Remember. And actually do something?

Flowers and Mountains

The Holocaust.

Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What more can I say about it that hasn’t been said already by people who understand how to say it better?

I can say that  there is no way to stop it from happening again.  And that maybe just posting Holocaust pictures on Facebook isn’t going to do anything.

We are always told to remember and to never forget.   That the goal is not only to mourn our family, but to prevent the next one, wherever it may be, but especially keep an eye out on Israel and Iran.  But the burden is on the Jewish people, not the world, because it was our catastrophe.  The world’s moved on.  Just check out the front page of the New York Times today versus Die Welt versus Le Figaro versus Yediot Ahronot.  Which is the only one plastering Holocaust memorial material?

By the way, it kind of loss something when you have Aryan children sandwiched between a “What girls in the know buy” and “Metallic colors return as a trend.”

It is impossible to stop genocide from happening again and it is naive to think we can do it by observing Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Because genocide starts at the micro level and spreads like a cancer through society.  It’s a byproduct of human nature and there is no distinct moment that you can say, “Oh, that’s genocide. I’d better stave that off before it becomes too widespread.”

I’ll give you an example.  Yesterday, I was walking to work through Suburban Station.  There was a girl crying and talking to two police officers, and another man standing nearby, also with two police officers.  I glanced over them and turned up the music on my headphones louder.  I didn’t go over to see if I could somehow help this girl. I didn’t want to get involved.  Because I am an asshole, and a human.  Humans don’t like complication and conflict, and we don’t always understand if something is serious enough to merit our intervention.  In the post-World War II 21st century, we don’t want to bother other people.

That’s how the Holocaust really started.  We always think, “Oh, if only the German people had done X or Y, they would have been able to prevent the whole thing. ” But the Germans aren’t one multi-celled unit and neither is any other society. It started with a father coming home from the factory where he worked. “Oh, they’re talking about some changes in the government,” he might say over dinner, hanging up his hat. “They want us to join some union, but it shouldn’t be a huge deal.  No impact on us.”

I asked my grandpa a couple weeks ago how he felt living in Stalin’s Russia.  “There was a young man in my village in Belarus,” he told me.  “He complained at the market that there wasn’t any good quality food and that the Kremlin only sent us fishtails.  The next week, he was never seen again.  The KGB had taken him.”  Were you afraid?  Did you think you could do anything? “No, what could we do?  What could we do?  We thought he really did something to justify the fact that he was gone.  We didn’t understand what was going on at the government level.  We just knew to keep our heads down.” How did you feel when Stalin died? “I was on military duty in Siberia when we found out and the officers all started crying.  We all started crying, too. We didn’t understand how the country could go on.”

So people saying the Holocaust could have been prevented are wrong. It’s just as easy to say that the Soviet people could have overthrown Stalin, who also killed at least two million people, and that’s me lowballing it.

We can’t do anything to prevent genocide because genocide is like a cancer that starts a cell at a time in the body of humanity, a spark of an idea in the mind of a person and by the time it’s spread, it’s too late to eradicate because it has metastasized. Otherwise, we would have stopped Sudan and the Balkans and every minor or major disaster that has happened to people since the Shoah.

But maybe that’s what all the essays and the picture posts are about.  Maybe we understand that there’s nothing we can do and we’re just mourning the loss of a generation.  Because how do you distinguish people who say insane things on the radio from people who really mean it? And if they do mean it, what do you do to stop them? Do you stop every racist remark that every person ever makes?  Do you storm the offices of politicians who are threatening war?  Do you start small? If you see someone crying on the street, do you come up to them and get involved?

I wish I could end this post on a positive note and say that if I do notice someone doing something wrong I’ll confront them.  But I won’t. I’ll just remember.  And post this to Facebook.





9 thoughts on “Remember. And actually do something?

  1. I’m pretty sure the answer is to get filthy fucking rich and then buy out the politicians and media who are promoting (or failing to prevent) genocide. Because that seems to be the only way to actually affect anything today.

  2. I think one of the best ways to never forget and do our best to make sure it never happens again is to teach about the dangers of apathy. When Holocaust museums or curricula only focus on the Holocaust — and often only on Jews — the experience doesn’t translate to many people. But once we talk about extending the Holocaust… Yes, Jews were by and large the most victimized group. Yes, no other group faced such a sustained, government-directed campaign against it with the goal to be wiped out entirely. But, I think it’s important to remember that gay men and lesbians, communists, religious leaders, the Roma, the disabled and many others were also meant to be annihilated because the perfect Aryan society didn’t have room for them. It’s also much more powerful when Holocaust museums extend the lessons of the Holocaust beyond 1945 — to Cambodia, Rwanda, Stalin’s purges, etc. It’s not about finding equivalency or saying “my people suffered more than your people”. It’s more about humanizing and relating.
    Also, I recently learned that most Latin American countries don’t teach about the Holocaust at all. Part of the reason is that Brazil was the only Latin American country whose soldiers had any experience of seeing the death camps (it was the only country in the region to have sent soldiers to Europe). So the sights and vivid memories of real people are simply not present in many Latin American countries. So the first time children of Latino immigrants learn about anything Holocaust-related is in school here in the U.S., and then they have to transmit the information to their parents. Imagine that burden! But if we tie the learning process to what they know — the Desaparecidos in Argentina, for example, it might actually make sense.

    Sorry for the rambling. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in connection to some of the work I do with Latinos in the United States, so it just kind of poured out. Hope it all makes sense.

    1. +1 for the Roma and+2 for the info about the Latin American Holocaust education. Sometimes we are so oversaturated with the one perspective that we completely forget the others.

  3. you don’t need to go and guarantee the end of genocide all by yourself. i just suggest you participate in the political system to the best of your ability. north american democracy is not perfect, god knows, but it has a pretty decent record so far. guess what, i would always take a bet that those cops helped that little girl out. now, you don’t get direct credit for that, but you get some credit. you paid the taxes to get cops on the street, you paid the taxes to make sure we have reasonable IA departments to prevent abuse, you (hopefully) vote for politicians that don’t want to turn the country over to police control.

    you have much more say and power than your grandpa did in belarus, and than that german factory worker. you have your vote, and a little money to give to candidates. you have a blog. your friends aren’t snitching on you. you have an education that was not ideologically based, so you can judge competing viewpoints. you have the tools to hold the line. for example, you can say “sheriff arpaio, hunting down mexicans like dogs is not ok!” you can tell your friends that think it is OK to STFU. if you’re right that mass murder starts from the bottom up, then so does “not mass murder”.

    the world has not moved on, though it desperately wishes it had. but that’s for another day.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Very eloquent. I disagree that I have more of a say because I am extremely cynical about the US political system, but that’s a discussion for another day.

  4. nah, i respectfully submit that your cynicism is directly relevant to your post. i am not going to be as long-winded as last post, but i think us ex-soviet “kids” are generally far too cynical politically. you may be right that the system is “rigged”, but when i stop and think about it, it’s rigged FOR US– i.e. because we are articulate, well-educated, and reasonably well-off. sure, i am not a koch brother, or mayor daly’s grandkid, and i can’t beat the stupid out of people that are deadset on being so, but at least i can cut through the BS and speak my mind. if you’re smart and independent enough to be cynical, you are smart enough to be influential, even if in private.

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