On the 20th of January of 1942, Berlin, leading members of the Nazi administration and Schutzstaffel (SS) were gathered by Reinhard Heydrich to discuss what was named "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question" at Wannsee, Berlin.
This "solution" as it was so callously named was the first true step to what would soon become the most heinous act of hatred in living human memory. Though anti-Semitic persecution had begun far earlier under the rule of Adolf Hitler, with Reich Blood Purity Laws, which organised programs and attacks on members of the Jewish community (such as Kristallnacht: The Knight of Broken Glass) and mass deportations and allocations of Jews into ghettos, the Final Solution was the creation of a state of industrialised genocide with the ultimate goal being the utter annihilation of the Jewish people in accordance to the bigotry propagated by the National Socialist ideology.
Between the years 1941 and 1945, the Third Reich undertook the single most depraved and inhuman act of genocide ever perpetrated, with a death toll of an estimated six million human beings starved, gassed, shot, tortured, and incinerated. Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally-challenged, the disabled, all suffered at the hands of the Third Reich, but none so more than the Jewish people, against whom Adolf Hitler unleashed his perverse and barbaric crusade for the fallacy of "racial purity." Worse, the Nazis went as far as to steal the possessions of their victims, collect their hair for pillows, fashion soap from human fat, conduct human experimentation and similar acts so genuinely disgusting and unequivocally evil that it defies any comprehension.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Third Reich crumbled by the ends of 1945. The men (and women, for this was not a crime relegated to one gender only) responsible for aiding and abetting this act of genocide were tried and many hanged. Men like Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, chose to take their own lives rather than face the enormity of their crimes.
Before the War came to a close, the Nazis had issued orders to eliminate all evidence of the Holocaust. Train tracks were torn up, thousands of documents burnt and destroyed, and camps evacuated in a desperate effort to escape the wrath of the approaching Allies. Yet they did not succeed. They did not silence the truth. And the annals of our history shall forevermore bear a mark we cannot (and must not) remove. The blood of innocents, six million innocents, men, women and children, mere names and numbers on Reich documents, but living, breathing souls slaughtered under perhaps one of the most infamous mottoes ever written:
“Work, shall set you free.”- Arbeit Mach Frei
Now, 75 years after the end of the Second World War, we are at risk of forgetting the Holocaust. The enormity of that statement and its severity cannot be understated. Sixty-six percent of US millennials are ignorant as to what Auschwitz was. Forty-one percent of millennials believe that it was two million or fewer Jews murdered by the Nazis. And while there may be those that argue that in an age of Trump and political unrest there are more important matters to focus on, and others may be so ignorant as to claim that the Holocaust was a past event, and we should "leave it at that”, they are wrong.
George Santayana once said that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And if we allow ourselves to forget the true extent of the horrors of the Holocaust, our greatest shame as a species, our darkest moment, then we have failed. We have failed ourselves, and failed the truth, but most importantly if we forget, we have failed the murdered millions who were never allowed a voice to cry out against their torment.
If we forget, then those men whose names live on in infamy: Hitler, Eichmann, Himmler, Goebbels, Hoss, Heydritch, Goering, those men are guaranteed a victory. Victory to gain exemption from their crimes, and a victory which they must never be allowed to have.
It is tempting, when discussing Hitler's high command, and the Fuhrer himself, to refer to these men as “monsters". However, they were not monsters. To call these men monsters is to evolve them into something fantastical, fictional, unnatural, a dark bogeyman. These men were not monsters, no. We must remember that they were humans. Humans fully aware of their actions, fully aware of the orders they gave, remorseless, merciless, human beings that perpetrated a genocide, knowing with clarity and absolute certainty what the result would be. Not monsters, no. Humans. Bigoted, depraved, cowardly, vile thinking, sapient beings. Men who swayed thousands to adore them, to support them, to worship a cult of hatred, and who wished to rebuild the foundation of their Reich on the ashes of an entire murdered people. That is the tragedy of human nature, the ghastly realisation of our worst excesses, how indescribably vicious and barbaric we are capable of being with our fellow man. For the living proof of how low humanity has sunk look no further than the Holocaust.
Among the Jewish community, there is a propensity for referring to the Holocaust as the Shoah, Hebrew for "Destruction." And that is the tragic reality. Destruction. Annihilation. An act of heart-wrenching cruelty that will stain our history for centuries forevermore. And now with the rise of Neo-Nazi groups, alt-right anti-Semites, and the emergence of foul Holocaust deniers who would have us act as if this never happened at all, it is vital, vital that we continue to condemn, continue to weep for the dead, continue to remember.
Remember the Jews, stripped naked and shaved, dying. Remember the innocents who wasted away, walking skeletons in dilapidated and filthy barracks. Remember the families hanged, buried alive, shot. Remember the millions denied a resting place, ashes scattered, bodies bulldozed in the thousands. Remember the men in their black leather uniforms and scarlet armbands who signed off name after name to death. Remember the soldiers, as they opened fire on helpless victims who had done them no wrong. Remember the names of Auschwitz, of Chelmno, of Dachau…
And remember the sea of the dead, souls braver than you or I shall ever be; beautiful, human, innocent souls stripped of their humanity, their identity, their pride, a galaxy of faded yellow stars all which read:
Remember the murdered. Remember the Holocaust.
"It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere."-Primo Levi
Pablo L Year 12