Humanity must never forget

This is a day for remembering. It’s a day to remember the best and worst of humanity. To remember that we must never become indifferent to the suffering of others.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day reserved around the world to commemorate the victims of one of human history’s most cataclysmic events: the systematic murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others targeted because Nazi Germany declared them racially, politically or socially inferior. Gypsies, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the disabled also were among the estimated 11 million who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.

Congress established a weeklong commemoration in the United States, during which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encourages and sponsors observances throughout the nation. In Snohomish County, Everett Community College engages students and the public in discussions with Holocaust survivors (three more are scheduled in May), arranged through the Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle.

Why all the attention to something that began more than 70 years ago?

Because it could happen again. In fact, genocide is part of the world’s more recent history, having reared its hateful head in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Darfur region of Sudan. Humanity’s darkest side lurks not so far below its civilized exterior.

It would be tempting, given the staggering horror of the Holocaust, to put it out of our minds, to simply relegate it to the pages of history books.

Yet only by keeping the Holocaust fresh in our collective memory can we hope to heed its lessons — like resolving not to stand by and do nothing when others are being persecuted, and truly understanding that “I was simply following orders” is not an acceptable excuse for criminal behavior.

And as hateful leaders seeking political gain take to the world stage to deny the Holocaust ever happened, the thinking world must be prepared to stand up and counter their cynicism.

When Holocaust survivors share their experiences, they’re modeling the very best of the human spirit. Henry Friedman’s message of hope’s power against evil, related by columnist Julie Muhlstein on Wednesday, is an inspiring example. So is the story of Holocaust survivor Fred Taucher of Everett, who tells of a German woman who helped his family hide in Berlin during the war, saving his life and his brother’s.

Such stories must live on, long after the final survivors are gone. They must be retold, one generation to the next, to make sure the Holocaust is never forgotten.