When I was in third grade my teacher read a book to us called Number The Stars. It was about a Danish girl and her family who helped hide their jewish friends during WWII. I don’t really know what it was about that book,I can’t even recall any details now, but it drew me in to World War II and sparked my interest in the Holocaust specifically. I just couldn’t comprehend with my little 8 year old mind how something like that could happen. So I went through book after book and movie after movie-anything I could get my hands on that concerned the Holocaust in order to answer all my questions. How could someone be filled with so much hate towards another human being? How could something like this happen? How could the world just stand and watch?
Of course these are complex questions and I don’t think I will ever be able to find satisfactory answers. But I have continued my search and learned a lot about the Holocaust in the process. As part of this journey I have always wanted to go to Auschwitz, to see it for myself. This past Saturday November 14th I finally did it, I went to Auschwitz. Of course, my much anticipated journey to this nightmarish place happened to be the day after the Paris attacks and I couldn’t help but think of the terror that my fellow Parisians were experiencing as I stood in this place that not so long ago was terror incarnate for so many.
As I stood shivering in the biting Polish cold-sweater, parka, boots and all- I thought of the unbearable cold the prisoners of this camp must have felt in their barely-there striped jumpsuits. I also thought of the the bitter coldness that Parisians must be feeling in the wake of such a violent assault. As I walked from barrack to barrack and looked around at the vast field that once contained hundreds more, I thought of the thousands of people that had been forced to walk around here and that were held captive by these wooden planks, this grass, this barbed wire. I also thought of of how empty the streets of Paris must be, robbed by Fear of their usual inhabitants walking to and fro, living their lives. As I looked at the ruins of a gas chamber, now little more than piles of concrete teeming with moss. I thought about the thousands of innocent people who had been sacrificed to this concrete in the name of ideology. I also thought about the rubble lying on the Parisian sidewalks; pieces of walls, shards of glass, all lying defeatedly. I thought about the 130 people who had been sacrificed to these streets in the name of ideology.
One of the phrases you always hear when you go to Holocaust museums or exhibits, or in this case, Auschwitz, is some variation of the following: “We show you all of this so that something as horrible as this will never be allowed to happen again.” And yet, despite all this education and awareness and evidence of what can happen when we let hatred go to far, it still happens. There is still genocide, there are still religious wars, there are still acts of terror; there is still unnecessary loss of life.
I’m not trying to compare the Holocaust to the terrorist attacks on Paris-they’re two very different things. But in a way they are very similar at their core, or at least, in why they happened. Quite simply, hatred. Terroristic activity and the Holocaust are and were acts of hatred. Both victimize human beings because they are externally different from their attackers. Hitler killed Jews because they didn’t fit into his idea of perfection. ISIS and other extremist Islamic groups kill westerners because their lifestyle is so contrary to their own ideal lifestyle. In the end all of the rhetoric boils down to people’s hatred of things and people that are different from them.
The scarier thing is, Nazis and ISIS are extreme examples but there is so much more hatred in the world, in smaller forms but equally capable of reaching these immense levels. There are people like Donald Trump who victimize immigrants and would do a lot of drastic things to make them disappear. There are so many instances of racism and hate crimes on college campuses and abuse of people of color amongst police forces. There are people who given the circumstances in France are already hating on Syrian refugees and using them as scapegoats (in the same way that Hitler blamed the woes of Germany on Jews), ignoring the fact that these people are themselves escaping terror at home. The only thing that differentiates these hateful ideologies from those of Nazis and ISIS is that they haven’t been acted upon on a wide scale. But what’s to say they won’t be?
As I looked around Auschwitz, at this immense piece of land, developed for the sole purpose of acting out the hatred of one man by working its slaves to their deaths, I couldn’t help but cry. I cried as I thought of all the human life that has been lost to hatred and ignorance. I cried for all the children who wont get to grow mentally and physically, for all the young people who won’t have the chance to create countless memories, for the mothers and fathers who probably worried about their loved ones until the last second, and for the elderly who didn’t get to live out their las years relishing in peace in all they had accomplished with their lives. I cried for French people, and Americans, and Syrians, and Nigerians, and Vietnamese people, and Mexicans and Haitians and for everyone because we are all humans and we all want to live-but some of us won’t get to because of the hatred of others.
I said a little prayer for humanity because we haven’t learned our lesson. Because we’re still killing each other senselessly.
After I said my prayer I wondered, what will our future be like? I wondered if we’ll ever learn to stop hating others. I wondered in what way hatred will manifest itself next and who will have to suffer for it. Will we let it happen? Will we just stand by and watch?
Paris, France/Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland