Defying and Defining Darkness
The Jewish Holocaust has to be one of the most egregious acts of injustice against Jews, rather, mankind, in history. This episode serves as a big, black blotch in the story of our species and a reminder of the greatest failure of humanity. The Nazis launched a violent war against Jews and other “lesser races” from 1933 through 1945 and established horrific concentration and death camps in Nazi-controlled Germany, Poland, and other parts of Europe. Nearly 5,933,900 Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Polish and Soviet citizens, Slavs, Romanis, Soviet prisoners of war, and other Nazi political and religious opponents were all killed in the process. This brings the overall number of people who have died to somewhere between 11–17 million.
“Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.” — Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The above quote signifies the brutality of the Holocaust. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was elected German chancellor. Singularly obsessed with his idea of establishing an “Aryan race”, he began exterminating everybody who was not a “perfect German” as soon as he became dictator. The Nazis imposed stringent regulations on the Jews, which were flagrant abuses of human rights. For example, Jews were denied basic privileges that other citizens enjoyed, such as working in certain occupations or owning certain property. In his memoir Night, Elie Wiesel writes that Jews were “forbidden to own silver or gold jewellery.”
The Nuremberg Laws are a set of two laws passed in Nazi Germany in September 1935: the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. Many of the racial theories that drive Nazi ideology were embodied in this legislation. Only those of “German or kindred blood” could be citizens of Germany. The Nazis rejected the customary understanding of Jews as religious or cultural minorities. Instead, they claimed that Jews were a race characterized by both birth and blood. In Germany, this legal definition of a Jew included tens of thousands of people who did not identify as Jews and had no religious or cultural ties to the Jewish community. For instance, it labeled persons who converted from Judaism to Christianity as Jews. It also included Jews who were born to Christians who had converted their parents or grandparents. They were all robbed of their German citizenship and basic privileges as a result of the law.
Such laws allowed the perpetuation of hatred against the Jews and it was on the “Night of Broken Glass” (November 9–10, 1938) that this persecution was taken to a whole other level. These days saw a string of violent attacks orchestrated by Nazi groups on Jewish homes and properties. Hearing of this barbarity, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had said, “I could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth-century civilisation.” But the fact of the matter is that they did take place, and soon after, things took a turn for the worse. As the Second World War commenced, Hitler waged his war against the Jews with full effect. They were arrested, herded like cattle for slaughter, packed away in freight trains, and taken to concentration camps. They were either gassed to death or forced to die slowly, by labouring their days away. Their very humanity was stripped from them and violating medical experiments were conducted often.
“It was Anne, and I ran in the direction of the voice, and I saw her beyond the barbed wire. She was in rags. I saw her emaciated, sunken face in the darkness.” — Anne Frank’s friend, Lies Goosens, on meeting her at the Belsen concentration camp.
Since 2005, on January 27, the United Nations and its member states have held memorials to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to honour the millions of victims of the Nazi reign. International Holocaust Remembrance Day aims at rejecting any form of Holocaust denial. “To forget Holocaust is to kill twice,” said Elie Wiesel — recognizing the horrors of the Holocaust is essential. Each country conducts different activities on this day. Shows and documentaries are screened, lectures and presentations are given. Some pay tribute to the victims by reading their names and lighting candles in their memory. Every year, the UN announces themes for Remembrance day, and for 2022, the theme is ‘Memory, Dignity, and Justice”. It stresses the importance of safeguarding historical records and preventing any distortion of past events. The act of remembering brings dignity and justice to the survivors, after all the atrocities that they have faced.
To be different is our generation’s chance and moral responsibility. When we say, “Never again,” we must mean it. As Anne Frank said- “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness”. We should call evil by its name and confront it with purpose and courage. We need to draw the lessons from the errors of the past to fight antisemitism, racism, extremism, and intolerance wherever and whenever necessary to build a better future. Today, we need to remember the past, as it is our duty to continue to tell the story. The Holocaust shows that evil is genuine, but hope, purity of heart, and courage are eternal. When we uphold this truth in our hearts, we carry the honest conviction of memory. And we use this strength to meet our sole purpose: Never again, not in our moment of history and responsibility.
Written by Srilekha Bhattacharjee, Shubh Mittal, Aarushi Sultania and Aaryan Panda