In this week’s blog post, I want to reflect on the purpose of Holocaust study and remembrance. I think it is more than an academic pursuit and even more than an activity that honours those who lost their lives. It is neither a purely cerebral nor commemorative endeavour. It is also a commitment to future generations of Jews and other marginalized people: never again.
Never again should anyone have to suffer the indignities and atrocities suffered by Jews during the Holocaust – or anything close to such horrors. As Anne Frank, who will be featured in an international exhibition at the Holocaust Centre in Wellington this month, famously wrote, “What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”
This promise has not been kept. There have been other genocides, other atrocities. Today, around the world, oppression and violence continue to thrive. But if “never again” is to have any meaning, it is as a call to action. Another, even more important quotation from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
The trends we see in many countries – religious and ethnic scapegoating, disregard for the rule of law, and exploitation of the most vulnerable among us – are shockingly reminiscent of political trends almost a century ago. The signs of impending catastrophe even in the most developed and democratic of countries are clear.
We, as conscientious individuals and even as a collective, may not have the power to fulfill the commitment of “never again.” There is, however, no excuse not to try. Equipped with the knowledge of our history, we must condemn dangerous political trends and violent atrocities alike – no matter who commits them. We needn’t wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.