The Continued Relevance of the Holocaust
The rallying cry of the survivors of the Holocaust has been “never forget.” This is not an exhortation to live in the past. Never forgetting implies action in the present. “Never forget” implies “never again” and a commitment to undertake whatever actions are necessary to that end.
We must keep our eyes open to the genocides and potential genocides happening in the world around us. Rwanda wasn’t that long ago. Kurdish populations are perpetually under threat in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. And the persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East is often paired with ethnicity as a category for exclusion and extermination. This is not new, although with the ascendance of ISIS, the threat is more acute than ever.
The problem isn’t that genocide can become large and systematic. The problem is that genocide happens at all. The Holocaust is perhaps the most vivid example, but the problem itself is even bigger and more recent. We should not be focused on the past in our remembering that we forget to look around us in the present.
The ambivalence and indifference of past outsiders only emboldens future transgressors. Had the world responded differently to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust may have been avoidable. Of course, if the world had responded differently to the Holocaust, that would have also served to avoid the Holocaust. Yes, the Holocaust was singular in its magnitude (thus far) and in its ideological focus. But the Holocaust is neither without precedent nor without comparable subsequent incidents elsewhere.
The Holocaust does not so much exemplify a Jewish plight as it does a human one, common to us all. We all share the weight of the responsibility of remembering, though some of us feel that weight more acutely than others. God help us all if we forget.