Remembering the Holocaust and the Present

First, this is important. I am a daughter of a Holocaust Survivor. I grew up with the Holocaust and the six million in the back of my head. Every year, having attended a Jewish School in Mexico, Remembrance Day was full of pomp, circumstance, and reading of names. These were the victims. And no, we would never get through the whole six million.

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Headstone Jewish Cemetery Knyshin, Poland. Personal Collection.

There are things to be critical about Remembrance Day, and partly this is the fact that this is the best-documented genocide in history. The first problem is that it mostly ignores the other seven million. Yes, one-third of all European Jews died. By percentage, my people faced the worst civilian loss of the war. However, my people were not the only victims. I know this mere mention of the others at times is perceived as stepping on the Holocaust. It’s not. Ignoring the other aspects of the Holocaust is one reason why we cannot see the present for what it is.

I know I am going to step on a few toes, maybe among family. The Holocaust, unfortunately, is not a unique event in history. I wish it were.

So let me tell you some stories. Some of them will be in the present tense by the way.

She was fifteen when I first met her. And Maria is not her real name. She escaped to Mexico from a small town in Guatemala, in the Maya Highlands. This was in 1984. She made it with her mother, however, her younger brother and her father were dead. Her story was not that unusual for a daughter of the Holocaust. I heard some of those stories growing up.

The soldiers came into the small village in the dead of night. They separated the men and boys from the women. The former was driven to the side of the road, where there was a convenient ditch, and they were shot, in the back of the head, unceremoniously. The women’s hell had just started. They were taken to huts where soldiers took turns raping the girls and young women in front of their mothers. When they were done, it was the mother’s turn. Then they killed them.

Maria and her mother were able to escape in the lull into the jungle. They were some of the few survivors from that massacre. When they told us the story, as we debriefed them, they were monotone and distant. They just told you the facts ma’am, and showed very little emotion, if at all. These days I know what happened. They literally detached themselves from the events and told us this in a way that made it very matter of factly, and almost unreal.

Maria and her mother were taken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and relocated to a third country. Those of us who debriefed them had no clue where, and that was done for their own safety. Genocide victims at times need that protection, Especially when the government doing the deed is still in power. In 1984 the Guatemalan government of Efraim Rios Monttt was still in power, and what we were taking on later came to be known as the Maya genocide.

If you have not heard of it, the US Media has not covered this. However, their stories were very familiar. The government wanted their land and considered them to be less than human and borderline terrorists. They were the other, and as such, they were to be exterminated.

While I do not have a personal history with it, what I saw was also the same pattern. People who were Muslim who were targeted for elimination, We saw camps, we saw mass starvation and we saw mass murder. The world, however, did not stand silent. Why? Likely the fact that it was happening in the Balkans, and last time we saw trouble there, we had a world war.

However, I was in Graduate School and decided it was a good idea to look at genocides, And when we started to look into the phenomena we discovered a long list of them. The twentieth century alone has a few, The Armenian genocide was the first, which the Turkish government denies to this day. It happened in 1917, at the end of the war. It had many things in common with the Holocaust, including the forced removal of people under military guard. And if they died, all the better, to the Turks, Armenians were a nuisance. To this day, they do not recognize it and get very annoyed when people point it out to them.

Incidentally, on purpose, we left the Jewish Holocaust out of this seminar which was open to the public. And yes, we got the usual group protesting, until they learned my story and why we decided to cover other genocides.

The aforementioned Maya genocide came front and center, as well as the Killing Fields of Cambodia and we were torn with Argentina during the dirty war. Latin America, in general, has a long history of dirty wars, and some of those targeted are in ethnic minorities, why we debated this.

Of course, the Rwandan genocide came in the ’90s, and unlike the Balkans, the west did not intervene. This is something that Former President Bill Clinton had a mea culpa over. However, non-intervention during these events is the norm, not the exception, Even at the height of World War Two, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration refused to intervene, even after the data of what happening was relayed to him.

At the moment we are seeing the same patterns that lead to genocide from right-wing populists in Europe and the United States. We are seeing the same pattern of creating the other and classification of target populations. In the United States we see it with the anti-immigrant movement, which make no mistake, would love to remove brown people from the United States, And why not?

We have seen two major ethnic cleansing of the Southwest, one camp set up for another minority group and a genocide, None of these is well known outside of a specialist field. Mexican Americans, including US Citizens, born and raised, were sent back to Mexico during the Great Depression and during Operation Wetback in the 1950s. If you are a tad jarred by the date of the second one, you should President Dwight D Eisenhower visited camps in Europe after liberation and piously said: “never again.” Yet, he authorized the removal of upwards of a million people whose only crime was being Mexican-American.

We know well of the Japanese internment, however, the question is usually not asked, Why weren’t Italian-Americans and German-Americans targeted for the same treatment? Some were, but it was a very small number. And part of the reason is that the latter look like the rest of the country did. Well except for the brown and black minorities. Open racism was the rule, not the exception. Those populations were mostly under some form of control by legal means.

The final one is the genocide of first people’s. We barely speak of this in polite company and would prefer to forget. Why? Denial is the final step in any genocide. We are also seeing it with the Holocaust, and that started in 1947 with a book called Global Defeat, published in Spain. Why? It was the last of the fascist states, and it would survive to the 1970s. Francisco Franco would die in bed from old age.

If you want to honor the victims of the Holocaust, and their memory, be aware. When the president of the United States starts a campaign like this “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” that is the beginning of classification.

When the president and his followers point out the crime committed by a small group of people, to portray a whole group as vermin, that is classification, The Germans did this with the Jewish Crime Book.

When you see a ban due to religion, as we saw with the Muslim ban, that is a technique used on the road to genocide.

When you hear people in power speak of people who are coming to the United States as disease carriers, that is also something you see on the road to genocide.

We are seeing this as well in China with a Muslim minority where camps have been set up. We are also experiencing a Rohingya genocide. And we are witnessing this in Europe as well. I would be remiss to excuse Israel for its behavior in Gaza, even if that is a lot more complex, However, the Israelis are not helping themselves. And I will leave it at that, since it is a hornet’s nest, with points and counterpoints.

So if you want to honor those thirteen million victims, (yes I know I am about to annoy some folks, but I am including all the victims of the Holocaust) raise your voices now. You need to protest loudly, do whatever you need to do. What we are seeing is not normal.

Remember, the Holocaust did not start at Bergen Belsen or Treblinka. That was the end process. And in this case, you cannot remain neutral, Silence is consent...

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Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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