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Op-ed | How we remember genocide

Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:02

Holocaust Remembrance Day specifically commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an event in which the Jews of Warsaw fought courageously against the Nazis. At this point the Jews, living off 180-360 calories a day and with nothing to look towards except their death, decided to fight back. Until much later, it was not understood or taught to the next generation of Jews the unlivable and nightmarish situation that those persecuted by the Nazis faced. The starvation and fear was not comprehensible, nor was the ultimate vulnerability of the Jewish people to the Nazi regime. Jews were subject to legalized discrimination through the laws of the Third Reich, Jewish stores were looted and burned, and in concentration camps Jews were told they were going to shower and instead would be gassed.

Now, the collective memory of our generation has more information to tell us about the horrors of the Holocaust. “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1947), “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Number the Stars” (1989), among many other accounts of the Holocaust, recount real and fictional tales of atrocity that allow us to understand it more fully. Yet for a period of time, the voices of millions were silenced. The horror of the Holocaust claimed eleven million lives. And it is a further crime not to commemorate each life that was taken.

Consider the idea that victims of genocide have the opportunity to twice be ripped of their humanity and exterminated. The victims are first killed by the perpetrators of the genocide — the leaders, the followers and the bystanders who all contributed to the systematic killings. It is these people who took the lives of the innocent and carried out the genocide. The second opportunity lies in the hands of the next generation. If we do not rehumanize and remember those who were slaughtered in genocide, then once again they are killed. If each life lost is also lost from our collective memory, then their story goes untold, their existence unremembered and again they are victims. To not remember is to take away any semblance of life that victims once had. To not remember is to give a victory to the perpetrators of genocide, who will have succeeded in erasing both the people and the memory of the people off of our planet.

As a society, we have improved our collective memory of the Holocaust. We light candles for six million Jews and five million other victims on this day, and we do so while remembering the courageous stories of active resistance as well as every man, woman and child who lies in an unmarked grave or a pile of ashes. We combat the claims of Holocaust deniers through survivors’ stories as well as our knowledge of the events of the Holocaust and personal histories of those who have passed away.

Yet is important to realize that our opportunities to speak with survivors are dwindling with each year. Survivors offer valuable insight, incredible knowledge and personal histories that are both seemingly unspeakable and impossible to stop listening to. Speaking with survivors provides the irrefutable knowledge that genocide happened. As the number of living survivors decreases, our own personal responsibility to recount the horrors of the Holocaust becomes even greater. We are possibly the last generation that will hear firsthand what it was like to live through Auschwitz or to wear a yellow star. And it is our duty to listen, to ask questions, to learn more and to become the voice of those who perished.

Tufts Against Genocide’s Survivors Speak event tonight will provide the opportunity to hear the stories of survivors from the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur. Each of these genocides took innocent lives. It is our duty to make sure that the perpetrators of genocide do not succeed in wiping their stories and their histories out of our memory.

It is incredibly easy to tune out while discussing mass atrocity, to turn off the television or change the subject. It is easy to remember only part of a story, or to discount something as being too far removed from the modern day. What is harder, but exceedingly important, is to hear and remember the stories of survivors and of those who perished. It is our duty as the next generation to take into account the history of all, to not lose the memory of those who were victims of genocide. One day there will be no more survivors, and we will be the only voices left to tell the stories. Let us remember that, not so long ago, the history of millions was discounted. We are the ones who can prevent a second death of the victims of genocide, by not letting the perpetrators erase their memory forever. We can rehumanize those who were once slated to be written out of history.

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