Go ahead. Judge me as you will.
While I am in no way an expert on the Holocaust, I would say that I have a fairly decent grip on the events that transpired, and I can probably tell you more about the tragedy than your average Joe. I’ve studied the Holocaust in school, spent time at Terezin (a Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic), visited Yad Vashem in Israel, spoken to numerous survivors, and now toured our local museum. And still, I have nothing profound to say.
I’m not immune to the subject. I’m not desensitized. I’m not heartless. Taking in the incredible artifacts in the Skokie museum is as mind-blowing now as reading Number the Stars was ten years ago. Standing inside the train car at the museum, in which more than 100 people were packed together for days on end to be taken to a work camp and their deaths, is just as heart-wrenching as walking through the tunnel at Terezin that took camp prisoners to their executions.
I have nothing profound to say. Each and every time I learn new information about the attempted systematic elimination of the Jewish people, I come away asking the same questions and hoping the same hopes. It’s never anything new.
So after visiting the museum, I again found myself wondering how something like this could have ever happened. And yet, we all know the answer to that age-old question: People let it happen.
Adolf Hitler did not act alone in solving the “Jewish Problem.” He had supporters. He had bystanders, who, in the end, were really just more supporters. He had the powerful ability to deceive, mislead, and convince. He had people wrapped around his finger and ready to obey, because he had their confidence in his so-called solution to their economic woes.
And so I have nothing profound to say. All I have to say are the same messages we’re taught from day one. They’re the same messages you get every time you study the Holocaust, or any other instances of what the Holocaust essentially boils down to. “Don’t bully.” “Don’t let others be bullied.” “Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.” And “don’t blame the innocent for your problems.”
None of it is profound, and none of it is new. It’s what we’re taught day in and day out, and it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take it to heart. The Holocaust didn’t happen overnight, and you’re lying to yourself if you say there was no way to stop it from happening. Hitler was not supernatural, and he could have been stopped.
We cannot undo the Holocaust or the pain it has caused so many people. While we are also taught over and over to learn from history and to not let history repeat itself, we also know that too many genocides have happened since the one Hitler orchestrated. But if we can internalize the simple messages like letting people be and not letting others be picked on, we can change the future.
We can protest when someone utters an offensive slur. We can tell people that their racist jokes aren’t humorous. We can intervene in small matters before they escalate to be much bigger and much, much worse. We can, and I can only continue to hope that everyone will.