Remembering Auschwitz: lessons still not learned

Their view

Snow was falling outside the Polish town of Oswiecim on Thursday, just as it had Jan. 27, 1945, when allied soldiers liberated the nearby, notorious Auschwitz death camp.

As many as 1.5 million people — 1 million of them Jewish — were killed there during World War II as part of Nazi Germany’s pogrom against Jews and other minorities. Sixty years has not been time enough to heal the hurt that Holocaust survivors still feel deep in their bones and their hearts.

It has not been time enough to teach the world that failure to live up to the Holocaust-born mantra, “never again,” comes at a huge cost. It is tallied in the number of people killed around the world in later genocides.

Pol Pot’s forces seized Phnom Penh in 1974 and oversaw the killing and starvation of 1.5 million Cambodians who did not fit the Khmer Rouge’s warped political vision.

That was not lesson enough.

In 1994, at least 800,000 Tutsis died in a frenzied, 100-day slaughter by extremist Hutus in Rwanda. Western countries and the United Nations knowingly turned away — becoming accomplices to crimes against humanity. It was a shameful episode that has evoked worldwide introspection.

Yet it was not lesson enough.

A genocide bleeds on at this moment in the Darfur region of Sudan. Recent bombings by government helicopters of villages have added to the thousands killed.

This has not been lesson enough.

By now, the world should have learned that “never again” bestows a solemn responsibility on governments and citizenries around the globe.

Commemorate the Holocaust and other atrocities? That must be done regularly, especially as the generation of survivors passes away.

But that is not enough.

International leaders must not shrug at any slaughter, let alone one that is state-sponsored (part of the definition of what constitutes a genocide). Citizens must let leaders know that they consider preventing or stopping a genocide to be a sign of their nation’s moral health.

Nor can the world afford to ignore a root cause of genocide: bigotry. To do so is to sanction targeted, mass killing of a group based on religion, ethnicity, skin color or other differences.

On that point, too, the Holocaust has not been lesson enough. For despite history showing how six million Jews were killed simply because they were Jewish, far too little has been done to stem recent years’ worldwide rise of violent incidents aimed at Jewish communities in Europe and other nations around the world.

Not enough has been done to aid innocent Muslims in the United States and elsewhere who have been attacked for the crimes of extremists claiming allegiance to Allah.

How sad it is to note that on Jan. 28, “never again” seems as far from being realized as it was the day after the horrors of Auschwitz were revealed for all to see.

The above editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday and was made available through KRTcampus.