How to remember

Posted: May 2, 2011 in Comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

Yom Hashoah begins at sundown May 1. We consider it our duty to not just remember those so savagely deprived of life and liberty in the Shoah, but also never to forget the horror of a modern nation creating factories of death with the same cool precision it applied to building automobile factories. We want to make that collective memory the foundation for preventing future genocides.

Yet geopolitics are so complicated that time and time again – whether in Rwanda, Kosovo or Darfur – the best that we can get is prosecution of genocidal actors only after thousands have been slaughtered.

In Kosovo, NATO actually intervened with airstrikes in an effort to stop the “ethnic cleansing” of Albanians by Serbs. In Rwanda, U.N. peacekeepers were withdrawn after the Hutu majority began its genocidal campaign against the Tutsi minority. Later, when the scope of the slaughter became apparent, an international military intervention hung up over an argument on how to fund it and a small French contingent was deployed ineffectually. The killing ended only when a Tutsi rebel group defeated the Hutus’ government forces. In Darfur, an African Union peacekeeping force was committed and then bolstered by a U.N. force, but its mission was to protect the Darfurians, not to defeat their oppressors – the Sudanese government and the Arab Janjaweed militias. Meanwhile, about 300,000 people died.

Since Jan. 12, 1951, genocide has been a crime under international law. Previously, the broader principle of “crimes against humanity” existed, and that’s what Nazis were convicted of at Nuremberg. But clearly, law doesn’t prevent crimes against humanity or genocide any more than it prevents murder or petty theft.

Although many Holocaust survivors were still alive to tell their stories, Kosovo, Rwanda and Darfur happened. We have to wonder what kind of outrages will be seen when all the Holocaust survivors are gone and unable to remind the world of this evil. We must take care to document their memories while they’re still with us and create more mechanisms to teach about the Shoah.

We’re heartened by the work of Scottsdale artist Robert Sutz, who recently founded the We Remember Holocaust Memorial (see story), and by the collaboration between the East Valley Jewish Community Center and the City of Chandler to build a Holocaust museum. But as important as it is to support these new efforts, it’s also important to light a candle for the 6 million Jews and the 5 million others the Nazis systematically murdered. (These are estimates and, sadly, they may be too low.)

In addition to the communitywide commemoration organized by the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association, there are Yom Hashoah services and remembrances happening across Arizona. Attend one, and you’ll never forget.


Comments are closed.