Our journey to Auschwitz was long. The fog and the wind were so bad that our flight from Tel Aviv to Krakow was diverted to Warsaw. We drove all night to get there and arrived at Auschwitz exhausted. The trip wasn’t easy, and we barely made it in time to visit the museum before the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation. Then again, it should never be easy to come to this place. And nothing—not talking to survivors or reading extensively about it or teaching it or visiting other museums about it—prepared me for this visit.
For 70 years, it’s been said, “Never forget.” Never forget the marginalization, the stereotyping, the isolation and the dehumanization of Jews, Gypsies and other vulnerable minorities. Never forget that moment it became acceptable to consider them unworthy of life. Never forget the genocide. Never forget their lives, or the systematic attempt to eliminate an entire people.
Yet, for 70 years, time and again, society has forgotten. We’ve forgotten that the seeds for degradation, for genocide, are planted in many ways. We’ve forgotten the lessons we’ve learned, as evidenced by the tragedies in Darfur, in Rwanda, in Bosnia and now in Nigeria. It’s been nearly a year since Boko Haram first snatched 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in the dark of the night. And that reign of terror continues today. After the initial outcry, their kidnapping has been met with silence by the world. Silence.
The silence is deafening at Auschwitz. Visitors—in the face of the pictures and artifacts in buildings and courtyards that were places of intimidation, terror and murder—speak in hushed tones. But we cannot afford to be silent. The call to “never forget” must be passed down from generation to generation. Remembering means educating. Remembering means speaking out, not being a bystander.