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Monday, April 8, 2013

Paying tribute on Holocaust Remembrance Day

There's something about barbed wire that always takes me aback. I think of two things in particular: That my mother's family was held behind barbed wire by armed guards in a Japanese American internment camp for almost four years when she was a child and, even more so, it reminds me of the Holocaust.

In this recent photo I took up in Colusa County I felt a sense of hope because I noticed the silken strands of a spider's web laced along the barbed wire's surface. To me, the imagery of the web symbolized the wire was old and past its time.

I can still recall my shock after 9/11 when I heard people (on tv, strangers, and most shockingly a friend) say that we should round up all of the people from the Middle East living in the U.S. and put them in camps isolated somewhere in one of our deserts, basically, exactly what was done to my mother's family. Many said we should "ship them back to where they came from." That one glaring experience is why I share that discrimination, persecution, and imprisonment are part of my family's history. It's not that I can't get over it, it's that other people never learned from it that compels me to mention it from time to time.

I would have to say the same holds true for the Holocaust. As long as genocide exists, and I draw breath, I will always feel compelled to bear witness to one of the darkest chapters of human history.

I'm sharing this image with you now because it's the day of the March of the Living where thousands of young Jewish and Polish youth will walk from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in remembrance of the Holocaust.

The event is described this way on the March of the Living website:

"The March of the Living is an annual educational program, which brings students from all over the world to Poland, in order to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate. Since the first March of the Living was held in 1988, over 150,000 youth from around the world have marched down the same path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day."

As gut wrenching and heart breaking as it would be, I hope to someday visit the Auschwitz Memorial. But for now I follow the Auschwitz Memorial page on Facebook and from time to time reflect on the importance of bearing witness even decades after atrocities have occurred because, unfortunately, history has taught us we still haven't learned.

From the Nanking Massacre preceding the Holocaust, to the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Rawanda, Bosnia, Darfur in the Sudan and far too many other examples, I think events like the March of the Living are necessary to help us learn how to recognize and prevent the seeds of genocide from taking root in future generations. For it is ultimately the decision of a ruler combined with the willingness of individuals to commit murder and atrocities that allow genocide to occur. If more individuals are able to cling to their humanity over nationalism, religious beliefs, and assumed ethnic superiority I can't help but wonder if genocide would cease to exist or at the very least, happen less frequently with fewer casualties.

I truly believe awareness and speaking out are two important elements in helping to prevent genocide from happening again, which is why I wrote this post today.

I will never forget.

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