“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.
Yet, we know that in the darkest hours of humanity, light shines the brightest. As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.
In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
Above is the official White House statement written for Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, 2017. What is missing? I believe that in our remembrance of atrocities committed on other humans it is important to name names. We must be reminded of the reality that as humans, we have the potential inside of us to persecute entire populations based on the belief that they’re inferior to us. To avoid such atrocities like the Holocaust, we must be able to visualize the men, women, and children that perished for the Nazi’s selfish lust for power. We must recognize the horror of the millions that suffered under propaganda and authoritarian regimes, not just in Germany in the 30s and 40s, but around the world. Below is a reminder of those that died and suffered, not only under those in power, but also by those who were just doing their jobs during the second world war:
Jews: up to 6 million
Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 million Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million above)
Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)
Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)
Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000
People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000
Roma (Gypsies): 196,000–220,000
Jehovah’s Witnesses: Around 1,900
Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000
German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined
Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above)
Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. A place of death and suffering. More than one million Jews were exterminated in the death camp of Birkenau. As I stood somberly overlooking the destroyed gas chambers, my heart had never felt heavier. My emotions were not prepared for the raw feelings of despair. How could humans do this to each other? How could this happen?
In these recent weeks in the United States, we’ve seen a surge of fear of the “other.” Islamophobia is running rampant in the minds of many. The idea that our safety is threatened by allowing refugees and immigrants into our country has taken hold and caused a panic that threatens our American way of life. I believe that the current administration’s decision to ban refugees from countries they feel are a threat to the U.S. deepens our fears of the entire Islamic world.
Just like the victims of the Holocaust, those escaping dire situations in Africa and the Middle East have names and stories. They are seeking refuge to our country to seek a better life for themselves and their families. They are fathers, mothers, and children. As someone who chooses to follow Jesus, I am reminded by his words that I must give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, and visit those imprisoned. That is my call. I’m called to love with compassion and unconditionally. I’m called to see the humanity of those perceived to be lesser than I, and to give a damn about their well-being. I must not fear, and to continue to trust that there is a greater authority calling me towards love. I cannot ignore the events taking place in this country. I cannot sit idly by as so many suffer. The words ‘never again’ are not enough to be spoken, but must be lived out with our hands and feet. I must see the faces of the oppressed, name it, remind myself every morning the worth of all humans, and fight like hell to ensure that I do not find myself participating in the repeating of history.