Never Again, Never Forget

We saw The Book Thief last night (not a great movie, I should read the book), and it occurred to me, as the Third Reich flags furled throughout the gray German townscape, that I grew up meeting Holocaust survivors and learning first-hand from the mouths of those who endured the atrocities under Hitler’s reign, the awful things people can do to other people.

Well, there are fewer and fewer survivors left to tell us face to face what they went through. We have footage, photographs, history books, narratives. But there is an intangible resonance when you meet the person and see the numbers inked into their forearm, a tattoo forcing them to always remember.

It was so in my face growing up that I had to eventually turn away. It was too gruesome. I could not believe that people could turn their backs on good and right, that they could ignore the horrendous treatment of people like me, smart people, everyday people, contributing to society, proud of their heritage.

Living, breathing beings – how can anyone harm another? Really! I cannot even imagine it.

The other day a high school friend posted on his Facebook wall a proud photo of a deer carcass hanging in  his garage. The spoils of his recent hunting trip in rural Michigan.

I had to hide the post.

Say what you will about hunting, rationalize it all you want, but I don’t think I could kill another living creature. Yes, I eat meat occasionally. Yes, I ignore its origins. I put it out of my mind. So I turn inhuman in that moment, to satisfy those animal urges.

It’s wrong. When you can breathe another’s breath, feel your heart beat as theirs does, I don’t understand how you can do harm. Even if I were attacked, I don’t know how I could throw the first punch. I’m sure I could; I just can’t imagine it because deliberate hurt is so foreign to my very being.

The movie brought me back to my soul – seeing the beauty of Germany, the hard-working neighbors and townspeople of the story, turned scared, silent and paralyzed by fear by the terror of a regime.

That should never, ever happen.

We have had many wars in the history of humanity because people are stupidly arrogant. We know right and we veer toward wrong. War is always awful.

The Holocaust, in my humble perspective, was a singular version of horrible. To strategically and calculatedly try to annihilate entire races and communities, reduce other people to non-human, to encourage a nation to turn their backs on their instincts, this kind of methodical ganging-up just cannot ever be repeated.

I hope, as our older generations disappear, we don’t also lose the vivid memory of such unique atrocities. For the minute we forget is the minute we dare to walk toward repetition.

I am terrified that when we get further and further away from the actual time period of these events, the memory, the severity, the seriousness will diminish.

Every single person should walk through a Holocaust memorial museum. And every single person should stand up for right, protect the powerless and speak up in the face of terror.

It is imperative to show love everywhere, to everyone. Period. Most people have something lovable in them. No person should ever feel unworthy. I tell my children, every person is lovable in some way. We have to remember this and live it.

As if our lives depend on it.

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