I was in Holocaust Studies class when my teacher started telling us about the Terezin Ghetto in Czechoslovakia. She began by explaining about how this ghetto was probably the best ghetto a Jew could be placed in during the time of the Holocaust. It was a place where the Czech Jews were suffering immensely but were finding ways to spiritually resist whether it was through music, art or poetry.
During Hitler’s reign, the world heard rumors that the Nazi’s were oppressing and exterminating Jews, but they apparently didn’t know how bad it was. So in 1944, the Red Cross decided to go on a mission and visit a Jewish ghetto. You see, the Nazis were smart. They used Terezin ghetto as a propaganda tool.They chose to send the Red Cross Mission to the Terezin Ghetto, where life there was relatively good compared to the other ghettos. But Terezin was still a ghetto. It was still a center where thousands of Jews were deported and murdered every single day. Not only that, the Nazi’s wanted to make Terezin seem wonderful, so they authorized several programs of beautification in the ghetto. They planted beautiful gardens, renovated and painted the ghetto and its barracks, and staged several concerts and performances for the Red Cross Mission, most notably a play called “Brundibar” performed by children of the ghetto. They also deported thousands of Jews to concentration camps to make Terezin seem a lot less crowded. Terezin came to be known as the “spa resort” by the world, a place where elderly privileged Jews settled. After a short visit to Terezin, the Red Cross Mission fell for the elaborate hoax the Nazi’s put on. Terezin didn’t seem so bad after all.
That is what the Red Cross Mission shared with the world. When I heard this, all these questions started rushing through my mind. Were they really that oblivious to the situation? Or were they just trying to close their eyes and ears? Maybe they just didn’t want to believe the harsh reality. For the next few years millions of Jews were oppressed, ostracized and ultimately killed. And the world was silent.
I always liked to believe that if I were anywhere else in the world at the time and I heard what was going on to the Jews, I would have reacted it differently. Millions of Jews were killed and made refugees, how could I have not done something? I would have taken a stand and maybe changed the opinions of my fellow citizens and country. I would have taken action and made a difference. But as I sit and ponder these thoughts, I realize I am a hypocrite.
In the past 5 years, the media has exposed the horrors of the Syrian civil war. We have all seen images of millions of innocent men, women and children being oppressed, ostracized and murdered. Thousands of mothers have lost their sons and countless children have become orphans. We can make no excuse, we have seen it all. As much as the holocaust was different than the ongoing civil war, it was very much the same. After the holocaust the countries of the world were remorseful and all vowed “to never forget.” By vowing to “never forget” we told ourselves we will not allow history to repeat itself. If we, as global citizens, see injustices we will not allow it to occur before our eyes without doing anything.
Unfortunately, we broke our vows and failed humanity. We have been letting this war go on for far too long. Millions of innocent people have lost their lives, their homes and their families. History has repeated itself and we have failed to do our jobs as citizens of the world. So I call on every Jew and gentile to take a moment and think. I ask of you to trace your histories and recall all the moments you wished someone would have protected the ones you loved. Think of our history written in tears. We know better than anyone what it means to stand alone in a world that won’t seem to hear you. Recall all the moments you wished the world would care a little more. Though we cannot change the past, remembering it will help us change our future. Fear of the unknown and hostility towards the Syrian regime and islamic radicalism might scare you, but understand that something deeper connects us all. Understand that the universal language of tears and pain transcend the difference between us. Now think of the opportunity you have right now. You have the ability to change the course of history if you just pay attention a little more and care. I ask each and every one of you to speak a little louder, stand a little taller and love a little wider. Let us internalize the fundamental idea that no matter where we are on the globe, suffering is suffering is suffering. We cannot be silent anymore.