Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on this day 75 years ago, Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated. More than 1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz while millions more perished in the hundreds of other concentration camps run by the Nazis.
But tragically, on a day set apart to remember those who were lost, our world is increasingly forgetting about the holocaust.
In a 2018 poll conducted by CNN throughout seven European countries, 30 percent of respondents said they knew “just a little” about the Holocaust while 4 percent of people over the age of 18 claimed to have never heard of the Holocaust. One fifth of young adults in France claimed to have never heard of the holocaust. In other surveys, Americans don’t do much better, lacking awareness of basic facts about the Holocaust such as knowing what Auschwitz was.
Remembering the holocaust is not only remembering those who lost their lives, though that’s important to honor. This is not merely ancient history that has no relevance today. We need to remember the holocaust because we need to remember the evils of which humanity is capable.
We like to think that we’re good. And to be sure, most people do behave within the laws and values of their society. In America, our values and legal system are heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian teachings. Most people behave within that.
But what if a person had been born somewhere else? Or lived in a place with a different set of values?
I think we have a tendency to think of the Nazis as having a super human capacity for evil. They were evil. But the chilling reality that we hate to accept is that we too are capable of doing horrible things. We are capable of terrible atrocities and harm. Throughout human history, the world has been at war. Societies have lived under threat of others conquering them and plundering their possessions. Today, much of the world is still war torn. There are nations in civil unrest run be war lords. There are nations and communities that are decimated by drug cartels.
It’s interesting. Ordinary people never think they’d be evil in another environment. Yet we so often think we’d be heroes if we were in those same environments. For those who studied the Holocaust and know about the resistance movement, it’s easy to hit we would have been part of that and stood up to the Nazis. Some would. Some would have done very little and just tried to seek the path of least resistance.
But when the power and prestige go to those who go along with evil, it will always be tempting.
On this morning’s episode of Breakpoint, John Stonestreet talks of a Holocaust survivor meeting Adolf Eichmann, one of the predominant organizers of the Holocaust.
The realization that came to Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur at the trial of Adolf Eichmann:
“Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man . . . who had presided over the slaughter of millions. The court was hushed as a victim confronted a butcher. Then suddenly Dinur began to sob and collapsed to the floor. Not out of anger or bitterness. As he explained later in an interview, what struck him at that instant was a terrifying realization. ‘I was afraid about myself,’ Dinur said. ‘I saw that I am capable to do this . . . Exactly like he.’”
Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about the Eichmann Trial in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She found Eichmann neither “perverted nor sadistic,” but “terrifyingly normal.” She called this the “banality of evil.”
There are many evils where the world and our nation remain silent. It’s not easy to stand up to evil. Modern day slavery still exists. Tyrannical dictators who are every bit as evil as Hitler still rule. Countries still put people in concentration camps. And the list goes on and on.
What are you doing to never forget?
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Josh Benner is the pastor of Christian Bible Church in Cissna Park, Illinois. He has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He has an awesome wife named Kari.