3 Things I Learned From Holocaust Memorial Day

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I discovered today is Holocaust Memorial Day (UK), so I've decided not to let it pass without thinking about the tragedy and learning from it.  I think it's one of most telling representations of humanity at its best and worst, simultaneously.  Some of the greatest cruelty was committed, and some of the bravest, most selfless heroism exhibited.  It's astounding.

On this day, if I think about it hard, it can bring up a lot of emotions.  Of course, I wasn't there and I didn't experience the Holocaust, but I've read so much about it, and so many of my heroes and role models come from this era that it affects me very deeply.  However, it doesn't do any good to just have an emotional experience and a good sniff, then move on with my day.  The point of a memorial day is to look back and learn from the past.  Here are some of the things I have learned from the Holocaust:

Fear and ignorance are incredible weapons.
Nazi Germany is one of the most profound examples of the power of fear.  Today, we are amazed at the seeming powerlessness people embraced in the face of impending destruction.  How could they not see it, we wonder.  Why didn't they do something about it?  Self-inflicted ignorance and fear.  People were unwilling to believe such atrocities could exist, and when they realized they were really happening, many chose to stay silent.  Not all people on the side of Adolf Hitler were haters; a great many were simply afraid.  Afraid for their families, afraid for their lives.  Although they had good reason, this fear turned them compliant and silent.  What would have happened if more people stood up against Hitler?
So in our lives, how much room do we give to fear and self-inflicted ignorance?  Knowing that they have been used as weapons of mass destruction throughout history time and again, how much of a place should they have in our hearts?  How is fear at the root of so many issues in the world right now like immigration, terrorism, and racism?

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Don't dismiss faith.
All of the people that did stand up, however, deserve our respect. But what makes people act so boldly, so selflessly, so nobly in the face of such darkness?  We see it time and again in the biographies of people like Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer: faith in God.  Of course, not everyone during WWII embraced faith; many lost it.  But there seems to be a common thread in the lives of truly faith-filled people during this period.  They made an impact, and they either gave their lives to save others or lived to extend unfathomable forgiveness after the war to those who had mistreated them.  What force brings about effectiveness and reconciliation like that?  Even if you aren't into religion, the stories of these people should make a great case study.  If you normally dismiss faith, perhaps it could be worth it to see what made these deeply religious people so strong in a horrible time.  There might be something to it.

The ten Boom family and some of their "house guests" during WWII.  Source.

Everyone has a voice and something to offer.
I think we often confuse persecution with being voiceless.  In some cases, as with children, people truly can't stand up for themselves; they don't have the capacity.  We need to fight for them.  However, being in a situation that may require extreme sacrifice doesn't equate to voicelessness.  It equates to a very difficult choice: use my voice to speak against evil and possibly pay with everything I have, or stay silent and possibly keep what I have?  In situations like these, we still have a voice.  We just have to decide if it's worth it for us to raise it.  How many people spoke up against evil and died for it in WWII?  Though they spoke up, how long did the war drag on?  Even if it doesn't evoke immediate change, does our voice have value?  Thoughts to ponder.
For my own life, I decide now that I will have the courage to stand up for what's right, even if it requires extreme sacrifice.  You can all hold me accountable on that.

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Have you ever thought about what the Holocaust can teach you?  What sorts of things have you learned from this period in history that you can apply to your own life?

9 comments

  1. I have stories that I could share because although my parents are not holocaust survivors, they are both world war 2 survivors. Both kids, both saw things that kids should not see. I'm not sure if I could be as resilient as they both were and are. I'm thankful everyday that they immigrated to Canada.

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    1. Wow, how incredible. It's amazing to see how the decisions of our parents and grandparents affect us so profoundly.

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  2. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post Emileigh. I have to admit, the holocaust is something I have rarely thought about up until this past Winter. It truly saddens me how many lives, how much impact from creative minds, was lost in the Holocaust; and reminds me why I am pro-life. It saddens me even more how there is a holocaust going on right now in our nation that we are so used to, we are not even aware of it anymore. People who could have changed the way we look at things, been an amazing witness for the Lord, found the cure to cancer, are all being murdered before they even have the chance to breath the air on God's good earth. If there is one thing I have learned from what I have learned about the holocaust, and some of the people who died in it, is that every life has an impact, whether for good or bad, and when that is snuffed out, the world has just lost something great that they will never know.

    Blessings,

    Brigid
    the Middle Sister and Singer

    P.S. There is a VERY interesting exhibit going on about a seamstress who was killed in the Holocaust, where they recreated some of her dress designs from 1939. It is very cool! You can check it out here: http://stitchinghistory.org

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    1. I've read that article, and it IS very cool!

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  3. Moving and very poignant post. I've been deeply immersed in the study of the Holocaust and WW2 as a whole since quite early on in childhood, rarely going more than a few weeks without reading a book or watching a TV show/documentary pertaining to this incredibly dark period in human history. As much as I'm horrified and repulsed by the immeasurably evil, cruelty and human suffering, as you touched on here, I'm also forever inspired and moved by those who refused to go down without a fight, who risked their lives for others, and who managed to, against all odds, survive one way or another. I believe that the best way to not repeat a massive tragedy is to keep its memory alive and am grateful that its unlikely this will happen in regards to Holocaust (at least not anytime soon, and hopefully never).

    ♥ Jessica

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  5. Wow, thanks for taking time to post these reflections, Emileigh. I haven't even begun to see suffering truly, but there are so many experiencing atrocities every day. I often struggle with knowing how to be a voice for justice when these things are currently so far removed from my daily life..May I (and everyone) have the wisdom to know when and how to act and the courage and tenacity to do so.
    Thanks, Ems <3

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  6. This is a very thoughtful and interesting post! If you like learning about this, you might really enjoy the book "Prague in Winter" by Madeline Albright. It has personal remembrances from the author as well as a lot of background on what led to the war, and why many people and countries didn't step up sooner. "London at War" by Phillup Ziegler is another very good read on the topic.

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  7. I read and write a lot of historical fiction set during the Shoah, and prefer original angles (e.g., a country not often represented in the narrative, resistance fighters, the journey back to humanity after the liberation). It's really frustrating how a lot of people insist it's the same story over and over again, when everyone had his or her own unique story. I gravitate towards reading and writing about this period because of the stories of love, hope, courage, and determination, not because I get some sort of perverse delight out of suffering and the macabre. I'm drawn to so many dark periods of history for that same reason.

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