The Need for Remembrance

April 20, 1993

The world must never doubt that the Holocaust could happen and did, and that such an appalling tragedy must always be prevented anew.

This was the reason for the commemoration of the Day of Remembrance in Baltimore's War Memorial last Sunday. And for solemn celebration in Warsaw in these days of the 50th anniversary of the rising in the Ghetto, when some 500 doomed Jews held off the German army for three weeks.

This reason informs the Holocaust Memorial at Gay and Water Streets, its somber concrete and chilling statue a metaphor for the murder of six million souls. And the Holocaust studies in many school systems, not least those of Israel.

And from this week forward, while survivors and liberators yet live, the cause of remembrance is enshrined in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to be dedicated Thursday and opened to the public next Monday on the Mall in Washington.

That is why the Holocaust Memorial Museum is to be operated under a title in the United State Code called "Patriotic Societies and Observances." Part of the council's mandate is to "provide for appropriate ways for the Nation to commemorate the Days of Remembrance." So it is ever after an official American, not solely Jewish, remembrance.

In the middle of war, Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany thought the extermination of the Jews so important that it took up rail capacity and personnel from the losing war effort. Some six million Jews were methodically murdered for who they were. The most similar treatment, by the same war machine at the same time, was accorded Gypsies.

There were other murderers than Germans, puppets of the masters. And there were other victims totaling millions: Catholics and Communists, Serbs, democrats, homosexuals, the handicapped. But the war against the Jews was central to what occurred and to Nazi theory, culminating the history of anti-Semitism. It had lasting effect. Europe today is nearly free of Jews, ethnically "cleansed."

It is important to know, so that the Holocaust does not yet succeed over decades where it first failed. It is important to recognize the seeds of this atrocity. Not that the Holocaust is likely to be replicated, but that its essence of evil informs other traumas: Today, in what is done to the Muslims of Bosnia in the name of a perverted Serbian nationalism; and done to the southern Sudanese in the perverted name of militant Islam; done by governments as policy, on the authority of some leader.

The Holocaust was an historic event. It ended, but the evil in it lives and must be combatted with vigilance. And never forgotten.

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