18 December 2012
The Holocaust was a very significant atrocity against the Jewish people. Under the command of Hitler, many millions of Jewish people did not live through his reign of terror. Yet, there are those who did survive through this and grew from this genocide. To this day, many Jewish people still participate in a day dedicated solely to the memory of the man, women, and children who died during the Holocaust. The day is to remind people that valuable lives were lost and cannot be replaced. It is a day to remind the world what happens when inaction is taken until the last minute. It is a day where the motto “never again” rings throughout the Jewish community. The world lost many innocent people during this heinous crime and the influence on the Jewish community because of it is prevalent to this day. Some may question whether remembrance of this day is relevant or even necessary so long after it happened or whether we should “never forget” what took place. We should never forget about what happened during the Holocaust. The first of three main reasons as to why the Holocaust should not be forgotten is what the Jewish people had to endure physically. During the Holocaust, Hitler would round up most of the Jewish people living in Germany and relocate them to concentration camps (Museum). The very large amount of people being relocated was so very large that Hitler created the SS, a powerful guard force in the Nazi regime, to take care of the relocation and camp setup. Along with these concentration camps were forced labor camps and detention camps. Many of the “inmates” taken to the camps ended up malnourished, looking like skeletons after not being fed well and not being able to get enough food to survive. Sickness and death was an everyday occurrence to the average camp survivor. Among the very long list of diseases that developed frequently with the locked up Jewish people were digestive diseases from lack of good food and water, coronary diseases, brain diseases, and other forms of life threatening disease. Of all of these diseases causes, one thing is a common factor in getting them, extreme malnourishment. Not only was the pain and suffering on the physical level, but also on the spiritual level. The Jewish people were faced with one of the largest and most prevalent tests of faith of their lives. When word spread of the atrocities taken against the Jewish people, some denied their own faith in order to survive. The Holocaust pushed every Jewish man, woman, and child to question their faith (Elman). A anger directed towards the Non-Jewish world was intense because they had been persecuted by Gentiles. The Holocaust had caused an apparently irreversible rupture in the Jewish-Christian relations. Jews felt and still feel enraged because their expectations of a decent world were shattered into pieces by the most, supposedly, civilized people in the world. "Where was God?" wrote Elie Wiesel, a question asked many times among the Jews. They felt that God had deserted his very own people. Faith, after the Holocaust, became more of an individual decision and every Jew had to face the problem and let his conscience be his guide. Never before had there been such anger toward any question raised by Jewish suffering. The second generation had brought a whole new group of issues to deal with among the Jews. Great emotions surrounded the birth of each second generation child of a survivor. Jewish women feared that they would not be able to bear children because of what they had experienced. Not having children would have been a sign of defeat. Once born, the children were almost certain to be special. Not only would it be evidence of one's own survival but also the survival of the Jewish people. A child represented the ultimate defeat of Nazism, a life created against overwhelming odds, and for some, a precious gift of God. The experiences of the Holocaust resulted in parents with difficulties in responding correctly to their growing children. The children were expected to be a reincarnation of those that were lost, and many were not allowed to live their own existence. The constant presence of the past, the images of the concentration camps, the evidence of suffering by their parents: all made the child relive his parents' nightmare. There can be no doubt that the Holocaust changed the lives of the Jewish people forever. The physical effects, the spiritual effects, and the healthy survival of the second generation have continued to plague the Jewish people. As Elie Wiesel wrote "The world today must learn never to be neutral, never to be silent when other's lives or dignity are at stake." The Jewish people of today are the generation with the responsibility of insuring that the Holocaust will be remembered. The world as it was must be remembered by this and future generations.
Jenkins, Sally. “The First Item in a Pandora’s Box of Moral Ambiguities.” Washington Post 4 Dec. 2004: D11. Print. Lamb, Gregory M. “Will Gene-Altered Athletes Kill Sports?” Christian Science Monitor 23 Aug. 2004: 12-13. Print.
Rudebeck, Clare. “The Eyes Have It.” Independent [London]. Independent News and Media, 27 Apr. 2005. Web.
