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Power of Words

“Anti-Semitism is the same as delousing: getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology, it is a matter of cleanliness." This provocative remark by Heinrich Himmler is just one of many infamous statements made by the murderers of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party. Although words that equate human beings to parasites are enough to make anyone cringe, such blasphemy against the human race cannot be centralized solely to the Holocaust. Our race has been dehumanized, objectified, and humiliated countless times in history, and it is still occurring today. Clearly, human injustice is not a disease that can be treated, but it can be prevented. Tragedies like the Holocaust result not only from hatred, but are also resultants of false philosophies, pseudo-sciences, and, most importantly, the tragic play of words to create cunning and devastating propaganda to grip and take advantage of human flaws. If words like those of Himmler provoked events like Kristallnacht, then words can also help stop them.

How can one possess the power to turn a nation against innocent humans? It would have been impossible for Hitler himself to corrupt the minds of so many, but Hitler, like many powerful leaders, was an undoubtedly incredible orator. Moreover, he quickly gained control of media through radio and the printing press. Many of the demeaning articles, pictures, and speeches he ordered are now left to us as stark evidence of twisted Nazi delusions. A notorious example of Nazi propaganda, The Poisonous Mushroom, starts with a seemingly innocent boy, Franz, who helps his mother gather mushrooms in a lush, woody forest. The mother makes an analogy, explaining that there are some humans in this world (Jews) that are like poisonous mushrooms. She warns that if Franz cannot differentiate between the good and the evil humans, he may be killed by the dangerous Jews. The author concludes the story by advising, “German youth must learn to recognize the Jewish poisonous mushroom.... The following tales... show the many shapes the Jew assumes. They show the depravity and baseness of the Jewish race. They show the Jew for what he really is: The Devil in human form." Sanity is appalled by the malicious intent of these words. One could ask, “How could Franz have believed such propaganda?” But, why wouldn't he? After all, Franz doesn't teach himself to believe in existence of the poisonous mushroom. Instead, it was his mother and teachers who had indoctrinated him.

Propaganda rarely commences with violence. Rather, it begins with innocent advertising. In Germany, it started with the nationalistic pride of being German; however, it left a revved nation susceptible to the belief of a superior race. In our own country, students in St. Louis are facing charges for their “Hit a Jew Day” where they allegedly struck Jewish classmates. It began with an innocuous Spirit Week that included Hug a Friend Day and High Five Day. However, these events soon turned suspicious with Hit a Tall Person Day, and finally, Hit a Jew Day. Although it seems unlikely, using simple, irreproachable tactics may lead to full-blown propaganda.

All humans are subject to harmful influences. Our minds absorb information before we sort out good from bad. We are impressed by emotional speeches. We are fooled by the utopia presented in advertisements. We are willing to believe anything someone we love tells us. Obviously, we are flawed, and there is no easy way to avoid evil; however, it is important to be educated so that we do not succumb to ignorance of mistakes made by our predecessors.

Education from an early age is the vital solution to humanitarian problems. Students spend most of their time at school where they face forces more powerful and destructive than war or violence. There, they face words. Whether it be through school essays, advertising, the Internet, or bullying, children are susceptible to shaping by outside forces. Adolf Hitler was fully aware of the efficacy of brainwashing young, impressionable children when he created the Hitler Jugend, a deeply propagandized organization where he “educated” a generation of youths to carry on the inhumane traditions of the Third Reich. By glorifying their cause and encouraging bloodshed, Hitler craftily deceived countless young Germans into accepting Nazi values. There will always be another Hitler who chooses to use words adversely. If the tainted Nazi party realized the potency of indoctrinating children, we, too, can harness that same power with far better intentions.

Teaching lessons of the Holocaust should not be limited to history textbooks. History, by itself, is a mere regurgitation of facts and dates that fails to provide us with a sense of direction. Rather, it is logic and critical thinking that should be a cumulative part of the curriculum, because it is in these areas where we learn to expand our horizons, to look beyond the words in a textbook, to analyze and interpret meaning, and to raise awareness of the roles we must play in society.

Undoubtedly, education is a prerequisite to bracing ourselves against future Holocausts. After completing the Holocaust unit in English class, I had the privilege of listening to Gloria Lyon, a survivor herself. I recall that while sitting in the front row listening to the horrific words of barbaric savagery witnessed by Mrs. Lyon, the students behind me murmured noisily and ignored her story. Afterwards, filing out of the auditorium, I heard the hushed whispers of those who walked astounded by the identification number scarred onto Mrs. Lyon's arm, and of those who vowed to use her message of logic and awareness as a symbol of education and hope. However, at the same time, I overheard the noisy laughter of a few apathetic students who scorned, “That was the most boring two hours I had to sit through. She cried the whole time. I should have bunked class.” They cursed and slandered a woman who obviously does not enjoy retelling a story that moves her to tears, but does so because she knows that the truth of the slaughter of over six million humans must live on. If we leave students uneducated, some will spread their own messages of false philosophy and indoctrination. It is not just about feeling compassionate; it is the realization that a tyrannical despot like Hitler can reappear anytime now and in the future. Our scarred human civilization has been marked with several genocides; from the killing fields of Cambodia, to Stalin's Gulag, we have evidently broken the desperate pleads of, “Never Again.”

Allowing future generations to disdain rationality and education is tantamount to resurrecting the slaughterhouses of the Holocaust. Such is the insanity that bereaved 1.7 million victims of life during Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime. Such is the absurdity that is the cause of over 400,000 deaths in Darfur . With the number of survivors dwindling, it is I, along with my fellow peers, who must take the the responsibility to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive, to purge the world of hypocrisy, and to use words as an understanding that a future devoid of false philosophies and eugenics is possible.



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READ*WRITE*LOVE*GREEN said...
May 20, 2009 at 11:23 pm
LOVE IT!! So true!! I can't believe people would do that, but they did. You wrote so passionately and so well, you have created a wonderful piece that can't be ignored. Amazing!!
 
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