by Susan Davis
For more than a century, philosopher George Santayana’s warning has been often repeated: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day when we stop to remember the Holocaust, in which as many as 17.5 million people were systematically tortured and murdered by the Nazi regime between 1939–1945 throughout Europe. The largest groups that Hitler targeted were Jews, Slavs, and Romani people. LGBTQIA+ people, the mentally or physically disabled, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, People of Color, leftists, and dissidents made up the majority of the non-Jews who were also murdered. There were others, such as trade unionists, members of the Baha’i Faith, Catholics, Protestants, Socialists and others whom Hitler considered “unpure.”
What does “unpure” mean? It was the main driver of Aryan race propaganda, which is a legacy of American slave-owning racist ideology. Hitler harnessed the concept and convinced ethnic Germans that they were the superior race. The sophisticated propaganda campaign had a profound effect on the German people and proved to be the gateway to the horrific genocide of historic proportions that occurred during World War II.
I was born a decade after World War II. I did not have family who faced the genocide directly, since my family emigrated to the United States a generation or two before. Yes, they were also escaping oppression, but nothing like the Holocaust. Jews have lived with centuries of episodic persecution; it’s part of our history. I grew up around people who were survivors, but they didn’t share with me their personal stories of the horrors they experienced.
The term “Never again” has become a rallying cry against the Holocaust and serves as a warning to prevent future atrocities and as a reminder that we need to be mindful and vigilant that power structures don’t fall into deceit and evil.
Walking through the exhibits at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during a visit to Washington, D.C. 10 years ago, I came upon the history of Hitler’s rise. Fellow politicians were worried about him getting into power. “We have [Hitler] hemmed in,” was the response to those concerns. This is another lesson that all nations should strive for “Never again.”
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember the six million Jews who were systematically murdered along with our 11.5 million brothers and sisters who share this sad history. We are reminded to not forget and to endeavor to repair what is broken in the world.
In 2021 we should keep in mind the people of Yemen, the Uighurs of China, the Rohingya of Burma/Myanmar, and too many other oppressed ethnic groups throughout the world. In the U.S. we are not immune — racism, xenophobia, and misogyny combined with lax gun control laws are our nation’s Achilles heel.
Lighting candles, observing a moment of silence, saying the names of those who perished, listening to the stories of the survivors as well as the liberators are the rituals that we observe for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
According to the Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity:
“The date is set in accordance with the Hebrew calendar, on the 27th of Nisan, so that it varies in regard to the Gregorian calendar. The date was chosen to mark the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising [the largest Jewish resistance against the Nazis]. This year, 2021, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins on April 8th at sunset and ends on April 9th at sunset.”
At this time of commemorating such a tragedy of human behavior, two lessons come to mind from great thinkers who encourage us to remember the tragedies — as a means to create a better world.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel encouraged the importance of community action:
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
South African President Nelson Mandela laid out a basic plan of human decency in order to achieve a better world:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity has a series of upcoming programs and educational opportunities in honor of Yom HaShoah.
Susan Davis is a community organizer who has worked as an interpreter, teacher, nonprofit director, Southend business and community advocate, and video producer. Her favorite project of her career was serving as co-founder/co-director of the Middle East Peace Camp (MEPC). She brought Marcus Green to MEPC for a visit a few years ago and she is still grateful for the article he wrote about his experience. Susan is the principal of SBK Davis Consulting which produces events and projects for organizations and small businesses. Southeast Seattle is her focus area and home.
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