Esther Renee Selman
Founder of Without the Footnotes

Learning the Lessons of the Holocaust Requires Action

When I was 17 I visited Auschwitz with a Holocaust survivor, once home I was forever changed. This short time immersed in a place filled with such tragedy sparked a journey of wanting to know not necessarily just the history of what happened there, but how it impacted the lives of those who survived and died there.

From the beginning, I was interested in the people first and the ‘facts’ of the matter second. I find human behavior fascinating, especially when it helps us understand both our internal and external world. Eventually, after reading so many testimonies I decided to follow my undergraduate degree in Human Rights with an MA in Holocaust Studies at University of Haifa – the only institution in the Middle East offering this program.

It is concerning to see much of what I read and heard from a myriad of sources has and is happening again in Iraq, Myanmar and now China. This is a cycle we see play out over and over again. Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, recently wrote in Deutsche Welle, “Genocide denial weakens society’s ability to detect the reemergence of discourse and acts that may lead to new atrocities. It also dehumanizes the survivors and the victims — and rips them of both recognition and justice.” But there is a grave price for genocide ignorance as well.

When reflecting on the atrocities of the Third Reich 80 years ago, it’s easy to step back and say, “Never Again.” But if we understand that to mean that genocide should never happen again then we have failed as it has sadly repeated itself in many corners of the world.

This is a double tragedy because we not only know and understand how a government can attempt to systematically erase an entire people, but also in this digital age, we are able to shout from the rooftops our objections to such treatment. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and praise those who had the bravery to resist, to speak out, to risk their own lives for the sake of others, and that is what we should be doing today. No matter how small an act of resistance may seem, it is crucial to combating injustice. We now live in a world that is more connected than ever before so we must not stay silent on human rights abuses that we know are occurring and hold the perpetrators to account.

Last year I participated in the University of Haifa’s Weiss-Livnat Innovation Hub for Holocaust Education and commemoration, and there, I decided to leverage the digital technology we have at our fingertips to create a podcast dedicated to discussing the Holocaust and genocide.

Without The Footnotes was created as a forum for open dialogue. While I facilitate the discussion based on my years of extensive research, I meet people all the time that bring new perspectives and energy to what I do and those voices are spotlighted as well. This is a space where people can openly share and discuss, because the only way we can truly learn from our mistakes is if we are comfortable discussing them out in the open. It is my own way of practicing what I preach and making sure the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten.

As we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is an opportunity to take responsibility and collectively educate ourselves. We must actively use and integrate this knowledge to fight oppression wherever and whenever possible. It could be as simple as a monthly donation to charity that will do the work on your behalf, writing to your local representative or using your social channels to raise awareness. A moment of our time could mean the end of a lifetime of suffering to someone else and that is how we effect change.

While it’s easy to feel like things are out of our control, it is us, the general public who are the majority. All we need is decisive collective action. During this pandemic people are waking up to how old systems aren’t working for us anymore and this desire for change coupled with living in an era of unprecedented connectivity can lead to a social justice revolution.

We have the power to effect change; all we need to do is start.

About the Author
Esther Renee Selman has studied and worked within the field of Holocaust and genocide studies for the last decade. A graduate of the Weiss-Livnat MA in Holocaust studies at the University of Haifa she is the founder of Without the Footnotes (WtF) a social impact project that brings Holocaust and genocide education to new audiences. 'Without the Footnotes' podcast can be found wherever you get your podcasts.
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