Holocaust survivors have done well by commemorating, educating, testifying and lecturing but poorly by teaching goodness and implementing Never Again (NA). Since survivors are now racing to extinction, testifying as an activity is done. I suggest that society refocus on teaching goodness and NA to prevent genocide.
Ongoing Survivors’ Activities. Society’s responsibility has always been to perpetuate the Holocaust’s memory and perform appropriate tasks such as readings, lighting Holocaust candles and lecturing. Those who lecture about a survivor’s experience have an additional responsibility of being capable of answering the audience’s questions.
Refocus Never Again. Survivors have asserted NA but haven’t explained the what? Presumably, NA will there be any genocide; or NA will there be genocide without: a) prompt intervention, b) severe repercussions or c) punishing the perpetrators. Each of these combinations implies a different approach to its realization, although none would have worked for the Holocaust. We had no prevention program then, and still don’t, and the other options would not have swayed Hitler.
History teaches that genocide doesn’t start without sufficient levels of hate and/or dehumanization of the potential victims. Such levels might have developed slowly, e.g. anti-Semitism; or rapidly via propaganda, e.g. Nazis’ victims. The Nazis pushed propagandists to implant hate in the Germans and collaborators. The targeted victims, especially Jews, were characterized as different, not Aryans, subhuman and worthless vermin. Many Germans pledged to rid the Reich of the subhumans. Thus, eleven million people were murdered, at a rate of 10,000 victims each day. Killing subhumans was a no brainer.
Society must speedily develop a Universal Prevent (not stop or mitigate) Genocide Program (UPGP) and steadily disseminate its message ahead of any genocidal signs. Enforcement must be swift if prevention fails.
The US Government and others continue to study approaches to preventing, stopping and mitigating all genocide phases (Google). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has coordinated an Interagency Study Task Force that issued a report entitled Preventing Genocide — A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers. It suggests that our Intelligence Services monitor potentially genocidal areas, and when indicated, deploy diplomacy and military interventions. The proposed UPGP is based on the Nazi Degenerative Art Propaganda, with two significant changes: the message is inverted and it will use modern information dissemination techniques as in the U.S. Blueprint.
Dislike or rejection of otherness (religion, race, gender, politics or sexual orientation that differs from the perpetrators’) is fertilizer for growing hate and dehumanization. It is logical that immunizing potential killers against dehumanization and hate and making otherness acceptable would prevent genocide. Therefore, dehumanization will not take root, killer armies will not emerge and genocides will be less likely to occur.
Our UPGP prevention messages will be the inverse of the Nazis’ hate. We plan to develop and disseminate messages of Accept/Embrace Otherness, saturate the appropriate public with them in advance of any genocidal signs and incorporate feedback loops. This will deprive potential perpetrators of needed killers. An Accept/Embrace Otherness campaign must be founded on research, its messages must be constantly delivered to targeted audiences and the message and delivery must be continually revised for effectiveness.
Normally, people do not kill those whom they accept, respect and embrace. Humans can be influenced on how they view otherness, hatefully, neutrally or embrace-fully. We need to teach people to be comfortable with accepting/embracing otherness and uncomfortable with discrimination and hate-otherness. Although each person is unique and different, we do accept and love many. The recognition that everyone is different, unique and precious facilitates accepting otherness. Genocide prevention implies future ways of life when otherness is embraced, not denigrated –and produce a Universal Prevent Genocide Program as a monument to the Holocaust.
Refocus Teaching Goodness. Actions that help victims survive constitute goodness. Goodness increased the number of survivors, despite punishment by hanging. “No one survived without help” was a conclusion from many survivors’ testimonies. Some help was probably motivated by in-the-moment compassion, and some help was reactive; e.g. Germans threw bread into passing cattle-cars transporting emaciated victims, (Wiesel: Night). Other help was deliberate; camp doctors illegally treated inmates; laborers and even guards gave advice, encouragement and/or a bit of nourishment to the victims.
Jews also survived because Righteous Gentiles helped them. Some were mega-righteous, e.g. Schindler, Sugihara and Wallenberg, who saved large numbers of Jews by their courageous, and unsanctioned actions. Many other-righteous acted alone or as part of a coordinated group. They gave the rescued shelter, food or forged papers and were at greater risk of being discovered and executed than the camp helpers, yet they helped! Rescuers and their survivors forged enduring bonds. How does one repay his life donor?
Many of the rescued petitioned Yad Vashem to recognize their rescuers’ goodness and grant them the Righteous among the Nations Status. Each mega-righteous has his/her plaque affixed to a tree of honor that lines Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous. The other-righteous people’s plaques are affixed to special garden walls or shrubs. All received a medal and honorary Israeli citizenship. The Righteous Christian Foundation gives aid and stipends to the needy Righteous. I still feel that society has not done enough for these Life Givers.
YAD VASHEM features 23,000 mixed Righteous, including 6000 Polish. My family of four survived because five rescuer families, including Saint Leo Swierczek and his four children, Czeska, Kazik, Staszek and Marisia, had risked their lives. What a gift! More LEOs would have saved more survivors. Six members of our rescuer families, Leo Swierczek’s and Andrej Porembski, received the Righteous awards and stipends. Their plaques are affixed to a beautiful garden wall.
Our righteous and my father nourished one another until his death; I then took over. The only living rescuer, Marisia Swierczek, and I are loving friends. She asked to meet our grandchildren. Last July, our daughter Sandra, her husband Scott King, grandkids Samantha and Evan, my wife Leah and I visited Marisia in Poland. We bonded with deep love and gratitude. Poles have significantly changed. Everywhere, I was treated royally; no longer do I feel like a second-class person in my birth land.
Polish Jews were killed in camps and also shot into mass pits and left like dogs. Locals interred their bodies.
After liberation, few survivors exhumed and ritually buried their murdered relatives. In 1942, the Germans shot 300 Jews, my co-villagers, 160 into one large pit and 140 captured escapees into smaller pits. Locals covered these pits with lime and earth. Years later, a benefactor arranged for the large pit to become a ritual mass grave, fenced, paved, and with a tombstone. Local Scouts maintain this grave. We don’t know where the other pits are. Poland is strewn with interment pits of Jews.
While visiting with Marisia, I met Zbigniew Nizinskie, who taught me his goodness: Sanctify the Interment Pits into Jewish Burial Graves. He merits my admiration and gratitude; Yad Vashem awarded him the Associate Righteous among the Nations Award. Nizinskie finds these pits, authenticates the victims and converts interment pits into ritual graves, supervised by the Chief Rabbi of Poland. He gives the names and circumstances of their demise to this Rabbi for updating Yad Vashem’s Holocaust roster. Sometimes this brings closure to living relatives. Using his funds, Nizinskie has sanctified five graves totaling 357souls. While waiting for outside funding, his priority is to amass leads for sanctification. He has nearly 40 leads; thirty have been authenticated, ready for conversion. We must support his work! Each sanctified grave achieves three goals: a) bury our dead, b) enhance the Holocaust’s visual impact and c) update Yad Vashem’s roster.
Please, increase teaching goodness to children and adults, encourage its practice and express your gratitude to the life givers. People who internalize goodness do not kill.
Contact Jack Pariser for comments, contributions and volunteering: (949) 637 3638, also abal2 @cox.net.