Sunday, July 3, 2016

Never Forget

I learn a lot from my children. A lot of times I wish that I could share the things I learn from them with my friends including my blogger friends. The following post is written by my daughter who is very sensitive about people who have suffered whether in the present or in the past. Needless to say my knowledge and outlook about the Holocaust has changed with time. Today I learned that the words "Never Forget" have a special place and a special meaning.

2016 has been a rough year when it comes to losing well-known (and well-liked) celebrities, and while I was a fan of many people we lost this year, it wasn't until the passing of Elie Wiesel yesterday that I felt compelled to ask my mom, "can I write a guest post on your blog?"

I remember reading Wiesel's Night in high school and looking back, I don't think I fully appreciated the significance of such a work. I would also have to describe my trip to the Holocaust museum in DC in the same manner. I understood what it was all about, and I felt for the victims, but I didn't truly get it. Teenagers aren't known for being the most compassionate beings, so I suppose I shouldn't kick myself for not having some heightened sense of empathy at fifteen.

As an adult I do have a greater sense of understanding of what it was all about, but I don't know if we can ever really get it. Because even for the most empathetic of people, the pain we feel is secondhand. And that's a good thing. No one should ever have to experience that magnitude of suffering again.

But there is a side effect in that we begin to forget. I remember going to see Twelve Years a Slave with my older brother. My immediate reaction upon exiting the theater was "I feel privileged." I wasn't talking about any sort of racial or social privilege, but rather a privilege of growing up in an era where the atrocity of slavery no longer existed, at least not in the US. It was merely the subject of history books now.

But while slavery may just be a subject people read about in their school texts today, it doesn't change the fact that it was a real thing that happened to real people. And those people may not be alive today, but their stories were real and those stories matter.

And the same is true of the Holocaust. When I was in high school, the student chapter of Amnesty International would read the names of Holocaust victims over the loudspeaker on Holocaust Remembrance Day in April. At that age I took it to be a tribute, a remembrance of such an unfathomable atrocity. As I got older I also realized the whole "don't let history repeat itself" aspect of it.

But more importantly, we need to remember the people. The eleven million people who were killed during the Holocaust were not a collective unit. They were eleven million distinct individuals, all with their own loves and dreams and fears and senses of humors and idiosyncrasies. And while we know the stories of some of them, such as Elie Wiesel or Anne Frank, there are so many more stories that go untold.

It still happens in today's day and age. When we hear of attacks happening around the world, or even sometimes in our own neighborhood. We mourn for our countries, our civil and religious liberties.

But please remember to mourn for the individuals, too.