Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day. A day when the world should stop, remember what has gone before - who has gone before, and then move forward with resolve to never again allow the wholesale extermination of a people.
In all, it is estimated that 11 million people died at the hands of the Nazis. Six million of them Jews.
I am not Jewish. But I am a human being. And the last time I checked my moral compass, it still points to all human beings mattering a great deal.
As Prime Minister Gordon Borwn said recently, “We all like to think that we know what we would do in the face of hatred – that in a moment of decision we would honour our obligations to resist brutality and to stand with its victims."
Why then, if we all know what our reaction to the mere idea of this kind of blanket brutality would be, do we turn away from its very existence in places such as Darfur, Rwanda?
Perhaps when the numbers reach as high as those incinerated in the concentration camps? Maybe we are waiting for a stack of bodies twenty feet high to be recorded on film? Then again, maybe it is as simple as I have always said: A person's caring about a tragedy is indirectly proportionate to the miles which separate the person from it.
Live in the development where a tornado touched down and ate the cul-de-sac two streets over? You care a whole awful lot.
Live on Ohio while a pregnant woman is bayoneted through the stomach in Darfur? Gee, that's terrible. Where did I put the shopping list?
An unkind allegory? It's not meant to be. It simply is what it is. The truth.
Until travesties come very close to touching our own front stoop, our sympathies are as distant as the crisis. And besides, let's be honest, it is hard to envision a village in Africa, much less the slaughter of everyone in it, while sitting in suburbia watching The View or reruns of M*A*S*H*.
Two men contributed essays over the weekend regarding the Holocaust - the remains of Auschwitz to be exact. They argue over what should be done with the decaying camp. It's an argument which has gone on for decades.
Should the earth be allowed to reclaim it, grow grass, brambles, foliage over top? Or should man continue to step in and preserve for future generations, the site of unimaginable fear, pain, suffering, death?
One man, author and historian Robert Jan Van Pelt believes that once the last remaining survivor of the Holocaust passes, the camp should be allowed to crumble. It's use as a memorial truly only having meaning to one who owns the actual memory.
The other gentleman, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski of Poland, is also a historian and an author, as well as a diplomat. He has twice held the title of Polish foreign minister, and is currently secretary of state and plenipotentiary of the prime minister for international dialogue.
Oh, he is also a survivor of Auschwitz - formally known as inmate 4427.
Mr. Bartoszewski firmly believes in maintaining the place as a memorial so that, even when the last survivor has left this earth, "the stones will cry out".
With all due respect to the very learned and thoughtful Mr. Van Pelt, I must agree with Mr. Bartoszewski. While it is accurate that the truest memories belong only to those who can tell the story in the first person, it is those who have listened to the story who must keep the lessons learned alive for future generations.
And an oral history such as that of the Holocaust must be punctuated with the tangible relics of its location and its heinous destruction - the personification of man's inhumanity to man.
Mr. Bartoszewski writes, It lies in the nature of man that when no tangible traces remain, events of the past fall into oblivion.
I agree. And it makes it that much easier for future generations to repeat atrocities, even committing far more creative ones of their own.
We grant historic status and protections to battlefields. We painstakingly, lovingly perserve paintings, castles, pyramids. Even today, the Colliseum, home to bloodletting as sport, stands as testament to the architecture and culture of the past.
So to must Auschwitz be preserved long into the future. Yes, it will require funding. But that dollar amount is negligble to the cost should we allow ourselves to forget.
Auschwitz-Birkenau must forever remain an unhealed, burning wound, which wakes people up from moral lethargy and forces them to take responsibility for the fate of our world.
Yes, Mr. Baroszewski. I completely agree.
So with an eye towards the past in remembrance of the millions who died at the hands of madmen, let us also look to our present and our future, and hear those crying out in pain, wishing someone would know they are dying, wondering why no one is coming to their aid.
It is time to demand more of this world, more of our leaders, than we have been willing to settle for in days long gone. And that means demanding more of ourselves than we ever, ever have.
Miles may separate us from atrocities, but the proximity of our caring need only be a heartbeat away.