Listening to the Voices
By Sara Brenner
Port Washington, NY


 

On March 8, 1944 the world of young Etunia Bauer was shattered. On that cold winter morning, the Banderowcy, a band of Ukranian patriots, discovered her family’s hiding place in their efforts to eradicate Jews from their midst. The family was familiar with the fear of discovery as they survived in the shadows of the Polish countryside during the long years of the Holocaust. Weeks earlier, fearing imminent discovery by the Gestapo, Etunia reflected “How can I describe our last embraces, our convulsive grasping, our cleaving to one another--our tears, tears, waves of tears...With precious moments to live, there was a rush to express love, to say a forgotten something, to live a lifetime in minutes. Grief, love, agony, anger: all poured out in bitter despair, and those memories remain etched indelibly in my heart.” (Bauer Katz 82) On this particular morning, clinging to the elusiveness of life, the Bauer family fled their shelter, running into an open field. Etunia’s beloved father, sister and brothers were all murdered. Etunia’s cries of despair on that fateful day must resonate within each of us in order to prevent similar atrocities from occurring.

On July 12, 2004 in the village of Donki Dereisa South Darfur, Sudan, Fatima Ibrahim awoke to the sounds of terror as the Janjaweed descended upon her village wreaking death and destruction to the peaceful village and its inhabitants. Hiding in a nearby ravine with her young daughter, Fatima heard the desperate pleas and cries of the innocent villagers which were forever silenced by the unbridled hatred of the Sudanese soldiers. Fatima bore witness to the brutal murders of her brothers as well as the soldiers’ tossing screaming young children into the burning fires they had set. (Wolf)

Although the brutality and murder witnessed by Etunia Baeur and Fatima Ibrahim occurred forty years apart, the cries of the innocent transcend time and space. The painful, sorrowful cries emanating from the concentration camps are the same sounds as those rising from the scorched Sudanese villages. We must not turn a deaf ear to the cries of the Bauer family, the pain of Fatima Ibrahim, the screams of the burning children and all the people of Buczacz, Poland and Donki Dereisa who can no longer speak for themselves. These cries must pierce our veil of complacency.

The people and voices of the Holocaust are remembered when we utter the words “Never Again.” These two words represent a commitment to preventing future atrocities from occurring. While we spoke these words, however, the twentieth century has been plagued by acts of inhumanity, human rights violations and genocide. The world did not hear the cries nor see the blood spilled by the Khmer Rouge on the “killing fields” of Cambodia resulting in two million deaths between 1975 and 1979. The world did not listen and turned away in 1994 as 800,000 Tutsis were brutally murdered by Hutu militia in Rwanda. As Samantha Power, Director of the Human Rights Initative at the Kennedy School of Government, observed, “Never Again” has come to mean “Again and Again.” (Power)

“Never Again” is more than a phrase, however–it is a covenant we made with those who perished at the hands of the Nazi’s, and it must be upheld. I will not sit idly by and ignore the cries of the victims of genocide throughout the world. I am part of a generation that is uniquely qualified to absorb the lessons of the Holocaust and take an activist approach to global issues. Growing up with an awareness of terrorism, my generation understands our global connectedness and that we are citizens of the world. Through the internet, we can convey information to one another with a degree of speed and exposure that was previously impossible. We have the consciousness and commitment to heal the ills of the world.

My generation bears a particular responsibility for educating ourselves and others about the Holocaust. This generation will be the last to have contact with the survivors themselves and, as such, we must listen to their stories and cling to their memories, etching them in our hearts and minds. With this awareness, I participated in an “Adopt-a-Survivor” program in which I had the opportunity to develop a relationship with a Holocaust survivor. The wisdom and lessons Etunia Bauer imparted to me extended far beyond her words. She maintained a faith in humanity and was committed to a lifetime of Holocaust education. I was changed by my relationship with Etunia Bauer and promised to keep the memory of her family and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust, alive.

There are many steps that may be taken on the road toward addressing human rights violations and genocide throughout the world. The first step along the path is for each person to listen to their inner voice and follow their own moral compass in tackling the issues of the day. Whether it be globally or locally, individually or collectively, our commitment must follow our conscience. We each will be held accountable for our behavior as we heard the desperate cries of the people of Darfur. Understanding the lessons of the Holocaust is a moral imperative if we are to create communities, cities and countries which repress hatred, discrimination and terror and foster tolerance and human rights.

The next step is to act in ways that promote tolerance. Our actions, or inaction, today will impact the world tomorrow and for future generations. Each act we participate in leads to another; each step we take brings us farther along the road toward protecting human rights. My participation in a Holocaust survivor program led me to develop a program bringing survivors and students together through lectures and educational activities. For me, stepping forward has meant finding ways to bring the issue of genocide to the forefront of students’ consciousness. Toward this end, I have sought to have a class examining genocide incorporated into my high school curriculum. While interning at a state Senator’s office, I have also helped people take steps to affect change in different ways. Whether joining a mass rally or participating in a letter writing campaign, we each can “repair the world” in a way that is reflective of who we are.

There is a long road ahead in addressing human rights violations. However, it is the lessons of the Holocaust that will provide us with the skills to navigate a course toward peace and tolerance. As survivor and author Eli Wiesel poignantly observed. “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours....”

We must listen to the voices of Etunia Baeur and others rising from the depths of the Holocaust. We must listen to Fatima Ibrahim and the people of Darfur. We must listen so that our hearts are stirred to action. Then, we must raise our own voices on behalf of those who are unable to do so and ensure that these cries are never heard again.

 

Works Cited

Bauer Katz, Etunia. Our Tomorrows Never Came. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000.

Bauer Katz, Etunia. Personal Interview. 6 December 2006.

Power, Samantha. “Never Again The World’s Most Unfulfilled Promise.” Frontline. 21 February 2008.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/karadzic/genocide/neveragain.html.

Wolf, Daniel. “Death and Deception in Darfur.” 31 July 2004. Washingtonpost.com.6 March 2008.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29211-2004Jul30.html.

Wiesel, Eli. “Nobel Prize Speech.” 10 December 1986. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. 12 February 2008.
http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/nobelprizespeech.aspx.


 

 


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

MENU