28 Feb. 2006.
The Holocaust was and is the defining evil of the 21st century. It is the radical evil that all others are compared to, and continues to be the embodiment of the worst aspects of human nature. While, of course, the Holocaust ought to be considered as an absolute evil, regarding it as nothing more than a single outlier in the course of human history whitewashes the causes and unique problems presented by such a phenomenon. And this is dangerous: if it is always studied and discussed as an alien phenomenon committed by others, society and individuals will not look within to understand how the seeds of extraordinary societal misdeeds can be planted and grow in otherwise ordinary individuals. The Holocaust is certainly unique, not only in the number of people slaughtered, but also in the bureaucratization of mass killing. It is the only genocide that was carried out in such an organized and systematic way, by regular people who were holding what they thought of as a usual 9-5 job. Our common revulsion stems not only from the enormity of crime itself, but also the fact that it was carried out as an outgrowth of an everyday activity. After the end of the war, numerous interviews and essays, such as Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Arendt 1963), forced humanity to confront a truth: that the perpetrators of this crime were not on face monstrous beings filled with hatred, but were rather, on average dull bureaucrats, often not too bright and without particular hatred for Jews. This revelation forces us to confront that such a great crime can be committed by regular down-to-earth people, and to face the fear that perhaps a little bit of these capacities lie within ourselves too. This is why true remembrance of the Holocaust cannot only take the form of grieving for the past, but also must be an occasion for personal introspection – a time in for people to examine their beliefs and actions as they interact with the prevailing ethos of the society in which they live. True remembrance of the Holocaust cannot just be pure sentiment, but must make us uncomfortable by reminding us of a capacity for evil that is uniquely human, and potentially lives deep in all of us. This acknowledgement -- that, under the right conditions, it is possible for an average human being to become complicit in such a horrible event -- is a truth that must be confronted in order to avert future atrocities. Many would like to wave off the Nazis as an exception in history, as a unique force propelled by the hatred of a single man. But one man did not kill six million Jews (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011). Many of the Nazis, most famously Adolph Eichmann, took part in the killings because of motivations that were petty and easily recognizable in us – visions of self importance, the desire for a promotion, the delight in completion of an assigned task. It was, to be sure, an outgrowth of Germany’s state of shock and humiliation in the aftermath of World War One, exploited by a fiery and twisted leader using modern tools of propaganda. Yet in the end, it was these mundane motivations –shared by all of us - that collectively allowed Nazi Germany to pursue what might normally be seen as an unthinkable goal: the extermination of a whole people. The reason Hitler could twist peoples’ mundane motivations into a source of evil is that most people did not question the reversal of moral values that occurred. They gave in to the instinct to, for lack of a better phrase, “go with the herd”. Unquestioning acceptance of authority, willingness to be swept along by the tides of public opinion, and the refusal to consult one’s rational moral beliefs all enabled the Holocaust. The basic lack of critical questioning created a quiescent population for the Nazis. In more general terms, acceptance of a dominant belief without interrogating its moral rightness – without thinking for oneself – will always allow humans to be used as tools for fascism and atrocity. Remembering how a whole nation accepted the tenets of Nazi belief without much hesitation or second thoughts allows us to understand how we can prevent such crimes in the future: It is imperative to foster independent thinkers, to educate individuals so that they are capable of questioning authority, and evaluating right and wrong for themselves. Remembering the Holocaust in such a way will allow us to create a society where the people will never be put in the service of such hatred again. Ultimately, in order to honor the memories of those killed, and also to make sure such an event never happens again, we must redefine what it means to “remember” the Holocaust. Such a remembrance, must, of course, allow youth to grasp the full scale of the crimes committed. But “remembering” must also force people to examine the state of both free speech and inquiry in their own societies, and also to examine the potential for violence within their own psyches. The Holocaust was the product of a whole people’s willingness to forget basic moral values and allow an ideology to replace independent thought. This is why, in order to make Holocaust Remembrance a tool for preventing future atrocity, it must include a time for critical reflection, and an examination of the seemingly innocent ideas we carry with us. As Theodore Adorno said “The premier demand upon all education is that Auschwitz not happen again”(Adorno). The educational system must transform into an institute for remembering the Holocaust through encouraging people to reflect on the lack of thought in their own society. While this may not sound like “remembrance,” the best way to remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust is through combating the factors that make such an event possible. Part of this educational process must include teaching children critical thinking skills, and pushing adults to reflect on the forces that motivate their acts. Small acts added together made the crimes of larger fascism possible. Without recognizing and being willing to reflect on 4the forces—in our politics and in our own lives -- that could permit such acts, society will never truly be able to remember the Holocaust and prevent its recurrence. jyjytjyjyWhen the Holocaust ended, the world made a promise. We promised to bear witness. We promised to never forget. We promised to learn. We promised that history would never repeat itself. We have broken that promise again and again.