Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Remembering Holocaust Victims
Some things can’t be described by words. That is how I felt as I watched special programs this week about the liberation of Auschwitz prisoners. It is the 70th anniversary, and due to the age of survivors, is considered the last major anniversary in which many of them will be present to share their stories. Courageous, smart people who left the camp with nothing and built rich and beautiful lives.
Yet any words I choose to describe the survivors’ bravery or the Nazi’s cruelty seem too weak.
I agree with film director Steven Spielberg, who said the Holocaust was the worst tragedy the world has ever seen. Certainly, the world is all too familiar with genocide, massacres and tragedies of many sorts. As in other cases, the Holocaust targeted innocent people, torturing and killing them simply because of their religion.
But, to me, what makes the Holocaust extraordinarily disturbing was that it was organized. Extremely organized and planned. In cold blood. This wasn’t a passionate act taking place in the heat of the moment. Just having a look at the remains of the concentration camps is enough to see exactly how planned this massacre was.
Years ago, there was an awareness, a fear of what happened and the possibility of it happening again. When my husband was a child, a field trip to a concentration camp in Eastern France was part of the history lesson. The man who gave the tour was the grandson of one of the victims. My husband was 10 at the time, and today he says that if the man hadn’t aged, he would recognize him in an instant. Growing up in the U.S., I didn’t have the opportunity make such a trip, but I do know that our program covered the Holocaust quite extensively. I can still remember the photos in my history book, while any other photo in that text book long ago slipped my mind.
What is frightening now, as we move forward with fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us, is the fact that the horror will be attenuated into just a sad event of the past. This coupled with a resurgence in anti-Semitism equals a serious concern for our world today. The idea that some members of the Jewish community don’t feel safe in France after the recent attack on a kosher grocery store (an attack coordinated with the Charlie Hebdo massacre) is much too close for comfort to the Nazi era.
As I look at those old wartime images, I ask myself how could human beings (and there were plenty of them) do this? Again, I’m at a loss for words. It seems impossible to be so cruel. And that’s the problem: Will people doubt the severity? Will people one day forget the details? Will some be swept up in a horrible anti-Semitic wave?
We have one powerful weapon, and we must use it: Memory. We must remember. We must tell and retell the stories. We must never forget.