Holocaust memorial day was yesterday. It is a day that most people don’t even know about. Holocaust day is nothing like Halloween or Valentine’s day where the stores display shelves upon shelves with paraphernalia, gifts and other stuff that bring us into a festive mode. Never have I seen a magazine full of ideas for how to celebrate Holocaust day. I have never been to a gift shop that has been full of decorations we can buy to make our house festive for Holocaust day. And we know why. One should not get festive when one remembers the brutal and horrendous murders of six million Jews. One gets in a sober mood by remembering the world’s worst genocide.
But I still wonder why the day is not a bigger deal. Why don’t we stop the world on January 27th? Why don’t we all take some time off and reflect? Why did it happen? Why didn’t anybody stop the massacres? Why weren’t there more people who spoke up and who overcame their fear? Why did so many innocent people have to die in the most gruesome way? How can we stop it from happening again? Is it happening?
Perhaps we don’t take the time to ponder these questions because we are afraid of the answers. Perhaps we are afraid to face ourselves an our own fears? Would we have defended the Jews? Would we have tried to save them? Would we have put our own lives, careers and reputation at risk to save the ones we knew were innocent? Or would we have just pretended we didn’t know what was going on?
I am aware that comparing anything that is happening today to what happened during the Holocaust is risky. And I don’t do it lightly. There has never been a genocide of the same magnitude as the Holocaust. Hopefully there will never again be. But we see similar attitudes and actions today. The attitude the Nazis had towards their own race, and towards the Jews we can see clearly in the attitude the Burma government and religious leaders have towards their own population, the Rohingya people. Some of the same things the Nazis said about the Jews, the Burma government and religious leaders say about the Rohingya. Like: They are a virus that we need to get rid of. Like: We need to either send them all out of our country, or we need to fence them all in. Like: We can withhold food and medicine from them for as long as we find it necessary.
When trying to get the world to see that what is happening to the Rohingya right now is looking more and more like a genocide, the ears that are hearing appear deaf. When telling leaders and investors that the country they are doing business with, and the leaders they wine and dine are in fact responsible for the death of thousands, we only get a sad look and comments like: Yes, it is really bad. We hope that our investments and our engagement will bring about change in due time.
Yesterday, one of the 300 survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Roman Kent (85) had tears in his eyes when he recalled the horror he had survived. And his plea to the world, “Let us add one more command to the ten commandments: You shall not be a bystander.”
While feeling very reluctant to add or take away from Scripture, I still think that Mr. Kent’s point is worth considering. Are we bystanders to another genocide? Are we just observing when we should be acting?
Are we going to remember the death of thousands of innocent victims 70 years from now and ask ourselves: Why did the world let this happen? Or are we going to change history by starting to protest what is happening to the Rohingya?