Day 77 – Looking Back on the Holocaust

NPR: 75 Years After Auschwitz Liberation, Survivors Urge World To Remember. “Children will grow up one day and they will be the ones deciding about how to rule the world”, one Auschwitz says. “It is important [to talk about it] in order to develop the conviction that war is not a good thing, in order to seek peace and try to talk about it, in order to think that it is us who are responsible for this Earth and for passing it on, undamaged, to the next generations.”

Of the estimated 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, some 1.1 million died at the camp, including 960,000 Jews. It was the largest extermination camp run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. The Soviet army liberated Auschwitz 75 years ago.

Alina Dabrowska, now 96, is among a handful of Auschwitz survivors still alive. For her, the importance of sharing her stories has only grown with time. She raised a family and had a fulfilling career with Poland’s foreign ministry, but only in recent years decided to speak publicly about the memories of Auschwitz that still haunt her. She and other survivors fear the world will forget the Holocaust’s horrors if their stories are not made public.

It is easy marginalize the Holocaust as ancient history having the same import as other periods such as the Crusades, Civil War, and Roman Empire. It became living history for me as a result of working for a family whose patriarch still bore the numbered tattoo on his arm. He had escaped Poland, coming to America as a teenager. Later in life, he spent significant resources in an unsuccessful attempt to locate any other surviving family members.

When the last survivor dies will the Holocaust cease to be living history? Will the painful lessons drawn from the horror be relegated to the annals of ancient history? Why is it important to remember and recount this tragedy?

Facing History suggests that it is because Democracy is precious. And we must understand the indifference of neutrality. In the struggle between powerless victims and an overwhelmingly powerful killing machine, neutrality is anything but neutral. Indifference is a death sentence. The bystander is also an enabler.

We must understand the fragility of democracy: however precarious it is ever more precious. Yet it can be undermined when leaders show a weak commitment to democratic rule, when political opponents become enemies, denied all legitimacy, when violence is tolerated and ultimately employed to quash dissent, when civil liberties and freedom of the press are restricted, and when democratic institutions are weakened.

One doesn’t need to look beyond recent news headlines to see that the challenges we face as a nation and as a world are not so much different than they were 75 years ago.  Democracy is being challenged in our streets, in our courts, in the White House. 

I highly recommend a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (when it opens again). My experience highlighted the all too easy progression from objectification to marginalization to dehumanization to extermination.

Survivor Reflections and Testimonies 

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