Igniting a Spark
By Aleah Romer
Beaverton, OR


“We must do something to change man.”

-Martin S. (Witness)

Mine is not a story of great evil. I did not endure long blistering days of endless labor, I did not eat cold, moldy gruel spiced with wood chips and glass. I have never stood naked beneath a great shower head and prayed that the rumors were not true, and I have never had to watch countless loved ones die right before me.

I hope I never do.

Mine is a story of great discontent. I did endure my mother’s endless invectives and lamentations, her blame of my twin brother and me for the loneliness of her life as a single mother. I have gone days without eating, unfed because I refused to hear the whispers of her hallucinations. I have stood naked before her stream of abuse and hate and prayed that she would go to sleep and leave us alone. I wept in relief when she barred the door and told me I could never come back.
Before her her voices took her, my mother told us stories of our history. Our family is Polish, and the Holocaust has been a constant shadowy presence in our lives. Moments throughout my childhood were spent with me agog in horror, asking my mother how any human being could be so evil to another, grasping at straws that might give me a fragment of an answer. She quietly reassured me, and I happily lived in my belief that the Holocaust was over, and that it was a single and unique time of great evil, and it would never happen again.

Fortunately, I had teachers who were not content allowing their students to sit by and believe the world was perfect. They demanded that we pay attention to current events, and by the end of seventh grade I knew the Holocaust was not a horrifying stand-alone act, but one of the many instances of great evil that man has committed against his fellow men.

Less than three decades before the Holocaust, the Turkish Government slaughtered two million Armenians based on race, just as the Nazis murdered the Jews. Following in their footsteps are the Cambodian Genocide and the Bosnian Genocide. Two million were killed in Cambodia as casualties of a “combined extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale” -(CGP), and two hundred thousand were killed in Bosnia by the Serbs because of their Muslim religion.

Today, over five million people have been murdered in Darfur, and the mortality rate rises each day; yet another act of genocide, taking place right now.

“People don’t give a damn. And I can tell you, maybe I understand it, because when things are happening in the world, I don’t take- I don’t feel their pain.”
-Martin S. (Witness)

The fact that the killing in Darfur has reached the point where it can be classified as genocide and yet those who hold the power have not taken action to stop it is both astounding and frightening. Instead of promptly crushing the forces corrupt enough to kill so many people for something so brutally insignificant as race, we’ve waited for “someone else” to take action, and so far, no one has. There is no one else.

The world cannot continue to stand by in indifference. We, as individual human beings, cannot continue to wait for “someone else” to do what must be done.

We need to take action. Every person’s awareness is crucial. If one race gets abolished, another race will follow, then another, until finally there will be no one left, every individual having killed each other over meaningless differences.

Through the education of history and cultural values, we have the ability to eliminate fear and distrust. Through the voices of the silenced, we have the responsibility to speak out wherever we witness injustice and abuse. It can be as simple as teaching your friends about your heritage, and as complicated as confronting a friend when he seems prejudiced or insulting. It can be as simple as volunteering in the local homeless shelter, or as complicated as submersing yourself in the life and customs of a different culture, then traveling and presenting your findings through lectures and seminars. My personal dream is to photograph, visually showing the world the outstanding beliefs and rituals of the diverse peoples that inhabit our planet.

“The world has to know that one small spark of hate can kindle an overwhelming conflagration that soon gets out of control” -Lucie Adelsberger (A Doctors Story)

Each person who speaks out against injustice, be it large or small, creates a spark. “One small spark” of goodwill, that can kindle a conflagration of understanding and benevolence, resulting in one less mass grave, one less work camp, one less abused child. In my life, the spark was the kind words of a friend and the offer of a safe home. Through this life change I have gained the strength to end my own cycle of abuse.

This is our Earth. We’ve inherited it from the victims, the abusers, the innocents, the killers, and the bystanders. It is up to us to ensure that our Earth remain as diverse and beautiful as it can be, and to protect every single person, regardless of gender, race, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

“The legacy of the dead rests in our hands; it is incumbent
upon us to tell their story”
-Lucie Adelsberger (A Doctors Story)

Our time left with the survivors of the Holocaust is limited. We need to take action, learn their stories, their ideals, and take to heart the courage of one extraordinary race of people. Their survival fuels us, shows us it is possible to endure the unendurable, and gives us the key to preserving our own humanity.


Works Cited

1. Armenian Genocide: http://www.genocide1915.info/

2. Bosnia: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/Genocide/bosnia_genocide.htm

3. Cambodia Genocide Program: http://www.yale.edu/cgp/

4. Darfur: http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur

5. Book: Auschwitz: A Doctors Story, Lucie Adelsberger, Northeastern Publishing, September 28, 1995

6. Book: Witness: Voices from the Holocaust, Joshua M. Greene, Shiva Kumar, Free Press Publishing, April 3, 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.