This Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom Hashoah. While it is a day dedicated to remembering the victims of the genocide, it is also vital that we keep in mind the lessons learned from the Holocaust. That is, to remember that racism, intolerance, and a fear of differences can lead to mass injustices; and when bystanders do not speak out against such injustices, mass conflicts may break out, destroying individuals, families, communities, and possibly even whole states.
Despite the Holocaust’s horror and the lessons we took away from it, there are still conflicts, some genocidal, raging on around the world today. Thus, with the memory of the Holocaust on our minds this week, it is important to do all that we can to act against current-day genocides.
Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany annihilated Roma (Gypsies), mentally and physically disabled peoples, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political dissidents throughout Europe. Its primary victims were the Jews, and an estimated six million Jewish people were murdered under Hitler’s rule. During these dark times, there were rescuers and organizers who looked past Nazi propaganda and did what was in their capacity to save victims around them. However, not enough intervention occurred, judging by the millions who perished. Unfortunately, there were more non-acting bystanders than there were heroes.
After the war, and once the world discovered the genocide that had taken place, the public declared, “We did not know,” and then cried, “Never Again.” In today’s technologically advanced world, “not knowing” seldom can be used as an excuse, as photos and videos can easily capture an atrocity unfolding, and then turn viral in a matter of hours, if not minutes, spreading through mediums as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. What, then, about the phrase, “Never Again?”
Currently, crises are underway within Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Syria, Burma; and societies in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Burundi still have populations that are trying to recover from their past genocides. (And this list is not exhaustive.) Clearly, we are far from realizing “Never Again,” as atrocities have continued to unfold after the Holocaust. The question then is, what can we as bystanders do?
Much of the focus in the news is on government actions, such as diplomatic and economic sanctions against states that are committing atrocities against their own citizens. But individuals can have an impact, too. First, as Americans, we can use our power to write, call, email, Tweet, and Facebook our members of Congress to pay more attention to such atrocities. For example, urge them to discuss strategies and make concrete plans -- especially during this upcoming election season -- to address the atrocities, ending human rights abuses, and holding leaders accountable. Second, we ourselves can volunteer or work with organizations that focus on these issues around the clock. For example, one could donate money to an organization whose mission resonates, or opt to commit more time by planning a campaign that raises awareness to the larger public mass, trying to make these various conflicts a part of the mainstream news.
Thus, as we remember the victims on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important that we also remember the promises made after the war – namely, to “Never Again” allow genocide to occur in our lifetime again – and to do all that is in our capacity to stop the ones occurring around the world today.