Invisible Voices
By Abbie Mendoza
Brea, CA


 

“Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in so doing to overcome passive, indifferent life.”

-Elie Wiesel

When my classmates and I heard that there was going to be an assembly in the gym during our tutorial period, we were not amused. I heard whispers from others of, “I hope this won’t take too long,” and “I still have to make up a test in my Spanish class.” Before the presentation began, some of the boys behind me snickered with profane remarks towards one another, and a girl to my left was hurriedly trying to finish her geometry homework – clear indications that they did not particularly care about the assembly. Someone later interrupted the chatter of impatience by announcing that she was from Invisible Children Inc., an organization that spreads awareness in high schools and colleges throughout the country about the current situation in Northern Uganda.

Thereafter, we watched a documentary that literally put us in a rollercoaster of emotions. The gym reverberated with laughter when we saw a chicken run away after one of the people in the video cut its head off. We were reduced to silence when we discovered that African boys were kidnapped at night by rebels and forced to be part of the army. We learned that the following day, people would only notice their absence but could do nothing about it because the children didn’t have any form of identification in the records (hence the description, “Invisible Children”). And the crowd in the gym was almost brought to tears when we watched the conditions the African boys had to undergo every moment of their lives.

Each night, they would walk stealthily to a crowded subway station underground or any other secluded area to hide from the rebels. Once they found a place to settle down, they would do their homework by the subtle glow of a lamp. Eventually, the trauma of hiding every night in fear eventually took its toll on them. One of the boys in the video named Jacob explained that children hiding there didn't cry anymore. “They do not know what is in our hearts, you see?” was all he said. Their faces were often expressionless, smiling only now and then when the sun rose up and they were free to run around outside or up the trees for a few hours before they had to go into hiding again. But near the end of the movie, their carefree demeanor was betrayed when Jacob sobbed after describing how much he missed his murdered brother. There was no more snickering behind me, the girl to my left had closed her geometry book, and the chatters of impatience were silenced. For what seemed like an eternity the gym only echoed with Jacob’s painful cries.

Regrettably, our biggest concerns as teenagers have become, “What am I going to wear for school today?” or “Who is the famous pop star now?” In the safety of our homes, we grow oblivious or apathetic to the events occurring around the world. It is this same indifference to the sufferings of other people that kept the Holocaust alive for as long as it did. The number of people who became Hitler’s accomplices was staggering in itself, but what becomes even more shocking is the fact that fewer than half of 1% of non-Jews under Nazi occupation risked their lives to aid the Jews (Kopf 112). Others stood idly by as their fellow humans were thrust into cattle cars and burned in crematoriums, comforted by the notion that they were not directly committing the atrocities. However, their refusal to react to what they witnessed was just as devious as if they had pushed the victims in the cattle cars with their own hands.

Similarly, we cannot be apathetic to the atrocities occurring today. Although prisoners in concentration camps were liberated many years ago, the fight against intolerance continues. Unfortunately, even with a precedent such as the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and Darfur and the kidnappings of children in Northern Uganda are all evidence that crimes against humanity still exist. Sometimes I ask myself how people are capable of committing overwhelming acts of murder on the basis of ethnical and religious differences. How can they just watch without emotion as someone draws a final breath before them? How can they slash their machetes against the neck of a crying mother trying to protect her children? I just don’t understand.

But what I am certain of is that we must react to these forms of injustice happening now. When asked by a teenager how, as people of the next generation, we can “prevent future humanitarian catastrophes in today’s world,” Nobel laureate, Holocaust survivor, and fervent peace activist Elie Wiesel responded with these words to live by: “Be sensitive. That will help you in general. A sensitive person knows how to listen to music, how to view a good movie, or go to a museum and see art in its noblest form. But you have to be sensitive for it… There is an appeal [in Night] to you, the readers, and young readers especially, to find courage and dedication and a certain determination to say, ‘No, no. I want to remain on the side of humanity, not the other side’” (Fifty…).

The path to care and action begins with educating future generations about the remembrance, history, and lessons of the Holocaust. Were it not for education, I would never have realized the importance of continually asking questions. We must examine all sides of a situation and never be afraid to ask, “Why?” Otherwise, we will be like the people who listened to the anti-Semitic words of Hitler and offered – without a second thought – their unwavering support for the destruction of so many lives. Were it not for education, I may never have learned that hatred and prejudice resulted in the persecution of countless people and the suffering of so many others during the Holocaust. Were it not for education, I may never have learned that hatred and prejudice are still responsible for thousands of deaths today. Were it not for education, I may never have learned to respect and value diversity in our world. I am always eager to hear about the cultures of my classmates, and likewise they are willing to hear about my Filipino heritage. Most importantly, education has taught me that we have an obligation to speak out for those that can’t, because every person is precious – and no one deserves to be invisible.

 

Works Cited:

The Fifty Young People Oprah Wants You to Meet. Host: Oprah with Elie Wiesel.
After the Show. ABC. 25 May 2006.

Kopf, Hedda Rosner. Understanding Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl.’ A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. London: the Greenwood Press, 1997.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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