Silence Allows
By Jennifer Lee
Torrance, CA


 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.


Holocaust... it's the term that is often tucked away in the back of people's minds. Some are indifferent to it, and to some others it is but a historical event that took place in the past. But beneath the mounds of corpses, beyond the numbers and facts, lies devastating truth. Many are informed of the names “Hitler” and “Nazi”; many know that millions of Jews were murdered. But do they all know the causes, the reasons, the meaning of it all?

I remember first learning about the Holocaust in middle school, and then writing an essay about it in English class. Later on, I found the essay crumpled up among other old school papers. As I read it, shame was drawn upon me, for it was composed of mere numbers and thoughtless opinions. The emptiness, the hollowness of my essay caused my heart to sink, and I knew that I had betrayed the victims with a poor attempt to define the Holocaust. I realized that many people learn about the Holocaust, but soon after they tuck the information away, just as I had done with my paper. I had listened to the Holocaust lecture, yet I had not absorbed it; I had written a paper about it, yet I had not even understood it.

And this is why the Holocaust must continue to be taught and remembered – not simply as a historical event filled with statistics, but as a tragedy that has affected millions, and that will continue to affect us all. Every detail of it must be not only remembered but understood, and every image must be branded in our minds. By being indifferent or putting the information away, we become closer to the dangers of apathy – the ingredient for a perpetrator's success. An even greater danger, however, would be the denial of the Holocaust. There should never be a second of doubt or challenge upon the reality of it. The Holocaust happened. The concentration camps, the gas chambers, the brutal deaths – they are all undeniable facts that shall remain with us forever, giving us more than enough reasons to prevent genocide from taking place in this world again.

The deaths of countless victims did not occur in one day; the Nazi regime went on through twelve years. Every week, every month, and every year, the world was given a chance to stop this inhumanity. Some chose to stand up against the atrocities, but most chose to look away. Others even chose to participate and fall into the pits of anti-Semitism. As Holocaust survivor Eva Galler recalls, “When we looked up we saw that each of our town's three synagogues was on fire. All around us our neighbors and friends were watching and laughing at us like they were at a show. This hurt us more than what the Germans did. After the fire burned down they told us to line up and parade through the whole town so everyone could see us. This I will never forget” (Holocaust Survivors). The rest of the world became aware of the situation, through witnesses or reports, yet they did not take full measures to put an end to it. In August 1942, the State Department in Washington received the Riegner telegram, becoming informed of the “Final Solution” – the plan to exterminate all Jews. The information was confirmed, yet public announcement was refrained, and any response was delayed (USHMM). In his memoirs, Riegner wrote: "Since my first telegram, 18 months had passed during which time the inexorable massacre continued and millions of Jews were sacrificed” (Nullis).

It was because of this indifference that the Nazis were able to murder millions of Jews; it was because the world looked away that the process was carried through. The bystanders had chosen the easier option, for it was more convenient to look away from the victims' problems and remain silent. The Holocaust will forever remind us of the dangers that silent consent brings, but on the other hand, it will also continue to inspire us through the stories of the courageous few. Irena Sendler was one of these individuals, and her refusal to remain silent and uninvolved saved 2,500 Jewish children's lives. She risked her own life by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, by giving them temporary new identities, and furthermore, by remaining loyal and resisting torture at the hands of the Gestapo. After the war ended, she sought to return the identities of the children whose lives and futures she had so selflessly saved (Bulow).

Though it is said that the Holocaust ended in 1945, Hitler's ideals still lie among us. Thousands of Mayan Indians were killed during the genocide in Guatemala (Guatemala 1982), and today, at least 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur (Save Darfur). These staggering numbers show that we have yet to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust. Prejudice and intolerance continue to lurk everywhere, and they pose as threats as long as they are treated with silence. Because prejudice can affect anyone at any given moment, it is vital that everyone be involved in the movement towards tolerance. As students, we can plan lectures, join culture clubs, write to our representatives, and refuse to give silent consent at the sight of discrimination. By learning about different cultures and perspectives, we can gain appreciation for the beauty of diversity. We must inform those who do not yet know, and remind those who have forgotten. Spreading awareness is just as important as inspiring others to take action. Personal accounts outweigh simple statistics; numbers may reach minds, but the stories of the witnesses can truly reach hearts. When the witnesses pass the torch to my generation, it will become our duty to never allow the truth to be tucked away. We must tell their stories to future generations, and we must resist the urge to remain uninvolved. We must make sure that we are not remembered for our silence.

Works Cited :


“Silence Quotes” Wisdom Quotes. February 2008
<http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_silence.html>

Holocaust Survivors. “Eva Galler's Story” February 2008 <http://www.holocaustsurvivors.org/data.show.php?di=record&da=survivors&ke=6>

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The United States and the Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. February 2008 <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005182>

Nullis, Glare. “Gerhart Riegner, warned of Holocaust.” The Miami Herald. 5 Dec. 2001. Focal Point Publications. February 2008 <http://www.fpp.co.uk/Auschwitz/docs/Riegner/obituary051201.html>

Bulow, Louis. “Irena Sendler” The Holocaust Project. February 2008 <http://www.auschwitz.dk/Sendler.htm>

“Guatemala 1982” Peace Pledge Union. March 2008 <http://www.ppu.org.uk/genocide/g_guatemala1.html>

Save Darfur. “The Genocide in Darfur – Briefing Paper” March 2008 <http://www.savedarfur.org/pages/background>

 

 


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