My friend Madison recently shared an article on Facebook that saddened me both as a historian and as a person who wants to leave this world better than he found it. In the April 12, 2018 article “Holocaust is Fading from Memory, Survey Finds,” Maggie Astor goes into detail about a recent survey completed by the Claims Conference in regards to Holocaust Education in the United States and around the world. The results are both shocking and lead to a worrisome future if we do not do something to combat this dangerous new development.
Let that statistic alone sink in. Half of millennials cannot name a single concentration camp. Not a single camp where 6,000,000 million Jews were mass-murdered in addition to 7,000,000 others (Gypsies, political prisoners, homosexuals, those who were physically or intellectually disabled, and POWs). To be fair I can only name 6 camps and recognized another 2 camps, but the fact that half couldn’t even come up with Auschwitz is unbelievable to me. Here are several more surprising statistics from the study:
- Most Americans (80%) have not visited a Holocaust museum
- Nearly one-third of all Americans (31%) and more than 4-in-10 millennials (41%) believe that substantially less than 6 million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
- Most adults (86%) know the Holocaust occurred in Germany, but only (37%) identified Poland as a country where the Holocaust occurred despite the fact that more than half of the European Jews killed were from Poland.
- Two thirds of all adults (67%) could not name or did not know of a Holocaust survivor.
The rallying cry after the holocaust became “Never Again!” Never again would the world stand by and let millions of people be slaughtered by a monstrous dictator. Never again would the world fail to speak up and defend those who cannot defend or speak for themselves. The only problem is the world did fail. The world failed multiple times. The World failed Cambodia. And Armenia. And Bosnia & Herzegovina. And Rwanda. And Darfur. And if we do not act soon, we will be failing in Syria once again.
Ever since I read Night, Elie Wiesel has been one of my historical heroes. His ability to speak directly to your soul with his use of visual language and writing style is unmatched by any other memoir writer that I have been a fan of. In Night, Wiesel wrote:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Never shall I forget.
Wiesel’s writing is not what makes him one of my historical heroes, however. Wiesel is one of my heroes because after surviving the Holocaust – where he lost his father, mother, and sister – Wiesel spent his entire life speaking and writing about his experience. He traveled extensively and gave talks around the world. He met with world leaders and dignitaries to further the cause of peace. Wiesel was even awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1986. The acceptance speech he gave accepting the prize, and a speech called “The Perils of Indifference” that Wiesel gave in the East Room of the White House in 1999 at the invitation of President Bill Clinton are part of the reason that Elie Wiesel is my hero. Wiesel spoke about the importance of speaking out and standing up any time violence and acts of genocide are occurring in our world. It is because of his words and his views that I know if he were alive today, Wiesel would have been one of the most vocal about the current atrocities being committed in Syria.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel spoke eloquently on the issue of speaking out against the oppression of peoples throughout the world. He said:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
Do I think Elie Wiesel would have been happy that a coalition force of British, French, and American forces bombed Syria earlier this week? Of course not. Nobody should be happy about it. With that said I do feel that he would have realized that was the only option. We have tried the diplomatic world with to no avail. We have tried sanctions and other solutions to no avail. So we drew a line in the sand and said there would be consequences and the terrorist Bashar Al-Assad crossed that line. We followed through we our promise.
We cannot allow a world where chemical weapons use is normal to be a reality. We cannot allow a brutal dictator propped up by the Russian continually uses chemical weapons against men, women, and children to become the new normal – and the reason we cannot allow this to happen is because we already did and we already promised never again. But too many people seem to be forgetting this. Too many people seem to have forgotten the world allowed another brutal dictator to come to power and use chemical weapons to try and gas an entire race into oblivion.
Elie Wiesel wrote that part of the reason he spoke out was to help people remember. IN his world, to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. That line in Night makes me tear up every time I read it because I know how important it is to Elie Wiesel. He believes it with every fiber of his being. As a historian I believe it to. We are coming close to killing the victims of the holocaust a second time. It has been 7 decades since the Holocaust so this is not surprising., but we must still work to fix this issue. The scary thing, however, is we are coming dangerously close to killing the dead in Syria a second time. The first reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria was just a few years ago. Watch the video below before you read my final sentences.
Look me in the eye and tell me you can live with yourself if we allow these people to be killed a second time. If you can say that with a straight face you are a
stronger colder person than I am. Just as the Holocaust was a watershed moment., this too is a watershed moment. We must not fail. Sadly, we are coming dangerously close. We. Must. Not. Fail.