We Will Not Be the Last Generation
By Rivka Rappoport
Teaneck, NJ


 

We are the last generation. We are the last generation to trace the coarse indent of black numbers on wrinkled skin. We are the last generation to hear Yiddish spoken with the natural fluency of a child speaking in ‘goo’s and ‘ga’s. We are the last generation to see the distant look of sorrow and the subtle knitting of tired brows as we listen to our neighbor tell her tale of the family she lost—just three of six million. We are the last generation. And if we do not tell others, we are the last generation to whom all this will matter.

By the time we are grown, all those who fought so hard for their right to live in Nazi Germany will be dead. While successful in cheating the Nazis, they will not be successful in cheating death. And what of the ten million Jews, gypsies, homosexual and mentally challenged people who did perish (Holocaust History Project)? What will become of their memory? As human beings we constantly search for meaning. We look for it everywhere: in our triumphs, our defeats, our daily activities and our deaths. The meaning of the Holocaust has become apparent over time. It is a hideous example of human capabilities, the corruption of power and the tragic willingness of mankind to be guided blindly. Hopefully, it has taught us, as a society, to be more aware. Undoubtedly, it has taught us to value life.

Examined closely, the Holocaust was launched by a horrible error of man. Not of one man, though, but of many millions. Hitler and his accomplices generated a unimaginable death toll. In the wake of the Holocaust, those who were left behind were forced to reconcile themselves with the senseless violence they had witnessed. As the stories of survivors rose like phoenixes from the ashes of Auschwitz and other camps, Jews and gentiles alike vowed that the Holocaust would be remembered, and that from it we would learn a lesson.

Others took a passive view. A generation lay reeling and stripped of their innocence and many simply placed the Holocaust at the back of their minds, too gruesome a reality to be a part of everyday life. However, in so doing, we allow a greater chance for it to be repeated. The initial anti-Semitism that became the fuel for the Holocaust was seemingly harmless to its adopters. The majority of the perpetrators, children and parents, did not intend for it to take lives as it did. The Nazi Party began as a movement for empowering the youth focused on discipline and equality among its members. Yes, the Holocaust is over. True, we may never be able to make it right but we are not powerless. We have the power to learn from it. Today, the legacy of the Holocaust and the ten million is at stake as it never was before (Holocaust History Project).

Doubt runs rampant in the human mind. It can take leaps of faith in a single stride. All are vulnerable to doubt. Already, many people worldwide doubt the Holocaust ever happened. Thankfully, we still have solid photographic evidence; more importantly, we have witnesses whose testimony provides better proof to the compassionate man than a photograph ever could. Soon, though, we will have neither. As photo-editing software becomes more advanced and discreet, the computer-savvy will be able to alter a photograph irreparably from his own living room. Holocaust doubters will claim that it is impossible to discern whether or not the evidence has been tampered with. Simultaneously, old age will claim the lives of those remaining survivors. So what can we do? We can be sure that old age does not claim their stories.

We might encourage those with stories to tell them while they can; when they pass on, the tales of the horrors they experienced as well as the ner zachor, the memory candle they have carried for their friends and family that perished can burn on, a ner tamid, an eternal flame. The hope is that this flame will illuminate the proverbial “path” for future generations so that they might avert a similar catastrophe. What better way to achieve this than through education, which has combated so many injustices in history? Let us learn from both the accomplishments and the mistakes of our parents.

The key to teaching the Holocaust does not lie in its terrors. Children need not recite the Nazis’ methods of murder like they recite state capitals. A third grader does not need to know of the horrors necessary to beat the human soul into compliance. Rather, they should be learned in courage; the courage that led to survival. They should learn of compassion; the compassion which saved lives. And they should learn of evil; the evil that threatens our lives even today—prejudice.

We must seek to cast off the binds of prejudice like a righteous few before us. During the Holocaust, there were thousands who dared to defy the Nazi Regime at the peril of their lives like Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews and Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who rescued over a thousand Jews (Encyclopedia Britannica OnLine). Still, we must remember that as remarkable as these two, there are almost twenty thousand “righteous persons” whose stories remain largely untold. We must seek to emulate these individuals who overcame the prejudice being spoon-fed to them in propaganda posters and on the radio (Phillipe 242).

It will become necessary, as students approach high school, to educate them in the crimes against humanity that fueled the Nazi death machine. They should know how horrible the horrors were and how terrible the terrors became, so that they can fully comprehend the evil that they are fighting against. As I envision it, the Holocaust should be mandatory in all curricula and should be revisited regularly—omnipresent—a standing example of how humanity at its worst can fuel humanity to do its best.

The unfortunate reality is: no one is entirely free from prejudice. Each of us has experienced it in some form and yet each of us practices it to some degree. We must seek to free ourselves from its binds and potential violence.

There is no greater form of education with which to combat the spread of prejudice than education by example. Here, we have failed thus far. As genocide rages on “far” from the Westernized world in Darfur, our political representatives, have failed to act. In genocide, the notions of “far” or “near” are irrelevant.

Let us show our children that prejudice, particularly when it threatens innocent lives will not be tolerated. We all bleed the same color and feel the same feelings. When cremated, we all become ash. Let us not persecute one another and teach our children the same. Let them be learned in the courage it takes to live free from prejudices and save lives. Let them be educated in the deceptive methods the corrupt use to gain power so that future genocides will never arise. Let the Holocaust be a tool for teachers and a lesson for all. In doing so, let us derive meaning from the lives senselessly taken.

We will not be the last generation. We cannot be the last generation.

 

Works Cited:


1. “Schindler, Oskar." Compton's by Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. 29 Apr. 2008 <http://school.eb.com/all/comptons/article-9313425>.

2. “Wallenberg, Raoul." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://school.eb.com/eb/article-9075978>.

3. "'Righteous Persons.'" Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www.jewishvirtual library.org/ jsource/Holocaust/righteous.html>.

4. Phillipe, Robert. "Dangerous Mythologies and Attempts at Demystification." Political Graphics: Art as a Weapon. New York: Abbevillle Press, 1982. 240-245.

5. Holocaust." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://school.eb.com/eb/article-215494>.

6. "Numbers Killed." The Holocaust History Project. 8 Oct. 2000. 30 Apr. 2008
<http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/numbers.shtml>.

 

 


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