One In a Million
By Whitney May
Spring, TX


 

"And here is a truth: In our secret selves, we can grow old while we are still young; we can cross borders that no one else can see. We can hear voices that have long been silent.”

-Katherine Lasky, from her novel,
Blood Secret

 

In kindergarten, I was told that I was one in a million. At that early age of six I learned the value of one million and sampled its magnitude in my young mind. The number became untouchable, abstractly mythical. I wanted to be a million feet tall, eat a million strawberry sundaes, score a million on my spelling test.

Million. Even now I stop and whisper the word, rolling the sorrowful, immortal juices of it over my tongue. I was fifteen when I really tasted a million: curled into the folds of my couch as the images of a war that wasn’t mine flitted across the screen, my super-number dropped its pretense of mundane calculation. And in its place? Were faces. One million faces peeked out at me from history, from death. And then the unreachable was reached, was surpassed— Now four million innocents wept or clung to their families for comfort. Now seven million pairs of haunted eyes avoided the camera, or maybe worse, met the lense with those vacant, horrified expressions that cried out for freedom, for life.

Some were family shots from before World War II had even begun, and those were the worst. Because millions of candid grins flashed, here holding a child, here feeding a sleek horse, there asleep in a big man’s beefy arms. My eyes stung and ran over. And I knew then that millions don’t taste like strawberry sundaes, but the salt of tears.

In total, over eleven million innocent people perished in the Holocaust— Jews, Homosexuals, Gypsies, Slavs, and others. Even fellow Aryan ‘supermen’ who fell short of the Führer’s standards were eliminated (within seven months after October 1939, roughly 10,000 innocents were slaughtered in West Prussia and the Warthegau simply because they were deemed mentally unsound (Rees—pg 43)).

Everywhere chaos reigned as Jews in particular were singled out and targeted for all sorts of ridiculous decrees, including a Nazi-regulated curfew and exclusion from parks, cinemas, and swimming pools. Their radios were confiscated, their art work and jewelry were banned, and their businesses closed. Concentration camps, veritable factories of death, were created to implement the Nazi concept of the ‘Final Solution’— their mass murder. 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives in Auschwitz alone from its time of operation in 1940 to its liberation in 1945.

And yet, the Nazi regime, mechanized as it was, could not deny its own sin of genocide. Reinhard Heydrich, deputy in command of Hitler’s SS police force himself, claimed that “biological extermination is undignified for the German people as a civilized nation” (Goetz). In the meantime, Heydrich’s superior Heinrich Himmler justified his SS’s vicious slaughter of innocent lives by claiming: “he would not like it if Germans did such a thing gladly. But their conscience was in no way impaired, for they were soldiers who had to carry out every order unconditionally” (Hilberg). So then even the highest-ranking of Nazi officers could not shelter their principles from the darkness of their crime.

So now I will offer a truth: the elements of Social Darwinism which lace the Nazi Regime and Hitler’s own book Mein Kampf are a farce. Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection in which “progress,” comes “from ‘the struggle for survival,’ as the. . . strong. . .” advance while the weak decline cannot exist when applied to society as justified politics (Spielvogel— pg. 714). The oppression of another person or group is not a process of nature— it’s a crime.

It’s a crime ever so cautiously repeating itself in countries across the globe from Darfur and Ethiopia, with the genocide of their minority peoples; and yes, even to the shores of America, my beautiful, magnificent homeland, where boys boldly prowl the school halls with swastikas inked on their backpack flaps for all the world to see and all the authorities to disregard. It’s a crime that stole away the lives of millions and millions of innocent men, women, and children. It’s a crime that went virtually unpunished sixty-odd years ago: of the 6,500 SS men at Auschwitz (by far the most infamous of the Nazi death camps),between 1940 and 1945 who are believed to have survived the war, only 750 were ever penalized (Lasik).

And furthermore, it’s a crime that might be stopped. Darwinism was created by one man, its subsequent genocide, exercised by hundreds of thousands. The Nazi party was devised by one man, perpetuated by an endless stream of machine-like soldiers. So then, by basic nature the vicious, fiery cycle of prejudice and sub-humanization could be halted too— by the effort of one person.

The classic American author John Steinbeck said in his novel East of Eden, that “men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong, sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.” History throughout the ages has been set into motion by the actions of individuals. “One person— a Raul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King Jr.— one person of integrity can make a difference” (Wiesel— Acceptance Speech ). It is this proven concept which compels us to ever maintain our singularity in society, to nurture that which sets us apart from the rest of the world and to utilize it. As students, we must always cherish our separateness, and forever use it to do good in our world. We must use the tools we’ve been given to pave the way for understanding and build bridges of camaraderie, that one day we may stand together and tear down all forms of racism— from anti-Semitism to anti-Americanism to anti-Hinduism— and know that the cycle has ended. Maybe then there will be some solace for those souls torn away in the fury of the Holocaust.

We cannot look away while the evils of genocide are still at work within our world, for “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim” (Wiesel— Speech). And at the same time, we must never stray from our past, from the millions who lost their lives to the demons in the hearts of men, for “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time” (Wiesel— Night).

Perhaps it is our obligation then, to learn the true weight of a million. Maybe we must feel that pressure of eleven million separate justices and dreams in order to give wing to the imprints of their memory. For certain, it is each of our jobs, as people educated in the bloody lesson of the Holocaust, to cross borders that no one else can see, to grasp hands over oceans and mountains, through language barriers and philosophical boundaries, to spread the fundamental message and become that one in a million who sets the ripple of change into motion. . .

In the end, that is all we can do– for ourselves, for our future, and for the eleven million voices who have long been silent.

 

Works Cited :


1) Hilberg Raul, quoted in– The Destruction of the European Jews, rev. ed. (New York)1985; 1:332-333

2) Goetz, Aly– Final Solution: Nazi Population and the Murder or the European Jews (Hodder Arnold); 1999

3) Lasik Aleksander– “The Apprehension and Punishment of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Staff,” from Auschwitz 1940-1945 (Auschwitz State Museum); 2000 5:59-119

4)Rees, Laurence– Auschwitz: A New History; (U.S. edition published by PublicAffairs); 2005

5)Spielvogel, Jackson J.– Western Civilization; Fourth Edition; (Wadsworth/Thomson Learning); 1999

6) Wiesel Elie– his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Oslo, Norway; December 10, 1986.

7) Wiesel Elie– Night;(Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus, and Girox) 2006

 

Works Consulted:


1) Wiesel, Elie– Legends of Our Time (Schocken Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York); 1982


2) Wiesenthal, Simon– The Sunflower (Schocken Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York); 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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