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I just read an article by the Washington Post that states surveys show two-thirds of Millenials don’t know what the Holocaust is. At first, I was almost in shock and I thought, “That can’t be right.....?” But now I’m mostly just angry. Angry that we are letting such a crucial piece of history - of our story! - fade away into the boring, dusty pages of an outdated history book. Is that truly all history is to some people? Just a homework assignment to skim over and then forget after the test?
Ok. I’m getting myself worked up so I’ll stop there. But seriously, the Holocaust cannot be forgotten. Humanity simply can’t afford that to happen.
The events leading up to World War II, the reasons for Hitler’s success and rise to power, the way the Jews (and other minority groups) were systematically exterminated - these topics should be rigorously taught in today’s schools, maybe now more than ever.
Our world is in upheaval right now, and things within the United States’ own borders are no better. Racial tension is high, the gun control issue is too hot to touch, and relations between our country and North Korea (and Russia and Syria and China...shall I go on?) are rapidly deteriorating. And maybe all those things will come to nothing; maybe those issues will resolve themselves. But then again, maybe not. And it’s during that time when we should have a firm grasp of past events to keep from making similar mistakes!
The thing about World War II is that it didn’t happen all at once; it was very much a series of unfortunate events. Germany got pretty ripped off at the Treaty of Versailles which ended the First World War, leading to the entire country feeling bitter towards the rest of the world. There were food shortages because of labor shortages because of the Treaty, which meant soon everyone was starving and angry. And who was the general public told to blame? Jews. Because they owned the majority of businesses and banks in Germany. (I realize this is a gross generalization of events spanning many years, but I’m doing my best to be accurate yet succinct.) And Hitler? He came to power because he promised to make things better for the German people. He promised bread and work, and what starving, jobless person doesn’t want that?
People were desperate in Germany between WWI and WWII. They needed something - someone - to stand behind and believe in. They earnestly believed the Jews were evil because of the propaganda they’d been told for years, and they also earnestly believed Hitler was the savior who would lead Germany into her golden age.
It was because of desperation, hardship, and fear that Hitler was able to seize control. And once he was in control, the German people had their freedoms stripped away. In many ways, they were his prisoners. Under the Minister of Propoganda, Joseph Goebbels, all media including literature, music, newspapers, (and even private mail!), was censored. (For example, most of the German general public was not even aware of the concentration camps until after the war. Additionally, they were told they were winning the war even when they were badly losing.) The German people had no freedom of speech, no freedom to think for themselves, no freedom to be against Nazi beliefs...if they wanted to live.
And before WWII was over and Hitler defeated, more than six million Jews and other European minorities had been murdered, and an estimated total of between 50-80 million soldiers and civilians also died. That was the cost of regaining Europe’s freedom.
My point is this: we cannot forget the countless tragedies of the Holocaust and how closely humanity teetered on the edge of extinction. We cannot forget the many men and women who gave their lives so we would not have to live under Nazi terror and worry whether the color of our skin would mean our deaths, or whether one of our family members would be abducted in the night and never seen again just because of something anti-Nazi they said in the grocery store. We cannot become so desperate for the idea of “safety,” or suppressing beliefs contrary to our own, that we willingly throw our freedoms away. Don’t accept everything you see on different news networks as cold, hard fact. Don’t hate others for having different beliefs than you. Don’t allow the government to take away our freedoms under the guise of public safety. Don’t forget the blood shed for our freedoms and what happens when those freedoms aren’t cherished.
We have to learn from history if we don’t want to repeat it.