A Jerusalem Post editorial asks the question. The big question. Really, the only question: what has humanity learned from the Holocaust?
Jews have been tireless in using the Holocaust to teach about man’s inhumanity to man. Has it made a difference? Ask the 1.7 million Cambodians slaughtered between 1975-1979 by communist lunatics. Ask the over 800,000 Rwandans cut down by machetes — in a mere 100 days — in 1994.
Clearly, efforts to universalize the lessons of the Holocaust have utterly failed. Would a forced visit of Hutu killers through Washington DC’s Holocaust Museum saved a single Tutsi?
No one predisposed to genocide will be shamed into human decency by exposure to Schindler’s List. More than that: Even humanists who mourn Hitler’s Jewish victims have, in the blink of a relativist eye, condemned Israel for eliminating Ahmed Yassin, though he was single-mindedly committed to a new genocide.
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We are loathe to equate today’s foes with the Nazis. But as Yad Vashem’s Yehuda Bauer has argued, “Nazism, Stalinist communism, and radical Islam are different from each other, but they also have a certain similarity: All three aim, or aimed, at exclusive control over the world, all three oppose or opposed all expressions of democracy, and all three attacked Jews…” On this day, it is worth remembering that in Mein Kampf Hitler predicted terrorism and force would be victorious over reason.
The battle continues.
To that, we can add the Armenian Genocide, the hundreds of thousands (or more) killed in the Congo, the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, and the thousands of North Korean “political prisoners” being subjected to untold horrors in the Gulags. These are, sadly, only a few examples.
Was it realistic to say “Never Again” after the Holocaust? How could it be, when millions of years of human history teach us that the one thing human beings keep doing is finding new ways to instill horror and cruelty on one another? How could we think that the Holocaust would scare humanity straight, when it was only the “next step” in a long line of massacres, wars, and the wiping out of entire peoples?
There’s still an emotional connection to the Holocaust today. The events of 50 or 60 years ago are close enough in time that there are still survivors to tell their tales, to share their pain and to remind us. There are still memorials standing where the death camps once were. We can visit them, witness them.
But how long until the Holocaust becomes just another dry chapter in a history textbook, too remote in time for emotion? How long until future generations talk about it with the same detachment as they do the Crusades, or the Roman conquest?
Because maybe we haven’t learned. We haven’t figured out “Never Again” and perhaps we never will. But we have figured out Never Forget.
We haven’t forgotten the events of two or three thousand years ago. We’ve been observing holidays, retelling stories and prayers, tearing our clothing on Tisha B’Av and reciting the story of the Exodus on Passover. We weep over events of two thousand years ago with the same emotion as though they happened yesterday.
If there’s one thing us Jews have, it’s a very long collective memory. It unites us as a people as we remember the chapters of our shared history.
And if it hasn’t ensured a “Never Again”, then we have at least ensured that we will “Never Forget”. Maybe it’s a first step.