Human Rights in Poland 2013

Sixteen SMU students, faculty and staffers, along with DFW community members, will be in Poland Dec. 18–30 to visit Holocaust sites. Led by SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin, the group will visit cities and death camps where, during World War II, some 4,375,000 people were murdered during the country’s Nazi, Germany, occupation.

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Resistance

imageAn update from Lara, a senior international studies and history major:

My dad always wanted me to play an instrument. He believed that people who knew how to do something that required special talent and dedication had bigger chances of survival than uncultured people. I used to play the devil’s advocate and say, “Dad, the educated ones are always the first ones to go down,” to which he would reply, “But those are the ones able to start a resistance.” Until today, I never understood these words completely.

When we talk about resistance, most people think about ammunition or guns, but from now on, when I hear this word, what comes to my mind is education. In some cases, resistance has only the complex function of keeping spirits and hope alive.

A big percentage of the documentation that we have today as evidence of the Shoah are portraits. Contraband in concentration and extermination camps would not only provide needed food or cigarettes, but also paper and pencils. As all human beings, prisoners had an inherent desire of being remembered through time. This wish led to signs and names in bunked beds, and drawings of everyday life and mistreatment in the camps, and even expressed the hopes of what lies on the other side of a fence. So you would not only remember them by the piles of shoes or numbers, but by their faces as well. Victims wanted to speak out.

Resistance is not always fought by force, but by ideas – and the Jewish community knew the reality of the power of words. Writing is magical; even God created the world with the word. “In the beginning God was the word, and the Word was with God.” Even in the Warsaw Ghetto, it was too late for some to realize that by keeping quiet and cooperating with the Nazis, they could not even save their own lives. Others had it clear: you die fighting.

When confronted with the reality of the Holocaust, most people tend to think that they wish they could have helped, but none of them realize that genocide and extermination camps are not past events. Foundations have the money and the way, but they lack people.

It was a dearest professor of mine who once told me, “You can’t demand change if you don’t educate right.” Education not only provides the instruments that are required to sense danger, but also a way to confront it. People in Europe at the time were able to accept or deny the Holocaust as something normal based on their anti-Semitic or tolerant education. Hence, Denmark was able to save 95 percent of its Jewish population, while 75 percent perished in already anti-Semitic Croatia.

Thousands are dying in concentration camps right now in North Korea, and yet the only thing I heard in the news is a mockery about a nuclear threat to the U.S. The moment will come when as the U.S. now regrets a late intervention in Rwanda, allowing millions to die under machetes, they will complain about not having been able to prevent another genocide. I am not calling people to arms; I am calling people to educate and help in a peaceful way. I know that you can’t win against injustice. I am saying fight for what’s right and remember the Talmud: “Whoever saves a human life saves the world.”

Shalom.

 

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