it was evident that the people, who had to execute this action, were already so callous and dulled by their long imprisonment in Auschwitz, that they lacked all human likeness. These were the early settlers of the place (Jaegermann).”
After Auschwitz Jaegermann was sent to Bergen-Belson, another concentration camp. Jaegermann wrote, “The memory of the heaps of the degraded naked corpses, before they had been thrown into mass graves will always stay vivid in my memory. Bergen-Belsen was a ghastly camp, without hope nor life (Jaegermann).”
Not only have Holocaust survivors passed on the story of the Holocaust; American soldiers have too. Abel Jack Schwartz was one of the first soldiers to liberate Buchenwald. He remembers: “The barracks were inhabited by pitiful, starved prisoners, too weak to move, just skin and bones, living skeletons, and many were already human waste and death. Outside were human bodies like stacks of logs…I had witnessed many battlefield deaths. I considered myself to be tough, and inured to the sight and smell of death. However, at this sight, I just cried and cried (Adler 89).”
Another soldier to help liberate a concentration camp was Arthur Federman. “It was horrifying. The Jews were emaciated. You could see their bones. They were all skin and bones. There were bodies piled up in tremendous mounds (Adler 91).” If not for first hand accounts, people would think that the Holocaust never happened. Who could believe that a nation who gave us the ninth symphony, lyrical poetry, and built Neuschwanstein, could dehumanize, kill, rape, and torture their fellow human beings? If not for personal accounts, people would believe that it is impossible for humans to kill 170,000 people a week, impossible that a “doctor” injected people with typhus, impossible that babies were murdered because they were Jewish (Harran). Because of the Holocaust, we know how terribly destructive humans can be.
Although the first images that come to mind when thinking of the villains of the Holocaust may be Adolf Hitler and goose-stepping Nazis, they were not the only ones. Thousands of people stood by while Jews were actively persecuted and systematically killed. We need to learn from the Holocaust that by silently standing in the face of evil, we are condoling and promoting evil. When anti-Semitism flared up in Germany and Adolf Hitler ordered a boycott against Jewish goods and stores, many people blindly followed (Adler 25). When gentiles’ Jewish neighbors were being deported in cattle cars, many stood by and laughed. When the Hitler Youth forced Jews to scrub the streets, old friends and neighbors walked by in silence.
When studying the massive horrors of the Holocaust, one might feel that there is nothing to be done, that one person cannot make a difference, but this is not the truth. Personally, I know that one person can help spread acceptance. On an average walk through the hallway of my high school one is likely to hear “God! You’re such a Jew”, or “That’s so Jewish!” If one makes a mistake, says something stupid, or does something foolish, they are met with a chorus of “You Jew!” It is not a compliment.
Whenever I hear one of these bigoted remarks, I always ask the speaker why he or she said it. Most of the time the only response is a shrug, but they never say it in my presence again. In most cases the reason for these remarks is obvious: ignorance. As one of the few Jews in the school (and in the town) I try to serve as an encyclopedia on Judaism. The sharing of ideas and beliefs is vital for a society to live in harmony. Upon hearing some of my peers’ misplaced beliefs, it is no surprise that they look down on Judaism. I have heard everything from “boys are circumcised when they are thirteen”, to “Jews maliciously killed Jesus Christ.” In exchange for my knowledge, my friends have taught me about their religions and taken me to their places of worship.
As the years pass, people are starting to forget. They forget that there once was a place called Babi Yar, where 33,771 people were killed in a day (Harran 211). They forget that there once was a time when people were turned into the living dead. We must not forget. We must remember. We must remember to honor the victims. We must remember because the Holocaust showed the terrible depths to which humans can sink. We must remember so when we see discrimination, hate, oppression, and injustice we will not stand idly by.
Adler, David. We Remember the
Holocaust. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1989.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by
the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.