Kernels of Wisdom: The crucial importance of remembrance
Sean Gallup/Getty Images: Polish President Andrzej Duda kneels at the grave of Pawel Frankiel, a Polish Jewish commander of a Jewish military group during the Second World War called the Jewish Military Union during commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Okopowa Jewish Cemetery on April 19, 2018 in Warsaw, Poland. The Warsaw Ghetto was a prison created by the German military during its occupation of Warsaw during the Second World War.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the antisemitic policy of Adolf Hitler and his high command herded almost 400,000 Jews, 30 per cent of Warsaw’s population, into a ghetto. Forced confinement in the ghetto meant starvation, disease and exposure to the elements, and as a result as Phyllis Goldstein writes in her classic book A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, “In January 1941 the Germans recorded 898 deaths in the Warsaw ghetto; in January 1942 the number of deaths was 5,123.”
In the summer of 1942 about 300,000 Jews were seized out of the ghetto and deported to Treblinka, a Nazi extermination camp, leaving behind about 60,000 men, women and children. The Germans of course were intent on emptying the ghetto of every last Jew, so on April 19 on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s birthday, and on the first day of Passover they moved in with their forces. The general in charge of the operation, Gen. Jurgen Stroop, knowing it was the Fuhrer’s birthday on April 20 believed he would give Hitler a great birthday present, a Jew-free city. Those who remained in the ghetto, the surviving Jews, realized they had two unenviable options – surrender to the German forces and be shipped off to the notorious Treblinka, or fight it out to the bitter end. The latter was the preference of all, and so it was that on April 19, 1943, there began what history now records as The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
I’m writing these words in the early morning of the 75th anniversary of that memorable event. The uprising lasted 28 days before it was eventually quelled by the German forces. When it was all over about 7,000 Jews had lost their lives and about 50,000 more were shipped off to Treblinka. To end it all, buildings in the ghetto including Warsaw’s Great Synagogue were torched and razed to the ground. One might justifiably ask “Why dig up the past, why not just leave it buried in the archives of history and let bygones be bygones?” The answer to that question is clearly illustrated by an American survey just released on April 12. According to the study as reported by Friends Of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre For Holocaust Studies, “Nearly one-third of Americans believe less than two million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, two-thirds of millennials (those born between 1982 and 2004) could not identify Auschwitz, and 22 per cent of millennials stated they have never or are not sure if they’ve heard of the Holocaust.”
Add to those statistics that here in Canada the most targeted group as far as hate crimes are concerned is the Jewish population. In the latest figures released by Statistics Canada on Nov. 28, 2017, in the year 2016, 48 per cent of all hate crimes were aimed at this demographic group. It is crucially important for us as a nation to remember, and not only to remember but to educate successive generations about the grim realities of past history. We must of necessity remember the horrific death toll of the First and Second World Wars and other Canadian military engagements, that is why we mark Nov. 11 each year on our calendars. We dare not forget the sheer horror of the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima. It is crucially important that we keep in mind the Indian residential schools tragedy here in Canada. There are a number of historical events that we must preserve in our nation’s consciousness, and without question high on that list is the Holocaust.
Our remembrance of these events is not with the intent that we incite any animosity or bitterness against any particular ethnic group for the wrongs of their forefathers, but rather that together we may learn from history and consciously and co-operatively strive to make a better future for all. May we never ever forget or deliberately ignore the past. To do so as George Santayana has so eloquently put it, is to condemn ourselves to repeat it. God forbid! Another Holocaust of the Jews is not what we want to see. Another mass scale extermination of any other ethnic group for that matter is a nightmare our collective social conscience will not and cannot let us ever entertain.