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?
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.
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?