We all must remember. Always.
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 6, 2021
Recently, I read Blake Ziegler’s piece about inappropriate comparisons of coronavirus restrictions to the Holocaust by certain factions of American politics. I cannot emphasize enough the extent to which I agree with the sentiments Mr. Ziegler expressed. Indeed, it is beyond sickening that any member of the United States Congress could make light of the infamous yellow star forced on Europe’s Jews by National Socialist tyranny. Yet, Mr. Ziegler already dealt with that particular issue and so I wish to focus on some broader implications of the lack of Holocaust knowledge raised in his column.
The Holocaust is the most visceral demonstration of the depths of human depravity in history. In the course of just five years, two in every three of Europe’s Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime. Never before, nor mercifully since, did the world witness such barbarity, lending the Holocaust a unique place in history. However, it would be wrong to dismiss this horrendous human tragedy as something uniquely German, or even unique to Nazi fanatics. As historian Christopher R. Browning noted in his thought-provoking book, this murderous campaign was perpetrated by “ordinary men.” Additionally, while the Holocaust originated within the Third Reich, every nation on earth bears a degree of responsibility. Some collaborated actively, like Vichy France, some chose to stand by in idle neutrality, like Sweden, and even those who fought the Nazis, like the United States, ignored the pre-war warning signs, and turned away ships of German Jewish refugees. Therefore, we all, as one human race, for all eternity must carry the burden of remembrance.
It is for that reason, the enduring duty to remember, that makes the disheartening trends in Mr. Ziegler’s article so worrisome. If 45% of Americans truly cannot name one concentration camp and 33% of Gen Z show even a hint of Holocaust denial, then we are failing in our obligation to always remember.
As a history major, I have given significantly of my time studying World War II to researching the Holocaust. I have seen the heartbreaking photos of people so thin their entire skeletons are visible. I have read the accounts by survivors describing how their single food bowl also had to double as their latrine. I have looked at the seemingly endless lists of names that do not even scratch the surface of the bloodshed. Such research never makes for light reading, and there are some things so disturbing I wish I had never learned. That, however, is the problem — ignorance is comfortable while gaining knowledge is painful.
In spite of that reality, we must put ourselves into such discomfort, so we never shirk our responsibility to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust. As the former President of Germany, Richard von Weizsäcker said in his famous May 8, 1985 speech, “Remembering means recalling an occurrence honestly and undistortedly so that it becomes a part of our very beings.” In Germany in 1929, Jews enjoyed complete citizenship. Some served in Parliament, others ran businesses, some taught at universities, some were musicians. All of Germany’s Jews, however, went about their lives as freely and peacefully as anyone else. The Constitution of the Weimar Republic guaranteed all citizens freedom of religion. By 1939, a German Jew could not, by law, enter a cinema, own a bicycle or sit on a park bench, and they were forced to wear the yellow star so casually bandied about by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Few in 1929 could have imagined the dreadful mass-murder of the Holocaust, just as many today cannot imagine it happening again.
There is, however, no guarantee that the events of the 1940s will not play out again, except a firm commitment by the world’s population to the mantra of “never again.” Every glib comment, every false comparison, every child improperly schooled erodes that sure defense.
“Never again” was a deafening cry in 1945, let us not now allow it to fade to an imperceptible whisper.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.