“One cannot undo what has happened.” As Michael Berenbaum, a prominent author of the Holocaust, said, “Historians can answer the question how?; theologians, writers, poets, and philosophers have not yet answered the question why?” (46).Why did the world allow such events to occur? Why do we continue to allow them to happen? One could argue that the world does not care. Yet based on the responses I have observed from peers, classmates, fellow citizens of the world, I find this hard to believe. The real cause for our broken promise seems simpler, and for that same reason it seems more sinister. We have not learned. Granted, we have learned raw data. We have learned that Hitler launched the German assault against the Jews in 1933, with the boycott of business, the expulsion from jobs, the physical attacks. We have learned about the Nuremberg laws and the ghettos and the concentration camps and the death marches. And we have learned the numbers, the shocking, incomprehensible numbers. 6 millions Jews. 6 million others. What we have not learned is that this history is not one of sheer numbers. It is one of people. People like Livia Bitton-Jackson, who lived through the Nagymagyar ghetto and Auschwitz. She pushed forward “with one obsessive thought: to live! To live!” (187). BittonJackson was only fourteen at the time of liberation, yet she “had lived a thousand years” (199).2 It is a history of people like Miep Gies. Gies was one of the Righteous Gentiles who defied the Nazis again and again. When the Nazis first occupied Austria, where Gies was living, she was asked to join a Nazi Girl’s Club. She refused, saying, “How can I join such a club? Look at what the Germans are doing to the Jews in Germany” (“Miep Gies online). When Jews in Amsterdam were beginning to be deported, Gies became an invaluable resource and unwavering friend to the Franks. Everyday for twenty-five months, Gies brought food, news, and hope to the hidden families. Despite the threat of death, Gies remained vigilant. She explained that “in order to stay strong, one has to have the conviction that there are people out there who need us and that evil will, in the end, always lose” (Gold online). We have not learned this essential lesson from Gies and Bitton-Jackson and the countless others for whom our history was their reality. We have not learned to remain strong against evil, and in our failure we have broken our promise. We have allowed history to repeat itself again and again. For my Honors Humanities class, I decided to explore the nature of lack of information regarding genocide from the Holocaust to present day. I polled twenty two of the people in my class. Not a single person, me included, knew there was genocide in Bangladesh. Most people could tell me nothing about the Cambodian genocide or the Bosnian genocide. There was little information about Rwanda besides cognizance from “Hotel Rwanda.” Despite the fact that it persists today, many people did not know about the genocide in Darfur. I decided to delve deeper into this issue by glancing into my school’s world history textbook. Although Prentice Hall’s World History: The Modern Era briefly mentions the Bangladeshi struggle for independence, it makes no mention of genocide. It makes absolutely no mention that up to three million people were systematically slaughtered. Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia is discussed, but the specific number of people killed (2 million) is not mentioned. The genocide of Rwanda, which killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, was given about half of a page. This half page failed to mention that this slaughter took place over a mere one hundred days while the rest of the world stood idly by and allowed it to happen. The genocide in Bosnia was given one paragraph. To add insult to injury this murder of 200,000 Bosnian Muslims was not addressed as genocide. The genocide in Darfur received a sizable amount of page space in the textbook, yet the book did not address the lack of intervention from the Western world. None of these genocides received half as much as the section on the Holocaust, which has two full pages of information. It is unbelievable that a book with so much information about the Holocaust should fail to recognize that it is dishonoring the Holocaust by not presenting information about the others. This fatal flaw is not confined to a textbook or even a classroom. It plagues the entire world. It is not too late to correct this plague. We can still amend. We can still learn. As Berenbaum says, “We can answer the question of what to do with this history. Embrace it, study it, wrestle with it, and transform it into a weapon for the human spirit—one that will enlarge our sense of responsibility, alleviate human suffering, and strengthen our moral resolve” (46). Knowledge is the only way that we can hope to understand the genocides. It is the only way we can honor the sacrifices of the tens of millions who lost their lives. It is the only way we can stop history from repeating itself. We simply have to learn. Dith Pran was a Cambodian journalist who survived the Tuol Sleng Prison, one of the worst torture sites in history. In an interview with The New York Times, he made a simple plea. “Please everybody must stop the killing fields. One is enough, too many. One time is too many. 4 If [the world] can do that for me, my spirit will be happy” (“The Last Word: Dith Pran). The world was unable to stop the first killing field, or the second, or the seventh. But we can stop the killing field occurring right now. We can educate ourselves on the genocide in Darfur. There is a plethora of information on the internet, in the libraries, from the organizations that are working to make a difference. After we learn, we can take action. We can urge the United States not to turn a blind eye to what is happening. We can urge the media to give attention to this atrocity. We can donate or petition. Most of all, we can fulfill our promise, our promise of “never again,” a promise to remember. We can finally learn the lessons of a living history. We can learn, in the words of Anne Frank, “that nobody need wait a single moment to starting to improve the world.” So let us start now. For the spirits of the victims and survivors of every age, it is the least we can do.