Thursday, January 27, 2005
( 10:11 AM )
Learning to Remember
As I am getting fond of saying to my students - go to the source. To remember, to learn, go to the source. Today is the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But how many truly remember? How many truly know? Is it only we, those whose families are smaller because of the Nazis that will remember? This, the thing that all humanity carries in its heart...who truly knows? We need to listen to the voices of those who experienced this terrible history firsthand and not forget their words.
We the survivors are now disappearing one by one. Soon history will speak of Auschwitz at best with the impersonal voice of researchers and novelists, at worst with the malevolence of demagogues and falsifiers. This week the last of us, with a multitude of heads of state and other dignitaries, are gathering at that cursed site to remind the world that past can be prologue, that the mountains of human ashes dispersed there are a warning to humanity of what may still lie ahead.Will humanity never learn? We can so easily condemn the Nazis for their inhumanity. Yet without blinking we so easily approve as a leader of our Justice Department a man who condones the inhumanity of torture as a policy that represents our country; we so easily go along and re-elect an administration that considers tactics used by the worst of Central American dictators as viable options in Iraq, that considers lifelong imprisonment without charges acceptable.
The genocides in Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda and the recent massacres of innocents in the United States, Spain, Israel, Indonesia and so many other countries have demonstrated our inability to learn from the blood-soaked past. Auschwitz, the symbol of absolute evil, is not only about that past, it is about the present and the future of our newly enflamed world, where a coupling of murderous ideologues and means of mass destruction can trigger new catastrophes.
Jean Amery, a prisoner of Auschwitz said, "Anybody who was tortured will never again feel at home in the world."
On this sobering anniversary, do we only look without and shake our heads in consternation at what has gone before - or can we look within ourselves to what we have become and where we are going?