This week is Holocaust Memorial Week; a morbid reminder of the horror that humans are capable of, but tinged with a glimmer of hope, in that we may be able to stop another such calamity by learning from those who have perished. We are fortunate that stories of survivors have reached us, and equally, the stories and memoirs of those who didn’t survive. These stories are a historical epitaph written in blood, forever scarring our collective conscious with the guilt of inheriting a world in which the innocent fall prey to blunt hatred. And this guilt, we should never shun, rather we should embrace, for it is this guilt which haunts us, frightens us, into some effort to prevent future atrocities, however fickle those efforts may be.
I have previously written on the power of storytelling; it is in survivor stories where storytelling truly thrives. There is no substitute to the pangs of hunger, the pain of hopelessness, and the looming spectre of death – and it is in the presence of these malevolent feelings in which survivors write their experiences. Their surroundings imbue their words with an unparalleled power to convey empathy. Using this empathy, we can at the very least reform our hearts, fortifying ourselves from the insidious force of hate.
When one reads how Anne Frank became sick and tired from eating nought but beans for days, weeks on end, we feel sadness at the plight of the Young Girl. And her pen eventually fell, succumbing not to hopelessness or fatalism, but to the blunt reality of incarceration, and eventually death; her last diary entry is largely like any other, she had no opportunity to express any dramatic last wishes. Such is death, it waits not for the conclusion of speech, nor the completion of action.
In seeing such a young, spirited, and talented girl ripped out of life, and cast into a concentration camp, eventually dying not of gas nor of bullets, but of typhoid, the ‘6 million Jews’ is vivified; those were 6 million Annes, 6 million humans, each filled with kaleidoscopic potential. After reading Anne’s diary (and indeed other survivor stories), 6 million transcends being a mere statistic, it becomes the echoes of the oppressed, travelling across generations.
And we feel this because of the power of storytelling, because Anne picked up her pen. And so too, must we pick up our pen, be it the one clutched in our hand, or the one resting in our throat. Raise your voice in anyway you know how; in conversation, on social media, at work, and cause more to know the horrors that the Holocaust was. And in doing so, cause more to understand that the Holocaust was the deathly incarnation of malevolence, and it incarnated again in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, and in Rohingya, even as we can speak.
But the beast first preys on hate. It starts off weak, but whispers into the ear of one, inciting them to hurl maybe one derogatory term. It whispers to the journalist, tempting them to write an article berating an entire group of people. Worse still, it incites people towards violence. Incitement after incitement, the beast of hate insidiously inflicts the collective psyche of society, and lulls them into, at best, silence, and at worst, agreement. Make no mistake, such wanton atrocities will be unlikely if the beast is obeyed only at the fringe. The beast needs mass approval, either by silence or by agreement.
So look not at the isolated, fringe voices of hate. Instead, we ought to pedantically analyse our own words, attitudes, and actions against those who are different to us. The beast will not abruptly rise and commit a genocide, it will silently grow inside of us.
But let’s cast it out, exorcise the spiteful entity, who’s work blackens mankind’s history. Love those with whom you live, treat them well, defend their rights. Doggedly pursue righteousness and compassion. Do not let the echoes of the oppressed be answered by a deafening silence. We owe this to the dead, who’s words and sacrifices furnishes our very sense of right and wrong.
Please visit the Holocaust Education Trust’s website: https://www.het.org.uk/
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