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.
Take away their rights.
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
Frontline. The Nazi Holocaust Documentary from 1945. WGBH Educational
Katz, Kenneth A.. Five Million Too Few. The Harvard Crimson, March 1,
National Geographic. Nazi Scrapbooks From Hell. National Geographic
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960