Remembering in Black & White

Today is the International Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and not so coincidently it is also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  (When discussing these issues its easy to become melodramatic and when dealing with events of this severity it is unnecessary, so I will do my best to avoid it.)

Today I’m thinking about human suffering and my trip to Auschwitz (and six other concentration camps) when I was 15. Images of Poland have flickered  through my mind all day and Im wondering about the sanctity of good and evil.  These ideas were crisply black and white when I was younger, but now they muddled shades of grey.  

The courses I am taking at DIS have complicated these issues.  In my International Refugee Law class, we discussed the prosecution of human smugglers, particularly those helping Syrian refugees flee their state.  They are internationally wanted criminals. A classmate astutely raised the point that the only difference between them and heroes of the Holocaust is perspective.  Think of the Kindertransport which safely rescued an estimated 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis, but they are also illegal child smugglers.

For my Terrorism class I am working on a presentation about the history of terrorism.  I looked up the definitions of the words, so I could pick one for my project. The most accurate definition is “the use of violence and threats by non-state actor to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”  Technically this describes the Bielski Partisans a violent resistance group (non-state actor) who combatted the actions of the Nazi regime based on their political decisions. They were terrorists.

I am also taking course on Genocide this semester where we closely examine the limitations of human rights.  On the first day my professor said “human rights are not a god to which we pray, human rights are a number of laws.” In class we went through the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on Genocide.  We analyzed these documents and the specific clauses. 

I hear all this and I can rationalize it.  I can try to understand the nuances of international law.  I know I need a firm understanding of human rights so I can properly execute the work I am passionate about. This I accept.   But on days like today I cannot help but to embrace my bias.

I think of Frida Rozmati, a one year old girl who was gassed and cremated the day she arrived at Auschwitz.  I think of the pebble sitting on my dresser at home in the US, that I picked up outside of a barrack in Auschwitz where a survivor I know lived.  Mostly I remember the fifteen year old version of myself who sat on the floor of the mausoleum at Majdanek Concentration camp consumed by sobs as she stared at the ashes of 230,000 people.  Right now I am forcing myself to remember what the enormous hill of grey remains looked like and my chest physically pains.  I know I can do something to prevent this from happening again.  Not alone and not a big something, but it will matter.  For today, however I will remember and I will let my heart hurt.

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