Of course, the topic has been on my mind all year, since Le Thesis deals with Holocaust remembrance. But it was there before -- the topic for Le Thesis didn't just come to me out of thin air. As long as I can remember, I have seen pictures of the ghettos and the camps, read the history, heard the stories. I've visited Dachau and stood where so many people were worked to death.
I don't hate Germans. Anyone who knows me knows that. Most of the Germans I know weren't even thought of during the 1940s. Their parents weren't born. There is no way that they could have had anything to do with this crime. I don't believe in holding grudges unto the third and fourth generation. That's stupid, and it obscures what I think is the real lesson to be learned from the Shoah:
In its day, the Final Solution was so new, so big, that it was literally unimaginable. The Germans themselves couldn't imagine it; they built it slowly, in little steps. They had to work up to the idea that they really could destroy all the Jews in Europe. People ask why no one moved to aid the Jews, even after the Allies learned of the existence of the death camps. I don't know why -- no one really does, I suspect -- but I think that part of the reason was that no one believed that it could really be as bad as complete destruction. The word "genocide" hadn't been coined. People couldn't imagine that the Germans were actually, seriously trying to kill every single Jew in Europe.
That excuse doesn't work any more. We've seen the Holocaust. It is no longer beyond the realm of possibility that one group of people might systematically try to wipe another group off the face of the earth. There is proof that it's been tried, and it was an attempt that was almost successful. What's the worst that can come of insidious prejudice and blind, fanatical hatred? We've seen it. We know exactly where teaching like that will lead.
The lesson that I take from the Holocaust is this: Do not believe everything you are told about other people without question or thought. Look at other people, foreign people, with your own eyes, and look at them openly, willing to see what is there and not just what you have been told. See people as people, not as groups. It's easy to start seeing groups as something less than human. And now we know what lies at the end of that path.
That is the way to honor the dead. Honor the living by acknowledging them as fully real people, with all the rich variation that that implies, as human as you are.