Questions
By Nash Riggins
Lawrence, KS


 

“For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true”

(Lucretius 87)


Six million lives. One finds it nearly impossible to contemplate just how many people that is. How could an entire continent bow before Adolf Hitler and his “Aryan Empire,” while simultaneously watching six million friends and neighbors be systematically slaughtered in the name of holy salvation? Why didn’t these people rise up? Could it have made a difference?

The Holocaust not only embodies a tragedy befalling the Jewish community, but a tragedy befalling humanity. Fear does terrible things to not-so-terrible people, and so is the folly of man. Yet it is when humanity surrenders to that seemingly unconquerable fear that six million people are swallowed into the ashes of one nation’s ambition. If nothing else, the Holocaust reveals man’s inability to listen – even when millions are crying for someone to rise up. It is due to this incapacity that the lessons of the Holocaust must not be lost deep within the pages of history – not merely for the sake of the fate of one people, but for the sake of humanity. In a world of constant struggle and endless turmoil, it is essential – now more than ever – that humankind unites in order to combat prejudice on every front. Nations once watched helplessly as their friends and neighbors were nearly destroyed. The lessons of the Holocaust must be passed on to ensure that no one will ever again share this fate.

The First World War was supposed to be the “war to end all wars.” Yet out of the ashes of this war rose a people fueled by spite and hatred. The abuse imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles allowed fascist leaders, such as Adolf Hitler, to divide and conquer the people of Europe. The Nazi empire united the public under a banner of prejudice, placing the blame of the war’s destruction on society’s so-called outcasts. Among many other occupations, these “outcasts” were no more than doctors, lawyers, academics, housewives, and children. The Third Reich then offered its Aryan nation the opportunity to reach a means of total salvation: Hitler’s Final Solution. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally disabled and many other ethnic and religious groups were tossed into ghettos, cattle cars and camps across Europe. It was in these places that they would toil until their deaths.

Once taken to the camps, their Nazi rulers took everything from the Jews and their compatriots. Those who could not be forced to work were gassed, shot, burned, or starved to death. Even those lucky enough to keep their lives were subjected to alternative means of theft. Instead of their lives, the Third Reich tried to take something else from them: their humanity. Survivors of the initial onslaught were branded and herded like cattle, fed little, and were constantly reminded of the harsh reality that every moment could be their last. Until the day that their bonds were cut, the outcasts of the Aryan empire lived in their own perpetual and unimaginable hell.

Fifteen-year-old Jack Mandelbaum, who was fortunate enough to survive the unimaginable terror of daily life in a concentration camp, assumed that his family’s Christian neighbors would rise up against these atrocities. He was wrong. “Almost all of them shunned us and wanted nothing to do with us … We were all afraid” (Warren 28). Fear causes one’s rationalizations to be substituted for the safest possible mentality – in the case of the Holocaust, an anti-Semitic mentality. However most find it difficult to place all blame on the friends and neighbors who looked on while Jews and social outcasts were “disposed of.” Analysts write that the Third Reich answered to no one, yet the word “answered” seems a little out of place for one simple reason – no one asked any questions.
With the exception of a handful of dissenters, the world agrees that the Holocaust was, and still is, a blemish on the face of humanity. Yet regardless of popular opinion, “ethnic cleansings” still occur throughout the world today. One of the world’s most influential leaders, Kofi Annan, mused the following: “The 20th century was perhaps the deadliest in human history, devastated by innumerable conflicts, untold suffering, and unimaginable crimes. Time after time, a group or a nation inflicted extreme violence on another, often driven by irrational hatred and suspicion, or unbounded arrogance and thirst for power and resources” (Annan). Yet as such atrocities continue into the 21st century, one must assume that the lessons of the Holocaust are being slowly forgotten.

African nations are performing “ethnic cleansings” that is all-too reminiscent of Hitler’s Final Solution. Just a few short years ago the war-torn country of Sudan began a similar process, pitting Muslim rebels against ethnic Africans. The conflict has left as many as 400,000 systematically slaughtered, as well as over two million people displaced (De Montesquiou). This murder, taking place just nine years after the genocide in Rwanda, forces world leaders to acknowledge that such events have been allowed to occur long after their condemnation. This poses an anxious global community with yet another nagging question: how many years will it be until the next Holocaust arrives?

We cannot allow the world to forget the Holocaust; it illustrates how destructive a prejudice state-of-mind can be. We live in a society where we are trained to be tolerant of others and their beliefs, which should be enough to prevent such evil. Yet Jack Mandelbaum also grew up in such an environment – and he, like so many others – was nearly lost in the shadow cast over the Jewish people by the Aryan Empire. In order to prevent similar atrocities, humanity must ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are not lost in the sands of time. It is essential that students be exposed to the lessons and the realities of the Holocaust; whether it entails a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a conversation with a survivor, or a literary account of the events that took place all those years ago.

Today’s youth are growing distant from the all-too-familiar lessons that history has to offer, and it is only by direct exposure to that history that they can distinguish exactly what the Holocaust has to teach them as individuals. Generations after the Holocaust, ethnic cleansings are still being performed throughout the world, and they are being performed out of spite and out of fear. Fear once kept Europe’s citizens from preventing the massacre of their friends and neighbors – fear of both their own demise and diverging from popular opinion. If the students of today wish to make an impact on prejudice in the world tomorrow, they must begin by asking questions. Instead of laughing at students who are different, they must ask themselves what makes those students unique. Instead of flipping through stories in the newspaper about death and destruction, they must ask themselves why people are being victimized. Instead of allowing the atrocities of genocide to be repeated, they must remember the Holocaust.

 

Works Cited

Annan, Kofi. Lecture. Oslo, Norway. 10 Dec. 2001. 27 Dec. 2007 <http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2001/annan-lecture.html>.

Bertrand Russell, in "A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide" by Linda Melvern

De Montesquiou, Alfred. "African Union Force Ineffective, Complain Refugees in Darfur." Washington Post 16 Oct. 2006. 27 Dec. 2007 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/15/AR2006101500655.html>.

Lucretius. On the Nature of Things. New Ed. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977.

Melvern, Linda. A People Betrayed: the Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide. New York, New York: Zed Books, 2000.

"Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened." BBC News 1 Apr. 2004. 27 Dec. 2007 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1288230.stm>.

Warren, Andrea. Surviving Hitler. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

 

 


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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