This week, the world looked back in time to remember the Holocaust, an incredibly horrific time in world history. It was not an atrocity confined to the concentration camps across Western Europe. The world looked on in silence as Hitler and his minions killed millions of Jews, Christians and other people Hitler deemed unworthy of life. This is the reason we take the time to remember—Hitler may have been the madman behind the murder but the world was complicit in their silence.
The cold hard facts of the Holocaust can be reduced to mere numbers. It is estimated 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews. The Nazis killed approximately two-thirds of all Jews living in Europe. I had heard the numbers, but I wanted a closer look. I wanted to see the people. They did not deserve to be remembered as the mere numbers tattooed on their left arms. Their memories deserved more.
I have visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, Israel and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. It may seem odd that I would want to visit two Holocaust museums, but they were both very different and looked at the events of the Holocaust from different perspectives. As different as they were, they both brought the reality of what happened and how it happened into focus for me, someone who has only read about it.
As I walked through Yad Vashem with our tour group in 2001, I saw pictures of the men, women and children who were in the camps—documentation of the inhumane experiments they conducted on human beings. I saw their personal belongings, which were collected as they entered the camps, before many of them were sent to the gas chambers. They had clothing with the yellow Star of David sown on them, indicating the person was Jewish, eye glasses, hairbrushes and many other personal items. For many who were killed in the camps, these items are the only things left of them.
I have such vivid memories of the faces of the people in those photographs and I also remember the lump in my throat. The group was quiet and solemn as we walked through the exhibits and I was thankful for the silence. All I could think was if someone spoke to me, I was going to burst out crying. Even now, as I remember and write, the tears threaten to fall.
You do not have to travel all the way to Israel to get a close-up look at the people murdered by Hitler and his followers. At the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California, you receive an electronic swipe card before you begin the tour. When you put it into the computers throughout the tour, you learn about the life of one child sent to the camps. When you leave, you can print out their personal history.
My card was for Sandro Samuele Sonnino, born in Rome, Italy on August 8, 1938. Sandro was five years old when his family was arrested and deported to the concentrations camps. On October 18, 1943, Sandro and his family were loaded into cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the entire family was gassed as soon as they got off the train. Sandro Samuele Sonnino was five. He was one of 1.5 million Jewish children exterminated by Hitler and his henchmen.
As I write this, looking up statistics and facts for accuracy, I cannot help but think of the Jews, the Yazidis, the Christians and the Muslims murdered every day in the Middle East. I cannot help but notice the silence in the media. Today, when we have cameras and computers in every home, when practically every person participates in social media, where is the outcry for this atrocity against humanity? Where are the world leaders?
If we are going to really remember and memorialize the lives of the millions murdered in the Nazi concentration camps, we cannot remain silent. We must rise up and call upon our world leaders to stand up to this psychotic regime and end their reign of terror upon countless men, women and children. If we do not, then we are no different than those who sat in their homes and ignored the Holocaust, allowing the torture and extermination of 11 million people.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”