Our Story to Tell, Our Memory to Guard
By Scott Shuster
San Rafael, CA


 

Intense horror. Eleven million innocent dead. And the world stood by, watching. Six million Jews, five million gypsies, Slavs and other “undesirables”. Years earlier, President Roosevelt convened a meeting in Evian, France to help solve the problem of Jewish refugees from Germany. Virtually no nation opened its doors to the refugees, and Hitler devised his own “final solution”. In the words of Professor David Kranzler, “the Evian Conference showed Hitler that the world didn’t give a damn.” (“Shanghai Ghetto”) If the nations at Evian had remembered the Armenian massacre of 1915 vividly, they would surely have come up with a less callous response. As the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes on, we young people must now preserve and carry on the memory and message of the Holocaust.
But why? As one influential Rabbi told the Japanese after escape from Lithuania, “you’re also on the list…when they finish with us, they come to you…we’re in the same boat.” (“Sugihara, Conspiracy of Kindness”) Indeed, any of us who do not believe in extremism, hatred, destruction and racism are “in the same boat.” In that sense, we are all survivors. The Holocaust experience must be etched into our minds, as it is now our story to tell. In Hebrew, there is no native word for “history”. Rather, “zikhron” means “memory”. History passes; memory remains. In the same way, as co-survivors, we must not view the Holocaust as history, but as our memory. Inanimate objects like museums, memorials and momuments will never perfectly preserve the experience, as they can be destroyed. This leaves our memory as the only indestructable source of the lessons and rememberance of the Holocaust. Such a connection to the past will prevent its repetition. We must guard this memory as a precious jewel, escorting it through the passage of time.

Though it may seem unlikely, “concrete” memory is alterable. Known in psychology as the “misinformation effect”, this phenomenon demonstrates how we often “misremember” after receiving misleading information about an event, such as biased leading questions and repeated false details. “As memory fades with time, the injection of misinformation becomes easier,” psychologist David Myers notes. This effect is “so unwitting,” that people later find it nearly impossible to distinguish between the real event and the suggested event (Myers, David G.). So, the old maxim holds true, “If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, people will believe what you say.”

Extrapolate these principles to society today and we are reminded of an invaluable lesson: We must not only learn the lessons of the Holocaust, we must also protect them from alteration or obliteration. This is becoming a real and dangerous task as present day anti-Semites such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s dictator, are trying to deny the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad has been calling Holocaust denial conferences with the hope of erasing any evidence of the horrible experience. We cannot allow the Holocaust to be buried or forgotten. Sadly, the uninhibited racial slaughter in Darfur today demonstrates we have not learned our lesson. 250,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced (Genocide Watch). And much of the world stands by, watching. Just imagine society 35 years from now, with the Holocaust nearly a century behind and no direct survivors left. If we do not preserve the memories of that grisly event, then the Holocaust’s lessons truly will not have been learned.

Education is the best way to preserve the memory of one of humanity’s most dreadful experiences. First and foremost, we have a duty to educate ourselves. Then we can educate others, especially future generations. With many people today already regarding the Holocaust as distant, fading history, Holocaust education becomes even more critical. Ignorance leads to forgetfulness, indifference and, ultimately, inaction, while education leads to awareness and moral action.

Self-education is especially valuable, because it employs our intrinsic motivation—our motivation to do something for its own sake, rather than for a tangible reward. We can educate ourselves by researching, discussing and writing about the Holocaust.

Then we can reach others with the knowledge of the atrocities that must be remembered, not repeated. As the socio-political prophet, Winston Churchill, once said, “the further back you can look, the futher forward you are likely to see.” (“Winston Churchill Quotes”) This quote aptly illustrates the world’s pressing need for improvement of classroom history studies. Any good history curriculum must include a thorough examination of the Holocaust. As students, we have the opportunity to talk to our teachers about the importance of a strong history curriculum. Finally, as future educators and voters, we must ensure the safekeeping of these unforgettable stories by using our influential positions.
However, education alone is not sufficient. Action must follow. As students, what can we do to combat prejudice and aggression?

First, before we can act effectively, we must be convinced both of our responsibility and of our power to inspire change for the better. In the face of adversity, moral-based actions without strong inner conviction are weak and unsustainable. In learning about the Holocaust, one cannot but realize that ignorance, indifference and inaction are serious crimes, and that everyone has the responsibility to prevent such crimes. As film actress Maria Bello, who became active in the Darfur movement because of her Holocaust education in college, said, “I felt from then on we were all complicit in World War II, and now we’re complicit in genocide in Darfur by not speaking up. It’s my duty as a human being to do so.” (Pine, Dan) Then, we must recognize that students have the power to influence society.

Indifference—when one accepts what is happening—raises the social pressure to conform. Social pressure builds momentum. Hitler understood the energy of young minds, the power of young voices and the strength of young hands, and he manipulated and mobilized these against humanity and freedom. We, as youth of the free world, have the power to mobilize for humanity and freedom.
Once we realize that we have responsibity and power, we can act. It starts in the living room and in the classroom, where everyday prejudice may spring up. Just one racial slur must grab our attention: This is the root of genocide, and we must fight its every form. We can participate in anti-racism student groups. If there are no such groups at your school, start one today! Or go to “savedarfur.org” to see how you can get involved. Or start or sign a petition online to protest Ahmadinejad’s nuclear program and its underlying intentions. Students can even write to government officials, petitioning them to act for the sake of future generations.

One of my most meaningful, educational experiences was listening to my father interview Jewish refugees who found a safe haven in Shanghai during World War II. I was deeply impressed by their desire to pass on their stories and by how many more lives could have been saved had people remembered and acted. Now, it is our generation’s responsibility to remember and act. Against prejudice and violence, “we’re in the same boat.” We are all survivors of one of humanity’s greatest hate crimes. The Holocaust is our story to tell, our memory to guard.

 

Bibliography


“China and Sudan: A Deadly Partnership”. http://www.savedarfur.org/page/content/china_learn/. Accessed April 24.
“China, Sudan and the Darfur Conflict”. http://savedarfur.org/page/content/china_sudan_darfur. Accessed April 24.
Clifton Daniel and John W. Kirshon. 20th Century Day by Day. 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited, London. American Edition 2000.
Corrie ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Hiding Place. Bantam Edition/October 1974.
“Darfur Update”. Accessed April 24. http://www.savedarfur.org/newsroom/policypapers/september_briefing_paper_the_genocide_in_darfur/.
Genocide Watch. Accessed April 24. http://genocidewatch.org/.
Myers, David G.. Exploring Psychology Sixth Ed. 2005 by Worth Publishers.
Pine, Dan. “Jews inject Darfur into Protest”. JTA. Accessed April 11. http://www.jta.org/cgi-bin/iowa/news/article/2008041020080410darfurolympicchina.html
“Shanghai Ghetto”, DVD. Dana Janklowicz and Amir Mann. 2002 Rebel Child Productions.
“Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness”, DVD. 2005 Dentsu Inc., David Rubinson & Friends, Inc., and Creative Production Group, LLC.
“Winston Churchill Quotes”. Accessed April 20. http://www.worldofquotes.com/author/Winston-Churchill/1/index.html.


 

 


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