When I was a kid I read I lot about World War II.
I went through stages when I was in middle school through high school. I would pick a part of history and obsessively read about it. When I as in 7th grade it was Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. In 8th grade it was Japanese mythology. In 9th grade we read Night by Elie Wiesel and I started back into World War II and the Holocaust.
When I was 11 or 12 I remember someone at my church talking about the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I had recently read “Behind the Bedroom Wall”, a fictional story of a German teenager whose family is hiding Jews in their home, so I ended up reading that book as well. I think when I was 11 those books felt more like adventure novels than they did anything real or horrifying. They represented knowledge of something so evil that, at that age, I don’t think I could even comprehend it being real.
Reading Night and The Hiding Place again at age 15 was a different story. I could comprehend the reality of the evil that was done and it made me angry. It still makes me angry, mostly because I can either feel angry or horribly horribly sad.
I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, cut me off from feeling the anger and horror at what happened. It’s just as important for me to remember, even though it didn’t directly effect me or anyone in my family, because it should never just be the Jews who say “Never Again” when talking about the Holocaust. It doesn’t cut me off from feeling the anger and horror at what is going on in the world today, where Jews are once again being attacked for no reason other than the fact that they exist.
It’s like a sick cosmic joke. How many times can history repeat itself?
Of course these days it’s coming from multiple sides. There’s the anti-semites, who hate the Jews and anyone who doesn’t hate Jews. There’s the Islamic terrorists who hate Jews…and Christians…and gay people…and the Yazidi…and on and on and on. It’s not like this irrational and murderous hatred has vanished from the world.
I read somewhere the other day that the majority of Germans just want to put the Holocaust behind them. I can understand that, because I’m sure it’s a horrible thing to think of what your forefathers did, but while I don’t hold modern Germans as responsible for the actions of the Nazis and I would hope no one else does (people should be responsible for their own actions, not those of their ancestors)…we don’t just get to put the murder of millions of Jews (not to mention the non-Jews that were also slaughtered) behind us like it was some sort of freak accident or act of nature.
60+ years can allow you to put a lot of things behind you. The Holocaust is not one of them.
These deaths weren’t caused by bad weather or a factory accident. This was wholesale, legalized slaughter.
You don’t just forget about something like that, no matter how many years go by or whether or not you or your family were directly affected by it.
To say that we can just put something of this magnitude behind us is to say that we no longer need to worry about it happening again. The memory of the Holocaust keeps us sharp, keeps us saying “Never Again” when we could grow complacent and pretend nothing like that could ever happen again in this day and age, even as current events around the world tell us that idea is very wrong.
So I’m not Jewish, I don’t have the same emotional or familial attachment to this event in history, but I remember it all the same. Not only because the victims deserve to be remembered, but because, as another American once said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”