In acknowledgement of Holocaust Remembrance Day, MS and US students heard from Evie H. ’26—her insightful remarks focused on the historical events that led up to the Holocaust as well as its lasting impact. Below is a transcription of her speech.
“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice”
Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz Survivor
“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice”
Hello. My name is Evie H. January 27 is Holocaust memorial day. Some people think that this is the day that the allies won the war. However, this is inaccurate. It is the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, which was the largest and deadliest concentration camp used by the Nazis to kill Jews and other people they considered undesirable. When I was approached to give this speech, a lot of thoughts raced through my mind, but I mostly had questions. What would I talk about? How could I even begin to explain the horrors that were committed? How do I talk to a room full of my peers? In the end, I decided what I needed to talk about was not what happened during the holocaust, but before and after, and why we must remember. It needs to be known that the events of the Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum. How did such a horrible atrocity happen? Why did everyday citizens disregard their morals and turn on Jews, many of whom were their friends and neighbors? Did they really not know what was going on? Why must we “Never Forget” and how do we even begin to remember and commemorate the people who died and the atrocities committed?
Sometimes, when thinking of the Holocaust, it is hard to imagine how Germany became a country bent on cleansing itself of what they deemed as inferior races. This process did not happen overnight. It started slow. Hitler came to power as chancellor in 1933, and I am sure most of you are imagining that he seized it through force. However, it was a democratic election that gave him and the Nazi party power. Evil groups, such as the Nazi party, don’t campaign for their corrupt ideals, rather, they unite under a common purpose and create a common enemy. They then let the common people do the work. For Germany, Hitler was appointed as chancellor, a job which determined who was in the Federal cabinet. This put Hitler in a position of power, able to influence who were the other leaders of Germany. This was the first step in how he began to fully seize control. Next was the common goal, Germany was still licking its wounds after the loss in WW1 and he promised to rebuild Germany’s economy, which had crashed after the war. Then came the common enemy. While Hitler blamed socialists for Germany’s defeat, he pinned most of the blame on the “Backstabbing Jews” saying that they betrayed Germany for the allies. While there was no basis for this, the army, who had wanted an excuse for their defeat, bought into this, and soon it became the leading reason.
Like most evil, the Holocaust did not happen overnight. It started with a gradual series of laws that limited the rights of Jews in terms of where they could live, what property they could own, what jobs they could have and who they could marry. If their name didn’t sound Jewish enough they had to add the name Israel or Sara to it. They lost their citizenship and right to vote. They were not allowed to go to public schools. Many of these laws were designed to separate Jews from the wider community, until finally, manipulated by propaganda, Germans saw Jews as what Hitler was trying to portray; not German or elite enough to be human.
Subtle propaganda in the way of speeches, posters, and art depicting Jews as the enemy corrupted once innocent minds. Then began more restrictions. Laws determining curfew, making people have to identify if they were jewish by a star on their clothing or on an armband, and only allowing jews into jewish spaces became the norm. The subtle build up of laws and restrictions ended up leading to what we know as the Holocaust.
On November 9, 1938, many Jewish stores were destroyed and robbed, with their broken windows littering the streets, giving the night its name, Kristalnacht. Most of you know this if you have read Anne Frank. However, what you may not know is that it was not just storefronts that were affected by the mass rioting that ripped through Germany. No, there were schools, houses, synagogues, and even Jewish cemeteries that were destroyed and desecrated. Survivor accounts of the riots recall the Nazi’s breaking down doors, smashing furniture in their homes, and even killing innocent Jews. The Nazis arrested around 30 thousand Jews, which most often meant death.
As time passed, more and more Jews began receiving letters, deporting them to labor camps. Then, after letters started becoming less effective, they would be rounded up and arrested in their streets and their homes. While some of the camps were indeed forced labor camps, some of these were actually killing camps. Regardless of whether a camp served as a concentration, labor or extermination camp, death was often the result. These camps had awful conditions, and thousands died in them from disease, human experiments, malnourishment and the cruelty of the guards. I will not go into specifics of the horrible events that took place.
It wasn’t a happy ever after when the Jews who survived were freed. The survivors struggled to rebuild physically, emotionally and mentally, and there have been studies that show survivors and their children to be more prone to disorders such as PTSD and anxiety. As for what happened to the Jews who had lost everything, most of them never got back their homes, properties, businesses, or family heirlooms.
When people began getting sent to concentration camps, parents rushed to save their children, trying to send them into hiding: placing them in convents, giving them to foster families or giving them to orphanages. There were many Non Jews who risked their lives to save Jews and specifically Jewish children. They were later given the title Righteous Among the Nations. Many of these parents didn’t survive. As an example, in Poland, in 1939 the Jewish population was 3 million Jews, at the end of the war approximately 380,000 remained alive. The parents who did survive sought out their children in 1945. Many times there was no documentation of where their children were, and some never reunited with their parents. Those who were saved when they were infants or very young often had little to no recollection of their parents. The foster families would sometimes keep these children, having grown attached to them, and some of these children wanted to stay with their foster families, because they were all they knew. These people, who had suffered torture at the hands of the Nazis, now had to face the torture of their own child not being able to recognize them.
There were Jewish towns destroyed by Nazi troops as they marched through, items taken and sold that were never given back, and loved ones who never got to see their families again. However, despite this, many of the children and grandchildren of survivors went into professions that sought to heal people and society. While one would think that the survivors would be filled with thoughts of revenge and hatred because of what was done to them, in reality most of them became peace and human-rights activists. They traveled the world, educating people about the Holocaust. This is a powerful statement: these people did not seek revenge, but to make the world a better place, a peaceful world.
So, Why must we remember? Because if we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes. History repeats itself quite often, and one of the most common motifs is finding someone to blame for your problems. In the Holocaust, it was primarily the Jews that were blamed, but there were other innocent groups that were targeted. It was the Roma people, Black people, Slavic people, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, communists, trade unionists, and people whose views conflicted with Nazis, such as Jehova’s witnesses. At the end of the day, none of these groups deserved what happened to them. How do we prevent this from reoccurring in the future? We prevent it by remembering the past. I remember two of my great-great grandmothers who were murdered, Selma Katzenstein in Auschwitz, and Mathilde Antoine Bitterman in Theresienstadt. I too hope to go forward into my adult life and try to make the world a better place. In doing so, in honor of their memory, I can do my part to prevent history repeating.
I would like to end this with a poem that tells what happens when we stay silent in the face of atrocities and allow them to happen.
First They CameFirst they came for the CommunistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a CommunistThen they came for the SocialistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a SocialistThen they came for the trade unionistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a trade unionistThen they came for the JewsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a JewThen they came for meAnd there was no one leftTo speak out for meby Pastor Martin Niemöller
First They CameFirst they came for the CommunistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a CommunistThen they came for the SocialistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a SocialistThen they came for the trade unionistsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a trade unionistThen they came for the JewsAnd I did not speak outBecause I was not a JewThen they came for meAnd there was no one leftTo speak out for me
May 14, 2021
March 24, 2023
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