The need to remember


There was a gathering today outside Oswiecim, Poland, 37 miles west of Krakow. The guests of honor were a few hundred men and women, mostly in their 90s or older, who survived the Nazis’ massive labor and killing complex, Auschwitz.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, approximately 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. More than 1 million, mostly Jews, died there.

Rick Lyman of the New York Times wrote an article I found very thought provoking. He noted that, following today’s seventh decade commemoration of the Auschwitz liberation, the mission of one of the world’s worst crime scenes will change.

When the 80th anniversary rolls around, there will be few survivors left, and even fewer who will be able to make the trip back.

Lyman reports that administrators of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum plan to shift the mission “to explain to generations who were not alive during the war what happened, rather than to act as a memorial to those who suffered through it.”

Although I wasn’t born until 20 years after the war ended, I’m trying to remember a time when I was not aware of the Holocaust.

Yes, I’m an odd duck. I think about such things.

I think I was 12 when I picked up that first Leon Uris novel; 14 when I began learning names such as Dachau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno.

Is there really a chance we might forget to tell younger generations about the horror? Is there a chance they might not know?

The answer is, “yes.”

On Jan. 10, when much of the world was focused on the tragic deaths of 17 people in Paris at the hands of terrorists, reports were coming in that the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, was waging war afresh against civilians in more than a dozen Nigerian communities, killing thousands.

As part of its latest wave of terror, Boko Haram sent a girl thought to be about 10 years old into a crowded marketplace with explosives hidden in her clothing. The detonation killed 20 and injured at least that many more.

While there are many theories as to why the Paris attacks received more attention than the atrocities in Nigeria, the least insidious is the comparative absence of digital technology where Boko Haram is causing havoc.

Remember, many Parisians were Tweeting events and the emergency response in real time, with video shot from cellphones immediately posted on social media.

Weeks after Boko Haram attacked residents of the northern Nigerian town of Baga, the exact death toll remains unclear.

We have an obligation to tell the stories, especially the ones from the hard-to-reach places on the globe, but also those uncomfortable and downright horrific places in our past.

As he so often did in his novels, the late-Michael Crichton had some cautionary words in his book, Timeline, for those who study, and report, history:

“The purpose of history is to explain the present—to say why the world around us is the way it is. History tells us what is important in our world, and how it came to be. It tells us what is to be ignored, or discarded. That is true power – profound power. The power to define a whole society.”

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