Public Observation: Forgetting the Holocaust

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Today, I took a detour from the Freedom Trail in Boston (which I’ll blog about later) to the New England Holocaust Monument. The Monument is a path in Carmen Park beset first by stone blocks leading to towers of glass and steel. Each tower is plated by glass panels adorned with hundreds of numbers representing the 6 million Jewish killed at the hands of Nazi Germany. Each tower represents six of the major concentration camps liberated, each tower bearing a quote from a survivor of each camp, each tower set on a base emitting steam from its base into the inside of the tower to serve as an representation of a gas chamber.

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As I passed through on my way out of the memorial, stopping to wait for my wife and party, I stopped short of three girls standing in the first tower. I waited and watched as they asked each other questions:
“What are these numbers for?”
“What’s up with the steam/why is (the tower) doing that?”
My first instinct was to explain, but a parent came along and I continued to wait and observe. The girls repeat their questions to her to which she replies:
“This is the Holocaust.”
“What is the Holocaust?” A girl replies. I’m floored. I’m floored because the Holocaust was the attempted genocide of a culture, the rape and murder of millions of Jewish people. I’m floored because the Holocaust began with one man’s ability to convince a nation this was the right course to take. I’m floored because the Holocaust was an overwhelming triumph of evil, and these kids knew nothing about it.

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It’s not possible the girls were too young to have been taught about World War II and the Holocaust because one of them reminded the others they’d learned some of World War history some time ago. I’m sure my oldest kids have yet to learn about it. But my uneasy mind wanders to a time where all the survivors and liberators of the period will have passed. As demonstrated by the passings of Civil War and World War I survivors,  we are poorer in knowledge for our losses.

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For someone with any knowledge of what happened in the Holocaust, the memorial is quite powerful in the ability to summon feelings of sadness, loss, disgust and injustice. To someone without a clue, unwilling to stop and read the words on the glass or the etching on the stone blocks, it’s something fun to walkthrough, like a playground or a fun house mirror: the novelty wears off and you never return. When those who remember are gone, and those who remain don’t care enough, we’re looking at a recipe for history disaster in “doomed to repeat it” proportions.

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This can’t happen again: we, as a generation raised by one and raising another have to do better or risk what you see above: the triumph of evil.

Public Observation: Forgetting the Holocaust