As We Sit In Silence
By Katherine Tjeerdsma
Cherokee, IA


At this moment, imagine sound in the barren death camps. Would any noise break the stillness? Perhaps weeping, Kaddish, and then silence to honor the dead…Silence…

Silence is not golden.

Silence reigns
When words in our minds are embraced too tightly,
And we have not dared to disturb the comfortable.

Veracity lies in silence,
Never conveyed.
We are aware of its existence,
Buried in silence.

Evil revels in the silence of the dark.
We switch on the light; catch a glimpse of that which shadows veil.
Still, we linger in silence.

Silence watches as millions of innocent lambs
Are slaughtered in the sunshine,
As we sit in silence.

Silence watches as millions of blameless victims
Are eliminated in the darkness
Silence from the many,
Silence from the one,

The Holocaust is a frequent topic of study at my school. In Literature class, we have focused our studies around Elie Wiesel’s book, ‘Night’. A few weeks ago, my teacher staged a live experiment. Her objective: to help us understand how the Holocaust could have happened. She had recruited two of my classmates to be actors in her experiment; the rest of the class was unaware of what was about to happen. When the experiment was ready to begin, our teacher left the classroom. As she left, the door to our classroom closed. Suddenly, a vicious dispute ensued. Two of my classmates were involved, one a bully and one a victim – one harassing the other. When I look back on that day, I remember how quickly and easily the bully gained complete control of the room. No one spoke. The bully proceeded to harass her victim. The squabble appeared unwarranted; harsh insults flew. Bullying persisted, until, finally, someone spoke for the victim. The victim then left to find our instructor. When our teacher arrived, the experiment was explained. She spoke to our class about the dangers of remaining silent during a time when we should speak. She was disappointed that so few stood up for the victim. ‘Why must we remember the Holocaust?’ she inquired, then responded, ‘This experiment begins to show us why.’

My Literature instructor showed us that silence played a roll during the Holocaust. Many bystanders were not aware of the atrocities which occurred on the streets, in the ghettos, in the death camps. However, some of the people who were aware said nothing. They did not speak for the victims, and the horror continued, just as in our class experiment. We must remember the Holocaust, so that, when faced with evil, we will recognize it, and we will not be afraid to speak.

A man named Sidney Schachnow escaped from a concentration camp in Lithuania with the help of a family who risked their own lives to save him. He survived the Holocaust because the family was not afraid to speak out, to take action. In a February, 2008 interview with the Miami Herald, Schachnow offered some wise words: “The silent majority who does not approve of what’s happening is not speaking up – and by not speaking up, you facilitate.” (qtd. in Hood 2)

Evil is often underestimated. Regular people akin to you and me stare into the countenance of evil, and are mute. In times of crisis, people tend to deny that the crisis exists. Maybe they are afraid of the shadows which darken their paradise. Truth hides in silence, tacit. However, we know where truth can be found. What then, is our excuse? We are in denial, we become afraid, we are indifferent.

In his book ‘Night’, Elie Wiesel struggled with indifference. He described a time in a concentration camp when his father was beaten by a Kapo: “I did not move. What had happened to me? My father had been struck before my very eyes, and I had not flickered an eyelid” (qtd. in Night). This is what the Nazi regime was capable of: silence and indifference of its victims, and also of the bystanders.

The Holocaust was an unfathomable time of genocide, hate, violence, discrimination, prejudices…these still fester in our world today – whether we allow ourselves to see them or not. In 1948, the Union Nations held a Genocide Convention, and they said, ‘Never again’. But injustice still prevails today. Genocide has not ended. In fact, genocide has more recently occurred in Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Northern Iraq.

In the 1930’s and the 1940’s, not everyone understood the magnitude of what was happening. Today, the public has no excuse. Today, television and the internet provide us with a wealth of information. We see the news stories and we hear of the sorrow. Many of us have become numb to genocide, violence, and prejudice. What has the world had to say about this? What do I have to say about this?

I believe that there are times when our voices must be heard. In the 1700s, Edmund Burke stated: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (qtd. in When we allow silence to reign in our lives, our opinions, beliefs, and ideas are not spoken. This is not only a danger to others, but this is also a danger to us.

Perhaps I alone am not yet equipped to face the world’s injustices. However, I can prevent prejudice and discrimination in my own community today. I must speak for those who are hurting. I must speak in the place of those who cannot speak for themselves. I can be aware of what is happening around me by keeping up with the news and by asking questions. I can contact the media when I see prejudice that could be stopped. I can contact our representatives when they need to know how others are treated and how I feel. I can educate others in my community through my words and my actions. I can pray for the redemption of the persecuted. I can help!

Genocide happened during the Holocaust. Genocide happens now. The details of the Holocaust haunt my soul. I must not forget what has happened. Today, I must decide to speak for others. No one is capable of forcing me to speak. Anyone could make me cry, make me die, but they could not make me speak for others. I must choose to speak. You must choose to speak also. Please break the silence.



“Cambodian Genocide Program”. 2008. Yale University. <>.

Hood, Micaela. “For Survivor, Silence is the Enemy.” Miami Herald, The (FL) (14 February 2008). Newspaper Source. EBSCO. [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 14 April 2008. <>.

Innes, Stephanie. “How Silence Feeds Tyranny: As it was in Nazi Germany, so it is Always; now Holocaust survivors pass on that lesson.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ) (14 April 2007). Newspaper Source. EBSCO. [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 29 April 2008. <>.

Medoff, Rafael. “We Will Never Die: Shattering the Silence Surrounding the Holocaust”. (19 February 2008). [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 29 April 2008. <>.

Sindelar, Daisy. “World: Post-Holocaust World Promised ‘Never Again’ – But Genocide Persists.” 26 January 2005. [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 30 April 2008. <>. 25 April 2008. <>.

Walker, Robert. “Rwanda Remembers the Holocaust.” ¬BBC World News. 27 January 2005. [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 30 April 2008. <>

Wiesel, Elie. ¬Night. New York: Hill and Wing, 2006. United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. [Sioux Central Media Center], [Sioux Rapids], [IA]. 12 April 2008. <>.



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