By Jake Baum, for the Mitzpeh, @jakeatumd
Social justice campaigns overwhelm our social media, fighting against issues such as global climate change, poverty and most importantly, bigotry of any kind. We’ve reached a point in history when hateful thoughts are a thing of the past and systematic discrimination simply does not exist. Or have we?
Europeans in the 1920s felt exactly the same. After World War I, the economy, politics and religious life of Europe thrived. The European Jews thought they had it all – they lived in a better world, right? Wrong. Soon after this surge of happiness came the worldwide Great Depression. In this time of need, Adolf Hitler took the stage.
With the Final Solution in place, that sense of comfort was replaced by fear, pain and the death of 11 million Europeans. Six million Jews were stolen from their homes and thrown into gas chambers. Their feeling of comfort was destroyed in an instant.
Seventy years later, our sense of comfort has finally returned. But we can’t let the smugness of living in a “better world” come with it, because while the world may change, hatred and bigotry will never disappear. In his book The Life of Reason, philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
And, like clockwork, the ignorance has already returned. Students across the nation are not only oblivious to but are even actively denying the Holocaust and the immense toll it took on European and Jewish history alike.
While we would like to believe we are past that point in history, nothing has changed. There are still terrible people in the world, and just like the Germans during World War II, we continue to allow genocide to happen in our own metaphorical backyards. Darfur, the genocide in Sudan, the Rwandan genocide and the current ISIS reign of terror serve as categorical proof that hatred never sleeps.
However, there is always hope. My grandfather’s valiant journey from the forests of Poland through Ellis Island and eventually to Memphis, Tennessee, is proof that the world can change. He lives to tell the story, and as long as we listen, we can make sure it never happens again. Organizations such as the Shoah Foundation, institutions across the world such as the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and ordinary students can keep the message alive.
What can we do, you ask? Maintaining awareness of our history is the ultimate goal. The Holocaust is still relevant to our lives as college students because on a daily basis, we get so caught up in the stress of clubs, internships and finals that we forget where we come from, where we are and where we’re going. We are agents of social change, and it is our direct responsibility to make sure that the memory of the Holocaust never becomes simply a memory.
As Jews of the 21st century, our lives are constantly and consistently defined by how we came to be. And that is why Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom HaShoah, for which this university held a meaningful memorial service for all of those who died in the Holocaust, is so vital – because if we don’t know who we are, how can we represent what is most important to us? How can we help save those around us? How will we ever know where to go?
Jake is a freshman international business major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.