“‘Never again’ means we cannot be bystanders when people are stigmatized, oppressed, excluded, or attacked because of their identity.” -Steven Spielberg, introducing President Obama today.
Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we mark seventy-one years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army, making the final advance into Berlin to end the Third Reich. Our world is merely seventy one years removed from one of the starkest examples of an industrialized, institutionalized failure of a system. The Holocaust claimed the lives of eleven million people- people murdered for their religion, for their sexual orientation, for their class, for their mental/physical capability, eleven million lights extinguished by the hate of a regime that took manifestations of racism already seen in most of the West to its absolute extremum.
Seventy one years is a long time. But also it isn’t. Seventy one years is barely a lifetime. Seventy one years is just a blip in history, so close to our own minds that it is difficult to find anyone who wasn’t affected by the Holocaust or the Second World War in one way or another.
I don’t necessarily want to start a discussion with this post, I’m just looking to make my friends aware of this day. And its especially apt, given the state of our politics, the state of our social constructs, and even the state of polarization in the HM community. The lesson of the Holocaust is “zachor,” to remember. We say the words, “never again.” To me these words sometimes ring empty, and I’m sure people can point to many examples where we haven’t lived up to imperative they impose upon us (Rwanda, Darfur, etc). But to me the lesson of the Holocaust is far more than just providing a moral obligation to oppose genocide. Evil triumphs only when good people do nothing. I truly think that most people at HM, most people I know, and really most people on this planet are fundamentally good. But that isn’t enough. The lesson of the Holocaust is to realize that it isn’t enough to be good.
As a Jewish person, who lost over a dozen family members to the Holocaust and the war, I try to take this message to heart. I hope that I can live up to the principle of Zachor. I believe that entails forming a truly global community, where everyone is entitled to his or her own identity. Where everyone can speak freely about what they believe in. And that’s why on this day I think its so apt that the HM community is having conversations about identity and oppression, because it is the perfect time for us as a community to demonstrate the generosity and lovingkindness set by those whom Israel has deigned to call “righteous among the nations,” those who stood up to the atrocities they saw and saved those who were in need of saving. Jewish teaching tells us to pass knowledge and understanding “l’dor vador,” from generation to generation. I believe it is now our turn to take the lessons of the past to heart, and do our personal best to uphold the principles that come out of the darkest hours.