Holocaust Memorial Day: Don't Ever Forget - LetterPile - Writing and Literature
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Holocaust Memorial Day: Don't Ever Forget

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

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History - And We - Should Never Forget

From the ages of 11 to 15, I lived in Europe. I was a base brat, and my dad was a sergeant in the Canadian military who managed to get a second tour to Canadian Forces Base Lahr, where I was born some 14 years previously. When I was in Grade 10, my history class had the chance to go on a field trip to Struthof Concentration Camp in the "Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller (German Natzweiler) in France, and the town of Schirmeck, about 50 km (31 m) south west of the city of Strasbourg." (per Wikipedia)

I wasn't sure what to expect, as by this point, the concentration camp was maintained as a historical monument to one of the most horrific eras in the 20th century, and doubtless as something for everyone to never forget. I was quiet and shy and was quite intimidated by the prospect of confronting something so tragic and devastating beyond the textbook.

From the moment the bus was pulling towards the concentration camp and my friends and I saw the monument leading into Struthof, a chill came over all of us. It was a gorgeous spring day, and you'd think as a bunch of teenagers we'd have been talking, at the very least, but we couldn't. It was like the oxygen had been sucked from the atmosphere with every step we took through the camp.

Even if I close my eyes, I can see the gallows, right in the middle of the square. I can see one of the lab tables with deep grooves designed to drain blood from patients that Nazi medical personnel did experiments on. I can see a door that a chemist who'd been imprisoned wrote chemical equations all over reportedly to keep himself from going insane. In short, it continues to be one of the most profound experiences I've ever had in my life.

In the last two years, I've read stories of people taking selfies in concentration camps. I've read stories of people who effectively have tried denying the Holocaust even happened. I can't believe that people would just try and ignore the trauma and agony that over six million people suffered prior to dying horrific deaths. Jews, Jehova's Witnesses, LGBTQ individuals, Roma, those with physical or cognitive challenges - so many deaths, all due to blind hatred and prejudice.

I remember just walking around Struthof Concentration Camp with my classmates and the guide that was with us and hearing story after story of the inhumane conditions these millions of individuals went through. It's really hard to encapsulate what a tour of a concentration camp does when you're a teenager, but I think I grew into a new understanding of what people truly endured - and what the true resilience of the human spirit is.

As an adult some 30 years after this experience, I've actually told students and my own teenage daughter that if they were ever granted the opportunity to take a trip and tour a concentration camp, it's an experience they need to have. It's by no means an easy experience - the subject matter is absolutely devastating, to be sure, but it's something that everyone should bear witness to just for the simple fact that the Holocaust needs to be remembered.

History would appear to be repeating itself. Rwanda. Bosnia. Darfur. These are by no means all of the atrocities that have occurred in the 20th century, but they are marks that we clearly have not learned what we should have from the Holocaust. Even the divisive language we frequently hear from the current president of the United States is suggestive that one of our world leaders has not learned from the horrors of over 70 years ago.

Every life should be deemed sacred and no one should be persecuted because of who they are, and yet, there are those worldwide who continue to attack those who seem somehow "other". We need to remember the Holocaust and we need to remember the lessons that arose from it. Without that knowledge, we are doomed to continue repeating the awful history that so many have carried in their hearts and minds for several lifetimes.