By: Rabbi Anson Laytner
Rabbi Anson Laytner shares this reflection with us as we celebrate International Holocaust Commemoration Day, January 27th, 2014.
Imre Kertész, a Hungarian Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and Stalinist oppression, and a 2002 Nobel Prize winning author, wrote that “before Auschwitz, Auschwitz was unimaginable. That is no longer so today. Because Auschwitz in fact occurred, it has now been established in our imaginations as a firm possibility. What we are able to imagine, especially because it once was, can be again.”
It is a grim prediction and one that, sadly, has been proven true time and again since World War II in so many parts of the world. It could make one despair of human nature but for the fact that most of humanity doesn’t engage in mass murder and genocide—we just more-or-less condone it.
But Kertész’s statement bothers me for a much deeper reason: Because we have experienced Auschwitz, and witnessed so many other “Auschwitzes” since that terrible first, we have become inured to their existence.
A school shooting in ______? Didn’t that just happen somewhere else? A mass grave in Syria? Seen that before. Rape and murder in Sudan? That happens all the time. A terrorist attack on a building? Can’t compare that to 9/11! Annihilation of an entire population? Well, we saw films of that in high school, so nothing new here either.
Where once Auschwitz could shock, today it bores. We’ve heard it all so many times. Isn’t it time the Jews moved on? And they aren’t blameless anymore. And don’t we have more important things—issues concerning living people—to command our attention? Why dwell on the past?
And in the meantime, Auschwitzes large and small happen the world over.
What will it take to jar us all out of our complacency? The Holocaust didn’t happen in a vacuum; it advanced by baby-steps; Nazism grew from being a squashable bug of a political movement to a horror of monstrous—and nearly unstoppable—size.
And all it takes “for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
The Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke said that in the late 18th century, long before Auschwitz could even be imagined.
For more information about International Holocaust Commemoration Day visit the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry webpage.
For more information about speakers, education tools, and other Holocaust related events visit the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.
Rabbi Anson Laytner is program manager of Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry’s Interreligious Initiative.