We must remember the Holocaust. It’s so important.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, as it’s defined by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community, according to the museum.
The shadow of the Holocaust reaches out widely, touching the lives of the whole Jewish people, including my own forbearers.
This April, we again had several pages in the Chronicle devoted to remembering the Holocaust. To preserve memory, the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Research Center, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, sends educators into Wisconsin classrooms, free of charge. In many ways, we strive to remember.
We remember to honor those lost and to help prevent such things from happening again. We remember simply because it happened. History should be remembered.
Logical, yes? It’s logic that can, in truth, be applied to other genocides as well.
Consider the Armenian Genocide. It’s the second deadliest in relatively recent and recorded world history.
Turkey doesn’t recognize it, but the Washington, D.C.-based United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does, with video testimonies of survivors available on its website, at Ushmm.org.
In my prior role as a journalist at a secular newspaper, I briefly interviewed a survivor years ago in southern Wisconsin. She was a soft-spoken, frail, elderly woman and I find her hard to forget. I met her at a church. As you may know, we’ve got Armenian churches on Milwaukee’s south side and in Racine County, brick and mortar offspring of the Armenian Diaspora.
The Armenian Genocide, from 1915 to 1923, took place in a part of the world where the Ottoman Empire was replaced with what we now call Turkey. There were executions into mass graves, and death marches of men, women and children across the Syrian desert to concentration camps with many dying along the way of exhaustion, exposure and starvation, according to the New York Times.
The Times quotes American ambassador Henry Morganthau Sr., from his memoirs: “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.”
Here’s what Khanum Palootzian, born in 1898, remembers, according to an account made available by the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies:
It was in May 1915 that the Turkish Government uprooted us from Darman and all our villages and tried to destroy us all. Our houses, farms, sheep, cows, fuel, horses, donkeys, chickens, our furniture, beds, foods, and all belongings were collected and forcefully confiscated. They didn’t give even one piastre as payment for all they took. My step-father, when they were going to kill him, pleaded that they let him pray before dying. As he knelt and prayed, they took a sword and cut off his head. They marched us into the mountains, fields and gorges to die of hunger. All the Armenian men and boys were killed with axes and swords. And all the women and girls were killed through thirst, hunger and an even worse fate that I don’t wish to say. Pregnant women were eviscerated, their stomachs cut open with swords and their babies ripped out, thrown against the rocks. These I saw with my own eyes.
This is a Jewish newspaper. Why remember the Armenian Genocide? Why remember other genocides, like in Rwanda and Cambodia?
Well, for one thing, it’s simply human and exceedingly Jewish to care about the whole world.
But also, if Jews only remember Jews and Armenians only remember Armenians and everybody else only remembers themselves, are we really getting anywhere? If the lesson learned from genocide is merely that grandchildren and great-grandchildren are to remember, is that truly enough to prevent such things from happening again?
The whole world should stand up against genocide together. It is a line that must not be crossed.
The Armenian Genocide killed about 1.5 million. It’s worth remembering.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.