It’s April again. Most Americans, most world citizens for that matter, will go about their daily grind pretty nonplussed by this extremely predictable yearly occurrence. One in 12 or so probably have a birthday this month. Where it’s cold, it gets warmer; where it’s warm, it gets hot. The earth continues to spin.
But there are places on this planet where this month is not a month, but a lifetime, where April is symbolic of life and death, of heaven and hell. More important than those places are the people—those individuals to whom this month bears familiar reminders of what the world would much rather forget had ever occurred. April is a month set aside for remembering the Holocaust … but what is remembrance?
Those of us who did not experience the Holocaust surely cannot remember it, but remembrance doesn’t mean that we look back upon our own experiences simply for the sake of recalling them. Remembrance looks like indignance, like action, like social change. Remembrance looks like compassion in the eyes of those of us today who are lucky enough to not have experienced a genocide, or died in one. When the Second World War came to a conclusion, world leaders around the globe stepped piously to their podiums and pounded them with their fists, bellowing rigorous promises of “never again.” “Never again,” they promised, would the world sit idly by and watch as the powerful oppressed, enslaved and then exterminated the weak. “Never again” would politics interfere with basic human goodness. “Never again” would a genocide, such as that which we now refer to as the Holocaust, be allowed to take place under the watch of the Western superpowers. And yet since that time, never once has it been stopped.
In your lifetime alone, since 1992, millions upon millions of individual human beings have been exterminated at the hands of other individual human beings, while from a comfortable distance, the world has merely observed. Human beings have been exterminated on the basis of their religion, race or cultural and social status in Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and many others. Today, it is happening in Sudan. Many American people can conjure up the word “Darfur,” if prompted correctly, and a few can even point to it on a map. A few less than that can articulate what is happening there that may be of concern, and considerably less can say honestly that they have made some small attempt to take action on behalf of those in Darfur who, because they are of the wrong religion or have the wrong color of skin, have suffered displacement, fire-bombing, torture, murder and rape warfare at the hands of a corrupt and evil government. Yet every American remembers that the Colts won the Super Bowl, that Hillary Clinton is running for president and that American Idol is on at 8 o’clock tonight. This is what America remembers, and this is why genocide continues to devastate the world.
Remembrance looks like indignance, not indifference. The National Socialists were a tiny party to begin with, who grew with great strides as the rest of an indifferent country looked on. Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf, a book in which he details not only his hatred for the Jews, but his perceived need for them to be destroyed. He wrote this book from Landsberg Am Lech prison in 1925. But there is so much more than that. An apathetic world looked on, concerned with their own hardships and economic problems, as the National Socialists imprisoned political opponents, enforced curfews on the Jews, euthanized the handicapped and quite successfully utilized one of the greatest atrocities against human rights the world has ever seen when they drafted the Nuremberg Race Laws, using as their guide the United States’ very own Jim Crow laws. Indifference towards the suffering of others is not remembrance; indifference to that which seems not to affect us at the moment is the best possible way to ensure that the world will never cease to suffer the pangs of evil, and of genocide.
Remembrance looks like compassion. Did Jesus not teach us to care for the poor, to look after once another? During the Holocaust, many human beings opened their doors to others, hiding the persecuted in their basements, in their attics, risking their lives and their personal comforts on behalf of those in need. However, many more refused to take such a risk, and some of those went as far as to sell each other out. Just as we would all like to think that we would be like Jesus if we could, the truth is, we would be more like Peter, or even Judas. We are a fallen people, and we are weak. We would all like to be Oskar Schindler, Raoul Wallenberg or Paul Rusesabagina, but who among us has the integrity to be such a man when a gun is being held to his head? There is a reason that we know these names; their bravery is rare amongst humanity, and their compassion for their fellow man meant salvation for thousands in their time of need. But who today will continue what these incredible human beings have started?
Remembrance looks like action. Many have attempted to claim that the world had no idea of what was going on in German-occupied Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, though of course this is far from true. How could the United States explain away the Saint Louis, a passenger ship laden with Jewish refugees which landed in Florida, and which the United States turned away and sent back to Germany, where many of the passengers perished at the hands of the S.S.? How could the rest of Europe and Russia explain away the mass exodus of Jews or the fact that they locked their doors to them, forcing these refugees to return to the Reich, and the Protectorate, and to certain death? How might the Vatican explain turning a deaf ear on the plight of millions, as their immeasurable power and influence lay stagnant? During instances in which the world had the opportunity to take action, the world failed. We failed. And we would repeat this mistake again and again, as millions more perished in genocides around the globe over the past 60 years. Today, we continue down this path of indifference, as hundreds die daily in displacement camps in Northern Uganda, and thousands more continue to be exterminated in Sudan.
As individuals, we excuse ourselves, complaining that we have no influence, that we are too small, too weak, too insignificant to make a difference. Perhaps it helps us sleep at night, but it shouldn’t. As a society, we look the other way, embracing pop culture, materialism and our own egocentric needs and desires at the expense of human life that lives, for the moment, but half a world away. They are well within our reach. And as a country, we focus on our own interests, and the interests of our over-privileged population. We care more about the flavor of our coffee in the morning than for the person who will die in Darfur as we are drinking it. We forget that God is watching.
It is April again. It is a time for the sun to warm the earth, and where there is grass, it will get green. It is Holocaust remembrance month. Let us not allow our remembrance to be limited to that which we are told to do, or that which we can accomplish in a single day. Let us remember Christ and what He sacrificed that we might live today, and let us do that in the form of action. Let our remembrance be seen and felt by the rest of the world; let it warm the hearts and save the lives of those oppressed in far away nations, as well as in our own communities. Let our remembrance speak highly of our faith in our Creator, and of our love for Him. As James told us once, “Faith without deeds is useless.” Let our faith and our remembrance be one.