By LOLA HYLANDER, aged 13.
Lola attends Cheltenham Ladies College. This piece was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Youth Competition and received a commendation.
The Holocaust was the attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish race in the 1930s and during WW2. The genocide was attempted by the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, a soldier who served in WW1. Hitler developed a hatred for Jews, partially because they were different but also because he wanted to create a common enemy as he tried to grab power; someone everyone could hate, who he could promise to destroy in return for their allegiance.
In six years, over six million Jews were killed, mainly in concentration camps and ghettos. Despite it being horrifying, it is very important that we remember the Holocaust and its events. But if it was so terrible, then why remember? Shouldn’t we learn to forget, and focus on our positive history and future?
Firstly, it is very important for people of any background to know their history. That is how culture is handed down. This is what makes us all so colourful and interesting. It helps us to have our own identity, and gives us the chance to witness and marvel at the identities of others.
We are all different and it should be celebrated. I feel that when you learn to respect your own history, you start to respect others too. And that has to change you and make you behave in a positive way.
For example, a Jew of our generation should know the suffering their family went through, so they can remember those who died as people who were good and did not deserve what they got. The equivalent may apply for somebody whose family helped Jews, maybe by providing them food or water, or hiding them, knowing the risks.
It could even be the case for somebody whose relatives may have been involved in the persecution of Jews.
But even more important than our own grief, it should teach us about the dangers of not just anti-Semitism, but racism in general. We have experienced racism at first-hand, in our grandparents’ lifetimes, and it cost us a large chunk of our population.
So as you can see, the lessons we should be learning from the Holocaust have nothing to do with Jews at all.
Another reason we should remember the Holocaust is to develop how we use our brains in extreme situations. In the aftermath of WW1, Germany was very poor, and it is when people are hungry, that dictators often emerge and seek to grab power.
They offer solutions to peoples’ hunger and poverty, and however cruel or unrealistic the solution is, people want to believe it. That is why otherwise kind people tolerated such horror. Hitler, using propaganda and much planning, managed to convince many of the Germans to possess a severe hatred for the Jews, and anyone else socially, politically or racially different. He may have even threatened them, or forced them to join him. They followed his orders without question. We must learn to always be aware of what we are getting into and whether or not it is moral.
Each of us has a similar moral compass, whatever our religion. But at certain times in history, we have chosen to not look at it. As a Jew, whose family was a victim of the Holocaust, it is a massive responsibility for me to always check that compass.
My third and final reason for remembering the Holocaust is to do with stories.
We must remember it now rather than later, when it just becomes a tale. When we learn about things that happened hundreds of years ago, for example the Norman Conquest, it seems like such a long time ago that we regard it as a story.
Today, we see the Holocaust as an event that happened not long ago, allowing us to really understand and learn from it. But in one hundred years or so, or even less than that, it will just seem like a tale we are told, just like all the other historical events we learn about. And because of that, we will ignore the lesson it is teaching us.
We have seen the wonderful things that mankind is capable of. However, we have also seen our capacity to create destruction. And even as we have become more civilised all the evidence tells us that we still possess the ability to be cruel to our fellow man on a huge scale.
In times of peace we forget this, and also because we are lucky enough to live in a peaceful country, it is easy to forget that the world is a dangerous place.
Bad events in history are a warning about what can happen if we are not careful. They are not fiction, and the passing of time must never be allowed to turn them into stories as opposed to events, because stories suggest make believe, then they lose the power to help us and prevent us from making the same mistakes a second time.
Even in 1933, when it was clear that Hitler was promoting anti-Semitism to the German people, many Jews chose to ignore the warning, and it cost them their lives.
And that is why it is so important to remember the events of the Holocaust and every other Holocaust since. Some people may try to forget, and to repress their feelings and memories of the panic and hatred, but the events have left us scarred, and we are incapable of forgetting and nor should we. The Holocaust should teach us to be tolerant of all people, whatever their religion or colour, and to unite against the abuse of human rights whenever we see it happen, whatever race it is happening to.
We must remember the Holocaust because we must remember that however civilisation develops, people still need protecting. And as sad as it sounds, the best way to remember how cruel men or women can be is to remember events like the Holocaust.
But how we ensure that the lessons learnt from the Holocaust are never forgotten is more difficult.
Firstly, we must remember and commemorate. Today, we can’t imagine how anyone could forget the terrible things that happened. But the truth of the matter is that even though the Holocaust is still very alive in the minds of Jews, or people that lost family members, it is already starting to change from being recent history to becoming a historical fact.
People believe it could never happen again. Even Jews have become complacent about this, believing it could never happen again – even turning a blind eye when it happens to different races in different countries.
As such, my first and most simple belief is that we must always remember and commemorate the Holocaust. We must commemorate it as if it happened yesterday. We must never allow it to become a story.
Of course, the problem here is how can we ask non-Jews to commemorate a tragedy that seems personal to us alone? My argument, that I will try to communicate, is that the Holocaust is merely one of many atrocities committed against minorities, and when we commemorate one Holocaust, we should be commemorating them all. As such, I would rather think of Holocaust Memorial Day as being a day we remember all victims of genocide and racial discrimination where ever they come from.
Secondly, I think it would be very powerful to create a huge memorial to victims of genocide. I recently visited Y’ad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. It was very moving but I was also aware that it was a private memorial for Jews alone.
Additionally, although they have a huge catalogue of names in an attempt to remember all victims, apart from a few exceptions, it didn’t really allow individuals to remember their lost family members.
On a different note, often when you see a WW1 monument in a small village in England, it will mention the actual names of people who have died. I love the idea of an enormous field or piece of countryside, dedicated to all victims of genocide, big enough to let them be remembered as individuals, families, villages, or countries.
Thirdly and finally, we must commit ourselves to ignoring our own personal, and sometimes selfish, interests, and caring about human rights. Not just at home, but across the whole world.
The universal declaration of human rights was approved by the United Nations in 1948, in direct response to the Holocaust. Today, many people think it is no longer needed. What they forget is that back in the 1930s, people also thought it wasn’t needed, and that is why the Holocaust was allowed to happen.
And those are my reasons why and how we should remember the Holocaust. It was a landmark in our history. We must do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again.