February 3, 2005
‘Never Again’—An Odd Thing to Say
How odd it was to hear Kofi Annan mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in an address before the United Nations.
"The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission," Annan said.
How very odd, indeed, considering how little he did to prevent the massacre of 800,000 Rwandans. Annan was head of the U.N. peacekeepers at the time of the 1994 genocide.
"The international community is guilty of sins of omission," Annan later said by way of apology.
As a side note, do you know what Annan had to say about the ongoing genocide taking place in Sudan? -- "The Security Council must wait to receive a report on Tuesday before it can decide how to act."
I wonder what the thousands of black Darfurians dying at the hands of Arab militias thought about that. If we were being massacred, what would we think? What would we want from Annan, the European Union or President Bush? Some protection perhaps? Maybe a stockpile of M-16s to defend our families, our village?
God knows we have enough rifles in America.
With the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we recall once more the destruction wrought by Nazism, the chaos, desolation, the machinery of death. We peer unflinchingly at the ovens and gas chambers, the cattle cars and the concentration camps, we stare at the heart of darkness and swear, "Never Again."
What a strange thing to say, "Never Again." Do we think the world has tattooed a place for Auschwitz in its flesh? The world let Pol Pot kill more than one million Cambodians.
The world let 800,000 Tutsis get hacked to death. The world let Slobodan Milosevic bury his Muslim antagonists in mass graves. The world allows Arab Sudanese militias to bludgeon their black countrymen as we speak?
What an odd thing to say, "Never Again."
And in spite of it all, there was more to Auschwitz than the gas chambers and crematoria, there was the Gestapo, there was Dr. Josef Mengele, there was the whole pathology of Nazism. Long after Auschwitz snuffed its last Jewish candle, that pathology, that pathology of nihilism and hatred, intolerance and irrational faith still cuts deep across the continents.
Even though the Gestapo was defeated in 1945, the secret police of Syria, Iran and North Korea still inspire fear and elicit subjection each and every day. Mengele's experiments are long over, but female genital mutilation and physical torture remain rampant in Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sierra Leone.
Cast a sharp ear and you will notice that Osama bin Laden and Muqtada al-Sadr -- who despise Bahais, Christians, Jews, as well as many of their fellow Muslims -- do not lack for listeners. But in this world, where it seems that the United Nations fears Israel more than it does totalitarians or terrorists, bin Laden and Al-Sadr often lack for critics.
So it is with many of the wrongs of this age, every age really, very few bother to condemn true evil, and even fewer bother to act. And yet we keep saying: "Never Again." Why? What for?
I don't want to sound like a pessimist. But Maimonides gave us a stern reminder: sheyitmameiyah, the Messiah may tarry. To have false hope, to believe that the world is better than what it is, to think that a savior will rescue the Jewish people or any people if doom draws near, this is a grave careless error. An error Auschwitz commands us never to commit.
After the Holocaust, many presumed European anti-Semitism would never return. But here it is in Britain and France, in Belgium and Sweden, in Poland and Germany. Synagogues are torched. Men with kippahs and payot are bullied and beaten. This is the world we live in.
Each day, we unfold the morning paper and find proof that many peoples do not believe in the inestimable value of human life. Genocide and torture, suicide bombing and religious terrorism rages on. Alas, the cry of "Never Again" has not stopped evil from enduring. That doesn't mean we ought to stop our cries, it just means we must shout louder.Yehuda M. Hausman, a graduate of Brandeis University, is a part-time researcher for the Encyclopedia Judaica. He was a third-place winner in the "Reaching Common Ground" writing competition and is a fellow with the Institute for Judaism and Christianity (ICJS).