Inaction
By Edward Chato-Seaton
Kayenta, AZ


 

Them. They. The two worst words in the English language. Both words have been used to justify some of the most insidious acts in history.

Classify and separate them.
Dehumanize them.
Take away their rights.
Exterminate them.
Deny that such an extermination took place.

This has been the blueprint for many genocides in history and unfortunately it is what our history books are mainly composed of. For this chapter in history we are in danger of losing all the lessons of our past. In these strange “modern” times everything moves so fast. A new movie, a new car, a new album, a thousand dead, a sex scandal and a sports upset. Today everything seen in the paper or on the screen seems to happen “over there.” Nothing seems to be real. 300,000, is that the price of a sports car? No, it is the estimated death toll of Dafur. That estimate continues to rise.

As a Native American I know my people have gone through an ordeal similar to those crimes committed an ocean away. My particular tribe is very lucky. We still have elders that remember our old ways. But more importantly they remember the days we were hunted and killed like dogs. However in my current generation only a few do listen to their stories. Do they realize that these are not mere statistics on the pages of textbooks? These were our people with over a million dreams unfulfilled. This is how the past is allowed to repeat.

“She is mad, poor woman...”

A few young men forced her to sit down, then bound and gagged her....
And an hour or so had passed. Another scream jolted us. The woman had broken
free of her bounds and was shouting louder than before. “Look at the fire! Look at
the flames! Flames everywhere...” Once again the young men bound and gagged her.

Around eleven o’clock, the train began to move again.... Through the windows, we saw
barbed wire; we understood that this was the camp.... And as the train stopped, this
time we saw flames rising from a tall chimney into a black sky.
(Wiesel, “Night,” excerpts p. 25; 26; 28 )

Denial is a wicked foe. Whether it be when flight could have been taken early, or in the ghetto waiting for the unknown. There were those that had escaped and told of the horrors in the camps. But too few gave them an ear. Too few acted. Evil would be able to reign free and countries would stand by the sidelines. Silent, despite all they knew.

The goal of the Nazi regime was not to merely kill every Jewish person. The goal of the Nazi regime was to destroy their entire existence. Bodies alone would not do, the Nazis set out to destroy everything associated with the Jews. Jewish lives and Jewish culture, both would be denied a burial. It wasn’t their race that they were persecuted for. It was their beliefs that they held steadfast to. For people who are so firm in their beliefs, what happens when God is nowhere to be found? What happens when the fires come not from wood?

In situations such as the Holocaust, extremes are the norm. Friends and families would abandon each other to survive. Bread crumbs were killed over. Pain and time had no meaning. From these extremes heroes would rise to meet the villains. For every Oscar Schindler and Wilm Hosenfeld there was a Josef Mengele and a Rudolf Hoess. But we cannot forget the total eleven million that were killed. We cannot forget the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the uprising at Bialystok, the uprising at Vilnius or the Sonderkommandos at Auschwitz. Both the heroes and the survivors were stronger than hunger, thirst, sleep and betrayal. When we remember them they are even stronger than death.

Events such as the Holocaust are the opposite of their perpetrators. They do not discriminated by race or religion. Of all the promises made to free the Jews from their hell. Only Hitler kept most of his promises to them.

To keep the past from repeating we need to teach students about the genocides that have taken place. However, edited text in books cannot show the horror of what has happened. The only form in which events such as the Holocaust can be communicated is through media such as film. Unadulterated, students could see and hear what the victims experienced on a day to day basis. With those teachings, people’s ambivalence towards genocide would diminish. Any future genocide will not have silent countries standing idle. We will address and end it.

We cannot change what has passed. But we can change how we see the world and more importantly how we interact with it. We cannot forget the heroes and victims of the world’s genocides. For if we do forget them it will be a victory for evil and a second death for the victims. Inaction is what allows evil to rise. We must always act.

In 1492 I was Christopher Colombus.
In 1846 I was Kit Carson.
In 1894 I was Lothar Von Trotha.
In 1922 I was Josef Stalin.
In 1934 I was Adolf Hitler.
In 1963 I was Pol Pot.
In 1971 I was Idi Amin Dada.
In 1976 I was Fidel Castro.
In 1977 I was Mengistu Haile Mariam.
In 1979 I was Saddam Hussein.
In 1992 I was Ratko Mladic.
In 1993 I was Kim Jong-il.

Today I am indifference.
Today I am forgetfulness.

Forever I am inaction.

 

Works Cited

Bauer, Yehuda. History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1982

Farley, Maggie. U.N. puts Darfur death toll at 300,000. Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2008
<http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-darfur23apr23,0,7802587.story>

Frontline. The Nazi Holocaust Documentary from 1945. WGBH Educational Foundation <http://www.videosift.com/video/Frontline-The-Nazi-Holocaust-documentary-from-1945>

Katz, Kenneth A.. Five Million Too Few. The Harvard Crimson, March 1, 1990
<http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=173780>

National Geographic. Nazi Scrapbooks From Hell. National Geographic Society, 2008

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960


 

 


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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