“My younger sister went up to a Nazi soldier with one of her friends. Standing naked, embracing each other, she asked to be spared. He looked into her eyes and shot the two of them. They fell together in their embrace- my sister and her young friend.”
Yet this chilling description was only a typical day for the occupants of a Nazi concentration camp. These two young girls had a comparably easy end. Their family members, friends, and others that were like them in their shared misfortune of inheriting an undesirable flaw, often did not die instantly at the hands of heartless cowards that called themselves soldiers. They instead worked nearly impossible hours, fueled only by a bleak gruel in their stomachs that was likely to consist of inedible ingredients like sawdust (Bleyer). Their bodies screamed in agony as their own tissue was digested in a desperate, primal attempt to stay alive despite their inevitable starvation. If this internal torture was not enough, their emaciated, skeletal-like shells, what used to be loving mothers and fathers, happy husbands and wives, were often forced to complete meaningless tasks during their stay in the concentration camps. They slaved for countless hours, digging ditches or cremating their fellow unacceptable camp inmates (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
The processed inmates’ bodies often matched the appearances of the corpses that they disposed- shaved of all hair, sprayed with disinfectant like a toilet bowl, and stripped of all personality and individuality. The Nazis often tattooed their victims’ arms with a strand of ugly digits- like cattle, their limbs were permanently branded with a reminder that they were only another minute, meaningless number in the system (Bleyer).
Some were “fortunately” given thin garments that would serve as a feeble bulwark against the bitter winds that crept into their cramped barracks, but not uncommonly they were left simply with humiliating nudity instead. The Nazis relished in what pain they could inflict upon those sentenced to the death camps before they were executed. At times they were simply shot; at other camps they would enter shower stalls expecting a blessed washing, but were met instead with swiftly locked doors and air tight chambers that were filled with toxic gases, fumes that soon silenced their pitiful screams (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
Today, in our democratic society, it is hard for most to imagine such horrors. Now most do not know of genocide- perhaps hearing the word, only briefly, on the international news; short reports concerning distant locations like Darfur inform citizens of faraway death statistics that will often be forgotten. For many, it’s easier to change the station to something “less depressing” instead, dismissing the needless suffering (Background). As the years pass, the details of the tragedy known as the Holocaust become shrouded in an uncertain, hazy mist, as some people doubt, disbelieve and forget. People insist that this tragedy can’t possibly be true; they somehow face the evidence, the sources, the survivors with shouts of “hoax” and “fraud” (Holocaust Hoax). But these millions of men, women, and children deserve for all descendents of their sad time to at least hear the stories and believe, and swear to never allow it to happen again. Their suffering, pain, and tragedy must never be forgotten. The deaths of so many innocent souls, lost to the Holocaust, may never be replaced, but must always be honored. The stories and memories left behind must be preserved for future generations, to ensure that the world will not succumb to hatred and cowardice once again.
Human history thus far is marked with the blood stains of tragedy, but the shining glory of triumph as well. With love and compassion we may overcome the wretched cruelty that Hitler and the Nazi party used against an estimated eleven million Jews and others that they blamed for Germany’s woes (Sonek). We must teach our young of the horrors that hate and prejudice may inflict on good, innocent people to ensure that they do not allow the downfalls of the past to be repeated. The virtues of acceptance and compromise must be passed through generations that follow the fallen victims of the Holocaust to ensure that their death is not in vain. The lessons wrought by the suffering of so many must not be selfishly wasted. Our children and theirs must be ready to become greater problem solvers than their ancestors ever were, as their world will present difficult problems and intricate challenges that will require tactful resolution. Unlike the predators that tried to “purify” the Aryan race during World War II (Holocaust), they will be prepared to conquer hardships by pursuing solutions rather than seeking a vulnerable scapegoat. The fallen may show us the ultimate consequence for what evil and brutality may bring; the survivors show us how to overcome the loss and prepare for the future. They exhibit the strengths that may be earned from diversity in population, as they moved beyond the horrors to become writers, teachers, and heroes that inspire greatness. Uniformity destroys innovation, and thus weakness is bred and enforced. In diversity we may prosper, cherishing unique insights and perspectives that better ourselves and our world.
What can we do to avoid the horrors that Hitler’s sins left behind? Students may look to the examples of great leaders before them. Whether they follow the peaceful marches and civil disobedience of American civil rights champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Martin Luther King), or the quiet strength and resilience of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi: A Biography) in his fight for freedom in India, students may overcome prejudice with patience. Powerful experiences may be accumulated while today’s teenagers are young and open-minded, whether through participation in mission trips abroad, or working within their own community to help people similar to or unlike them. By seeing the world and gaining knowledge of its people, youth may leave their cushioned nests and instead embark upon a journey to improve society as a whole, and make a difference. They may become the next great warriors of their time, representing peace by wielding weapons of compassion and care. Everyday situations render great opportunities to set an example and to lead. It may only be lending a friendly smile to a member of another race, or accepting the religion and beliefs of a persecuted Muslim neighbor. Simple acts of understanding and kindness are the mighty mustard seeds of great human achievement. Young people may allow their actions to reflect acceptance, and thus influence others to follow their guidance and to establish similar bonds of welcoming and trust to all.
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