"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lest We Forget

Sixty years ago today, Soviet troops advancing through Poland took control of an installation abandoned by fleeing German troops and freed over 7000 prisoners who had been left behind. Soviet soldiers were stunned and appalled by the condition of those prisoners and their accounts of SS activities there.

That place was called Auschwitz.

Those soldiers and survivors who remain are elderly now. In twenty years, that generation will be nearly extinguished. It will be easier to forget. It is already easier to forget: witness the rise of neo-Nazi groups in the USA and anti-Semitism in Europe. Consider our own government's recent policy of "indefinite detention" of Arab prisoners who cannot be convicted of any crime due to lack of evidence, and their published theory that the Geneva Convention rules on the treatment of prisoners of war does not apply to prisoners of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Witness the genocidal wars in Bosnia and Africa. These events occupy different points on a continuum where fear begets hatred, hatred begets war, war begets atrocity.

v. wit·ness
1. To be present at or have personal knowledge of.
2. To take note of; observe.
3. To provide or serve as evidence of.
4. To testify to; bear witness.

As one generation passes away, it becomes the responsibility of those who follow to bear witness in their place. We are already forgetting the Holocaust. We are, in our arrogance, deliberately forgetting. We assume we are better, more noble, more righteous than our predecessors.

We are not. We are, in our hearts, base and unworthy creatures. The only way we will rise above our worst nature is by remembering what it engenders when left unchecked; by opening our eyes, our hearts and our mouths and truly witnessing both our past and our present.

1 rejoinders:

Fourth pew, center sounded off...

"Millions of [citizens]. . . must have known that what they were doing, or allowing to happen, was vile and unconscionable. It must have occurred to them to try to stop the mass murder.
But almost every one of them, after whatever internal debate occurred, acting out of fear or opportunism or anger or for simple convenience, sided with complicity, active or passive. They knew and nodded, or they knew and looked away, or they told themselves they really did not know."
from "One Clear Conscience, 60 Years After Auschwitz," by Roger Cohen. New York Times, 1/30/2005. A short, but quite moving story about one Polish man who saved a Jewish girl from the Nazis. The girl he saved is now Roger Cohen's mother-in-law.