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A Memory

By , dayton, OH
"To remain silent and indifferent to the horrors of the Holocaust is probably the greatest sin of all, let alone denying it. We have a responsibility to act against the forces of anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism in any form."
'Gabriela Shalev (Israel's ambassador to the UN) January 27, 2009

Today is January 27: Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Tabula Rasa. This pompous-sounding phrase was an idea of the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke which stated that people were born without innate preconceptions. People may commit many good deeds, but they are just as susceptible to committing malicious ones as well. Each person can choose their own path, but all of our paths are inextricably intertwined and each one affects the world. It has been 64 years since the Holocaust. The survivors that still remember blanch at sinister atrocities of the great burning. However, newer generations are oblivious to its true diabolic meaning; to them, the term is simply ancient history'another thing to memorize in the tedium of a history class. Joseph Stalin once said 'The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic,' and this couldn't be more pertinent to the Holocaust. Too many people are apathetic to casualty numbers. Death by the millions is simply too vast and too complex for one person to fully comprehend. Perhaps if we could truly understand the enormity of the event, it would obliterate us and wash us away in never-ending tears. But as we are, we cannot grasp that each one of those 6 million Jews lost in the Nazi crematoriums, including 1.5 million children, had their own ideals, their own culture, and their own lives. On this day, in 1945, the largest Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops. This holiday is to confront the devastation of the Holocaust, to learn from it and never again let hatred devour us.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party, also known as the Nazis, discriminated against myriad groups: Jews, Slavs, ethnic Poles, Gypsies, disabled, mentally ill, and homosexuals. These groups, along with Soviet prisoners of war and political and religious opponents were murdered by gas chambers, diseases, and poor living conditions at the concentration camps. The Lager Fuhrer, head of the concentration camp, once said, "From now on, you are all numbers. You have no identity. You have no name. All you have is a number. Except for that number you have nothing." The Nazi's victims eventually summed up to eleven million.
Why should we remember an old tragedy? Wouldn't it be better to let the dark stained pages rot away, let the bones of the past turn to dust? No. We have made major strides in society: Barack Hussein Obama, an African-American, has recently been elected President of the United States, something that was unthinkable only a few years ago. Despite this major victory, however, significant racism and prejudice still persists. We must remember because even now, 64 years after the fact, the seeds of the Holocaust are still in the ground; intolerance still waits under the surface, waiting to poison us with hatred and anger. True, some judgment is inevitable. When we stroll down a crowded city street, we look at faces and think: 'This person is rich or poor, nice or mean, polite or rude, strong or weak.' Sometimes the thought is transitory; it changes upon a second impression or is simply forgotten. However, there are many people that are firmly gripped by the specters of prejudice and that truly believe the stereotypes out there. With societies like the Ku Klux Klan, we know that such people are rampant, perpetuating racial injustices everywhere and every day, on both a large and small scale. As John Locke said, 'To prejudge other men's notions before we have looked into them is not to show their darkness but to put out our own eyes.' 'What worries you, masters you,' he also stated. Followers of injustice have given themselves up and have been devoured by the sharp jaws of immorality.
Locke later proclaimed, 'We are like chameleons; we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us.' Prejudice breeds only further prejudice and can only lead to further atrocity. As a diverse, separate, and individualistic people, we ought to listen to what we know is ethical and not just what we believe is easy.
The next time you witness the virulent hatred of prejudice or inequity, or even feel it grasp yourself, you will know the right thing to do. By understanding the hate and the prejudice that lead to the Holocaust, you can do something truly glorious and help someone up from the battered and hostile actions of prejudice. We may look to organized groups and grandiose slogans to help us remember, but the only way that remembering the Holocaust will make the world a better place is personal action. All the museums and dedications in the world will not make the world a better place if we do not act differently. Simple actions such as standing up for people being discriminated against can change that person's view on people and life. When things seem helpless, it is always reassuring to know someone is there for you. In the popular novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, it strongly displays the injustices of the world, based on race, gender, religion, social class, income, education, and appearance. When Atticus defends a wrongly indicted black man in court, people angrily point fingers at him, mocking him for supporting an African-American. However, some people end up respecting Atticus, including his children Scout and Jem and his maid Calpurnia, and they realize that he has done something right, even if it is unpopular. His bold feat sheds a new light on the small, prejudiced town and gives hope for change. In the same vein, we should also resist discrimination and hatred at every turn despite its unpopularity, because to let it happen would be an implicit endorsement of the twisted values that culminate in genocide.
I ask for you and people everywhere, of different color, beliefs, culture, and ability to stand up for what is right and good. As Dan Gillerman said, 'As the generation of Holocaust survivors and liberators dwindles, the torch of remembrance, or bearing witness, and of education must continue forward.' The Tabula Rasa may be blank at birth but it is up to us to ensure the writing on that slate remains pure and just.





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