For fifteen years, Amizade has maintained a strong commitment to community-driven service. This has meant building schools, tutoring children, learning about specific cultural histories and practices, and restoring historic sites. When a community proposes a service initiative, we motivate volunteers and students to enact that initiative. In Germany and Poland, we work to honor the wishes of Holocaust Survivors, their families, the families of Holocaust Victims, and the global coalition of people organized in opposition to genocide, anywhere it occurs. We therefore support Holocaust Remembrance and related historic landscape preservation. Holocaust denials and contemporary genocide continue to clarify how absolutely vital Holocaust Remembrance and anti-genocide efforts are today.
During our programs in Germany and Poland (one of which we recently facilitated for Elderhostel volunteers), groups are led by Dr. Christopher Kopper, an expert in modern German History and Holocaust Studies. During the September Elderhostel program, Amizade Director of Operations Brandon Cohen visited with the group to share his grandfather’s story as a Holocaust Survivor. Brandon added to the program’s overarching emphasis on communicating the human reality of the Holocaust.
That six million Jews were killed in that genocide is often cited and repeated, but it is somehow even more unsettling and horrifying to begin to understand each of those six million people as individuals with husbands or wives, children, parents, jobs, homes, hopes, dreams and fears. And of course, these genuine individual lives and experiences were just as present for all of the Nazi regime's victims, including Roma, people with disabilities, Slavic peoples, homosexuals, and others.
Visiting the sites where the Holocaust took place and learning more about the fear, intimidation, and systematic murder enacted by the Nazi regime makes the reality and horror of the Holocaust uncomfortably clear. Though understanding the Holocaust in that way is uncomfortable and challenging, it must be understood, and the historical reality must be made clear.
Holocaust deniers do a disservice to humankind when they subvert history. This disservice comes in several forms. First, their denials are direct and clear affronts to Survivors, their families, and the families of Holocaust Victims. Their denials are – six million times over – telling the families of murder victims that there was no murder. Second, denials negate a clear reality about the modern world: a ‘civilized’ Germany at one relatively recent point in history saw fit to exterminate a vast part of Europe’s people. If we as a human community do not understand and accept this historical fact we run greater risk of allowing such horrors to occur again - and again. Third, by sowing seeds of doubt within the historical record deniers create room for disagreement between Jews and non-Jews. Thus deniers sow seeds of dissension within the broader human community and create conflict where none should exist.
Unfortunately, deniers today are numerous and sometimes as powerful as President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has made no effort to mask his fervent anti-Jewish stance. Also unfortunately, and as much as I have absolutely met some wonderful, reasonable and kind Iranians, the rest of Ahmadinehad's government appears to harbor similar hatreds, having voiced no objection to his recent appointment to Defense Secretary. This new Iranian Defense Secretary is wanted by Interpol for his suspected role in masterminding the bombing of a Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994; a bombing that killed 85 people. Clearly, with such powerful and numerous deniers in the world today, all remembrance and preservation efforts are vital - and need even more support.
I want to take a quick aside to say that I once spent two wonderful weeks travelling around northern Ethiopia with an Israeli, a Swede, and a Swedish-Iranian. The Swedish-Iranian woman was kind, insightful, filled with love for all people, and harbored not one bit of ill-will toward our Israeli travelling companion. She, like other Iranians I've met, expressed her faith in her country, the beauty of its mountains, deserts, and date orchards, the kindness of so many of its people, and its proud legacy as having arguably authored the world's first known charter of human rights - some 2,000 years ago. All of which is to say denials must absolutely be contradicted and stopped, but let's be careful to remember that not all Iranians are as reckless and loathsome as their current President. What we're really seeking here, for Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, Arab Women and Asian Men, is a world where all people have basic human rights and respect one another's rights as well.
And seeking that world, advocating for that world, and creating that world is the final component of why our work in Germany and Poland is so important. We are educating anti-genocide leaders of today and tomorrow. We are growing the global community who has witnessed the historical artifacts and reality of the Holocaust, and we are therefore growing the global community of people who understand the brutal reality of genocide and who will not sit idly by while tens and hundreds of thousands are killed today in Burma, Darfur, and The Democratic Republic of Congo. Through service organized around historical preservation at and near Auschwitz, we are preparing people of all ages for deep commitments to inspiring and unfortunately essential anti-genocide movements like this one:
I am proud to be part of these efforts and I'm proud that Amizade is part of these efforts. I want to thank Dr. Kopper, Michael Sandy, Dr. Daniel Weiss, Amy Scanlon, Brandon Cohen, Steve Zupcic, and especially Betty Lou Weiss and Dr. Elena Kamel for strengthening and advancing our role in this vital historical remembrance and anti-genocide work.
Today's Update: Those of you who are moved by courageous acts of individuals to save lives despite the genocidal acts of totalitarian regimes will appreciate this profile of 89-year-old New Yorker Dr. Tina Strobos published recently in the New York Times.