That there are still Nazis, Klan followers, and vast numbers of people who deeply hate humans of various categories is almost as disturbing as the Holocaust. This indicates that humanity as a whole does not or refuses to learn the lessons of history.
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day–a day set aside to meditate upon the millions of lives wantonly destroyed by the fascist movements of the 1930s and early 1940s. It is a time of sober reflection upon one of the darkest episodes of the modern era.
In a rational world, the inhabitants would never forget the depth of the evil that motivated and enabled the truly horrible crimes that were committed during those dark years. The enormous magnitude of the Holocaust should still affect our lives in ways that promote mindful compassion about all of our fellow beings on Earth. The evil of the Holocaust would never happen in a rational world.
However, the world is not rational.
We humans are easily swept up by emotional tirades that condemn people who follow religions that are different from our own or follow no religion at all. We humans fall prey to beliefs about people who don’t look like us or behave exactly like us. We humans join movements that actively seek to eliminate people we do not like. Most of us only pay passing tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. Most horrifically, there are many people who deny that the Holocaust even happened.
Elimination of Jews was a priority of Nazi ideologues. We know that Jewish people from across Europe were rounded up and shipped to the camps that were set up for mass murder in industrial proportions. While we rightfully think of Jews as the victims of the Holocaust, they were not the only targets of fascistic depravity.
The Nazis took pride in their organizational skills. In addition to Jews, there was a broad set of “others” the Nazis wished to eliminate. They fostered hatred of trade unionists, Socialists, and Communists. The traditional European wariness of Roma people (Gypsies) was used to justify their elimination. There were other groups the German government classified as undesirables such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and common criminals. Widespread homophobia within western culture was used to justify the repression and killing of homosexuals.
Millions of Jews and other “undesirables” lost their lives in unthinkable ways under deplorable conditions. The victims who were not specifically targeted for systematic elimination died in the camps of exhaustion, starvation, disease, and barbaric treatment.
The enormity of the consequences of racism, prejudice, xenophobia, homophobia, and stereotyping is still present today. It is not restricted to certain “underdeveloped” nations, organized oppression is alive and healthy in the United States right now. Alarmingly, many officials in regional and national government along with many religious leaders openly endorse maltreatment of people who they do not approve of.
We cannot forget that other holocausts have happened throughout history. There have been other pogroms in Europe that took place in past centuries. Genocide has taken place in most areas on Earth. We should not overlook the Japanese war crimes, the horrific and terrible crimes of Stalinist Russia or Putin’s Russia either. We are uncomfortable about the purposeful genocide of the aboriginal peoples of South and North America. We think of fairly recent oppressive mass killings in Bosnia, Cambodia, Chechnya, Rwanda, Uganda and many other places.
Even after the most horrible crimes of the Holocaust have been documented and remembered there is still Antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, jingoism, and similar other categories of hatred. We must be mindful of how oppression of “others”–even today–negatively impacts humanity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes former FBI Director James Comey. “The need for reflection and restraint of power is what led Louis Freeh to order that all new agent classes visit the Holocaust Museum here in Washington so they could see and feel and hear in a palpable way the consequences of abuse of power on a massive, almost unimaginable scale.”